Some articles I read a few days ago jumped out at me: 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 along with obligations. Chinese families lay such important heavy roles on their men, and some of these men get stuck struggling to meet their great expectations (or obligations?) and fall short. In the money and success orientated China of today, those who do not look at money first, and those who are less socially efficient, feel the burden of the expectation from their parents and extended family to pass on their Name to future generations (guāng zōng yào zǔ 光宗耀祖 – Honour and shine the Ancestors). Carrying on the Family Name with its obligations has been an important issue for a Chinese society centered on its most important units: families.
Luckily, I was born to family of generations of teachers, who have always tried 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 from 500 years ago, but it saved my educated — thus in a sense advanced — parents the trouble of choosing whose name to pass on, the father’s or mother’s! And yet, as I am a woman who married into another Name, there is no more joke here! I automatically lost the chance to pass on my name to my son. That is why girls lose the advantage on important issues such as real estate ownership regardless of their performance!
It is very much worthwhile to go further into the importance of sons for families. In the majority of Chinese families, there exists a blended expectation for the sons to become the support for parents in their old age, with the responsibility of Passing on the Name.
My brother was sent to study Chinese medicine for five years at a University, but 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, unbeknownst to him, to a friend of his that wanted him to join a music band. In the letter, my father wrote: “Leave my son alone. If he leaves school, I will not let you go!” My brother never actually mustered the courage to raise the question to my father, because it was so out of the question. He was destined to finish his medical university and to become a doctor, since Chinese parents always think and know the best for their kids! My brother only found out about what his father had written to his friend a few years later…
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 to a path that his ancestors had no knowledge of and would never have approved. He never imagined that he would be so torn apart by his dream and the important role he played in the family! If he had stayed with his medical career, he would never have experienced the unbearable sighs and constant negative comment about his financial instability and inability to manage responsibilities for his own daughter, let alone his obligations to his aging parents! He would never have experienced his father’s distant, almost indifferent, scorn for having ignored their advice to keep his Golden Rice Bowl, and having him float around China instead, to the bars where “vulgar rich business men” go, and not for his music! Yet this is his choice, and I hope he will never regret it!
You might ask me: why do you talk about Chinese men instead of women? I believe that without knowing this particular culture, which places such important roles on men, we will never understand how it treats its women. As Lao-Zi said, 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 this great expectation. What I got was the best of everything a girl could have: a loving father and a strict trainer mother (normal dad and strict mom makes for the smartest kid). I would be married out to another family, and even though since 1949 we no longer have to bear the name of the husbands (Chairman Mao set us free!), I would still be holding the internal house business for another family, and so I needed skills for running the 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 with cooking, carry water twice a week, chop wood, and learned all sports at school. My mom trained my courage as well, by sending me to walk 3.5 km all alone from her village primary school to my father’s high school at age 6.
My brother was spared all the 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 as she took care of her husband. I also don’t know if it was because having a second child, a busy teaching job and full household management just didn’t leave her any time nor patience! Strangely enough, Mom has served Dad as a traditional woman: holding the whole sky at home while she listened to Chairman Mao and holding the other half of the sky at work, bringing home 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 (because educated Chinese men DO respect their wives spiritually), it seems that she never made enough efforts to do so. She used this motto to train me: “上得厅堂，下得厨房”（show up nicely in grandiose halls and mess up in kitchens) , but it 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 for his ability to understand that money and success are not the only things that make a marriage or family work.
Fairness and justice are two words too easy to say, yet very heavy to carry in life. The inborn quality of our ancestors and the moulding ability of our culture shapes the minds of our offspring, and thereafter those minds shape our future! What we think and how we think directly or indirectly determines our behaviour patterns that further mould us into the same mentality. It is like an unbreakable chain that just goes on and on.
This chain needs to be broken. My farmer grandfather’s wise act of sending my mom to Normal school instead of marrying her to one of the PLA generals (as was the wish of my miserable grandmother) has been the greatest hidden event of my life! My mother’s step-mom had lost her previous husband and was driven out by the late husband’s family upon the death of her son, like a useless piece of furniture. She became so miserable that she passed on all her negativity and abuse, silently hampering my mom’s complete liberation. As a new woman of new China, my Mom still did not have enough time and opportunity to break away from what had been moulding her, for just as time is consistent, so are culture and history, mentality and behaviours. But how to break away from the culture that also has wonderful nutrition and loving intention behind the seemingly harsh insistence? 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, We should just acknowledge their effort and the impact, and strive 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 on the name-carrying sons explains the unfavorable economic situation of women. 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 (a French speaking Province of Canada whose population has 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, and then slowly for the rest of the Nation, simply for the love of life! Each of the two 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, should open our eyes to watch and learn! I left China for the purpose of breaking the chain completely. I brought my son along with me, first to help mould him into a gentleman who will rely on himself, and then to help him to be able to treat others, including women, the way it should be, to ensure an interesting life for himself and for a fair game that will enable him and people around him to win in the proper sense.