My Chinese parents-in-law’s display of love

My Chinese parents-in-law’s display of love

There is a saying in Chinese “Actions speak louder than words” (shishi shengyu xiongbian 事实胜于雄辩) and my Chinese parents-in-law are fully living up to it. Their way of displaying love and affection is very different to what we are used to in many Western cultures.

While I grew up expressing familial love in such ways as hugs, kisses and saying “I love you” to my mom, it’s still very uncommon among Chinese families. I had to step up and try hard to overcome the invisible line of unspoken rules, old traditions and different culture when I decided to give my Chinese mother-in-law a hug.

But since than nothing much has changed. My parents-in-law still follow the Confucian culture of “do more say less”. There was a YouTube video a few years ago called “Asian parents and the awkward ‘I love you'”, where interviewees find proof of love in their parent’s selfless acts. This illustrates what I have experienced with my parents-in-law perfectly.

Before I even got married to my husband, my parents-in-law surprised me with their caring attitude. In an attempt to make me feel at home, they have moved mountains and built castles (almost literally speaking).

IMG_1763_副本DSC02522_副本You should know my parents-in-law are farmers, living in a small village close to Bozhou in northern Anhui. They grew up being very poor and until today haven’t worked up their way to prosperity (material-wise). However, what impressed me the most (and moved me to tears) is what they can do with the opportunities that were given to them.

The family house in the village where my husband grew up has two floors. While the parents live downstairs under very simple conditions, they have renovated the entire second floor for me and my husband (before we even got married). I remember my first visit very well. Mother-in-law was worried sick I might not be used to the food, but more so was she worried if I will be shocked by their living conditions and just run away. Back then they didn’t have a shower, nor a bathroom (only a little hole in the ground behind the courtyard). There was an old wooden bed that looked like some remnant from the Qing dynasty.

Handmade wardrobe, new bed and eeverything in pink because they thought I am a girl I like pink...

Handmade wardrobe, new bed and eeverything in pink because they thought I am a girl I like pink…

Only three months later after my first visit the entire second floor has turned into a different place. My father-in-law with the help of my, back then not yet husband, has turned the one big room spreading across the entire second floor into three separate rooms: a bedroom, a living room and a bathroom. He handmade an entire wardrobe for the bedroom, painted the walls, even put up wallpaper on the walls! But most incredible: the bathroom. They installed a Western style toilet, and even a bathtub! Yes, a bathtub! No apartment in the entire city of Bozhou has a bathtub… When I saw their work I was moved to tears.

And since then my parents-in-law have continued on this past of showing their love to me. Several times we have moved in with parents-in-law for a short period of time. Every time they have overdone themselves. Because life in the village can be difficult for anyone who grew up in a city (and especially anyone who grew up in a German city like myself), they tried to make it easier for me. Mother-in-law bought us a new washing machine so I didn’t have to hand wash everything. Father-in-law bought a huge couch for the empty living room so I could spend my afternoons there while my husband was out. They installed an AC in the bedroom for us. Father-in-law even installed one of those heating lamps over our bathtub in the bathroom because winter here without heating is freezing cold.

I have never heard a single “I love you” from my Chinese parents-in-law, or gotten a hug or other common expressions of care we see in most Western cultures, but they still have showed me how much they care and want me to feel at home.

For them love is often better expressed through actions.


What do you think about the difference between display of love in Western and Asian countries?

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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

10 thoughts on “My Chinese parents-in-law’s display of love

  1. Anna, this is such a touching story about the love your parents-in-law have shown you. Without words or hugs they demonstrated their loving welcome to the family.

  2. Such a lovely post! Now back in Finland for the Summer I noticed how different parents are in China and in Finland. I’ve also come to appreciate the Chinese way of helping family members.

    • I think there is a positive and negative side to parents-in-law in china. It’s great that you can be sure that they will always help out, but at the same time they tend to overstep boundaries, and get too involved in our lifes. I guess that’s life, you can never get the good without the bad xD

  3. That’s a really good example of how Asians tend to show love through actions. And it is really great that they did all this even before you two got married. It’s always good to be mindful of the positive aspects of our in-laws when there are a good number of challenges as well.
    Kimberly recently posted…Hong Kong!My Profile

    • Exactly, even though my Chinese parents-in-law and I have totally different view towards lots of issues, it’s very importat to remember that they only mean well and do as they know is best. That’s how they grew up and that’s the only way they know it. I am thankful for their welcome and care (even now they bring food to our home constantly) but I am also glad we don’t have to live together.

  4. My girlfriend is from Finland, when we went back home last spring festival, I found that my family has totally changed and decorated my room, for welcoming my girlfriend, the same behavior as you described. They also prepared something else for her coming. I also find this difference about saying “I love you”, I also tend not to say it much, since feel it doesn’t matter to say or not, but doing something to show I care you and love you matters much more.

  5. This is a real wonderful story. It sums up perfectly how Chinese parents show their love and affection.
    For example when we had our first trip to China after being together for just over a year my wive’s parents renovated their whole apartment. My wife did not recognize it at all as everything was new and looked like some fancy Western apartment. Sure we send them money to cover the costs for it as soon as we got to know about their project but in the end they returned it all to us when we bought a new car a couple of years later.
    None of them have ever said that they love their daughter (or even their creepy German son-in-law!) but they show it all the time with the things they do for us
    Timo recently posted…Holidays in Finland Part IMy Profile

  6. Beautiful and very loving story. One thing is for sure, you are loved and that’s something that a lot of people don’t experience.
    I never heard my parents tell me they loved me as I was growing up. I broke the ice after I joined the military and was far away, when ever I called I started saying it to them and you could hear the shock and then as time went on they started saying it. However, it would of made all the difference if I had heard it and known it as I was growing up. If anything I felt rejected.
    So, for your in laws to show you how they feel about you is beautiful and should give you comfort and confidence that you can accomplish anything just because you’re loved. Very happy for you, enjoy it!!

  7. “However, what impressed me the most (and moved me to tears) is what they can do with the opportunities that were given to them.”

    This quote hit home for me, as it’s something I also noticed about the people of Bozhou, Anhui as well.

    I befriended a Bozhou waidiren in Shanghai when I was living there in 2013. She eventually moved back to her hometown of Bozhou and was gracious enough to invite me to visit her and her family when I had free time.

    I visited the city in the winter of 2014 and it changed my life. It goes without saying that city of Bozhou was completely different from Shanghai so naturally it was a hard adjustment. (that Walmart/ McDonalds in the town square really helped me get through the trip lol) My friend showed me around the city however was reluctant to introduce me to her family. I thought it was strange at first, but then she explained that her home (much like the one in your photos) was bulldozed by the gov’t to make way for a factory. The family sadly had to make a new house made of sheet metal and dirt floors. Seeing her torn down house and her new house was one of the most heart breaking things I had ever seen, and I suddenly felt great sympathy for my friend.

    But then something dawned on me. I realized, despite all these hardships of life in Bozhou, despite losing her house, and despite living in a make-shift home with no real toilet/stove/ shower, she and her family were still happy. They still went on and never blamed their circumstances, nor did they it make them miserable. In fact, it seemed they were happier than me, despite all my privileges that I was lucky to have. Made me really think that I should be happy with what I have and that most of my problems are small and unimportant. I still often think of my friend and hope she is doing okay, but knowing her attitude and ability to face tough situations, I’m sure she is doing great.

    Thanks for the wonderful blog post and bringing back some treasured memories. All the best.

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