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Emotional Bond among the Chinese

2018-06-04 11:51:00 Source:China Today Author:ZHOU LIN
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Families in China

Editor-in-Chief: Jiao Yang

Paperback, 247 pages

Published by China Women Publishing House


By staff reporter ZHOU LIN

THE Spring Festival Travel Rush, known as Chunyun in Chinese, is the largest annual human migration on earth. No matter where or how busy Chinese people may be; on lunar Chinese New Year’s Eve they will buy a ticket to reunite with family over a banquet replete with handmade dumplings among other traditional delicacies. The vital role that family plays in people’s hearts is illustrated through the sincerity and dedication in observance of this annual gathering. The core traditional values that one should have a harmonious family, nurture their children, and show filial obedience to the elderly, made millions of Chinese families the cornerstone of national development, progress, and a harmonious society. Families in China is a book about stories of millions of Chinese families.

The first part is a photo album of Chinese families, including both black-and-white photographs and chromo photographs, spanning from the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to the early 21st century. The people’s attire in these pictures changed from gowns and mandarin jackets to cheongsam and Chinese tunic suits and then to Western-style clothes and wedding dresses. The monumental changes that the country and its family structure underwent can be observed in the changing backgrounds and fashions. Take the folk customs during the Spring Festival as an example. In the old days, it was a tradition for Chinese people to have a family reunion dinner and participate in activities at temple fairs; but now, some families travel to Sanya in the southernmost China’s Hainan Province where they can enjoy sunny beaches even in winter. Chinese people’s wedding ceremonies have also changed as both Chinese traditional scarlet attire and Western-style white wedding dresses are welcome on the wedding day. Transnational marriages are more common and it is popular for old couples to take their golden or silver wedding anniversary photos.

The second part discusses traditional Chinese family values through the generations which came from their historical and social circumstances. For example, in an agricultural society where productivity was low, people’s life expectancy was short, and their ability to avoid risk was low as well; it was natural for Chinese people to cherish the idea of “more sons, more blessings.” Some other noteworthy traditional adages from the book are “A harmonious family will prosper,” “One should be industrious and thrifty in managing a household and has the responsibility to bring glory to one’s ancestors,” “Domestic shame should stay indoors,” “Filial piety is the most important of all behaviors,” “When one’s parents are alive, one must not travel far,” “A stern father and a kind mother family pattern is encouraged,” and “If the son is uneducated, his father is to be blamed.” However, along with the rapid development of Chinese society, some traditional family values have changed. China’s “one-child policy” has transferred the family structure from traditional big families to smaller, single child nuclear units. As the kids grow up, go to universities and work in different provinces, empty-nest families have become a phenomenon in China. Meanwhile, young Chinese people seem to have more choices today. With the implementation of the “two-child policy,” the Chinese family structures become more diversified. In metropolises, single-parent, DINK (double income no kids), one-child and two-child families coexist and young people make their own decisions on when to marry and how to establish their families. Chinese parents have become increasingly open-minded toward their children’s marriage and would rather put their energies on studying in institutes for senior citizens or travelling with friends to enjoy their retirement days.

The book also shares 35 unique stories of Chinese families with readers, including an ethnic minority family residing in the mountains, a rural migrant workers’ family in cities, three generations pursuing one dream, a family of teachers, and so on.

Among them, a Naxi family’s dream to promote folk music is one of the most impressive. The Naxi ethnic minority resides in southwestern China’s Yunnan Province. The story narrates how three generations of He Wenguang’s family have been working tirelessly to save the ethnic group’s folk music tradition. “If the tree’s roots are deep into the soil, the tree will not fall.” This proverb from the Naxi ethnic minority is also the family motto of He Wenguang. Over the past 30 years, He Wenguang devoted himself whole-heartedly into collecting and sorting out folk songs, overcoming a great deal of hurdles. His family members understood him and lent him their full support. His wife did all the farm work while looking after their children. Subsisting on his meager income, He Wenguang could only help them on Sundays or during festivals. “If we do not have money, we can always earn more, but if no one tries to save a culture on the brink of extinction, the lost culture cannot be brought back, no matter how much money you spend,” said He Wenguang.

He Wenguang’s 84-year-old mother Xiao Rulian is an esteemed Naxi folk musician and his daughter has graduated from the Music College of Minzu University of China, who has not only written Naxi folk music but also brought it to Germany, France, and over 10 other countries. He Wenguang’s family dream is to hold a family concert in Vienna’s Golden Hall. In addition, he hopes to establish a museum to record the Naxi people’s music, poetry and paintings, as well as open a school to teach Naxi music and art.

The book’s last chapter “In the Eyes of Foreigners” shares some foreigners’ views on Chinese families. Valeria Vannoni from Italy says that family is one of the most important for the Chinese, who show their respect to the family, uphold their responsibility, and even sacrifice for their family members. Education occupies a vital position in the family. Canadian professor Robert Miller thinks that love is the greatest gift Chinese parents and grandparents give to their children and grandchildren. While for Carlos Godoy Parejo from Spain, “When one’s parents are alive, one must not travel far” is the most impressive thing. He says, “Affection for family members is the emotional bond among Chinese people.”  

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