The Chinese Family

Traditional Chinese family values have been largely centered around the Confucian values of filial piety, ancestor worship, and doing one’s duty within the family. Fifty years ago in China and Taiwan, families were focused primarily on survival. The thought of riches never really entered into most people’s consciousnesses.

Obviously, things have changed. Money, loads of it, can be had by more Chinese people than ever before, and it’s changing (some people would use the word “warping” or “tainting”) traditional Chinese family values.

There has always been a money component to these relationships. Namely, parents are financially responsible for their children until their children earn enough money to take care of both themselves and their parents. Sometimes that doesn’t happen until the children are in their 30s or 40s; sometimes it never happens. Just today, my 26 year old nephew told me that, before he gets married, he’ll make sure he’s got enough income to support both his parents and his own family.

He was born in 1981. Traditional family values are alive and well.

Still, it seems that nowadays money plays an ever more prominent role in Chinese familial relationships. I’ve observed this myself several times, in various forms. For example, in the West, there are plenty of women (and men) who marry for money, or for whom money is a major consideration in deciding who to date and marry, but most people don’t speak openly about wanting to date or marry someone rich. In Taiwan and China, mothers advising their daughters to marry rich men is par for the course. The rich old toad-young hot babe relationships we laugh at in the United States are considered absolutely normal here. Groups of women (often with their boyfriends and husbands present) talk seriously about how important it is to find a man with plenty of money.

The Chinese are nothing if not extremely pragmatic, and what could be more pragmatic than having lots of money, especially now that it is so much more available?

From a 2004 Christian Science Monitor article:

At one level, the fight is between traditionalists and progressives. Many of the former feel that an avaricious new money culture will corrupt China and send it into uncharted waters. They see women becoming sex objects and couples devaluing each other. They see the years from 1950 to 1980 as a stable period of happiness, when moral values were predominant and families found meaning in serving the state.

“The opening up of the 1980s is only now showing itself in the way wives and husbands are chosen,” says Xia Xueluan, a professor at Beijing University. “Now, when a girl meets a boy the first question is, ‘Do you have a house? Do you have a car?’ This causes great strains in marriages, and on husbands, to produce income. I’m worried.”

The money culture and its impact on the family has become even more pervasive since then. In China, where most families have only one child, the pressure on that kid to succeed, to bring honor and riches to his family, is tremendous. Yahoo News reported today on the phenomenon of “extreme Chinese kids,” tykes who are pushed by their families into showing signs of greatness at as early an age as possible. From the report:

“There’s tremendous competition, a lot of pressure for kids to do well at something in China today. It’s something that parents can get pride out of and perhaps make money at,” said Grant Evans, a professor of anthropology at the University of Hong Kong.

Chinese media reports about the feats invariably quote bystanders who wonder whether such activities are dangerous or unhealthy.

But the criticism ends there; children’s rights are only just now starting to creep into the Chinese public consciousness.

The Chinese family is changing, there’s no doubt about that. Whether it is changing in positive directions or not is up to the individual to decide.

Business Application: If you’re doing business in greater China, bear in mind that the Judeo-Christian tradition of getting rich AND getting into Heaven that you probably grew up with doesn’t exist here. You’ll find plenty of ethical business people in greater China, but you may be surprised at how many people in business have no moral misgivings about making lots of money at your expense. Get references; oversee the work you farm out to overseas factories; take nothing for granted.

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Filed under Business, Culture, The Family

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