Days ago, some articles jumped into my eyes: Missing Out On A Real Estate Boom and Women Managers In Asia-Untapped Talent via Alberto Forchielli’s blog. They talked about China’s record on the issues of women’s equal rights and unused talent among Asian women within the perspective of the economy.
As a Chinese woman, such articles touched my innermost sentiments and surprisingly informed me of the different situations of other Chinese women.
Rights come together with obligations. Chinese families lay such important heavy roles to their men. Some of these men get stuck struggling to meet the great expectations (obligations) and fall short. In the money and success orientated China today, those who do not look at money first and those who are less socially efficient feel the burden of this expectation from the parents or in wider sense the extended family to pass on their Name to the future (guāng zōng yào zǔ 光宗耀祖 – Honour and shine the Ancestors). Carrying on the Family Name with its obligations has been such a great issue for the Chinese society centered on its most important units: families.
Luckily, I was born to a teachers family of a few generations, who has always been trying to be fair with my brother and me. My parents have the same family name. I don’t know if all the Wangs are of one family 500 years ago, but it saved my educated — thus in a sense advanced — parents the trouble of choosing whose name to pass on, father’s or mother’s! LOL Yet as I am a woman who married into another Name, there is no more joke here! I automatically lost my name to my son. That is why girls lose favours on important issues such as Real Estate ownership regardless of their performance!
It is very much worthwhile going further into the importance of the sons for the families. To the majority of Chinese families, there exists a blended expectation for their sons to become their old age support with the responsibility of Passing on the Name.
My brother was sent to study Chinese medicine for 5 years in University, yet he fell in love with music on one summer vacation after I showed him THE GUITAR! (the root of the trouble here). My father wrote a letter behind his back to his friend who wanted him to join a music band. He said in the letter: “Leave my son alone. If he leaves school, I will not let you go!”. My brother actually never mustered the courage to raise the question to my father, because it was so out of the question and he was destined to finish his medical university and to become a doctor, for his parents and for himself, as Chinese parents always think and know the best for their kids! My brother only found out what his father wrote to his friend a few years after…
My brother has been framed by the family expectation and his wish to be a musician was not approved. Four years after barely graduating from medical University, he quit his doctor’s career and stepped on a path his ancestors had no knowledge of and would never approve. He would never have imagined that he would be so torn apart between his dream and his important role for the family! He would never have experienced these unbearable sighs and constant negatives comment on his financial instability and incapability to take responsibilities even for his own daughter, let alone his obligations for his aging parents! He would never have experienced his father’s distant, almost indifferent scorn on his not having listened to their advice of keeping his Golden Rice Bowl and him having to float around China in the bars where “vulgar rich business men” go NOT for his music! Yet that is his choice and I hope he will never regret!
You might ask me: why do you talk about Chinese men instead of women? I believe, without knowing this particular culture which places such important roles for men, we will never understand how it treats its women. As Lao-Zi said, that everything has a counterpart, as day to night, small to big, useful to non-useful, men are relevant to women’s life in all their spectra.
As a girl, I was spared from this great expectation. All I got was the best of all what a girl could have: a loving father and a strict trainer mother (normal dad and strict mom makes the smartest kid, LOL). I would be married out to another family — even though since 1949 we no long have to bear the name of the husband (Chairman Mao set us free, yeeeee!) — but I would be holding the internal house business for another family. Therefore I needed skills for running the internal family affairs. So Mom did well. She trained me in all necessary skills since I was 5 years old. I was trained to wash clothes, help cooking, carry water twice a week, chop wood for cooking, plus all sports at school, etc. My mom trained my courage as well by sending me walking all alone 3.5 km from her village primary school to my father’s high school at age 6.
My brother was spared from all household chores. I don’t know if it was because of his laziness or my mom’s subconscious thoughts: chores were not important to men, as traditionally men always had wives to take care of them just like her husband being taken care by herself. I don’t know neither if it is because having a 2nd child, a busy strict teaching job and FULL household management just didn’t leave her any time nor patience! Weirdly, Mom has served Dad as a traditional woman holding the whole sky at home while she listened to Chairman Mao and held the other half of the sky at work bringing back almost half of the family income! Even though she had the motive to help her son to become a man who should share the sky at home or release some pressure from the liberated new women or at least treat his wife equally in the practical sense — I say that, because educated Chinese men DO respect their wives spiritually — it seems that she never made enough efforts to do so. This motto she used to train me: “上得厅堂，下得厨房” （show up nicely in grandiose halls and mess up in kitchens) was not the one for him. “I would do anything for you if you put all your time and heart to study!” was the killing motto to his ability to understand that money and success are not the only thing to make a marriage or family work.
Fairness and justice are 2 words too easy to say, yet very heavy to carry in life. The inborn quality of our ancestors and the casting moulding ability of the culture shape the minds of our offsprings, and thereafter those minds shape our future! What we think and how we think directly or indirectly determine our behaviour patterns that further mould us into the same mentality. It is like an unbreakable chain that can just go on and on.
This chain needs to be broken. My farmer grandfather’s wise action of sending my mom to Normal school instead of marrying her to one of the PLA generals (to the wish of my miserable grandmother) has been the greatest hidden event of my life! My mother had a step-mom who had lost her previous husband and was driven out by the late husband’s family upon her son’s death, like a useless piece of furniture. She became so miserable, she passed on all her negativity and abuse, silently hampering my mom’s complete liberation. As a new woman of new China, Mom still didn’t not have enough time and chance to break away from what had been moulding her, for just as time is consistent, so are culture and history, so are the mentality and behaviours. But how to break away from the culture that has much wonderful nutrition and loving intention behind these seemingly harsh push? In the end, I find it disgraceful, ungrateful and ignoble to blame my parents or my ancestors for any bad mark they put on us because we should just acknowledge their effort and the impact, and vie for change. I love my parents and this complicated country so much that I accept who they are and honour them with my best effort simply for the life they gave me!
This cultural pattern of putting all the expectations to the name-carrying sons explains the unfavorable economic situation of women, and this pattern has endured the 63 years of New China with little change in its intrinsic nature, in comparison with the western women in Europe, North American, and especially Quebec (French speaking Province of Canada whose population had been controlled by the mentality of the Catholic Religion)! The rights of women can only be achieved by effort from both sides: men and women together.
Vive l’ouverture de la Chine! For China, it is the hammer that will further break the chain, at least for some of us, Chinese men and women, then slowly for the Nation, simply for the love of life! Each of the 2 counterparts has to be sound, complete and happy, thus making life fun and efficient, either in our personal daily life, social life or economic life! Some advanced western countries have shown many excellent examples of how to play the game in life, so we, Chinese men and women, open our eyes, watch and learn! I left China for the purpose of breaking completely the chain. Along with me, I brought my son, first to help mould him into a gentleman who will rely on himself, and further help him to be able to treat others including women the way it should be for an interesting life for himself and for a fair game that will enable him and people around him to win in the proper sense.