The other day, while talking about weddings in China with my Chinese father-in-law, we happened on the idea of parental involvement (or should I say, pressure) since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
“It seems to me that parents still have a say in marriages today,” I said.
My Chinese father-in-law shook his head. “No, no, that’s the past,” he disagreed, referring to how Chinese parents used to arrange marriages for their children. “Now people have the freedom to marry whoever they want.”
How I longed to shake him and say, what about what you said about John and I? My Chinese father-in-law was the one who cautioned John against having a foreign girlfriend, telling him he could be friends with — but not date — me.
But I bit my tongue. “What I mean is, Chinese parents have ideas about their children’s marriages. The parent will tell the child if they like the person or not. The child has free choice, but may want to be filial and not go against their parents.”
My father-in-law’s eyes widened and he grinned. “Ah, yes, yes!” Then came a surprising confession. “That’s my marriage.”
All of a sudden, I felt as if his revelation shook me. “Really?”
“My mother said, ‘you’re a scholar, but you’re not very useful. You need to find someone who is useful, who knows how to do lots of things around the house, otherwise you won’t have anything to eat. So she said, ‘look at Jin,'” Jin being my Chinese mother-in-law. “‘She can work in the fields, she sews, she knows how to cook. She’s useful and hardworking. You should marry her.'”
“So you followed her suggestion, to be filial?”
“Eh! You should be filial. I’m the oldest son, the only child from my father.” His father passed away before he even reached his first birthday. “I would feel bad if I did not.” Call it the modern version of the arranged marriage. Parents suggest, child — though always free to choose — follows out of respect. Maybe my Chinese father-in-law simply followed his mother and millions of Chinese parents before him when he suggested John avoid dating me?
Still, my Chinese father-in-law has one consolation about his not-so-free-after-all marriage. “At least it’s better than having a child bride.”
Have you experienced pressure from your Chinese parents (or the parents of your loved one/spouse) on who to marry? Is it a “family tradition”?