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Popular Online Family Trees Raise Concerns about Changing Family Structure

Family trees have proliferated recently on the Internet, as they've become popular with young people working out the complexities of Chinese family dynamics, yet their popularity has triggered worries over the possible disappearance of traditional kindred bonds.

The popularity of the family trees has reminded people of the changing family dynamic brought about by the one-child policy China adopted more than three decades ago, that allows one couple to have only one child.

For most, online family trees provide a useful tool that can clearly illustrate a five-generation family.

"I finally understood all the family relations and names for relatives after I saw the chart," said a netizen using the screenname "xiaoxue" on, a popular Chinese Internet portal. "I've saved it on my computer to remind me to call my relatives in the correct way."

The "correct" way is a bit more complicated than simply using the words "aunt" or "uncle." Each relative has a unique nickname based on age or position in a family hierarchy, making it easy to be confused by the abundant and complicated relations. An uncle on the father's side of the family is known as "shu shu" in Chinese, while an uncle on the mother's side is referred to as "jiu jiu."

Xiang Ningjie, a 23-year-old man working in a court in southwest China's Chongqing municipality, was easily able to recall the names of his closest relatives, including ten uncles and six aunts. Xiang said he spent a great deal of time with his family as a child.

Twenty-two-year-old Luo Xian, a woman from the same city as Xiang, said that although she knows how to properly refer to her family members, they don't care about the titles very much.

"I believe the appellations should be simplified. Maybe people can use 'shu shu' to refer to all of their uncles, no matter which side of the family they are on," Luo said.

China initiated the "one-child" policy in the late 1970s, when the country was under pressure from its rapidly expanding population.

In recent years, the policy has loosened, and one-child families have been allowed to have another child in many rural areas. But young parents in some cities don't plan to have more children because of career demands or the pressures of daily life.

The structure of modern-day Chinese families has therefore undergone significant changes, with families becoming smaller and family trees much simpler.

The Chinese have highly valued interpersonal relations since ancient time, especially blood relations. Nowadays, various social relations are considered as important resources by most Chinese people, as these relations can give them material or spiritual assistance, said Wang Zhongwu, a sociology professor at Shandong University.

"Since the 'single-child generation' era has arrived, kindred relations will become simpler and will face the prospect of fading away," said Wang Zhongwu, a sociology professor at Shandong University.

"The structure of Chinese families will be changed if the 'one-child policy' goes on, and complicated relations may disappear within the next few generations," said Xu Xiang, a sociology professor at Nanjing University.

However, 58-year-old Kong Lingshao, a 76th-generation descendant of Confucius, doesn't think the problem is so serious.

"Even though many young people are from 'one-child families,' there are still some people from rural areas where parents are permitted to have two children, so the number of relatives will perhaps be reduced but not disappear," he said.


Source: Xinhua

VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us