Fenshou: "I Was Once Engaged to a Chinese Man" | Speaking of China

35 Responses

  1. fernandocruz
    fernandocruz April 12, 2013 at 5:31 am | | Reply

    that’s long time ago,lady,hope u do not hold any grudges.yeah,it happens,let it go,and don;t ever let it change u in a way

  2. askdsk
    askdsk April 12, 2013 at 7:19 am | | Reply

    A story beautifully told. Once you are closer to the political establishment, you will know how much of China is “traditional”.
    Gender plays a role. In inner circle of Beijing, it is not uncommon for those daughters of high ranking officials to marry foreigners. They all keep a low key for the party’s sake. The sons have to bear extra burden. Social code also changes when you are up the ladder.

    I am not sure if this lady fully understood his ex-finance’s background. A simple visit wouldn’t tell much. You were likely to experience all the culture shocks. I also wonder what would happen if the relationship has lasted longer. It was a long time ago and many things did evolve.

  3. David
    David April 12, 2013 at 9:16 am | | Reply

    I think she ran into a real communist family. Just like over a quarter century ago in Indiana, one Japanese American woman from Hawaii dating a white soldier ran into his racist mother. He also promised her that just liker her, his mother is a Christian with not a racist.

  4. Tarryn-Maree
    Tarryn-Maree April 12, 2013 at 10:31 am | | Reply

    Wow, That was beautiful! 🙂 I’m so glad her views on China as a whole didn’t change after they broke up.

    Reminded me of something my Mother used to tell me when I was dating a Coloured/Mixed boy a few years ago. We really were not well suited for each other, we disagreed too much. But still we tried to stay together because we loved each other. And one day my mother told me that sometimes love just isn’t enough to keep a couple together! Not words I wanted to hear at the time, but I understand today why she told me that so out of the blue.

  5. Fred
    Fred April 12, 2013 at 10:39 am | | Reply

    @ Girl With Broken Heart. I am sorry to read that you had a horrendous experience with the traditional Chinese man. When I was younger, I wanted one of those traditional Chinese girls and I more or less had the same experience as you did. I had difficulties in a different way though. Then I got sick of them and decided that Western girls (including ABC girls) were for me. You should have tried dating an ABC man. We (ABC boys) are more wild, crazy, and loose (ie. more fun). Hee, hee, hee….. All the best to you and your family.
    I am happy to read that you are now happy with an Indian man now.

  6. smallsquirrel
    smallsquirrel April 12, 2013 at 11:55 am | | Reply

    Thanks for reading, and thanks Jocelyn, for sharing my story! As I said, I absolutely did not know a lot about China back then. But to be fair at the time really no one did… especially about families that operated like the one I encountered. I tried my best, but it really was more about it being a bad interpersonal match-up. I learned a lot and I am happy for that and the time I spent there!

  7. askdsk
    askdsk April 12, 2013 at 1:47 pm | | Reply

    May I ask what year?

  8. smallsquirrel
    smallsquirrel April 12, 2013 at 2:26 pm | | Reply

    I am horrible with dates, but I would guess 1994. No later than 1995.

  9. Allison
    Allison April 12, 2013 at 2:51 pm | | Reply

    I really appreciated your story, smallsquirrel! Thanks for sharing.

  10. James
    James April 12, 2013 at 3:48 pm | | Reply

    @smallsquirrel, perhaps you were with too much of a Confucian type of family. There are 2 sides to every Chinese. Try a Daoist guy. The Daoist guy never have rules, so your personality wouldn’t be surprising to that person.

  11. menglelan
    menglelan April 12, 2013 at 4:09 pm | | Reply


    Excellent essay. I am happy that you are now happy. That guy had too many rules and regulations. Really, if I had been you I would have whacked the Zhong guy to no end whatsoever with my excellent collection of kungfu weapons and simply song-zhong’ed him.


  12. Blossom
    Blossom April 12, 2013 at 6:07 pm | | Reply

    Thanks for your story Smallsquirrel! Your story is wonderful, and you perfectly describe and articulate the notion of behaviours and emotions being measured. I am curious about how your finance’s behaviour in China compared to his behaviour in your home country. Did he have a critical approach towards you during your courtship? Did he place expectations on you when you were out socialising? What a shame he couldn’t wrap his arms around you and tell you that vomiting is ok, everyone does it…:(

  13. Chen Yong
    Chen Yong April 12, 2013 at 6:10 pm | | Reply

    This story sounds 1970s, or Mao’s last dancer to me..

  14. Chen Yong
    Chen Yong April 12, 2013 at 6:16 pm | | Reply

    Nowdays Families like that in China was so rare, I just know, wealthy people tried hard to immigrant to overseas, ordinary people changed so much their views instead of this type of tranditional BS, maybe ZHong was from one of old fashioned plotical level back ground of families in China, well, that could be only reason make him think, “Shame or losing faces” just how was unlucky for you, however that somehow build up your mind with Asia with out this unlucky enagement, you wouldn’t keep moving find your current husband right now, its everything working alright. so by this point you were lucky.

  15. xl
    xl April 12, 2013 at 6:40 pm | | Reply

    Yeah I agree with Chen Yong’s comment. Your ex must have been from a “gan bu” family, meaning they had ties to the Party. While “face” is an important part of Chinese culture, there is definitely such a thing as prioritizing face to a pathological level. I think any girl, Chinese or foreign, would have felt uncomfortable in your situation.

  16. xl
    xl April 12, 2013 at 6:57 pm | | Reply

    P.S. The thing that angers me most about this story is the carrot wasting. Back in the early 90s, people in China were still on liang piao (food rations). I still remember my grandma carefully storing the slips of paper that would allot us certain kilos of meat, grains, veggies, etc per month. The fact that this family could afford to throw food away just to make a passive-aggressive point shows that they were living sky high above the level of ordinary Chinese. Having ties to the Party is like having ties to the Mafia. There’s a lot of shady business that calls for discretion. No ordinary laobaixing would have made the cut, let along a foreigner. Girl, you dodged a bullet!

  17. askdsk
    askdsk April 12, 2013 at 8:46 pm | | Reply

    Nobody knows how much pressure the guy was under at the time.
    A powerful story does not mean the other person is to take all the blame. I think those list of to-dos is just as long today in certain families. It has a lot to do with the social circle. In fact, you will find it works similar ways in US, but less strict perhaps.

  18. Sveta
    Sveta April 12, 2013 at 9:23 pm | | Reply

    Beautiful story, nicely told. I will write mine, although it will be in a story form, I should let you guys know…sorry I didn’t do it earlier.

  19. Laura
    Laura April 12, 2013 at 9:50 pm | | Reply

    Did you visit China afterwards?
    I like the way the story was told, no doubt that relationship marked you and your memory.
    Congrats for your marriage, your chopped or not chopped vegetables!

    It could perfectly come from a book. I wonder how Zhong is at present.

    This articles are a great idea! Thanks for sharing.

  20. forest
    forest April 12, 2013 at 10:23 pm | | Reply

    @smallsquirell – 1994 in China is really ancient, considering the profound impact of rapid economical development on people’s social mindset.
    In short, as globalization expands, different cultures start to converge. Don’t think young generation would have the same mindset, certainly not ABC.

  21. Deeter
    Deeter April 13, 2013 at 5:35 am | | Reply

    Foot binding is a myth made up by stupid Americans? Now that’s the most disgusting lie I’ve ever heard. My Chinese friends have told me about foot binding in China. For some reason Chinese think small feet is a standard of beauty. smallsquirrel, you’re better off without him. For someone as precious and open-minded as yourself, he should be the one trying to impress you.

  22. Eileen黃愛玲
    Eileen黃愛玲 April 13, 2013 at 8:23 am | | Reply

    Thank you for sharing this piece of your life and I am glad you’re happy right now. China is a vast beautiful country. I also wonder if you ever went back recently?

  23. Bruce
    Bruce April 13, 2013 at 8:42 am | | Reply

    ahahahhaha Foot binding during that time was true 60 + yrs ago. I used to know a Chinese woman who married to a Chinese man yrs ago. His parents worked for the Chinese gov’t and his dad was a high ranking official with drivers. Their marriage didn’t work out because her MIL controlled every moves that they made like ” you can’t close /lock your door while sleeping etc” You have to disclose everything even pissing in the restroom, you have to show your private parts. I don’t know about you guys but I want privacy. We’re training alot of sissy men out there.

  24. askdsk
    askdsk April 13, 2013 at 3:16 pm | | Reply

    I am surprised to see many Chinese guys comment here are so negative.
    About chopping the vegetables, it is a big deal in good Chinese cooking. The guy’s family is clearly privileged. He was certainly not interested in simply to please a girl. He was looking for someone who his family could accept. It is a different dynamic in that relationship. Relationships requires compromises sometimes.

    I like your story. But I see bias in it as well. It has a lot to do with your understanding of the culture.

  25. smallsquirrel
    smallsquirrel April 13, 2013 at 4:45 pm | | Reply

    Again, thanks everyone for your kind words and feedback.

    Nope, haven’t gone back. Not because I don’t want to or never would go, it’s just that I have family in Europe and now in-laws in India and that really eats up the traveling budget! I would LOVE to go back to China and explore it more. My Mandarin is rusty but I think I could get it back eventually. And clearly there is so much more to see and do (and eat)!

    As for the ex, he remained in the US and is now on his second divorce, I think. Clearly in a relationship it takes two people to make it succeed or fail. The failure was not only his fault. But in the end I also did not want to make it work because it was not the right relationship for either of us. Does that make sense? The failure wasn’t down to any one person’s culture, it was down to personalities and what each of us needed from a partner.

  26. smallsquirrel
    smallsquirrel April 13, 2013 at 4:57 pm | | Reply

    askdsk… want to know something crazy? his parents and family LOVED me. And in the end I grew fond of them too. They were devastated when we broke up and I received a long letter from his mother about it asking me to reconsider. It seems Zhong’s family were much more accepting of my slips than he was ever able to be. They were willing to teach me and saw that I was willing to learn. Yes, there were frustrations, as there can be any time there is a culture gap AND a knowledge gap AND a communication gap. But like I said, the major issue was one of compatibility.

  27. Askdsk
    Askdsk April 13, 2013 at 5:54 pm | | Reply

    The story is more complete now.

  28. Michelle
    Michelle April 13, 2013 at 10:24 pm | | Reply

    Thoughtfully penned, indeed! I’m so glad that her view of China and Chinese culture in general wasn’t tainted after this horrendous experience. Congrats to Smallsquirrel for embracing a life of seeing the lightheartedness of embarrassing situations and chopping vegetables any damn way you want.

  29. Jacqueline
    Jacqueline April 13, 2013 at 11:19 pm | | Reply

    As a Chinese, I hope your experience didn’t ruin your perception of Chinese culture. His family must have been wealthy and had some political connections to the Communist Party based on the details. I don’t think a middle class Chinese family would throw out carrots like that. We might use it for something else if it doesn’t look aesthetically correct but throwing it out would be a waste. I feel sympathy for you because I had a grandmother who came from a wealthy family in Canton and I hear a lot of stories of how regimented life was back then. Of course, that was around WWII and I think your ex could have taken a ‘chill pill’. It wasn’t /that/ bad.

    Anyhow, I’m glad to see that his family actually did like you and that you moved on and had a happy family with a wonderful man.

  30. askdsk
    askdsk April 13, 2013 at 11:49 pm | | Reply

    I think the story is fair for the most part. But it s also emotional that can be misleading. How the family reacted at the end showed they were also acting in their son’s best interests.
    It takes maturity to single out a person, not the entire country or entire culture.
    “chop our vegetables into any shape we wish” — I dare to say life is more complicated than that.

  31. Bruce
    Bruce April 14, 2013 at 8:05 am | | Reply

    You guys don’t understand anything!! Chopping your vegetables in a particular shape is personal. You will never see me chop a carrot like the above picture. iIf you chop it in a wrong way, chop the correct way next time. No big deal! Some neat freaks will chop vegetables neatly but their lives are not perfect I can promise you. At least , his parents were understanding and willing to teach her about everything. I always say ” compatibility” is the most important factor in any relationship or even for business relationship. Culture gap is one thing but ARE YOU WILLING TO LEARN ? I’m learning everyday.

  32. menglelan
    menglelan April 14, 2013 at 8:38 am | | Reply

    Yeah, Bruce, I understand that, but throwing away food that isn’t perfectly chopped!?! No, I don’t understand that and don’t tell us what to understand.


  33. Kin
    Kin April 20, 2013 at 5:44 pm | | Reply

    Interesting story, I’m glad you’ve moved on and happily married now. It’s strange how your ex find the feudal practice; foot binding disgraceful and yet in reality his family life seemed to be of the feudal era. Though I don’t mean that they are bad people. This is a very interesting development of Chinese culture through the effect of the communist regime. I’m sure such mindset is slowly phasing out.

  34. SBC
    SBC May 28, 2013 at 5:24 am | | Reply

    Wow this must have been heartbreaking. Its interesting how the culture differences didnt break you up but highlight differences that already were in terms of personality.

    Its a sad story but I am glad you told it.

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