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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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Secrets Learned in School. Pt 2    

By Garreth Humphris
2586 Views | 0 Comments | 11/12/2010 2:30:48 PM
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As already alluded to in the previous part of this article, the effect of family can be intense and immediate. Many foreigners on CLM appear flustered by the speed of Chinese women wanting to marry, or the voracity in which they search for a partner on CLM, the disappointment/resentment in finding people they believe are 'players', and the importance they place on family – the family (jia; 家) is centre of most things Chinese and gu rou zhi quin (骨肉之情; feelings of flesh and blood) are intense – so Chinese self image based highly on family!

Often a woman without a family of her own is seen to be a family disappointment or a burden on their extended family - in many cases they will return to live and look after the elderly parents. Traditionally, after the age of 30 years old (but it is slowly changing) an unmarried woman may be viewed as being 'unmarryable'. I have had taxi-drivers offer to introduce their older sister to me - because I am unmarried and she is unmarried and maybe we 'have feeling'!

Activities based around family are most favoured by Chinese and family interactions and influences strongly exist throughout life. Every Chinese New Year there is a mass exodus of eastern seaboard metropolises as people are traveling throughout China to return to their families and hometowns. Often people will withstand diabolical situations like waiting in a line overnight to buy train tickets and then standing for 48 hours in a train just to 'get home'. Granted, it is the longest holiday that most working Chinese get (around 10 days for businesses, about a month for construction workers etc), so there is a high degree of expectation to get home.

I already suggested this in previous blogs about guanxi – that family comes before group or society and building of teamwork outside of family can be difficult.

So while we are talking broadly about family, we should mention a few additional things, charity tends to be within family rather than the general public - looking after your own is very high priority. Nobody wants to be indebted to other people! Asking people for money is more shameful than robbing them! People in the family with money are usually looked upon as being the ones to supply and support the extended family. Many young people believe it is their filial duty to return as much wage as possible to their family for much of their lives.

Also friendships that fall into the family realm are very important – calling an outsider a brother/sister or aunt/uncle is a sign of acceptance and many mainland Chinese have clear distinctions between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. Terms used such as 'old' and 'big' are considered greater honours - my Chinese nickname is 'Pang GeGe' - literally 'Fat Older Brother' while my staff call me 'Lao Da' or 'Old Big Guy'! And I am supposed to be happy about that!!!!

Some are family ties are automatic inclusions – like parents, siblings, relatives and school friends. While others are selective, usually after good manners such as helpfulness, niceness, trustworthiness, caring or empathy are shown…but these usually have to be ‘ongoing’. For example, you can slip from being selected in a family if you are no longer ‘helpful’ to the family agenda! Verbally attacking a family member or criticizing a decision they make can also be akin to treason!

Back in class, after some more general discussion about Chinese families we got onto ‘that question’, one I wrote about earlier. The big one is ‘You are 42 years old, have lived in China a loooooong time -why aren’t you married?’ with a look of sheer terrifying incredulousness!

Many Chinese believe in gan qing 感情– which is not so much Western ‘emotions’ by more like ‘mutual good feelings’. And if these ‘feelings’ are there then the relationship has a solid foundation.
The idea is that gan qing can grow and evolve over time through hu xiang bang zhu (互相帮助;mutual aid) and hu xiang guan xin (hu xiang guan xin; mutual care) implies a sense of interdependency but not necessarily ‘love at first sight’. Often through interactions such as cooking together, working together, telling each other about the weather or advising each other on how to stay healthy are signs of love and affection!

Now you may start to see these types of activities in CLM ‘traditional woman’ profiles, now they won’t seem so wayward to you!

I once met a friend who told me his parents had arranged for him to be married next Spring Festival when he returned to his home town. I asked him to describe his betrothed to me to which he nonchalantly replied 'She is not beautiful, but she cooks well!', I guess he had his priorities sorted!

So, I usually counter the ‘married’ issue with ‘I haven’t found the right girl!’ to which I am told that is ‘impossible – I just don’t have the right ‘feeling!' or that 'there are lots of Chinese girls that would have these 'feelings' for you!'. Maybe true, but sometimes I think you cannot build the best foundations on swampy ground!!!

Then I ask ‘Do you love your wife?’, to get a stony wall of blank expressions! In fact this is a ridiculous question for me to ask, many Chinese traditionally do not express ‘love’ openly – the loving actions of cooking have replaced the need to say ‘I love you!’ or bring flowers. I have asked friends if they have ever said this to their wife and they give vague answers like 'We live together happily' or 'We have feelings', but not the 'L-word'.

Even to children, many Chinese parents appear 'cold' (by western standards) to their children, more likely to chastise them for falling over rather than comforting them.

And while we're complaining about children and parental control!! They are also not as likely to 'control' their children as much - preferring them to run around noisily, annoying everyone else (but I'm just a grumpy old bachelor, right!!). Aaah, got that out of my system!

Another thing I have noticed is often a Chinese person will understate their true feelings to ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ rather than ‘madly in love with’ and ‘wanting to garrote that person with my shoelace’. This is also a manifestation of the 'correct social culture' and the 'refined and genteel' veneer of life. gentlemen, if a 'traditional Chinese lady' says she likes you, or 'has feelings' then you are on the right track!

And that finished my 45-minute lesson with the students! I’m not sure whether they learnt much English in their demo-lesson from hell, but I sure learnt a lot about Chinese!

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