Role of Family in Chinese Culture

by Ticara Gailliard

Familial bonds hold a special place in most cultures throughout the world. These bonds help shape the culture of a nation. Family dynamics change through history and around the world. In China, the role of family plays an important part of daily life. The role of family in China has shifted to become more modernized, but family still holds an important place in Chinese culture.

Patriarchal and Patrilineal Setup

Chinese Grandfather with grandchild

Chinese culture operates based upon both patrilineal and patriarchal design. Patrilineal means that the family lineage runs through the male in the family. Family membership is inherited through the father. Patriarchal means that the families are typically run by the male members within it.

Importance of Elders

Chinese man paying respects to his ancestors

Within Chinese families, elder members have the most authority and command large amounts of respect. Chinese culture operates under the notion of filial piety. Filial piety means that the older people within a family are regarded as having the prevailing will over younger, inferior members of the family. Chinese culture places importance on paying reverence to ancestors that have passed on, usually males. Failure to do so causes bad luck within a family. Those who lack male descendants are thought to become volatile ghosts upon their passing.

Kinship Terms

Large Chinese family

Whereas in American culture terms are broader, such as uncle, aunt or grandfather, Chinese culture gives names that are more specific. For instance, a person’s father’s older brother is called “bo fu,” whereas the younger brother is “shu fu.” Each position within a family carries a specific name as a sign of respect to that family member. The abundance of kinship terms also stems from the fact that many Chinese families are large, with a number of extended family members. Specific names helps keep confusion about relation to another family member down.

Traditional vs Modern

Young Chinese family

Chinese culture has become slightly more relaxed in regards to family structure. While many families still operate under a patriarchal setup, women are gaining more pull within a family. In addition, younger members of a family are being allowed more of a say in their own future. Young family members are permitted to choose their career path, though they still have to consult with family elders first.

One Child Policy

In 1979, a policy was formed requiring that Chinese citizens of Han descent bear only one child per couple. This policy was put into place to control China’s population boom. Should a couple break this policy, they face a hefty fine, and some reports of forced abortions or sterilization exist. Maleness is valued so highly within Chinese family culture that exemptions to this policy exist for couples who give birth to a female child first.

About the Author

Ticara Gailliard is a college graduate with a degree in communications/film and video production from the University of Memphis. She has been a writer for over 15 years and has been published in local writing magazines such as "Grandmother Earth." She also edited two books for her high school.

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