Changes in Chinese Family Tradition
Hua Tian

             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 thirty years.

             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.