Skip to main content

Family Affairs - A Few Thoughts About Family Gatherings in China and the West

The three months between December and February are both in the West and in China a period of important traditional family festivals. Christmas and New Year in the West, and the Lunar New Year in China, are the most significant and longest festivals.

On the one hand, these festivals are an occasion for rejoicing. When I was a child, I loved Christmas. I didn't have to wake up early to go school, I was free from lessons and homework. A few days before Christmas, I decorated the Christmas tree and arranged the presepe (nativity scene); I loved to do such things. Last but not least, I received gifts from relatives and had plenty of time to play with my cousins. Apart from all this, Christmas stimulates children's inborn imagination and creativity, and the whole world appeared special, cozier, magical. 

When you grow up, things change. In fact, the family slowly becomes what some people call 'a sweet burden'. You grow up, you need to accept more responsibilities, and Christmas loses a part of its magic. One of the most complicated things is now how to relate to family members. 

However different my family and Chinese families may be, one thing is certainly common: parents like - or feel compelled - to talk a lot about their children. This year I noticed how much my relatives talked about money, children's jobs (or their lack of a job), prices of products and so on; a quite materialistic range of subjects. This may put pressure on children. If over the previous year they haven't achieved what the family expected, they will be more or less directly criticised.  

Conversation with relatives can be difficult at times. I do not meet my relatives very often. Sometimes, I feel relatives don't have much to talk about; discussing what children do becomes a hot topic exactly because there's not much else to talk about.   

And yet, after living in Asia I don't think that family life in Italy is too hard, after all. As I have explained in many posts, hierarchy and social roles have always been fundamental in Chinese families. Filial piety, or xiao, is the cornerstone of the family system. Of course, the Chinese family has changed, and has become more relaxed; moreover, every family is different, and the character of children is very important when it comes to the relationship between old and young. But generally speaking, I feel that Chinese family life is much harsher, more solemn, formal and complicated than one may at first imagine.

In my own family, personal character weighs more than social role. I always had the feeling that I can say my opinion, and also avoid replying to relatives' questions. I can more or less be myself, and disagreeing with my relatives is not a huge issue. A few days ago, my aunt talked with me about my grandfather (born in the 1910s). She said that when she was young, there was freedom in the family; no one commanded, but decisions were made together. After living in Asia, this seems to me a very progressive attitude for a man who was born more than a century ago. As I have shown in another post, this is indeed an old topic between Chinese and Westerners.

In China and Taiwan, many families 'compare' family members; and most of all, parents compare their children with those of others. Money, achievements, jobs, etc. are a common subject of conversation, and questions are asked whose directness might surprise outsiders. The pressure that the elders put on their children is shown by the following (however extreme) example:

"Groups of young women huddled over large bowls of noodles look depressed when asked about the February's impending Chinese New Year holiday.
'I'm pretty old - I'm almost 30 - but I'm still single,' explains Ding Na, a woman hailing from China's northeast.
'I'm under lots of pressure. My sisters and my relatives all ask me why I'm not married. When they call me, I'm scared to pick up the phone.'

Because of the traditional idea that getting married is a filial duty and a prerequisite for maintaining a good social reputation, parents, relatives and friends may make people feel they are 'losers' if they're still unmarried.

According to Zhou Xiaopeng, a consultant with Baihe.com, one of China's biggest dating agencies, the pressure for singles to settle down crescendos around Chinese New Year.
'Picture a scene where people sit around a table,' Ms Zhou says.
'Chinese people love to get together for dinner. On New Year's Eve, everybody is sitting in pairs, your brother with your sister-in-law, your sister with your brother-in-law, and so on. If you're the only one left behind, you can imagine the pressure and frustration' (source: BBC).

Unfortunately, I have no chance to enter the house of random Chinese or Taiwanese families to see for myself how the atmosphere in different families is, how people behave and talk with each other. I would like to know how children really feel during their big family gatherings, if they're happy, or stressed, or if they see them as a burden rather than a pleasure.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Taipei Walking Tours - A Guide To Taipei In 6 Days

Taiwan is one of the most underrated tourist destinations in Asia. With about 10.74 million tourists in 2017, it lags behind Asian neighbours like Thailand (35 million), Hong Kong (58 million), Japan (28.7 million), or Indonesia (14 million).
Nevertheless, Taiwan is a great place to visit due to its amazing food, fascinating history, traditional Chinese culture, friendly atmosphere, safety, and natural attractions. Moreover, Taiwan has a very convenient visa policy. Citizens of many countries, including the United States and most European Union members, can travel to Taiwan without a visa and stay there for up to 90 days. You can literally buy a plane ticket and go to Taiwan without doing any paperwork.    
If you travel to Taiwan, your first destination will probably be the capital and largest city: Taipei.




Taipei is the political and economic centre of the island, with lots of attractions ranging from modern skyscrapers and shopping centres to night markets, colonial Japanese architect…

Will The Huawei Case Finally Awaken Democrats To The China Threat And The Danger Of Faux Free Trade Rhetoric?

On January 28 the Department of Justice of the United States unsealed two cases against Huawei, China's largest telecommunications company, and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou. 
Huawei has been accused of trying to steal trade secrets, committing bank fraud, breaking confidentiality agreements and violating sanctions against Iran. One indictment claims that Huawei attempted to steal trade secrets from T-Mobile by promising bonuses to employees who collected confidential information.
Huawei is not a company like any other. Over the years it has benefited enormously from the support of the Chinese Communist regime. The founder of Huawei, Ren Zhengfei, joined China's army during the Cultural Revolution. In 1978 he also joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 
In the early years Huawei's sources of capital were high-interest loans (20%-30%) from Chinese state-owned enterprises. Ren also secured soft loans from the local government of Shenzhen thanks to his personal co…

Chinese Dissident Zhang Jilin Detained By Police In Chongqing After Calling On Xi Jinping To Resign

Chinese dissident Zhang Jilin (张吉林) has been detained by police in the city of Chongqing after publicly saying that President Xi Jinping should be removed from office.
According to Taiwan-based Apple Daily, on January 17 Zhang talked about China's current affairs on a WeChat group. His ideas received praise from the group members, and he later told friends that he wanted to give a public speech based on the thoughts he had expressed online.
Other dissidents urged him to be careful, but he insisted that he had "the right to free speech." On January 19 Zhang went to Guanyinqiao Square, in the city of Chongqing, and delivered a speech about China's political situation, calling on Xi Jinping to be removed from office.
"I think it's time for Xi Jinping to be removed from office," Zhang told a crowd according to an audio recording. "The Chinese Communist Party will not do anything to the people. If you don't believe me, look, I have been giving a speech…