Chi­nese rel­a­tives can be trou­ble­some and gos­sipy

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Huang Lan­lan

As Chi­nese New Year (CNY) – my least-fa­vorite fes­ti­val – is only seven weeks away, I’ve started to worry about the pos­si­ble tor­tures that I will en­dure dur­ing the seven-day hol­i­day: in­clud­ing slow ex­press de­liv­ery ser­vice, hardto-buy train tick­ets, heavy traf­fic con­ges­tion and, most an­noy­ingly, Chi­nese rel­a­tives.

So­cial­iz­ing with rel­a­tives is a com­pul­sory course for ev­ery Chi­nese, es­pe­cially those in smaller ci­ties or ru­ral ar­eas where guanxi (spe­cial con­nec­tions) cul­ture re­mains a ba­sic rule of sur­vival. Dif­fer­ent from Western­ers who sel­dom have con­tact with their dis­tant cousins or un­cles, we Chi­nese are very close with even our most dis­tant rel­a­tives.

There are at least two “types” of an­noy­ing Chi­nese rel­a­tives. The first type are those who ask you for help any­time and any­where as a mat­ter of course. From bor­row­ing your money to ask­ing you to do all sorts of daily tasks and er­rands for them, rel­a­tives of this type never see any in­ap­pro­pri­ate­ness in con­stantly both­er­ing you.

Last year, one of my very dis­tant un­cles – whom I’d never met be­fore – sud­denly con­tacted me on my WeChat say­ing that he met some trou­bles while mov­ing house. “Hey Lan­lan, I heard that you work as a reporter in Shang­hai, so I guess you know many gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials here, right?” he wrote. “Can you help me con­tact some of­fi­cials to solve my prob­lems?”

I was stunned. Deal­ing with this sort of is­sue is def­i­nitely be­yond my abil­ity, let alone the fact that I didn’t even know this man’s full name at that time. Feeling a bit put off, I wrote to him that I wasn’t able to help, but sug­gested he call the Shang­hai pub­lic ser­vice hot line 12345 for a con­sul­ta­tion. My so­called un­cle didn’t re­ply and hasn’t been in touch since.

The other type of an­noy­ing Chi­nese rel­a­tives are the gos­sipers. Hav­ing no con­cept of pri­vacy, rel­a­tives of this type are keen on dis­cussing very per­sonal fam­ily is­sues (such as whose daugh­ter failed to pass a fi­nal ex­am­i­na­tion, or whose wife suf­fers in­fer­til­ity, or whose cousin had an af­fair) with ev­ery­one else.

For these types, CNY is noth­ing more than a big gos­sip party. Ev­ery year, as a topic of their din­ner con­ver­sa­tions, I’m bom­barded by their overly frank questions about my job, salary and re­la­tion­ships – in­clud­ing when I plan on fi­nally get­ting mar­ried and hav­ing chil­dren.

Even though I’m quite re­luc­tant to share with them these in­ti­mate and per­sonal af­fairs, which are none of their busi­ness, I usu­ally break down and an­swer most of their questions just to sat­isfy their cu­riosi­ties and quell their gos­sip. A Chi­nese my­self, tol­er­at­ing gos­sipy rel­a­tives is not that dif­fi­cult for me. But it can be ex­tremely hard for for­eign­ers, who care a lot about pri­vacy. Sin­ga­porean web­site Asi­aOne pub­lished an ar­ti­cle in Jan­uary of 2017 in which the au­thor, Joanne Poh, men­tioned “five awk­ward money questions rel­a­tives might ask at CNY.” 1) “How much do you earn?” 2) “Why aren’t you do­ing as well as Cousin X?” 3) “Your job can earn money meh?” 4) “Why have you still not bought a house/car?” 5) “Can I bor­row money from you?”

Un­like most Western­ers who live rel­a­tively in­de­pen­dently, Chi­nese fam­i­lies are no­to­ri­ous for hav­ing lit­tle per­sonal space. I do ap­pre­ci­ate some rules that tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture have taught me, such as that rel­a­tives should care for and help each other, but in ac­tual life, many rel­a­tives step over our per­sonal bound­aries.

A healthy, long-last­ing in­ter­per­sonal fam­ily re­la­tion­ship should be built on the ba­sis of mu­tual un­der­stand­ing and re­spect. Hav­ing a big fam­ily with many rel­a­tives is a good thing in our col­lec­tivism-ad­vo­cat­ing so­ci­ety. None­the­less, I would rather my rel­a­tives leave me alone if they are lit­tle more than trou­ble­mak­ers or gos­sipers.

The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the au­thor’s own and do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of the Global Times.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Lu Ting/GT

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