People in America will email me at times with questions regarding China’s family values and that is a topic I enjoy discussing.
If you have ever had the opportunity to visit China in recent years you would have noticed the impact the western culture is having on China. But, the traditional family structure is still highly valued and holds a prominent position in the Chinese culture. Both traditional and modern Chinese families have similar moral values, and these moral values have been a part of daily life for many centuries.
Traditionally Chinese family values are very clear-cut, different roles and rights for men and women. These gender roles are rapidly changing, the original values are still evident on some levels. But, due to the growing western influence Men and Women are sharing the household tasks and seeing themselves as equal partners.
Traditionally in the Chinese family, the man was responsible for maintaining, providing for, and protecting his family. At the same time, he was given all the decision-making power when it came to his wife, his family, and other family members. He was also responsible for taking care of and paying for his children, including their education, until they are married. In modern families, the family members consult elders about important decisions, but the father no longer has the final say regarding his adult children's lives. What I’ve noticed from living here in China is how actively involved the grandparents are in raising their grandchildren. The grandparents take on a more traditional role when it comes to their grandchildren’s welfare.
Traditionally Chinese mothers usually stayed in the home to take care of the household, the children, and the rest of the family. Today, however, many modern Chinese women have careers, and earn their own money. While the women of the household pursue their career goals the grandparents take on the traditional role of raising their grandchildren.
Traditionally Chinese families honored the patrilineal descent system. This means that a child's lineage and descent was calculated from his father only. Men were the only ones that could inherit family membership and family land or other inheritance in this type of system. In modern times Men and Women are being viewed as equal in the eyes of the law.
Marriage, family, and children are very important in the Chinese culture. A large portion of the Chinese population lived in rural environments, getting married and having children meant that you'd have workers and be able to create and maintain a homestead. In the past most marriages were arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. Many couples never even met one another until their wedding day. The western influence has changed most of China’s attitudes on marriage. Chinese couples can now choose their own partners, but under the law boys must be 22 years old and girls 20 years old to legally marry in China.
As in many Asian cultures, the elders of the family are respected for their wisdom. In both traditional and modern families, elders are looked up to for their life experiences, and they are taken care of by the rest of the family. In traditional families, including those living in a rural environment, many households include five generations living together. Even in modern households, many grandparents live with their children and their kids. When elders die, they are honored by ancestor altars in homes, featuring candles, photographs, and favorite items of the deceased.
To combat overcrowding and overpopulation, the People's Republic of China mandated a one-child-per-household policy in the late 1970s. This was later changed to a two-child policy. The law often applied to urban families, while some rural families could get away with having more than two children. This policy influenced how children were looked at, and many baby girls were placed in orphanages because they wouldn't be able to carry on the family name or inherit the family land. For many years orphanages were housing mostly girl babies due to the value placed on boys. In traditional families, all children are expected to obey their parents without discussion, and parents could use corporal punishment on their children if they disobeyed them or refused to show unquestioning obedience. In modern China, both girls and boys are usually treated equally. While many Chinese parents are strict, they are more lenient and flexible than in the past.
The Chinese culture has undergone many dramatic changes mostly due to the western influence. These progressive cultural changes won’t be slowing down anytime soon. But the family structure and the importance of family values remain a focus. Families are still cherished, honored, and respected, whether you live in the traditional, rural environment, or the modern, urban city.Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
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