In China, family is crucial because if there is no family, there is no country.
Boys are particularly favored because they continue the family name as well as guaranteeing land rights within the family and providing support in old age. And they don’t leave the family by marrying some one else.
Which leads to China’s controversial One Child Policy.
But first let’s visit where I learned all about this:
On a week ago Monday I went to Qin Yuan Tea House to hear a talk by Janny Chung about Chinese Customs. Janny (or Jenny as I have sometimes called her) has been along on many of my trips as an interpreter and knower of all things China. Monday was no different.
One thing that made this talk so attractive was that it was only a 5 minute walk from a subway station. However, there was that one tiny detail that was left out–which direction from the subway station?
I had a house number for the tea house, but in Shanghai there are a lot of numbers on the buildings on the streets and they don’t necessarily follow any logical street sign order. BUT on Monday I seemed to be in luck. There was actually a sign at the intersection indicating that numbers greater than 580 went left and less than 580 went right. My number was 569–right.
However, Google maps was telling me my destination was on the left.
What to do? Follow the street sign that was made here in China or the little bouncing ball of Google?
I chose the street sign.
Sigh. Well, the extra walking insured that I was nice and warmed up so that I didn’t mind so much sitting in a room that was 55 degrees for a couple of hours (actually it warmed up to about 65 by the time we left.)
I also just read that if the stems of the leaves poke up through the top of the liquid it means that good luck will come to you. My tea leaves don’t look too lucky.
Personally, I don’t care if tea leaves can bring me luck. I hate it when I’m served tea like this. Straining tea leaves through your teeth is just gross.
So the first part of Janny’s talk was about having babies in China and I must say a woman certainly does live the life once she becomes pregnant. She’s pretty much put up on a pedestal and catered to until the baby is born and for 1 month after. No longer is she allowed to do housework (yeah!) and she’s given special soups and food to prevent miscarriage and ensure she has a healthy baby. For instance, cold and sharp foods like crab, tropical fruits or raw vegies wouldn’t be eaten because they could promote miscarriage.
To get a boy: eat tofu, mushrooms and carrots. To get a girl: pickles, meat and fish.
The Chinese believe that babies in the womb can communicate with their outside environment so they are very careful of the mother’s environment. They won’t move house or even move the furniture while she is pregnant to preserve harmony and feng shui and prevent accidents. No bad language should be spoken because the child will be cursed, and killing rats might cause the child to look like a rat and behave like one. Hmm…this might explain a lot about some children, couldn’t it?
Just to show how important they consider children to be, a special ayi is hired during the first month after the birth to come in to help the mother and ensure the health of the baby. These ayi’s are so well regarded that they make more money than office workers.
Parties are given a couple of times for the baby during its first year of life–at it’s one month birthday, and it’s 100th day birthday, and it’s 1 year birthday, as well as a naming ceremony.
Your name, as well as your birthdate, is very important in Chinese culture as it determines your destiny and your future. That is why there are so many caesarian births here. Names are based on the five elements: metal, water, wood, fire and earth and fortune tellers are used to calculate from the birth date the most auspicious name for the baby. When we came here, a number of people spent several week’s time deciding what our Chinese names should be, although I don’t think they bothered to look at our birth dates!
At the 100 day ceremony a silver or gold padlock on a chain is placed around the neck of the child. This symbolizes locking the child to this world, thus protecting and keeping the child with us.
My favorite ceremony is held at the one year birthday party. At the Zhua Zhou ceremony, the baby is placed on the floor surrounded by books, phones, computers, make-up, basically any item the parent can dream up, and whatever item the baby grabs first–that is what his or her future holds!
So, the One Child Policy: It is possible to have more than one child in China, BUT the parents are fined 20-30% of their annual income (one time) and Janny said the child will have no ID card, something I had not heard before. The policy is mostly enforced in the cities. The officials tend to look the other way out in the countryside and things are becoming a bit more lax everywhere.
The solution for a lot of couples has been to go out of the country to have their second child. The child then has a foreign passport and citizenship in that country. Hong Kong has been the most popular, but they are getting tired of so many Chinese coming over and crowding up their maternity wards that they are starting to limit the number of Chinese births they are allowing. Apparently it is predicted that the number of births by Chinese in North American hospitals and Saipan will soon rise.
Janny also said that in cities girl babies are becoming more popular. The reason? Girls don’t have to supply an apartment when they get married. It’s just economics: The price of apartments is going through the roof in a lot of cities.
Janny also talked about weddings and funerals, but I’ll talk about those another time.
The week before last was also APAC theatre at Concordia. It’s a bit like sports for theatre. Schools come from across Asia and do workshops and also, sort of compete with each other.
I’d just learned the word for beautiful the night before, piaoliang, but I choked in the moment (as often happens to me) and had to stick to English. Hopefully she was able to understand my sentiment.
Well, it’s Saturday night and one of the wonderful things about Shanghai is the ability to get amazing food delivered to your house for about $2.00. There’s two services that do this, but the most famous is Sherpa’s
It’s like a Pavlovian response. Just the sight of the Sherpa guy on his scooter makes you salivate.
I’ll try to be a little quicker with my next post–Chinese is taking up sooo much of my time. It’s so much harder this time around! I’ve also discovered the wonders of the gym (jian shen fang) here at Shanghai Centre. I feel really silly that I’ve waited so long to use it. This place is really, really nice.
I’ll close with the flower lady’s latest creation: