I want to talk about the Chinese culture, and the daily things I see. I specifically want to talk about families, and family structure, because this a whole different dynamic that is so very different from what we are used to.
Let’s start with dating. As a culture, they don’t date during school and usually even college. It is against school rules, and their parents would kill them. But then, after they have graduated from college and gotten a job they are expected to immediately find their future spouse. Almost ALL Chinese I know married their first or second boyfriend. You can’t date too many or no one will have you. This whole thing is so strange to me. We live in a city of almost 25 million people, but the first or second one I find is “THE one?” (With no dating practice).
Now the couple’s families meet, because it’s not the couple getting married –it’s the families. The man must prove he has, and provide, at least one house, a car, and a good job. In Shanghai, he should also know how to cook. The woman needs nothing going in.
So, at 27, they get married. The wedding is a big lunch/dinner at a restaurant for 200-300 people. The bride will have at least 3 dresses. Wedding pictures are taken months in advance and shown at the wedding. All clothes are rented. After the dinner (where every single person the bride and groom’s parents have ever known attend) the happy couple probably goes to K TV –a karaoke chain, for a few hours. Sometimes, two weddings are required if their hometowns are far from each other.
Now they are married, and they probably live with someone’s parents. The house was just an investment or for show. Sometimes they live in though. Especially here. But then, there is the possibility of being “weekend married.” That’s when they live in the housing provided by the company, and only spend the weekends together in their own house.
By the time they are thirty, they have their child –usually because their retired parents won’t stop begging. Then, one of two things happen. The retired grandparents come to live with the couple to take care of the baby, or the grandparents take the baby back to their hometown. Generally, parents don’t raise their own children. They are too busy working. The grandparents fight over the honor of childcare. And of course, (having no child-rearing experience themselves) they spoil the child horribly. The amount of children I have seen with completely black baby teeth is astonishing. –Of course, the grown-ups who also have black, rotten teeth is painful for me to look at too.
The dependence on each other is strong. If the male bread-winner in the family (supporting his wife, baby and at least one set of parents) decides his job is boring, or he’s just tired of it, he quits, goes on vacation, maybe takes a few classes, and looks for another job when he feels like it. I don’t know if they have amazing savings, if family members fund them, or how they do it.
When they get old enough to retire, they move back to their hometown to retire, then their children will have children, and they will raise them. I skipped the ages of 6-18 when they spend every one of their waking hours, schooldays, weekends, holidays, and vacations, studying and doing homework. I have talked extensively with thousands of grown-up students, and this is the norm. What’s most interesting to me, is their take on me. Like, how do I actually raise my children by myself? How hard it must be to actually have two. And home schooling? How do you have time to do what you want? How much money does your ex-husband and family give you? Yeah, I’m living a hardship over here.
But to be honest, I’ve done the math. They can afford to raise their own children, they just choose not to. I can’t imagine my girls not living with me. Most of them can’t imagine spending the whole day with their child. It’s just a very different set of priorities. But at the same time, they often live with their parents for their adult life.
Well, just a few Anthropological observations I want to share.