Skip to main content

Love or Bread? (愛情還是麵包?) - Family Planning, Concepts of Happiness and "Materialism" in Asia


What would you choose? Love or Bread?” This is the question which parents in East Asia often ask their children when trying to convince them to marry the “right person”. It is a question that reveals some key elements of East Asian culture and mentality.

It is well known to Western observers of East Asian matters that in the countries of the Orient family planning plays a much more important role than in the West. When I was in Europe I seldom met people who began thinking about marriage when they were in their early twenties, let alone before they had found a suitable partner. In Asia, the way people think about their future is completely different, and I believe that if we really want to have a deep cultural exchange, we need understand these peculiarities.

As I have already explained in one of my earlier posts, in order to talk about and understand a culture, it is necessary to observe it. Observations are based on subjective experiences and therefore limited to particular cases, and every generalization derived from observations must always be regarded as hypotheses, not as an objective truth that applies to every single individual of a group. 

For example, if I say that Italian people are emotional, this may or may not be true in every single case, but if most Italians I've met are more emotional than most Germans I've met, I can form a judgment based on these observations, knowing that it doesn't necessarily apply to all Italians or Germans. Moreover, when talking with other people I can compare my observations with theirs and formulate a hypothesis, which is only a possibility and should not become a stereotype.

Family values are very heterogeneous, depending both on individual choices and local culture. For example, in Southern Italy - where I come from - family ties are still very strong. But even in places like Germany or Northern Italy, which have high divorce rates and where a large number of couples live together without getting married, you can still find a lot of people who have a traditional standpoint on family. In this post I will try to highlight some phenomena that I have observed in Europe and in Asia. In my view, the ideal of marriage and family has undergone a severe decline over the last decades in the West, whereas in Asia it is still very much alive, and this is mainly due to the difference between what I would call the individual norm of the West and the social standard of the East. 

Individual Norm versus Social Standard – Why in Asia Family Matters 


As I have said in one of my previous posts, Western analysts often use the antithesis between shame society and guilt society to explain a core difference between East and West. This distinction is extremely useful, but it is not sufficient because it doesn't take into account some of the major characteristics of the evolution of Western societies during the past three hundred years. 

I will argue that what makes Asia really different from the West, is that in the West the erosion of old values – especially those related to Christian thinking and society – has led people to question social conventions and to find in themselves the meaning and the purpose of their own lives, whereas Asian societies tend to keep collective values with which individuals identify themselves. Let's briefly examine this development. 

While in the Middle Ages the Christian religion permeated virtually all aspects of life in Europe, the beginning of the modern era witnessed a weakening of religious values. The Enlightenment openly challenged the supremacy of the Christian narrative, starting a secular discourse that has turned upside down the foundation of Western societies. 

Continue Reading

Comments

  1. As indonesian and I'm a southeast asia woman, I've been reading it and I said it's true. Yes even my mum she always told me that I had to looking for a rich man. Love isn't important. You can love him if you married him. That was her reason why she had been married with my father, but she was cheating him. Money and love have to be balance. Family is most important for Asian. You can't live without family desicion. If you live out of home, they would angry with you and think you are wrong, stubborn and rebel one in family, like I did. I fought to my right, my way, my desicion. If you fall in love with asian man or woman, you have to be ready with their whole family. That's true.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello and thanks for sharing your personal experience: ) It is very interesting to read your story.

    As a foreigner in Asia, I must accept the different culture here. I would not like to be one of those people who ignore or despise the culture in which they live. However, as an individual, I have my own standards and values; and I have to say that, like you, I also cannot accept marriage as a mere union based on money or stability. There must be mutual love and respect. I definitely don't want to be someone who spends the rest of his life with a person only for some material or 'face' concern.

    I hope that you are happy with the decisions you've made and you have the strength to choose your own way, which suits your character, and which you feel is right.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Living in Taiwan: Seven Reasons Why It's Good to Be Here

Chinese New Year can be a pretty boring time for a foreigner. All of my friends were celebrating with their families, and since I have no family here, nor have I a girlfriend whose family I could join, I had nothing special to do. Shops and cafes were closed - apart from big chains like McDonald's or Starbucks, which were overcrowded anyway. So I had a lot of time to think.
On Saturday evening I went out to buy my dinner. While I was walking around, I heard the voices of the people inside their homes, the sounds of their New Year celebrations. Then I suddenly asked myself: "What on earth are you doing here? Why are you still in Taiwan?" 
Before I came to Taiwan, some Taiwanese friends of mine had recommended me their country, highly prasing it and going so far as to say that Taiwan is a "paradise for foreigners" (bear in mind that when I say foreigners I mean 'Westerners'). 
"It's easy for foreigners to find a job," they argued. "Taiwane…

How Conservative Is Taiwan? - 5 Cases of Sexuality in Business, Marketing and Media

Is Taiwan a conservative society? Are Taiwanese people prude, family-oriented, and faithful to their partner?
Before going to Taiwan, basing my opinion on what Taiwanese had told me, I would have answered all these questions with yes. But after living there for some time, I began questioning my assumptions. 
In many of my posts I have tried to explain some features of the Chinese/Taiwanese family which make it clear that every Western perspective on East Asia should take into consideration the different values and social structures that the Chinese-speaking world has developed over the centuries.
In this post, I would just like to mention a few interesting cases of liberal sexual conduct and the objectification of the female body, which challenge the image of Taiwan as a prude society. 
One day I was walking around the German city of Potsdam, near Berlin, with a Taiwanese. She often told me that Taiwanese people were conservative, Taiwanese girls naive and innocent. But on the other hand,…

How Is Customer Service In Taiwan? - My Thoughts Before And After Living In Taiwan

Before I went to Taiwan I had a lot of expectations regarding customer service there, mainly for two reasons.
First of all, I hated customer service in Europe. Having lived in Italy and Germany for several years and having spent time in Greece, the UK and other European countries, I noticed that across the continent a lot of shop assistants are indifferent or rude to customers. Of course, that is based on my experience and on that of my friends, and it refers only to episodes I witnessed or heard about. 
Let me tell you just a few examples. Once my internet provider in Germany changed my contract without my consent. When I went to their shop, I was yelled at and threatened with a lawsuit right away. Later I quit that company, but the point is, whether I made a mistake or not (and I think I did not), they should have cleared up the matter in a nice way instead of being so aggressive. 
One day I was in my university cafeteria, and I saw a student leave his trey with food on a table and go …