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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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AIC Part 3 - Do we function in a group or as individuals?    

By Garreth Humphris
3472 Views | 1 Comments | 5/19/2010 1:44:01 AM

Chinese Hanzi for 'family' - 'JiaTing'. (pig under roof, cover over courtyard)

Ok, so let’s quit with the anthropology heading – I am actually just a casual observer rather than some learned professional so I all my comments are coming from my own personal experience rather than some multi-tome study on China – I am sure people will disagree with some of my views, and I welcome that! And that is a little bit about what my next topic is about, how Chinese women might ‘function’ in a ‘community’ sense.

My observations of many minor traffic altercations over the years in China tends to tell me that there is a fair degree of ‘fairground attraction’ associated with these sorts of things!. The main combatants will face off and quickly a circle of bystanders will appear and wholeheartedly agree with whoever yells loudest! The combatants will stand face-to-face quivering, then reach for the mobile phone and call for ‘support’. Either a family member or friend who will come down and indiscriminantly join the fray on behalf of their friend – after 5 minutes of this, they both turn around and comfort their injured friend/family member in which time the ‘loudest combatant’ will try to take a ‘lunge’ at the other through the friend (who restrains them), blasphemy a lot and maybe dispatch a volley of spittle or some open-handed slaps, and then both combatants and support crews will sidle off and the crowd will disperse.

The observation of this is that it is human nature is to ‘stick to your own kind’ – meaning that friends and family are supported over strangers and outsiders – nothing new here, we have all done it for thousands of years!

So where does this leave the average CLM male reader wanting to come to China to find a partner? Interesting question.

To put it frankly, you are an outsider!! Probably forever!

Ouch! This sounds harsh I know but we probably need to recognize and explore this dynamic… most cultures have some crazy stories about their in-laws, how they have a difficult time with them – it is the basis of a million jokes! So imagine the complications of different culture, different language and entirely different perspective on life! This isn't a joke anymore!

Case in point: A friend of mine, quite happily married for 6 years with a wonderful child often comments about being ‘misunderstood’ by his Chinese wife’s family. The parents live in the house, a ‘natural’ situation for a Chinese family; traditional parents assume that their daughter will keep them in house and home in their later years – but one my friend has trouble coming to terms with – in a number of ways.

Firstly, the privacy/personal space thing… but you can’t have privacy when you live with 1.3 billion other people – so he got over that quickly!!

More importantly, decisions about the child’s education, shopping excursions, weekends and the like are ‘family decisions’ – not the family he would like - his wife, him and his daughter - but the ‘extended family’ – all the parents, wife’s brother and sister in law, a distant aunt, everyone!

If you have been following my posts, you may have a picture of the idea of ‘face’. Well, to my friend’s wife’s family – he doesn’t really exist! They don’t see him or acknowledge him, so he simply isn’t there and doesn’t need considering most of the time – harsh and cruel, and maybe a slight exaggeration, but the mechanisms he has for coping as an ‘outsider in his own home’ are to talk about it with others about his frustrations so maybe a slightly one-sided story here! But there is some truth in his story!

The ‘traditional’ family hierarchy is such that the oldest brother has biggest ‘say’ in the family and as such, the others must follow suit – but this dynamic has changed because an orange has found it’s way into the apple-cart!

Thirdly, the language barrier doesn’t help either – sure he speaks Mandarin quite well, but the family speak a local dialect that is not the same so being able to participate in discussions is limited to a ‘Yes dear, no dear, well, whatever you family want to do, dear”.

Maybe deliberate, maybe part of the ‘face’ thing as well – but exclusion and a sense of ‘aloneness’ is very high, because his ‘family’ interactions are restrained and he is not able to have a ‘say’ like he would have expected – is he learning the dialect? Yes. Is he succeeding in opening the family? Not really. His wife plays a delicate balancing act of placating him, and satisfying the whims of the family dictate!

So when do they acknowledge him finally? His daughter is 6 years old, and he doesn’t see it changing soon! He feels his wife’s family are good at protecting their own – his wife and daughter – but probably exclude him to a fair extent – he feels ‘tolerated’ rather than ‘accepted’!

Is he trying hard enough? I can’t really answer that point – but it would appear from the outside that he is quite accommodating to most of the family requests – yet he still feels this way. He doesn't have much in common with the family - his interests are not within the group, he doesn't get 'invited' to 'family bonding sessions' such as games or 'family time'. But this is a Western perspective and it is unlikely he will be able to change to become a Chinese man!!

If you read my previous post, you have the story of the girlfriend who couldn’t tell her parents about her relationship with me – and of course, this was the eventual breaking-point for us! The impossibility of remaining ‘secret’! For us to go forward, we would need to get some approval from her parents, but she was not ‘strong’ enough to broach this subject with them – I sometimes ask myself what did she expect would happen? What did she expect the outcome to be when she entered into our relationship? Was it curiosity? Was it ‘status’ of having a foreign boyfriend (although I don’t think I’m much of a trophy!!)? Was it a new lifestyle? I’m still not sure! Cie la vie!

So I’m no trying to put a dampener on your search for a life-partner, on the contrary, fore-warned is fore-armed. All these considerations should be thought about and explored with your partner before you commit to a lasting relationship.

On the same token, I also put it to our male readers about your motives and reasoning behind ‘moving’ a Chinese Lady away from the close-knot circle of family into ‘your’ home environment! Some of the other blogs and forums have shown surprise at a Chinese Lady not wanting to ‘move’ to a new country, or wanting their ‘family’ to stay in China. Think about how this person will react ‘torn away’ from family and friends – that are probably much stronger relationships than you have with your family. You are not just marrying one person - you are marrying a family, a society, a culture and a unique situation! Will you be humble enough to adjust?

My own experience in China is akin to being 'reborn'. I don't say this as being anything with astral-proportions, but living in China is like being ejected into a new world. For most of my life, I have been fairly 'individual' - my parents taught independence and self-sufficiency, my society taught 'standing on your own feet' and 'doing your own thing'. In China, you learn 'consensus living'.

For example: Not speaking (more to the point: not reading) the language you are totally dependent on everyone around you - if you live in the larger cities then you can usually obtain 'support' from localised foreigners - but in general you are plunged into a new world where the words are different, the rules are different, you cannot even find food and you must 'cry' for everything!

I am a big baby! I need food - I cry and it comes... a house - organised through crying! Not tears but through a network of people who acknowledge your plight and help you - I have been very lucky, my landlord has helped me with many things in the house - far beyond their contractual obligations, my friends are available 24-7 with advice and assistance, I have an extended network of workers, aides and acquaintances that can 'sort' things for me - this has been built and fostered for about 8 years now!!! Can I survive here on my own - not likely!!! Relying on one person? Difficult and taxing for that person!

My friends have kept me on the straight and narrow, strangers have forgiven me for major indiscretions and down-right insults without bloodying my nose, neighbours have helped me in sickness, girlfriend's mothers have made me clothes, guanxi has been used to keep me out of trouble, the chengguan (local bylaws police) and bao'an (security) laugh at my lack of security and breaches of regulations, a waitress smiles while I maul a Mandarin phrase to order in a restaurant, a taxi-driver patiently waits for me to cough out my address to the wrong part of town then calls a friend who might be able to identify me and know where I want to go!

So after 8 years, I feel I am functioning as a 3 year old now - I can do things but I need assistance to get the harder stuff done - my progress in language is applauded and encouraged, like a child, and I feel I will be out of diapers soon!
It is like an all-embracing hug - it can be frustrating and warm and fuzzy at the same time!

But getting back onto the serious note: Some questions to ponder...

Do people do all this in your part of the world??

Should you be taking your partner to that place?

Group or Individual - which way do you think you can function?

Will your partner be able to function the other way?

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#2010-05-21 07:41:42 by kahnsfury @kahnsfury

In most cultures, the group always supercedes the individual. I have found many similarities in Mexican society to Chinese. Especially the family organization. It has given me reason to explore more cultures to find out if our own western family view points are the exception and not the rule.

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