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City Life - Culture
Written by Daemon Borek
After being married to a Chinese woman for two years, I have noticed one question constantly comes up in conversations with both Chinese and Western people. “What are the differences between Chinese and Western girls?” The differences really aren’t that dramatic or unfathomable. But there is one difference that everyone who wants to date or marry a Chinese must understand. The role that our families play in our lives is very different.
Many years ago, I was having the “cultural differences” conversation with some Chinese friends. People kept bringing up the usual suspects of food, entertainment, way of life, and the rest of the trivial ones I was accustomed to hearing. The conversation was generally boring and I gave my standard tape recorder answers. Until one of the guys at the table piped up and uttered one of the most insightful things I have heard in a long time. He said: “The biggest difference between the China and the West is that in the West you marry a girl.

In China you marry her whole family.” I didn’t pay much attention to his statement at first, but over the years I have found this to be a mantra that I continually have to remind myself of. The Chinese family unit is the centre of everything. It is the core of their social structures and is questionably the most important pillar of their society. It is ancient and ingrained and it’s something you will come up against again and again in any relationship.
I’m not very interested in making a judgment on the family’s importance in a relationship. Like most things there are positives and negatives. I’d rather focus on where the Chinese family truly differs from ours and its power over the decisions you will make in your life with a Chinese partner.
My parents were quite hands-off when it came to my brother and me. They cared more about our “happiness” and tried to instill a sense of independence and self-reliance. They rarely offered unsolicited advice and generally stayed out of our business. My path in life is my own and they would only jump in if they saw me careening off a cliff. The Western family is compartmentalized to an extent. Think of it like a super tanker ship. If one section springs a leak, you seal it off and the ship carries on. One rotten apple can’t ruin the bunch. The family unit survives because each member is an independent entity or cell, generally self-sustaining and insulated from the rest. We are always there for each other in times of need but our overall survival is not determined by all pistons firing in unison.
Compare that to the Chinese family. Parents have a vested interest in the success of their children, because their children will care for them when they are old. The filial piety is essential to maintaining the structure and Chinese children are under extreme pressure to fulfill these responsibilities. Parental advice can determine one’s future and a fair amount of kids in University have chosen a major based on what their parents deemed best for them. This is because the family functions as a unit that is interdependent. Each member has a responsibility to the unit as a whole as opposed to the individual. Decisions are made based on the general well-being of the majority. If you change “country” to “family” in JFK’s famous quote you can get a better understanding of the Chinese family unit. “Ask not what your (family) can do for you - ask what you can do for your (family).”
I know that in my explanations I have generalized a bit. I know that the times are changing and the family dynamic is never static. But our core focuses on the individual over the group and the group over the individual will always remain central in our differences. The Chinese emphasis on the unit over the individual is a major cultural difference that everyone wishing to marry a Chinese must be aware of.

One needs to think of it like being a part of a team, to quote Gene Hackman in Hoosiers, “five players on the floor functioning as one single unit”. Sure this is a simplistic analogy, but it has served me well so far.

Our valuable Editor Daemon Borek has been with us since Saturday, 24 July 2010.

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+1 #6 Mozzano 2010-10-28 16:55
Excellent article. But this family mentality doesn't only exist in China. In South-European countries it is very similar. Chinese women are difficult and a bit too materialistic. ("The more money you bring home the more I love you"). Exceptions exist...My friend used to say: There are 2 kinds of women: Women and Chinese (Asian) Women.
+1 #5 Jeff Dotson 2010-10-09 07:35
good article
+4 #4 Daemon Borek 2010-09-19 23:27
@Cameron:I wrote this from the perspective of the American/Canadian Family relationship, I understand that in places in Europe it can be quite different. I always thought Italians were a good match for the Chinese, as their family structure and values are quite similar.

As for the "princess" syndrome you mention about the girls, I understand what you are saying. But as a blanket statement about an entire country's female population......that may be a tad harsh. Although i have heard some stories about the girls in this country, and their requirements for a guy, that have blown my mind. Yet, I think it is a case of the minority getting more "press" than the majority.
+5 #3 Peter 2010-09-19 11:32
I can see your point of view. But I don't think the family mentality solely exists in China. Many European families hold similar ideals as those in Eastern Asia.

I still think the biggest difference with Chinese girls is their idea of the role they play in a relationship. They are delicate flowers, that the world revolves around.
+6 #2 sascha 2010-09-03 03:09
I feel you, good point on the family. I don't really have much of that in my life -- my wife's mother died before she could see our son and her father is a pretty hands off, though extremely concerned in-law. What I do notice is that deep concern my wife has for her father even though they fight like dogs. I envy that so much. I left home early and talk to my parents now and then ... i am trying to increase the frequency though, in part because of my wife's influence but mostly because imagining speaking to my son once every six months creates a hole in my belly ... only now do i understand ...

I've been writing about this for a while, you can check some of it out here:
+4 #1 dongshizhang 2010-09-01 21:48
some good points
I was under the impression that traditionally in China when a daughter marries, she is more of the husband's (family) responsibility than her own. I guess this is sort of a countryside mentality but the phenomenon exists...

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