Traditional family values in China

Parents are always the first ones to teach us things about life. How many of their words do you still remember? Some parents teach their children through stories, while the others teach the morals directly. Whatever they teach you, family education is definitely something that shapes who you are today. Here, I would like to introduce some important family values in traditional Chinese families which you may find interesting.

1. Sex is a taboo

In a traditional Chinese family, “sex” is a topic that can never be brought to the table. It is regarded as a taboo since people believe it is a disgraceful subject to talk about. My personal experience is that my parents would not allow to watch any sex scenes on television when I was in my teenage. What they did was to cover my eyes when there was any obscene shot. You may think that sounds unreasonable but Chinese people take the matter very seriously. Sex is not something they think the children should know about because sexual relationships between people can be sinful when it comes to controversial moral issues, such as pre-marital sex, adultery, and so on. So, children usually receive sex education outside home. The sources of knowledge could be schools, friends or other media.

2. Filial piety

One of the most important family values is that children should repay their elder parents by providing them with good living conditions. Once the children are capable of supporting their own living, they also need to give their parents a considerable proportion of their income as monthly living expenses. In primary school education, there are dozens of educational stories about how good children should treat their parents with love and respect. Therefore, many Chinese people respect their parents very much and they always choose their career path according to their parents’ will. The influential parents usually have great control over the future of their sons and daughters. In other words, Chinese people bear the responsibility of taking care of their parents. According to Chinese philosopher Confucius, this kind of behaviour refers to a virtue–“filial piety”. I happen to be affected by this kind of moral constraint quite deeply. I believe one of my life goals is to make my parents’ living decent and comfortable because my life is given to me by them. Whenever I feel depressed, I tell myself to be strong in order not to upset my parents. By thinking in that way, I have courage to overcome difficulties.

3. Don’t be yourself. Be someone good.

In Chinese family education, parents tend to refer children to some role models. Children always have to run after a set of good qualities and to look up to a number of well-behaved people. Sometimes, if a child has his/her own thought on a specific issue that deviates from the convention, the child will be considered as rebellious and disobedient. While the same child in the west would probably be deemed as creative. From the times of ancient China, people are told to be someone good. Everybody should learn from, or even better, become those good examples. The preservation of individuality is somehow a strange idea to the Chinese. Such a culture is deep-rooted in traditional Chinese families and one that people find very restrictive to personal development. In my youth, and even now, I still need to struggle between who I should be and who I am on some occasions. For instance, my mum consistently forces me to learn how to cook, while cooking is definitely something out of my interest. She insists on the point that a woman should learn to manage the kitchen, but I do not agree with this kind of old-style thinking. I believe I have freedom to decide what I want to do, so we have disputes over that from time to time.

4. Studying is the only way to success

There is an old saying in Chinese, “Everything is inferior to the achievement in studying” (萬般皆下品,唯有讀書高). In the minds of traditional Chinese parents, to have their children attain a high academic level can be as important as to live. When I was small, my mum instilled me with this kind of value and she was extremely strict towards my academic performance. If I did not achieve a satisfactory result, she would blame me for not working hard enough and get angry with me all the time. The origins of these values are probably due to the low social mobility in ancient China, where teens had to study and pass official exams so as to climb up the social ladder and change their fate. This was the miserable reality of people in ancient China. Therefore, the later generations have also internalised this rigid thinking that studying is the only way to improve ones’ living.

In modern society like Hong Kong, the above mentioned family values are still prevalent. Some people are profoundly affected by some of these values and become quite reserved, while others disapprove of then and treat them as “jokes”. No matter how you view them, these values/beliefs are part of the cultural landscape of this ancient, large country, China.


2 thoughts on “Traditional family values in China

  1. travelerlynne August 9, 2012 / 1:59 pm

    Each society has their own take on family values and obviously, the Chinese embed theirs in thousands of years of tradition. Young people are always in the middle of what part they will challenge (like yours with cooking) and what part they wouldn’t consider drifting from…filial piety. I look forward to reading more of your writings.

    • emilamhk August 13, 2012 / 12:15 pm

      Thanks a lot Lynne!=] This is the first time I started writing blog entries. I hope to share a bit of my thoughts and try to be informative at the same time.=]

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