Is The Family Pressure in China Too Much?

This past Chinese New Year, we noticed a glaring absence from the family gatherings – one of Jun’s relatives, a fellow close to his own age.

At first I figured it was just bad timing. Maybe we missed him because I had woken up a bit late? Or maybe he was dining with other relatives?

But as we visited more family over the holiday – with no sign of this guy — another theory came to mind.

Maybe he was too ashamed to face the family during Chinese New Year after what had happened last year.

In early 2016, he opened a specialty restaurant in the closest city. It was a gutsy move, given that he had zero experience in the restaurant or hospitality business. He had taken out loans to cover the rent (paid years in advance) as well as the costs of renovation and professional kitchen equipment.

After less than six months, just like that, he closed down the place.

It was so sudden. I’m not sure if he failed spectacularly, or if he just lost confidence in himself. Either way, he went back to his old industry and got himself a job again. Except now he was saddled with the burden of his debts and the failure of his business.

If my suspicion was right – that he hadn’t returned for the holidays – it’s easy to understand why. He would be forced to contend with other relatives his age, people awash with more money and all the trappings of success by China standards. You know, cousins who drive BMWs and Audis, giving out those extra-generous hongbao (red envelopes stuffed with money). People in the family might openly compare his situation with theirs – perhaps even wondering aloud why he had bothered to even open that restaurant.

It’s a painful proposition, even for those accustomed to managing criticism.

From time to time, I hear stories about people like this – people who refuse to return home for the holidays, sometimes for years. People who just cannot face the family, because their lives don’t look like what others would consider “success” or “normal”. Sometimes it’s because they’re down on their luck in business or employment, like the guy I mentioned. Sometimes it’s because they’re not married yet.

Whatever the case, they have enough stress in their lives – and could do without the additional stress from their families during the holidays. They don’t want to be compared to so-and-so, who just bought a new BMW or apartment in Shanghai. They don’t want to be told that, say, they’re getting too old for marriage or kids.

While it’s normal for parents to worry about their kids, sometimes I wonder, is the pressure here too much? Is there too much of an expectation for people to conform to a narrow societal norm? Is there too much pressure for people to be “successful”?

Is that why my husband’s relative didn’t come back?

Photo Essay: Chinese New Year 2017 in Rural Hangzhou, China

It’s the year of the golden rooster. Happy Chinese New Year! While I’m taking a little time off to recharge a little during the holidays, I thought I’d share some photos from our Chinese New Year celebration in rural Hangzhou, China.

The biggest dinner of the year — Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner!

As always, every Chinese New Year’s Eve includes passing out the hongbao (红包,red envelopes) stuffed with lucky money for the new year.

As always, Jun and I brought some Chinese New Year gifts (nianhuo, 年货) to share with the family. On the left I’m carrying a gift box filled with an assortment of fancy nuts (complete with a “golden egg” design visible on the box); on the right, a gift box of large Xinjiang jujube dates.

On the first day of the new year, it’s time to wear your new clothes! Jun and I are both wearing new sweaters.

With such beautiful weather on the first day of the new year, we couldn’t resist stealing away to the countryside to enjoy the gorgeous scenery. Here we discover a waterfall cascading down the cliffs.

As we wandered beside the river, we were bathed in the golden sunshine. It was one of the most relaxing afternoons I’ve enjoyed in a long time.

The evening of the first day of the new year, I also helped my mother-in-law make migu, a special turnover we enjoy during the holidays. The dough is made from rice flour, and the filling is usually tofu and pickled vegetables and/or bamboo.

We visited Jun’s godfather during the holidays, presenting him with a hongbao and some baijiu liquor. He prepared us some sugar cane to snack on. Above, there he is, peeling off the rough exterior of the cane as I watch in the background.

As usual, we dined on some of the most delicious food of the year. One of our most memorable meals was at Jun’s Aunt and Uncle’s home next door to us. She even prepared a special hotpot of savory tofu and napa cabbage, plus her mouthwatering homemade kimchi. Yum!

Wishing everyone a prosperous and auspicious Chinese New Year!

Ask the Yangxifu: Siblings Won’t Give Hongbao at her Chinese Wedding

(photo by 多瑙河之野鸭 via Flickr.com)
(photo by 多瑙河之野鸭 via Flickr.com)

Stacy asks:

I am having my wedding celebration in Beijing in late Spring of this year and my family is coming to celebrate from [Western country]. Now, let me first say that my family has been just HORRIBLE about the entire situation. What I mean by family is my siblings. They feel like ‘I am being a bridezilla’ which in my opinion I am not. One minute they are mad at me because I didn’t ask them to be in the wedding (you only have one bridesmaid/groomsman in a traditional Chinese wedding and its not a great job—I want them to enjoy the wedding, not be following me around) the next minute they are telling me that I am being selfish because I haven’t shared any details of the wedding with them. I have explained the situation to them 1 million times, I am not planning this wedding my father and mother in law are (they are also paying for it) and I basically just have to show up on the day (P.S. I am actually really happy about this as I have planned a wedding before and it’s not easy). Anyways moving on, we have a huge problem right now with the hongbao.

My siblings refuse to give hongbao because they are paying to come to China and their hotel, etc and believe that it’s extremely expensive and are making me feel BAD about MY OWN WEDDING!. My husband says that its a slap in the face for China and all Chinese people if they don’t give the hongbao “mei mianzi’ [no face], I’m sure you are familiar. Me, I’m stuck in the middle. I understand where they are coming from but I am extremely upset with them because they have turned what is supposed to be a joyous occasion into something that I am dreading. I tried to mediate the situation by saying that if they gave hongbao, we would obviously pay for the hotel and their 4 day excursion around Beijing. However they completely disagree with the whole concept. They want to show up at my wedding without hongbao and just pay for everything on their own — the hotel and the excursion.

I don’t know what to do at this point. I think my husband is right, I mean it’s going to look really bad that my family does not give hongbao at my wedding. It’s a traditional Chinese wedding, I’m wearing traditional Chinese clothes and we are doing everything by Chinese custom which my siblings completely don’t understand. Help!

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Egads!

I have a feeling you’ll never convince your siblings to do the right thing. I’ve met people like them. They remind me of “ugly American” tourists who act as anti-ambassadors around the world, making everyone hate America just a little more when they disrespect local cultures. Their way is, of course, the right way and the only way! 😉

Ugh!

It’s bad enough to meet these people in your travels, but worse if you’re actually related to them. You have my deepest sympathies.

So here’s what I’m proposing:

Option #1: Have them present empty hongbao envelopes. Okay, it’s not ideal and it is a little bit of a “bait-and-switch”. But no one would ever have to know. I’m sure somewhere in a Chinese etiquette book out there, there’s an entry about “never opening the hongbao before your guests” just as Chinese never open gifts when presented. I’ve never seen it happen. Your family will have no idea there’s nothing inside…and you can remove them from your hongbao pile before any prying hands/eyes are the wiser. Just give the envelopes to your siblings and ask them to present them at the wedding. Later on, you can then stuff the envelopes with cash yourselves (should the family do any post-wedding bookkeeping and need to record the amounts).

But then again, with such uncooperative siblings, chances are they wouldn’t even agree to this! And if so…

Option #2: Prepare hongbao for each sibling yourselves. Just stuff them with appropriately auspicious sums of cash, write their names on the envelope, and then drop them into your basket/bag when nobody happens to notice. (Alternatively, have the bridesmaid or groomsman deposit them in the basket/bag ahead of time.) Then, when it comes time to add up the hongbao cash after the wedding, your family will see the contribution and assume your siblings did their part.

Of course, if this seems like too much work for a bunch of ungrateful siblings, there’s always…

Option #3: Don’t invite them.

What do you think? What advice would you have?

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Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture or Western culture? Send me yours today.

Ask the Yangxifu: Chinese New Year Red Envelopes For Boyfriend?

Red envelope, hongbao, lai see
Red envelope, hongbao, lai see -- whatever you call them, remember, at Chinese New Year, these are more for kids, not your boyfriend or girlfriend.

asks:

I’m dating a cute Cantonese boy, although he was born in Canada himself (along with his brother), his parents are from China. His parents are pretty strict about him dating period, never mind dating a white girl like myself.

Chinese New Year is coming up, and I know it’s a time where the older give to the younger. As I’m older than my boyfriend by a few years, would it be odd if I had gotten him one of the special lai see envelopes with money in it? Or is that just strictly family related? Continue reading “Ask the Yangxifu: Chinese New Year Red Envelopes For Boyfriend?”

How To Make It A Very Chinese Christmas

A Very Chinese Christmas Stocking
There are many ways you can make this a very Chinese Christmas, such as putting your name in Chinese (and English) on your Christmas stocking (like mine).

When you straddle two different cultures, sometimes, you wish your holidays did too. Holidays like Christmas.

I still love and embrace the traditions of my childhood, growing up in a Catholic home with a fresh-cut spruce trimmed with tinsel, and lights and an Angel. We hung our stockings, exchanged presents by the tree, hung wreaths, shared Christmas carols, baked Christmas cookies, and decorated our doors with pictures of Santa and the Reindeer and Elves.

But now, with my Chinese husband John, I’ve enjoyed creating a few new traditions and twists on the old, to make the holiday reflect the international, cross-cultural couple we are.

So how can you make this a very Chinese Christmas? Start with these five tips. Continue reading “How To Make It A Very Chinese Christmas”