Thursday, October 28, 2010

China, get out of my head.

I wonder how many Chinese values have started to make their inroads into my value system. One traditional value, especially in rural areas, is a preference for having boys over girls.

The other day, a student was telling me that when she was about 7 years old, her mother got pregnant. Her belly got very, very large. After her mother returned from the hospital, she (my student) was shocked to walk into the room and discover two newborn babies laying on the bed. I asked whether they were boys or girls, and she said they were twin boys. The three other students immediately said things like, "Wow!!" "Boys!" "So lucky!"

The weird thing is, I had the same reaction. Wow -- twins are awesome! Boys -- even better! Really, I don't actually think that. But something about hearing story after story of families trying for baby boys and finally getting them ("so lucky!") has given me a Pavlovian association that boys = good. China, get out of my head.


  1. I'd like to read a post sometime that expands on cultural differences in light of "modernization." This particular infatuation with male children is deeply ingrained, but how long will it last when China is no longer a subsistence culture? Can we take cues from America's feminist movement, or will Chinese culture remain stubbornly chauvinistic as in Japan?

    You should also post sometime on what beliefs underlie the Chinese values system, and how open they are to Judeo-Christian values. It seems to me that all cultures would benefit from more awareness of their value-belief matrix, meaning their values are consistent with their beliefs. Everyone knows that when beliefs change, values change too. However, the flip side is that when values start to be compromised, the logical reason is that they do not really believe what they claim!

    So understanding the foundation for belief (and worldview) is really important, and I imagine you have challenged your students with that question. Do they stop to think whether any absolute truth underlies their traditional beliefs?

    BTW, when you start believing you should drink more milk to whiten your skin, THEN start worrying!

  2. These are good questions.

    Your first question is related to the fate of traditional Chinese values as China modernizes (and in some ways, Westernizes). Most of my students seem to think that traditional values are weakening, especially in big cities.

    It's hard to pinpoint exactly what beliefs underlie some values. Boy preference has some fairly practical explanations: Children are responsible to care for parents in their old age. When girls marry, traditionally, they become a part of the man's family, and thus spend more time with his parents and contribute more to his parents' care. So if you want to see your child more often, have your child take care of you in your old age, and continue the family line, your child should be a boy.

    There are other values that don't seem to have such clear-cut explanations. For example, Chinese traditionally have had conservative ideas about purity before marriage and heterosexuality. I'm not sure exactly what belief underlies these values; perhaps that's one reason they are crumbling.

    Anyway, so much for my under-informed ramblings. I'll do some more posts in the future about China's changing values.