There might be a lot of traditions for Chinese New Year you think you know, including family re-unions, distributing (and receiving) red packets, seeing dragon-dance performance, making wishes at the temples. However, you miss the details and real intentions of some of those activities mentioned above.
To many Chinese people, Lunar New Year is definitely the best time for all of the family members to gather around and spend time on catching up, eating excessive amount of rare and expensive festival food you wouldn’t eat during normal days, giving out red envelopes if you’re married (and receiving them when you’re unmarried). But family reunions are not just about that, beware of the challenging and blood-provoking questions asked by your family members.
Here are the three most compelling examples (as I’ve gathered feedback from other Chinese friends including those from Hong Kong and Mainland China):
Question#1: How Much Do You Make?
This is absolutely ridiculous. Some of the family members whom you haven’t seen for a long time would throw this question on you in the first place, as if this is the only thing they’re interested in knowing after not seeing you for a while. It could be an indirect implication of their wanting to know if you have the ability to take care of your parents (because Chinese sons and daughters give a fraction of their monthly income to their parents). Alternatively, it could also be that your relatives are indirectly put themselves as your competitor and wanting to know if your family lives a better life than their family because the glory and wealth of a family unit is of utmost importance for the life satisfaction of any Chinese. Whether the reason is, Chinese people love talking about money, period.
Question#2: When Are You Getting Married?
Marriage is the root of a family which forms the offspring and so the society. Family is always the top of everything in the Chinese society. When there are Chinese New Year family gatherings, a relative asking a single girl at her twenties about her status of being in a relationship or getting married is extremely common. Sometimes, even if the girl is only at her college years she would still be stressed by the family members on getting married soon. The relatives would say things like, “you better find someone at your university and hook on that” and “any potential co-workers who can be your husband?”. A single guy could be asked this questions too but this happens to girls more because guys seem to be less worried about the marriage issue than girls in Chinese people’s eyes. After all, a girl who is over 25 and is still single could be considered a left-over female, while a guy at the same stage could have less pressure on that because the society is still a male-focused one so far.
Question#3: When Are You Having a Baby?
This only applies to married couples. Again, everything that involves the family element is what interests Chinese people. Having a child means sustainability of a family’s fame and fortune. It also means that the old grandparents will have a child to play with and therefore it shows a respect for the elderly as having different family members at different generations in the same room means a lot to Chinese people. The more people (the more children) the merrier. However, for couples who are just married and are still working their way up for a better life, this question could put them under great pressure and would lead to unpleasant experiences at the family re-unions if one of the couples doesn’t want a kid at the moment.
These questions asked by the Chinese family members might seem common even to the Western countries, but what makes a difference here is that the Chinese put more focus on two things – your fortune and your family. But the first thing (your fortune) is the indirect cause and means to make the second thing (your family) better because Chinese people deeply believe that the money you make is a reflection of your family’s wellness and fame. Money, marriage, the offspring – everything that brings betterment to the family is what Chinese people care about the most.
Another reason is that Chinese people are gossipy in nature. Anything that hints the wealth and wellness of any other family members would be of interest to them. Every family is virtually competing with every each other. “We have the best-earning son, we have the prettiest daughter, we make the highest annual income” is what every family wants to win over other families.
However, too much pressure on these questions to the younger generations would lead to mis-communications and some young people might not want to go to any family re-unions because they’re fed up with these questions. Also, the society is changing and the younger generations are having more freedom on their financials, relationships and other life goals, unlike the old society where family members could refer a blind date for their daughter to get married with.
It’s a different world now, but the Chinese tradition stays the same. If every young Chinese person could make a fortune, get married and make babies by the age of 25, then the Chinese society wouldn’t be flooded with single ladies who are paying for professional “how to look beautiful and elegant” courses to learn how to marry a rich man.
Happy New Year!
Image source: A-Town Graphics