Before I even entered his apartment with John, my Chinese husband, I knew O’Neil – a close Chinese friend of John’s from middle school – had marital distress. But I never imagined that – among other things — it would have anything to do with a struggle over the next generation’s name. “At first, her parents demanded ruzhui,” he shared late Friday, May 27, as John and I sat side by side on a sofa in his apartment for one on Hangzhou’s West Side.
I raised an eyebrow at this strange Chinese word. “What’s ruzhui?
“You marry into her family, and your children have her name,” explained O’Neil. Unlike O’Neil, who came from the countryside, his wife was the only child of a proud Hangzhou family – a family that didn’t want their name extinguished in the next generation, just because they happened to have a daughter. It turned Chinese tradition — the woman marrying into her husband’s family and giving her child his name — upside down.
O’Neil documented far greater transgressions in their marriage (the parents bought them a car, but only gave their daughter a key; on an apartment deed, where they were required by law to write their son-in-law’s name and give him a share in the real estate, the parents gave him only one percent of the value). If anything, the suggestion to ruzhui was almost understandable in a Chinese sense – except that the parents hadn’t discussed it with him before the marriage.
“Did your wife’s parents ask you to ruzhui?” I was having Dragonwell tea in a local Hangzhou teahouse with a guy we all call “Lao Da,” also one of my husband’s middle school classmates. We had attended his wedding ceremony on May 28, a marriage to a local Hangzhou woman, also an only child, also from a family with more real estate and money than Lao Da, a countryside boy. I wondered if her parents had the same idea as O’Neil’s.
He shook his head. “If they had asked, I probably wouldn’t have married her.” Lao Da still believed that passing on the family name was his right and his alone, and, clearly, so did O’Neil.
But not all Chinese men do. After all, my second sister-in-law’s elder brother chose to ruzhui for his own practical reasons. “Where our family is from, it’s not so convenient to travel in and out,” my sister-in-law explained, referring to the fact that they live on the top of a mountain. “He drives a van and thought it would be easier to live with her family in town in the countryside.” That’s because when you “marry into” someone’s family in the countryside around here — normally the case for women in China — you move into that family’s house. I couldn’t believe it.
“So your brother’s child has his wife’s surname? And he’s okay with that?”
My second sister-in-law looked up from her rice bowl and smiled. “Eh. He doesn’t mind at all. He’s happy there. His wife’s family treats him very well, and her father admires him.” As if to make ruzhui even more confusing, my mother-in-law added this: “Sometimes, all the children have the wife’s surname. Sometimes one has the wife’s surname and the other has the husband’s surname. It depends on the couple.”
Sister-in-law’s elder brother — apart from growing up on a mountaintop — seemed pretty similar to his wife: both from the countryside, both of modest means.
But most Chinese men who ruzhui look a lot more like O’Neil, countryside men marrying women from wealthier families from the city — and feeling disrespected that they would even ask him in the first place (and after, not before, he married).
That’s the thing about turning tradition upside down — sometimes, when you don’t discuss things first, it ends up turning a marriage upside down too.
P.S.: For those of you curious, the Chinese characters for ruzhui are 入赘。
P.P.S.: Had a pinyin mistake in the original post — it should be ruzhui, not ruzui. Thanks to Sophie Sun and tweep @alexwoods5 for catching the error. (Guess this is bound to happen when your husband and his family hail from Zhejiang. Oops!)
Have you ever heard of ruzhui? What do you think about this concept?