Social Expectations in China

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I remember the scene vividly:

Late last year, I was eating lunch with a Chinese friend who was obviously upset. When I met her at the gate of the student canteen, she tried her best to make small talk, but something was clearly wrong. Her head hung low, her eyes were glued to the floor, and she spoke in one-breath answers, quiet and polite. 

Finally, when we’d grabbed out trays and dug into the cafeteria food, she told me what was on her mind.

“My parents don’t agree with my boyfriend,” she said, elaborating that the couple had been dating for four years, and she could sense he was on the verge of marriage proposal. She loved him, she said, and she was sure he loved her.

But her parents, working-class people from central China, were practical to the bone. They didn’t like the fact that he was a librarian in Beijing, or the fact that he was a few years shy of 30 and didn’t own a car or an apartment. They asked my friend how he could possible support her, and what use it would do to start a family with a man who could barely afford to feed himself, let alone a second (and potentially third) mouth.

My friend’s arguments did no help. Her parents disagreed. That was final.

A few weeks after our meeting, just before the Chinese New Year and a family reunion that would have been painful had she disobeyed her parents, she broke up with him. There was no other way, she told me.

Such is the dilemma in modern China, where young adults must balance cultural and family expectations with the overpowering desire to blaze their own path and do things their own way –touting individualism over collectivism.  

The expectations are fairly clear cut, and the roles are almost typecast from a Hollywood movie. Men are expected to secure a steady job and then lean on their families to buy a car, an apartment, and anything else that proves handy in landing a wife and starting a faily. Women, for their part, are expected to succumb to their gender roles: Marry before 30, have a child, and raise him/her (preferably a boy) to success. In many circumstances, desperation kicks in if a woman is approaching 30 and hasn’t married yet.

What I would argue is that this set of cultural expectations isn’t unique to China, but from what I’ve seen firsthand, it can be a sort of a poisonous culture that acts to tamp down dreams before they’ve had a chance to blossom.

For instance, I have so many smart, capable, Chinese graduate student friends who will forgo a career in whatever their skillset or interests are in favor of what their parents tell them to do, or what they foresee as the most stable option. 

Society as a whole suffers from this, when innovative, talented people are pigeon-holed into the feeling of living a life and a career that is not their own, but is merely what is expected of them.  


我清楚的记得:

去年年底的时候我和一个很明显心情低落的中国朋友去学生餐厅吃饭的时候,她虽然很努力的装出没事的样子,但她的异样也很明显。她的头低低的垂着,目光仿佛黏在了地上,而她对对话的回应更是十分简短,显得安静又彬彬有礼。

终于,当我们准备开始吃饭时,她告诉了我这件困扰她的事情。

“我父母不同意我和我男朋友,” 她说,接着介绍道他们俩已经在一起四年了,她也觉得男方差不多准备提出求婚了,她爱他,并十分肯定他也爱着她。

但她的父母,中国中部来的工薪阶层,现实到了骨子里。他们不喜欢一个在北京做图书管理员的女婿,或者这个快三十岁还没房没车的男生。他们质问我的朋友这个男人能如何养家,一个连自己都不一定喂的饱的人如何能养的起第二张(甚至可能有第三张)嘴?

我朋友的反驳显得苍白无力,她父母的拒绝已经是最后的答复。

几星期后,在春节前夕,她与那个男生分了手,因为她不希望自己的不顺从会使这个家庭团聚的日子蒙上一层阴影。

这就是现代中国社会的困境,年轻人们必须以压制自己走出自己的路的欲望,以及无法凸显个性来平衡主流文化与家庭的期望,来达成集体主义。

这些期望非常的显而易见,就像是经典的好莱坞电影,男人们需要有一份稳定的工作,然后买车,买房,买一切找老婆时需要的东西。而女人们则被希望能做到她们这个性别的标准:30岁前结婚,生小孩,把孩子(最好是男孩)养大。大部分的时候,一个接近30岁却还没结婚的女人会变得越来越绝望。

我觉得这并不是中国独有的社会价值观,但我的经历告诉我,这是一种非常不好的文化,会在梦想能有任何发展机会前就扼杀在襁褓之中。

就像我的不少聪明和有能力的中国的研究生朋友们会放弃自己的兴趣,或符合自己能力的工作,而去做他们父母让他们做的工作,或者说看上去最为稳定的工作。

总的来说这个社会会因此受到不小的伤害,这些有创新意识和天赋的人们都像鸽子一般塞进了这个感觉不是他们的生活及工作的牢笼,而这正是社会对他们的要求。



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Four years ago as I was preparing to come to the United States and to University of Northern Iowa, I had no idea what I am going to major in or what I am going to do after graduation. My mum then told me to choose accounting as she explained the stable future of accounting major and the ease of finding a job. "Besides, UNI has a great accounting program and high CPA pass-rate." She concluded.

So that's what I did. I joined the one of the majors that most other Chinese students chose as well. However, I realized that accounting was not for me within the first half of the semester. After a weeks of long and painful "discussions", I changed my major to Public Relations.

Since then, I talked with many students, both Chinese and American, to find out who chose their major and what they feel about their major. Not surprisingly most Chinese students followed their parents' advice while most American students chose the major on their own. Most American students said their parents didn't care what they choose.

However, what came as a surprise to me was the fact that not many Chinese students are as unhappy about the choice as I thought. Most of them said they didn't know what else to do so they followed their family's advice. Don't get me wrong, not all of them are doing great in these majors, but they just endure the suffering (in my opinion), and keep working hard on the subjects they have no interest in at all. "That's what everyone else does," one of them commented.

I am pampered in a way. My parents and I both did not like to work too hard on something if there is an easier way out. So I cannot understand why people would spend so much of their energy on majors they don't enjoy. If they end-up in the industry they might even need to endure it for a good amount of year before they can do something else. And as far as I know, the longer you spend in an industry the harder it is for you to switch.

The reason for such a different mindset of parents is easy to figure out if you consider the difference in society norms. In China, most children nowadays are the only child of the family due to the one-child policy. When there is no one else to take away the attention from the parents, all the expectations fall upon one child. This then naturally caused the parents to map out everything and want their child to make as few mistakes in life as possible, whereas most American parents would spend their attention on multiple children and those families with single child would still be influenced by the society's norm and not interfere their children's life as much.

What the Chinese parents fail to realize is that avoiding mistakes will not only leave the possibility of making greater mistake in the future, but also leave the child to wonder for the rest of his/her life: what if I did/did not….? With this thought, they cannot focus on their current job because they keep thinking they might be doing something wrong. Thus making it hard to give 100% of what they have at work.

There is no easy way to change a society's norm, but I am really glad that I came to University of Northern Iowa for my undergrad degree because it is really easy to switch majors in the United States.


四年前当我准备出发来北爱荷华大学时,我完全不知道自己准备读什么专业或者毕业后准备做什么。我妈妈告诉我选会计专业,因为会计工作稳定,并在毕业后能很容易的找到工作。“而且你们学校的会计专业挺好,CPA通过率也高点”她总结道。

 

于是我照做了,我加入了这个有着几乎最多中国学生的专业。但是不出半个学期我就很明显的觉得会计不适合我。在经过了几周的,又长又痛苦的“讨论”后,我换成了公共关系专业。

从那之后,我和不少中国和美国学生谈过他们的专业,以及他们对自己专业的感觉。不出所料的是大部分中国学生都遵从了父母的意思,而大部分的美国学生则自己选了专业,而他们说他们的父母不怎么在意自己的选择。

但让我惊讶的是并没有我想象中那么多的中国学生对自己的专业不满意,他们中大部分人说自己不知道应该干什么所以就听了家里的意思。我并不是说他们的成绩都很好,但(在我眼里)他们只是默默的接受了这份辛苦的专业,然后努力的学习着这些自己不感兴趣的专业,“大家都是这样的啊”其中一个学生说道。

我应该是被宠坏了,我父母和我都有点如果有更简单的出路就不想做的太辛苦的心态,所以我完全无法理解为什么大家能接受在一个自己不喜欢的专业上花如此多的精力。如果他们最后还进入了这个行业,那可能会要忍受大半辈子才能做些自己喜欢的事,而据我所知,在一个行业里呆的越久就越难换成别的行业。

如果考虑到社会环境的不同,两国父母想法上差异的原因其实很明显。中国大部分孩子都是独生子女,没有兄弟姐妹来分担父母方面的注意力,所以所有的期望都集中到了一个孩子身上,这就很自然的让父母们为孩子的每一步都画好了地图,并希望孩子能尽可能的少走弯路,而大部分的美国家庭会把注意力集中在几个孩子身上,即使是独生子女家庭也会被社会常态所影响而不太干涉子女的生活。

中国父母们没有注意到的是避免走弯路不仅仅会让孩子可能在未来走更大的弯路,更可能会让孩子一直想知道“如果我当初做了/没做…..的话”这个问题的答案。正是由于这个想法,他们无法把注意力集中在他们当前的工作上因为他们不知道自己在做的是不是正确的,所以无法发挥出他们全部的实力。

改变社会的常态是非常难得,但我个人来说非常高兴能来北爱荷华大学读书,在美国换专业的简单对我的帮助实在是非常大。

 

language: 
Chinese