“Sheng Da Pang Sunzi 生大胖孙子” The pressure of having a boy in rural China

“Sheng Da Pang Sunzi 生大胖孙子” The pressure of having a boy in rural China

When I told my parents-in-law we were going to have a baby girl, they only gave a faint smile. The comment my father-in-law’s little sister made, however, is still in my mind: “That’s ok. You can try for a boy next time”.

For a long time I felt strange. As if having a girl was some kind of failure. “We can try again…” My husband tried to console me by saying she didn’t mean it that way and that his parents are very happy about a grandchild no matter the gender. But I couldn’t shake the feeling.

Yes, the traditional preference for a son in modern China is not as widespread and intense as it was a few decades ago, but it is still existent; especially in rural areas.  The ‘One Child Policy’ (计划生育政策jihua shengyu zhengce), first applied in 1979, has always put pressure on rural households, where it was important to have a son who can lead the family, cultivate fields, generate networking relationships and make all the important decisions (and also continuing the family name). Most rural areas though often received special permission to exceed the one child limit. This is one of the reasons my husband has an older sister (two in fact). Before the change to the One Child Policy earlier this year, everyone was only allowed one child. Rural areas were permitted to have two, if the first one was a girl. This rule alone showed the preference for a boy even being supported by the government.

Obviously it cannot be generalised that all rural places prefer boys over girls, but it is undeniable that to a large extent, traditions and customs have played a major role in keeping this belief alive.

It seems to still be very much alive in my husband’s family. Both his older sisters had baby girls as first born. So it wasn’t even a question if they wanted a second one or not. Most people I have talked to in my husband’s village have a strong often vocal preference for boys.

This talk about gender has always made me feel uncomfortable. I have had Chinese friends tell me how their mothers-in-law left the hospital without even looking at the baby when they heard the doctor saying “It’s a girl”. How heart-breaking!

One evening (I was already heavily pregnant) my husband and me were sitting at the dinner table, when one of my husband’s friends called. He just found out that the second child on the way will  be a boy and wanted to share the good news. He already had a daughter and admitted if the second one was a girl again, he would want his wife to abort. I was shocked by the casual way they were talking about such a topic.

“What will you do if our second child will be a girl?”, I asked my husband anxiously.

“We try again.”

“What if the third is a girl, too?”

“We get an abortion.”

In that moment my entire world shattered. I was in shock and disbelief that my husband could utter those words. That he would still prefer boys over girls. He grew up with the same traditions and customs that have always put a strong preference over boys, but I never thought it would be so ingrained in him.

Since then we have talked a lot. My husband loves his baby girl and if I ask him now, if he would change Sophie for a boy, he wouldn’t. Of course, he still hopes for a son in the future but he admitted that it doesn’t matter anymore. Our little family will be happy no matter the gender if our children.

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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.

5 thoughts on ““Sheng Da Pang Sunzi 生大胖孙子” The pressure of having a boy in rural China

  1. Pingback: “Sheng Da Pang Sunzi 生大胖孙子” The pressure of having a boy in rural China • Zhi Chinese

  2. You’re unfortunately right, Anna.

    My husband is from a city (Nanjing) and, yet, we have received many comments because, good lord, we “only” have two girls, some of them uttered by my husband’s university friends (not elderly people, as one would have guessed). It seems if you get a boy, you’ve been blessed; if you get a girl, it’s like “oooops, keep trying”. It honestly drives me up a wall.

    There’s a Chinese shop owner from rural China in the small village where we live (in Spain), he has 6 kids: 5 young girls and a little baby boy. He’s so happy they finally got the “big price”!

    So yes, there it goes. It’s something still present in China, and oftentimes it is not disguised in the slightest.

    From the point of view of the little girl that is growing up, it is simply cruel to have to listen to comments asserting (or implying) your life is not as precious as that of a boy.

  3. I remember when my wife was pregnant and we didnt know yet the gender while traveling in China some relatives also said we should get an abortion in case it is a girl…I really wonder how this can be still a thing? Especially boys have it much harder/ their families as they need to buy an apartment and stuff like that for the marriage. Oh well just another crazy thing in this world I guess
    Timo recently posted…The Countryside Experience for the WealthyMy Profile

  4. First off, the biggest congrats! I had no idea that you were pregnant. I guess you have a little monkey, too [well, according to the Chinese zodiac.]

    However, it makes me sad when I hear things like this.

    My mother-in-law was actually disappointed when she found out I was having a boy. She wanted a girl because she thinks girls are cuter, can buy beautiful clothes for them, and can do their hair.

    However, she loves her grandson and is very proud of him. He has my eyes and skin which is apparently worth bragging about.

  5. Pingback: 2017 Blogs by Western Women Who Love Chinese Men | Speaking of China

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