Last week I went to a weeklong counseling training in Zhengzhou (in Henan province). It was a training with all local Chinese people with the exception of me and one other foreigner. I knew I would be learning about what counseling looks like in China, but I never thought I would have learned so much about the culture; marriage and child rearing culture to be more specific.
During the week, we would discuss key concepts and then the trainers would ask for real life examples. One by one locals would stand up and explain different aspects of their marriages and of how they were raised or how they are raising their children. They would then say how they want to change these things. I sat listening to these things (through a translator) and was heart broken.
Marriage culture in China is vastly different from what we experience in North America. One thing I have learned about Chinese culture in general since living here is that it is very much every man for himself. This is no different in marriage. The Chinese see it as rude and improper to ask your spouse about what they did at work or what they do all day at work. Inquiring into their life outside of the house seems like you are digging for some piece of information they do not want to give up, even if it is a small as “who did you have lunch with today?” That is far too much for them. They have completely separate lives and it causes a lot of unhappiness.
In the US we see marriage, for the most part, as two people joining their lives together. Marriage takes compromise and work. Our marriage culture is different. Communication is one of the key aspects of resolving conflicts and “staying on the same page” as ones partner. In China, when conflict arises in their marriages they do not like to discuss it. “Face” is very important to them, even in marriage. They do not want to lose face with anyone. Rather than discuss things, they sweep them under the metaphorical rug and allow their frustration and hurt build up. This is until they blow up at one another. They tend to ignore the other person. One partner will say what is on his mind, and the other will half listen, if at all.
Relationships are very dramatic. If they have a small fight about anything, divorce or leaving the other person is threatened. It is not to be taken seriously. Women will pack their bags and walk out the door, but they will come back. This is how they make a point about things.
For the most part, in the US we believe that words have power and meaning. So saying you want a divorce or that you do not love someone means that you feel that way. In China, they are usually empty threats/words to make the other person feel bad or yield to what the other party wants. Mother’s will tell their children, at a very young age, “if you don’t listen to me, I won’t love you anymore.” The young child will then reply, “if you make me do that, I won’t love you anymore.” The child hears this throughout their life and without ever realizing what that has done to them, believes they must perform for their parent’s love and approval.
Parents put a lot of pressure on their children to marry in a particular way and a specific point of their (as the parents) lives. Parents want their children to do what is best for them, as their parents, not for themselves. Children marry someone because it allows their parents a sense of security in knowing they will be taken care of in old age. It is much less about their children being happy and much more making sure someone takes care of them.
This is not to say that they do not actually love one another, in regards to marriage or parent-to-child relationships, their culture is just extremely different than what Westerners realize. There are so many different cultural aspects of marriage and child rearing that I do not know or understand about the Chinese, and this is not necessarily true of the minority groups of China.