in Chinese Family Tradition
Almost every foreigner who has written about China has mentioned
the multitudes of people. China was an empire with a dynastic cycle for
most of its long history, so Chinese family traditions continuously
maintained similar forms. However, the last Chinese dynasty was
overthrown in 1912 due to the weakness of its empire and Western
influence. After the Chinese people had suffered through World War II
and a bitter civil war, the People's Republic of China was founded in
1949. The founding of the the new government mainly changed three
aspects of traditional Chinese
family life: family size, women's status, and family duties.
One aspect of traditional Chinese culture that has changed is
family size. Traditionally, agriculture had always been vital to the
Chinese economy, and most Chinese were farmers. The system required
heavy labor and cooperation among all family members
under the extensive cultivation method. Therefore, a traditional
Chinese family was a large family. It might include an elder son, his
wife, his parents, his unmarried siblings, his married brothers and
their wives and their children, and his children. This kind of family
structure lasted for thousands of years. However, since the new
government encouraged each family to bear more children during the early
years, population increased rapidly. When the government officials
realized that overpopulation was restricting economic development, they
implemented the "One Child Policy" in the 1970s. Nowadays,
most Chinese families may include a man, his wife, his parents, and his
child due to economic developments and population control over the last
Another aspect of traditional Chinese culture that has changed
since the revolution is women's status. In the old days, women's status
was very humble and limited to the most basic human rights in a family.
An unmarried woman had to obey her father and her brother. When she was
married, she had to obey her husband. If her husband died, she had to
obey her eldest son. A woman's marriage was arranged by her parents.
Because of social custom and pressure, a young woman would never remarry
if her husband died. Also, a woman had no right to be educated like a
man. Nowadays, under the protection of various laws, women can choose
their marriage partner, and they keep their names after they get
married. They have equal rights with men in the areas of education and
work. Many women work in every fields, the same as men. With legal
protection, they can do anything they want to do. In a word, the change
in women's status is an earth-shaking change in China.
The last aspect of traditional Chinese culture that has changed
is family duties. For many hundreds of years, Chinese children were
taught that duty to the family came first. They were supposed to take
care of their own. Family members who became ill or suffered some other
misfortune counted on the family to take care of them. The family
decided about the children's education, future career, and so on. After
the new government was founded, some
family duties were taken over by the government and some institutions.
The government provides nine years of free education to all school-aged
children. Some institutions provide services such as senior centers,
child-care centers, and health care plans. When a family member meets
some unexpected misfortune, he or she cannot only count on the family
but now can also rely on the government for help.
In fact, the traditions of the typical Chinese family have had
many breaks from the past over the last sixty years, but family size,
women's status, and family duties have been the most obvious changes.
Although some policies like the "One Child Policy,"
which keeps the population at a manageable level, are not
favorable to everyone, I believe more people have a better life due to
these changes in family culture.