What if My Chinese Husband Was The Only Child?

What would it be like if my Chinese husband were an only child? (photo by Joseph Hoban)

“How is it your husband has two brothers? What about the One-Child Policy?”

The question came out this afternoon while sharing stories from my summer in China at a party — and, more specifically, photos showing my husband actually has two older brothers. One of the women at the party suddenly blurted the question out, because the idea of siblings just didn’t mesh with the narrative she’d heard all along about China.

I told them he was born in 1978, the first year the One-Child Policy began, and he happened to be the youngest in the family. “But most of the men younger than him don’t have brothers or sisters.”

I thought about this later on, long after I left the party — what would it be like if my Chinese husband were an only child?

I’ll bet the have-kids-sooner campaign would hit us even harder. As John often reminded me, the existence of our nephew and newborn niece meant a little less pressure from his parents to “produce.”

Would his parents have even let me take him away to the US? Even though John is the youngest son in the family — and his parents have their two other sons close by — my Chinese mother-in-law and father-in-law suggested scrapping our plans to move to my country, and get John into graduate school in psychology. “It’s too far,” they said. “Stay in Shanghai instead.” I wonder, what would the parents of only sons say if the yangxifu wanted to whisk him away to her overseas hometown? I’m thinking “unfilial” would come up in the conversation.

I wonder if John would have taken the risks he did, all to follow his own dreams of becoming a clinical psychologist. Would he have instead pursued a more traditional, big-salary-guaranteed career, just to ensure he could provide for his parents?

And what about our relationship? Maybe only sons feel even more pressure to marry the kind of woman — Chinese — their parents expect them to. I wonder if the Only-Child Policy has actually meant fewer yangxifu? (Well, if so, maybe that’s another good reason to hope China will continue revising the policy.) 😉

Are you an only Chinese son with a Western girlfriend or wife — or a Western woman with a Chinese boyfriend/husband who is an only child? What has your experience been?

24 Replies to “What if My Chinese Husband Was The Only Child?”

  1. Thank you for blogging about this. I do think being an only child creates a lot of pressure. My boyfriend is an only child and like any only child his behaviors are different from people who have had siblings and learn how to share very early in life. He is also under more pressure because there is no one to share his burden of ageing parents. We aren’t married yet but still together so I don’t know how this would affect a chinese man’s relationship with a foreign woman. But my impression is that being an only child is much more lonely, there is more pressure but they are also more demanding, especially in a country lke China where he child would receive undivided attention of both parents as they provide for everything while he focuses on studies, gao khao and making a career and so is used to a certain amount of attention from anyone close to them.

  2. The only child policy has meant twice as many boys as girls and hence many Chinese men are unmarried because they cannot find brides. In addition, you have men from countries such as Singapore coming in and taking away Chinese brides because many Singaporean women dont want to get married at least to a Singaporean…they look for western white men to get married even as they complain about too many foreingers in their country! Yes, they want a one way street, to migrate to another country, but dont want foreigners living and working in their country.

    In the end, there might be a great pressure to marry Chinese women, but the competition is stiff as there are nearly 1.5 men for every Chinese woman. In the end, Chinese men will be forced to get married to a foreigner but it is most likely that most will marry someone from poorer Asian countries such as Mongolia, Burma, or Indo-China. Because, despite the civility and open-mindedness on this board, many white western women, especially from the US will not date or marry Chinese (or for that matter any Asian) men, and to a large extent the reverse is also true!

  3. I can only imagine how different it would have been for you and your husband should he have been an only child. Would it be the case, his personality may not even be the same as it is today and it probably would have been harder for his parents to accept their son being with a western girl.

    My Chinese boyfriend is an only child for having been born 3 years after the policy took place; he too, as SBC above wrote about her boyfriend, worries about his parents as they age and how he’ll be able to take care of them. We are living together, but he’ll still go help his parents with chores around the house once a week.

    Having studied away from home for a few years and having previously worked outside the country, he is pretty independent from his parents compared to other Chinese men. However, there is still that pressure on him to be there for his parents and to be the best he can (to keep face).

    Before we met, his parents tried to match him with nice Chinese girls on several occasions. Luckily for me, it didn’t work out because he didn’t feel any attachment to them and his parents, only wanting their only son’s happiness, don’t mind him dating or marrying a white girl (a black or even a southern Asian girl is another story). In many cases, though, this would be a no-no, especially when the only child is a son.

    As the only child, your Chinese boyfriend may also have received everything from his parents growing up (and may still do now, even as an adult). As much as they may dote on him, his parents may also blame everything on him and be disappointed with everything he does, even more so than if he had siblings. If he has cousins who are doing better than him, he’ll constantly be compared to them and be put down because he is causing his parents to lose face.

    As a result, he may hide some things from you just because he is afraid of disappointing you like he had disappointed his parents before. This may lead to arguments in AMWW relationships as the western woman may not understand the culture and not understand why her Chinese man is acting a certain way with her (based on my own experiences and facts I’ve seen in other AMWW relationships). I have actually been writing drafts on these issues for my own blog so I’ll stop it here before this comment becomes an entire blog post 😉

    1. Yes I absolutely agree. I am with a Chinese man and he has recently proposed. Unfortunately I don’t know how long our engagement can last because at every opportunity his parents make me feel terrible and send manipulative messages to the family chats (which I have now exited). Supportive parents are supposed to help us not try their best to split us up. I just wish we could have our lives together and that his parents could have heir lives together but unfortunately his mother has an overly close relationship with him… such as stroking his hair or shirt, examining his body when he’s hurt…. and demanding that he call her all the time. Also both his parents are still washing clothes and hanging them out- cooking three meals a day for him whenever they visit him, it makes me feel uncomfortable since he is supposed to be my boyfriend now. The mother says how the only person she cares about is her son who will look after her in her old age. She has told me to break up with him (while staying at my parents house in England) and said horrific things about me suggestive of the fact that I am sleeping with another man (my student 🙁 since he stayed over once when he had nowhere to sleep).. All of this I could ignore but… my boyfriend demands they live with us here to six months of the year (since he has moved to Australia) and I don’t want to be the one he resents from “breaking him up” with his parents so feel I should just walk away…. I love people and have always had great relationships with my friends’ parents (including ex boyfriends) and love his aunt and uncle so dearly since they are respectable and kind. But I think I was unlucky – as simple friend’s I’m sure they would be more polite towards me and thinking about it, he previously lost his former fiancée due to her relationship with his mother but his friends who are girls have always had no issue. . I guess she won’t be happy until he is with a Chinese girl, who is a submissive stay-at-home wife. The dad is usually kind but he has never really liked “foreigners”, though my relationship was quite fine with him but guess he also listens to his wife. 🙁 I feel literally always on the outside and not included or supported.

      1. Sorry it’s so long and depressing! Will try to send the positive sides a bit later! Of course with him there are SO MANY POSITIVE points! 🙂

  4. I think it would be difficult for the yangxifu to bring her husband out to live in her country. I think the parents will indeed regard her son as unfilial should the son nevertheless choose to follow the yangxifu. Filiality is a big thing to the Chinese people and even until recently here in Malaysia the worst rebuke a child can receive is to be called unfilial. In the first place the parents of an only male child would be anxious to see to it that he marries a local woman. And of course the pressure on the only male child to both look after his parents and to produce grandchildren will be that much more! It would have been a whole lot of different equation.

  5. Although I do not have a boyfriend, thanks for talking about it. So far I have met lots of people from China, men in particular, who have no siblings, so it’s nice to hear what one will have to deal with.

  6. Welll…. I am the voice of experience here..My Chinese Husband is an only child… and I am as most of you know Black-American woman. And sometimes I really wish my husband had a brother… because the pressure he has is almost unbareable. He not only has to take care of his parents and be there whenever they call… his grandparents are still alive and are ill. So he also has a responsiblity to them. Every week .. he must leave our home travel to the village and take care of the elders. He also has to supply then with any financial assistance they might need. Seeing as my husband’s parents are farmers…. they are not as wealthy as some Chinese. I was kind of lucky .. that my husbands parents are not very wealthy … because they were not as picky about who he married as they .. would have been if he had been rich. Due to the fact that they were unable to buy him the required house and car .. that most Chinese men need to have to marry a Chinese girl. … if he hadn’t of found love with a western.. he would have been doomed to be single and take care of his family alone. In my case, although I am a foreigner… i am an American, and I am educated.. so I can improve the family situation. Therefore, I am acceptable. However, the fact that I can’t have children …. is always the white elephant that is in the room when I go to visit the in-laws. As for me moving my husband to America, they would not like that one bit… since they feel he needs to take care of them in their old age….. for now .. we live in China… since there are so many people to take care of .. and life is just much easier with them… if we are closer. As for my husband, being an only Child also give him that little streak of selfishness that most only children get… but he is learning to share…hehehehe.

  7. I’m not an only child but I am the only son in the family. Luckily I don’t carry that much burden as most men in China but my parents do expect me to marry a Chinese girl otherwise it would be considered unfilial.

  8. My husband isn’t an only child, but he is the only son. And my sister-in-law is not married and may never marry because she has some problems that I won’t go into here. My husband and I don’t have children and do not plan to have them.
    I have to say, I have been so pleasantly surprised my my parents-in-law’s relative acceptance to the situation. I say “relative” acceptance because I am sure that they would be thrilled if we did have kids, but they do not pressure us at all about having them. Yet they still love us just as much as if we had a whole gaggle of them. Chinese culture can be brutal when it comes to putting on the pressure, but our experience is that if you stand up for what you know is best for you as a couple, eventually they will accept it. I don’t know if all families would be as accepting as my husband’s family, maybe it’s because they are city folk and thus a bit more open-minded, but after 3 years of marriage, I am so happy that everything is good with the in-laws despite the fact that my husband is the only son, and my mother-in-law may never get to “抱个孙子“。

  9. My Chinese guy is the only boy in the family. That sentence itself almost gives me a panic attack. Funnily enough it is his sister, the kind accepting sweetheart that she is, who I had most problems with, and surprisingly, not his mama.

    Just the other day he confessed that my initial delight at the apparent excitement and acceptance of his mama and baba at the idea of him loving a foreign girl was, as I had first suspected, indeed utter BS – cause the truth is, the first few times he told his mother and father about me, they outright rejected the idea of me and I assume came about THIS close to disowning him. Not only that, but I was told that after showing them my picture, in their exact words, remarked ‘Wahey! A bit fat mah! Her nose is too big and are you sure she’s only 20? She looks older than 20…yep, a lot older than 20…’ Yay, there goes my self esteem again! (Not only that but to this day he insists upon proudly displaying my worst pictures in existence on his RenRen account for all of his lovely, polite, and world-famously tactful Northeastern friends to mock, laugh and ogle at. Ah yes. I love my boyfriend. Only sometimes.)

    The thought of having some foreign chick plumping (plump being the operative word) herself beside the precious little emperor Zhou is inconceivable – especially if it means whisking away their pride and joy, their son, the baby boy of the family to foreign shores 6000 miles away. That said, please, random foreign dude, come take our daughter away, she was never of much use to us anyway! Now I totally understand their fear of having the sole breadwinner packing up and setting sail, completely deserting them in their old age, but give me a break! Just because I’m foreign doesn’t mean I’m some sex crazed, conniving, cold temptress (what) with my heart set on abandoning the in-laws…seriously, some people have been watching too many subtitled episodes of The Tudors. And I know for a fact, deep down, I have our parents wellbeing WAY more in mind than he ever does…and only through bending over backwards to impress my Chinese homies is how I eventually DID become a part of the furniture after all! ^^

  10. My Chinese husband is also an only child but still his parents have been very approving and happy about our relationship from the very beginning.. unlike MY parents though I got 2 brothers. Maybe they’re so openminded about cross-cultural family because there have been marriages between Chinese and Japanese in earlier generations (my husband’s parents and his mother’s parents). They also let me to decide whether I want us to stay in Finland or move to China.

  11. Orange rain:

    Are you Japanese or white? In both cases I can see that parents might object..Japanese for historical reasons and white parents for racial reasons!


    With the one child policy fewer Chinese women in China..which means either many Chinese men will remain unmarried, marry Chinese women from other countries and in some cases marry non-Chinese and in very rare cases marry western women.

  12. You are exactly right, If John didn’t have any other siblings then your relationship would be very difficult to maintain, I lost my first Chinese boyfriend because he was an only child and there was no way his parents would ever have agreed to allow him to stay here long term, they were all considered about what would happen when they grow old and so on. Another problem was he was the only grandson on his dads side as well

  13. David:
    I’m white.. I know my parents disagree for racial reasons because very low percent of the Finland’s population are immigrants (and there lives no foreign people in my hometown where my parents still live).

  14. I’m in my twenties, so parental care hasn’t really hit yet. But the couple of Chinese men I’ve dated have been really spoiled…which is why we evenually broke up.

  15. @David
    There are “twice as many boys as girls” in China? Where do you get your news? The waste basket at the editorial room of The Onion?
    Or it may be that you need to invest in a good dictionary and look up the word “twice.”

  16. My husband is also an only child 🙂

    And as an only child, his parent see him as a 29-year-old baby.

    In a way it reduces the pressure to procreate: they see us as children who can’t take care of ourselves (for them we can’ t cook – we can’t clean, and we need an adult to remind us to wash hands before eating…..).
    So even if they are looking forward to seeing their grandchild, they also fear that we just can’t handle it.

    About going away: my husband studied in France for 7 years. Then we decided to settle in China. For many years they were complaining that he should work abroad.
    Indeed, a lot of their colleagues’ children after studying abroad, also found a job abroad, and earned a lot of money. And they felt like they were “losing face” because of my husband work (at that time he had already a good work situation in an American firm, a multinational one!).
    Now that we moved to Shanghai, they don’t complain anymore… Apparently Shanghai give them mianzi.

    It is a little bit sad, but my parents-in-law are very nice people, that just don’t have opinion of their own. So they just agree with the last colleagues/friends/famillie members they spoke with.
    Since my husband realized that, he doesn’t listen to his parents anymore, now he just tell them how to think haha.

  17. Among the people who posted that they don’t desire progeny or to procreate, I feel kind of an anomaly for wanting children. (Hope that wasn’t offensive to anyone…)

  18. @Sveta.. I dont think it is that people dont want children.. I think the fact is they dont want to be told when, to have children. They dont want to be pressured into something before they are ready. This tends to happen in a lot of Chinese families. The parents do a lot of pushing for the couple to have children.. and the couple just arent ready and in some case .. just dont want to have children.

  19. My husband is an only child, and is the only grandson on his father’s side. There should be a lot of pressure on him (and there might be more than he shares with me) but it doesn’t seem to be as much as others have mentioned. He hasn’t lived at home or even near his hometown since he finished high school, so he is much more independent of his parents than many Chinese people. He still calls his parents and grandmother often, and we visit at Spring Festival obviously. I know that the expectations are there for us to care for his parents as they get older, but they will likely move to join us rather than expect my husband to give up his job here and move back to his hometown. The family have started in with a little pressure about having children, but it’s not too overwhelming yet (I know it will increase though!).
    I think we have been very lucky that his family has been very open-minded and accepting of our relationship from the start. My husband says that they trust him to make his own decisions – something I think is somewhat rare among families here. We have never planned on moving abroad, so that hasn’t been an issue.

  20. One thing my mom has always said (we’re Taiwanese) is that when having children it’s a bad idea to only have one. I think a part of it is the cultural tension between Taiwan and China that makes her look at the “little emperors” and the way that they’re being coddled and spoiled. She believes that having siblings forces kids to learn to share, gives them a partner to learn social context with, and in general helps to prepare them for broader society. I think she has a good point… so more so than just the cultural pressures that would have been forced on your husband and you (had you still gotten together), I think it’s likely that he would be a very different person today too, if he were not the youngest of 3 sons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.