Social Pressures in China: Why Everyone in Niuji Village Thinks We Are a Failure

Social Pressures in China: Why Everyone in Niuji Village Thinks We Are a Failure

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’.


social pressure in china_s

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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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 “Social Pressures in China: Why Everyone in Niuji Village Thinks We Are a Failure

  1. Eeek. It’s somewhat similar in Japan (but not nearly as strict, I guess). I can’t imagine that pressure :/

    My husband is the second son (and has three other siblings), so we don’t have too much pressure coming from the parents. He was in a bad work environment so he quit his job a couple months ago (since I was making enough freelancing to support us) – and a lot of family members reacted (and still continue to react) poorly.

    But I know they’re coming from a place of love. And were born in the lifetime employment era.

    My husband and I have been married a bit over two years (together for five) – and are still childless, very much by choice. Our situation is similar to yours, I guess.
    Japanese dad asks every time we visit when we’re having kids (since my husband’s older siblings had babies within one year of their marriage) – but aside from the occasional letter/phone call asking about kids, they mostly just let us do our thing.

    I guess we got it really lucky.

    We also don’t own a car, house, or any property – which is difficult justifying.

  2. Kudos to you for writing about there difficult issues. I felt some of the same pressures, but before people in China owned cars and property, and when the average annual salary in the countryside was maybe US$500. But the baby thing was always there and I felt a great rush to get pregnant when I was in my mid20s. I would do it all over again, but it is not a good idea to put society’s pressures above your own well-being. People who haven’t lived in China don’t understand why I would have a baby when the marriage wasn’t great to begin with.

    • I totally understand you. The pressures here are sometimes worse than in Western countries. Simply because it is ok in Chinese culture to constantly give other people unsolicited advices and tell them what they are doing wrong and what they should be doing. But they do it in a way they really gets to you. And especially in a village like the one I live in… they do it in crowds, several times a day. Which ended in me not leaving the house because I cannot stand the stares and pressures anymore.

  3. This kind of pressure can be brutal in China! Because we dnot live in China we avoided much of it however my in laws most likely had to go much ‘shit’ because in the first years I didn’t had any job, my parents didn’t give my in laws enough presents and I didn’t buy them a car or an apartment. Not thatmy in laws even wanted those things but the pressure from family and friends is really bad when it comes to these things in China.

    I wish you all the best going through this all :)

  4. I’m enjoying finally reading your posts! I’m sure I just haven’t found it yet but how big is your community? As for being told I’m a failure, I have not heard this directly. My inlaws were worried about my (Japanese) hubby and I getting married at first but we had a frank discussion and they were okay. My inlaws don’t have any expectations for us to provide for them although we always try! We do what we can for them. I can’t imagine how hard the incessant questioning must be for you but I do believe that you need to do what is best for you, even if it is not the norm.

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