When China introduced the One-Child policy, few realised how drastically it would affect the Chinese psyche.
The over-whelming preference for sons quickly became clear. They stayed with the family, carried the ‘family line’ and would support the parents when they were old. Daughters on the other hand would be married off to join someone else’s family and therefore, when parents got a bit older and needed taking care of, daughters couldn’t be relied on.
The effects of such a mentality are still clear in China’s current population statistics with the number of males significantly outweighing that of females.
Nowadays in many places, the policy has been relaxed and a fair few families (outside of the main cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou) have two children, sometimes more. On my recent travels, I met a family who lived outside the city limits of Guangzhou and had four children!
It seems that even though the restriction itself is gradually being lifted, the preference remains, especially among the older generation.
Living in Changsha this past fortnight, I’ve had a fantastic time playing with Wenhamn and his little sister and brother, Jemima and Oliver. They’re all absolutely adorable and I care for them like siblings.
Here’s a photo of Wenhamn and I in the cake shop last week….^^
And of his sister and brother today at lunch!
In the run up to New Year, the grandparents (who live here most of the time anyway) properly moved in on Monday for the holiday and made themselves thoroughly at home.
I love the grandparents too…especially Wenhamn’s Dad’s Mum who is great fun, cooks amazing food and then teaches me to cook it too! (If I ever have a Chinese mother-in-law, I hope she’s like this!)
However, one thing is starting to…..annoy me somewhat.
The Grandad constantly talks about his favourite child; Oliver.
(Here’s Oliver and I - he definitely is very cute….but does that warrant favourites?)
Now this confused me a little since Oliver is not even the first born son….until I realised it’s not even between the three of them. Wenhamn and Oliver are equal favourites and Jemima is put firmly in last place.
Yesterday lunchtime, she was screaming and crying while Oliver got fed first.
So today, after two days, I…..well, I’d had enough.
When lunchtime came, as Grandad pulled Oliver up onto his knee, I pulled Jemima up onto mine.
Everyone looked at me, a tad confused, but as I started to feed Jemima and she grinned in the way that very happy babies do, everyone relaxed a little.
(This is not Jemima’s happy grin….she didn’t want to smile for the camera…~)
Grandad looked … well, he always has a poker face but both the grandmas found it rather amusing.
I don’t quite get the dynamic that reasons it’s ok to have one baby eating happily and the other one waiting and crying but it seems no toes were stepped on and problem solved….at least until I leave for Beijing.
Talking with Wenhamn’s mum this evening, it was slightly saddening to hear her talk of the hopes she has for Jemima and at the same time, acknowledging the fact that in the eyes of her own father, her baby girl just doesn’t quite match up to her sons for no other reason than the fact she’s a girl.
This isn’t the same for every Chinese family but when speaking with my friends, many female friends have voiced similar complaints, particularly regarding past events such as male siblings or cousins getting more money in their 红包 (hongbao – the red envelope containing money given at Chinese New Year).
My poor dad probably would have liked a son – with the only other male company in our household being….well, the cat….(which I guess doesn’t quite count) – but I know that there’s no chance he’d swap me or my sister … it’s just not something that would’ve ever crossed his mind. Perhaps this is why I laughed so much reading Jocelyn Eikenburg’s blog ‘Speaking Of China‘ where she writes about her Chinese husband almost being swapped at birth because the neighbours wanted to swap him for their baby daughter.
Having grown up in a family where being a boy or girl didn’t matter and being taught that gender wasn’t a restriction in any way, it’s strange to come to China and step back into what many Westerners would see as a seriously old-fashioned perspective.
But one must remember that it’s a cultural thing, a strong reminder that although the China we see today is completely different from the one that stood twenty or even ten years ago, many of the perspectives and views remain. The landscape has changed radically and the collective mind is, to some degree, playing catch up.
As China develops and further loosens the One Child Policy (as it undoubtedly will), I have little doubt that this perspective and gender preference will change too.