Social pressures in China can be difficult to cope with, no matter if you are a Chinese national or a Western spouse of such.
No matter where you live, every country promotes its own social standards: What you have to achieve, gain and own in order to be considered a successful citizen of that said community. China is no difference in that aspect. The difference lies in the detail of what is considered a failure and what is success.
Though, there are no major differences between China’s big cities and smaller ones. In both, citizens are faced with more or less the same social pressures. But, personally, we feel those pressures pushing heavily on us whenever we go home to visit relatives in the village.
We have successfully survived Chinese New Year, which can be very exhausting and make you feel the pressures even more than on normal days as Jocelyn from Speaking of China has written in one of her posts in February.
In our case, unfortunately, these pressures are constant and we are reminded by family members, friends and neighbors Every. Single. Day.
We don’t have a very high income
The question of “How much do you earn a month?” is very common in China. Whenever we meet family and friends this question will pop out at least once. Especially, since I am a foreigner, and everyone considers me to be “rich”, people assume that I must make tones of money a months. They don’t understand that I am living in the same small rural area they do, and that I am restricted to the same local salaries as they are. This is not Shanghai or Beijing. We don’t have a huge expat community, and no one gives foreigners an extra high salary just because they are white. Economically speaking it is just not possible for most of the companies and school here in town. The average monthly salary in Bozhou is between 3000RMB and 4000RMB (500USD to 650USD), which is considered a quite good income. Government employees might get up to 5000RMB and doctors with master degrees in state run hospitals can even get up to 8000RMB.
My husband is currently studying acupuncture at a local clinic. Normally he would have to pay his teacher, send expensive gifts and invite him for dinner at least once a month. Luckily, we ran into a really nice person. He never makes us pay or accepts any dinner invitations. In fact, at the end of the month he even pays my husband a small salary. But that amount is too small to be considered as “a successful high income” in the eyes of our relatives and neighbors.
We are not able to give money to my Chinese parents-in-law
The day I first visited my Chinese parents-in-law, neighbors immediately started envying them. They saw me as the rich foreigner who will now feed them, buy them a house, a car and give them the chance to retire from the hard field work… I really wish that would be true.
Unfortunately, due to the income situation mentioned above, my Chinese parents-in-law are still working on the field. We haven’t bought them a house or a car, nor are we able to give them a monthly financial help (as much as we wish we could). It is very hard on my husband who is the only son. Society expects him to care for his parents, no matter the cost. In the eyes of family and friends we are a total failure and worth, not living up to China’s standards of filial piety.
We don’t own any property
Everyone living in Beijing or Shanghai knows house prices are extortionate. To get on the property ladder in Beijing or Shanghai demands wealthy relatives, a life of crime, or an extraordinarily well-paying job. The city we live in is no exception. Yes, the house prices are lower here than in bigger cities, but such are the salaries as mentioned above. A square-meter in Bozhou is sold for 4000RMB to 5000RMB. Let’s say you want to just by a small apartment of 50 square meters in a middle class neighborhood, you will have to pay at least 200.000RMB. And we are talking here about an unfurnished apartment (add 10.000RMB more to furnish it with middle class furniture). With a salary of 4000RMB a moth you will need 50 years to save that money… Nowadays many couples take out huge loans before they get married. Traditionally, it’s usually the man who takes out exorbitant loans of over 200.000RMB to buy an apartment and a car.
We won’t be able to do that, nor are we willing to bind ourselves to a bank, and maybe even worth to private loan sharks like some of our friends. We don’t own a property and I am fine with that. Relatives and friends however think we are useless, my husband is a lazy man who makes no money and I am stingy…
We have no car
The obsession of owning an apartment doesn’t stop there. You will need a car as well. Not just any car: It should be a new car, preferably an expensive brand with amazing interior and technical goodies.
We own an electronic motorbike 电动车 and we are not sad. Actually, I don’t even want a car. Even though public transportation is as good as non-existent where we live, but with everyone buying a car as soon as they get married, the city is over-crowded and traffic jams are very common. There is nothing faster than a small, flexible electric bike to get from one place to the other. We might buy a second-hand car one day, because winters are harsh here, and if it rains it rains buckets, so owning a car is practical, but that’s it. Even though everyone laughs at us for uttering the plan of buying a second-hand car, we really couldn’t care less.
We don’t have a baby (boy) yet
We have been married for over three years now, and are still childless, by choice. After reading the above points the choice of why we are not having children yet, should be self-explanatory. I am a firm believer of first having a stable financial situation and a place you can call home, before settling for having a baby.
Our Chinese family and neighbors, however, believe in the absolute contrary. They think I am a failure as a woman, not just because we don’t have children yet, but because I openly express my attitude towards why we made that decision. Even though my Chinese mother-in-law accepts our decision, she can’t help it but ask about a grandson (yes, connotation on ‘son’) every now and then. Neighbors are less subtle, and ask us whenever they see us, and give as disgusted looks if we tell them ‘no, we don’t want children yet’.
Of course, none of those things mentioned above are essential to our happiness. Of course, we shouldn’t give a damn about what other people are thinking, even what family is thinking. Of course it is not the most important to own a house, a car or have a high income. None of those things really show the worth of a person.
But, nevertheless, these social pressures are very much alive in China and torturing couples day in day out. We are trying our best to stop listening what other people say, how we should live our lives, what makes us successful citizens… It is a work in progress, and we will have to remind ourselves everyday: What matters is that we have each other, everyone is healthy and the rest will just come later. As a friend once told me 坚持就是胜利 (jianchi jiu shi shengli): Keep at it, and you will succeed!
Have anyone ever told you that you are a failure? Do you think we should give in to social pressures?
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