My husband and I had a little argument yesterday regarding the execution of a British citizen in China, you are probably aware of the case. We often have complete opposite opinions on political issues and China’s attitude towards human rights, democracy, and so on… I tend to avoid these subjects because I know they are very sensitive to him and no matter what he will always defend his country. He can be very stubborn, and very annoyed by the fact that the West will only listen to Chinese people when they criticize their country (his words, not mine).
I was wondering: how do these sensitive issues (Tibet, Urumqi, China’s “great firewall”, freedom of speech, human rights and so on and on…) affect your husband? Do you often have discussions about it? Or do you -like me- tend to avoid them (also on this blog maybe?)? And if you have different views, do they influence your communication?
What sensitive issues? I’ve blocked my Chinese husband’s access to Sina.com and Xinhuanet, so he’ll never again argue with me about China. 😉
Seriously, though, my Chinese husband is the kind of guy who still believes in “helping the Motherland” — so it’s no surprise that we haven’t always agreed. At times, he did see the Western media as incredibly biased, and China-unfriendly (he was a fan of Anti-CNN).
Do we have discussions? You bet. You can’t avoid it — at least not if your husband is a news junkie, like mine, and pours over the online news for fun when he’s not working or doing homework. Inevitably, something is going to happen in China that we disagree about.
In the past, we were truly like a dragon and a phoenix (ironically, also the Chinese symbol of couples). We both had fire when it came to sensitive topics — stubborn, sensitive, and ready to explode if the conversation got too inflammatory. We didn’t want to listen, because we believed we knew the truth — and wanted to defend our own countries. It made for some chilling nights, despite the fire — because, after that, we didn’t really want to talk anymore. Sometimes we would not talk for a whole night.
But our fire has mostly gone — I can’t even remember the last time we stirred up a conversational conflagration over a sensitive topic. My Chinese husband says it’s because of critical thinking — that is, that we are interested in both sides of the issue, and acknowledge that biases exist in media from the West and China (some more than others). I certainly acknowledge the harrowing, and humiliating, recent history in China, and the desire to defend China — if nothing else than for pride. I’m sure I would do the same.
But I think it’s also because we’ve lived in both of our countries as well. Sometimes, that experiential knowledge goes a long way. Just recently, my husband nearly caught a cold at my parents’ home during the holidays, and he said he finally understood how uncomfortable I must have felt when I weathered those chilly nights at his parents’ home during Chinese New Year. His realization wasn’t about a sensitive China issue, but experiences like this can build understanding between couples like us, and make each other more willing to understand and see the other side.
My husband is also more open to talking things out. Before, he would withdraw, and sometimes even stonewall me, instead of engaging. But now, he’s realized it’s important to me to talk. (It also doesn’t hurt that he’s in a communication-heavy PhD program, so he has engage all the time — or else!)
Okay, yes, he can still be stubborn, and so can I (the whole “I’ll let things be, but not until after I’ve shown you the article in the newspaper that supports my point of view!”). Obviously, we don’t always think the same. But, it helps to remember, as my husband often does, that these issues have little to do with our daily lives. Being “right” about something might make us feel better for the moment, but it won’t, say, help me get my writing done, or help John finish his dissertation. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about the moral ramifications of these issues — i.e. the well-being and rights of vulnerable populations in China. We just acknowledge that our argument won’t be so productive, in the long run.
At the same time, I’ve come to discover that a way to a harmonious marriage — sans arguments — is through your Chinese husband’s stomach. I keep him happy with a heavy helping of home-cooked Chinese meals, and, even though I’m a vegan, make sure he has his favorite “comfort foods” — fried eggs, chicken wings, and, a new favorite, smoked salmon.
I also keep a stash of chocolate on hand at all times, ready to feed my husband when an argument strikes. Believe me, nothing melts away an argument quite like chocolate. -)
P.S.: Thanks so much to Ellen for providing my first Ask the Yangxifu question! Do you have a question about dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture). Every Friday, Iâ€™ll choose one question and answer it on my blog. Send me your question today.