Ask the Yangxifu: Apologizing to Daughter’s Chinese Boyfriend

Apology to Chinese
A woman asks for advice on how to apologize to her daughter

I’m Sorry asks:

My college age daughter is in new but fairly serious relationship with a sweet young Chinese man here in the US. I’m concerned because they have not yet told his parents of the relationship. I questioned him about this omission he has stated that he will tell them but in his own time and in his own way. I then asked (perhaps a little too bluntly) if he felt his parents (who are very traditional) might have issues with him dating a non-Asian woman with divorced parents. As soon as I asked the question, I tried to apologize realizing that I had offended him. He denies this of course, being the soul of politeness, but I can tell that he was somewhat taken aback by my bluntness in addressing the issue. I would like to offer an apology in a more formal way and some sort of gift to express my remorse and embarrassment. What would be appropriate way to do this and what could I give as a gift to smooth things over? Thank you.


I applaud your desire to apologize and make amends with this young man. It takes a lot of courage to admit you’re wrong, and even more to do it publicly.

You could get a gift, perhaps asking your daughter what he likes. But why not consider inviting him to dinner instead?

In China, people forge friendships, cement business deals, and even make amends by inviting people out to dinner. Dinner brings people closer together — especially if you do it Chinese-style and share dishes. And it’s not uncommon for people to make speeches or toasts at a dinner, to let someone know how you feel — such as a toast to friendship, or a short speech expressing gratitude. A dinner might be just the thing to build a better relationship with him, and show you care.

Find out from your daughter what restaurant (or type of food) he likes, and then arrange an evening out. It doesn’t have to be a Chinese restaurant or even the most expensive place in town — just as long as it’s nice enough to make it a treat.

When you’re there, make a simple apology, letting him know you’re sorry, but without dwelling on the issue. And then follow it up with something positive. Make a toast to friendship, as many in China do. Perhaps you can even ask him to teach you more about his country, and culture (if my husband is any measure, anytime someone asks him about China, he is thrilled to tell all about it, and teach anyone who wants to learn).

But actions say so much more than words in China, especially when it comes to a dinner out. Suggest appetizers, and encourage people to order more, and even have dessert — even if it means you’ll end up with leftovers. Abundance at the table is a great way to show goodwill. If he likes to drink wine, for example, order a nice bottle for the table. He may try to be polite and complain that there is too much food and drink. He might even protest when you go to pay the bill. But, in fact, he’ll appreciate it more if you’re persistent, as the Chinese are about dinners like this. So, order that extra food anyway and, of course, don’t even let him think of paying the bill. 😉

What do you think? What advice would you give?


Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China (or in Chinese culture)? Every Friday, I answer questions on my blog. Send me your question today.

7 Replies to “Ask the Yangxifu: Apologizing to Daughter’s Chinese Boyfriend”

  1. Personally, I’d invite them out to dinner and make it clear you’re cool with everything, but I wouldn’t mention the matter specifically again or make a deal out of apologizing.

    Culturally, the Chinese aren’t very big on apologies. They’re more the sort to just get over things and pretend that nothing ever happened. For example, I got into a fight with my niece, who is working in my house as our au-pair, recently. She was clearly in the wrong, but I said some harsh things to her as well and immediately felt bad. I wanted to apologize but my husband insisted that I shouldn’t apologize to her, nor should she apologize to me. The next day he said something to her like “forget it, we’re all family” and let it be. She sort of sulked for the rest of the afternoon and then by the evening it was as if nothing had ever happened. It was sort of frustrating for me, being an American, being used to having it out, speaking my mind, perhaps even having an argument but eventually exchanging I’m sorries and coming to an understanding, but Chinese people just aren’t really like that, they’re actually somewhat uncomfortable with big apologetic gestures and, like Jocelyn says, are firm believers in “actions speak louder than words.”

    He also might not really be as offended as you think. I find that here in China lots of people assume that my parents would have an issue with me marrying a Chinese person, and are surprised when I tell them that my parents were completely supportive. Implying that someone’s parents might be traditional or not so open minded isn’t really an insult here like it might be back home. Perhaps the question simply made him uncomfortable, rather than offended?

  2. “I find that here in China lots of people assume that my parents would have an issue with me marrying a Chinese person, and are surprised when I tell them that my parents were completely supportive.”

    Lot of folks here in the US might think that and at least 75% of the time they may be right, especially if you come from some southern state or Arizona for that matter! I think Melanie Gao talked about this somewhere else.

    1. @Jessica, thanks for sharing — and especially for pointing out something I completely missed, that apologies aren’t big in China at all. Good catch! I really think the advice readers get is even better because of comments like yours. 🙂

      @George, thanks for the comment — pointing out a sad, but unfortunate, reality.

  3. Hey Yangxifu,

    It’s been lots of fun reading your blog. I have just started writing a little column on Shanghaiexpat.com

    I’d very much like to hear your thoughts and opinions as you have experience with intercultural relations.

    And I think you made some great suggestions to this mother, which shows your cultural insight and a truly caring person.



  4. I like Jocelyn’s advice here. I just wanted to comment about the reasons why the boyfriend is hesitant about telling his parents about their relationship. When I was dating my husband, I expected that he would tell his parents right away because after all his mom had been hounding him about getting a girlfriend. But he told me that if he told them he had a girlfriend, in their minds he would be essentially telling them that he was going to marry me. So he didn’t end up telling them until we were practically engaged. Now I understand that not telling parents about a relationship until it has become very serious is common and nothing to worry about. Parents in China are especially anxious for their kids to get married, so he wouldn’t want to get their hopes up when if the relationship hasn’t gotten to the stage where marriage is being seriously considered. So he will tell his parents in due time.

  5. I can completely understand why this mom would ask the questions that she did. I think they’re normal questions that any Western family member would ask.

    She thinks it’s strange he’s not telling his family about the relationship, and he thinks it’s strange that she’s asking about it directly. This is the way it is often in cross-cultural relationships.

    But rather than getting into a being hurt and apologizing, I think it’s better to talk openly about what’s going on. The mom can talk about her concerns and the boyfriend can talk about his family dynamics. Everyone learns a little more about each other and about how to communicate with each other.

    Ideally they’ll find a way for the mom to talk about what’s on her mind AND avoid hurting the boyfriend’s feelings. If this relationship leads to marriage, they’re going to need that.

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