Family and change in China

In an article in Chinese entitled “The modern Chinese family seeks more individual freedom, but the child remains the center,” the sociologist Xie Ning details the changes within the Chinese family. He believes that the family traditionally had the rank of religion. Has it retained its importance?

The family, a true religion

Traditional Chinese culture is based on three pillars: Confucian culture, the state bureaucratic system, and the traditional family. The family can be placed in the category of religions, with, for example, ancestors’ veneration. In many cases, the government did not exercise control, sociologists like to recall the expression, “皇权不下县, The power of the emperor does not descend in the county. “In the absence of a real rule of law, it was the family that settled matters such as marriage, property distribution, and support of parents. The family had a vital role. In the traditional culture, the family chose the studies, the teacher, the spouse, the work and the knowledge to attend. The family controlled life. 

家 family in China

Transformation of the population, towards more freedom

This stage corresponds to the transition from declining birth and death rates and the development of the economy. The individual seeks more freedom, which will bring contradictions with the family. He accepts less the constraints imposed by the family, it is a worldwide phenomenon that sees the decline in the age of marriage, the rise in divorce and the appearance of children of single parents. More and more children do not live with both parents in Western countries (25% in France). In China, this is still rare, as is the single-parent family. This means that Chinese couples fear divorce. Gender inequality within the couple has practically disappeared. The woman studies, works and can make choices, for example, about a late marriage and the spouse.

Everybody used to get married

The New China of 1949 strengthened the family culture and everyone got married in the first decades of that era. In 1981, with the new law requiring certification of the work unit, the number of marriages declined. The annulment of this document late saw a decline in the age of marriage, which is not expected to stop. In the past, people with a high level of education married later than those with a low education level. In the end, everyone got married.  

The economic factor

Today, the situation is different, 20% of low-income men are still single at 40. There are women with a high level of education who are not married at 40 and who may never be married.
For low-income men, the economic factor is important because it is considered that a man must have a home. In cities where the is high, it isn’t easy to acquire an apartment. Moreover, when comparing the price of real estate and the age of marriage, we notice that the higher the price per square metre, the higher the marriage age. Indeed, having a home is one of the conditions for getting married. A study shows that 80% of couples had an apartment before marriage.
The husband is sometimes older than the wife. Generally, if he has no capital, a man will work for a few years to save and acquire an apartment to get married. The position of the company and the economic situation count. Without income, without an apartment and without an urban hukou, it will be difficult for the woman to have a child. There is a homogeneity phenomenon in marriage where couples generally have the same level of education and income.

Low divorce rate

The sociologist says that one should not believe the divorce figures mentioned by the media because they give the divorce rate in relation to the population (粗离婚率). He estimates that the divorce rate is lower than in Japan (about 15%) and in Western countries. Why is this figure so low? In China, we think first of all of the family’s interests and especially of the child. We want to preserve marriage to protect it.

The child is the center

Indeed, it can be said that everything is child-centred. The child is the purpose of the marriage and the economic conditions are envisaged for the child. Children without marriage are very rare, and the child’s education is considered to be of the utmost importance. Parents invest a lot in education, even parents of a low cultural level think that education is vital. Korea, heavily influenced by Confucianism, is experiencing the same phenomenon.

The transformations of the population have thus seen the emergence of late marriage and celibacy. The number of single parents is expected to increase, but only by a small proportion. The phenomenon of the floating population with remoteness destroys family ties and is a factor that needs to be studied. The child has become the centre of the family. Despite the desire for greater freedom, the family has retained its importance, which is a characteristic of China.

Article on some Chinese characteristics:

Why is real estate so important?

16 July 2020

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