A recent article in Shanghai Daily reminds me of an incident that occurred years ago.
For those of you who are not familiar with the Chinese calendar, here is a quick recap: The Chinese Spring Festival is just around the corner. The festival this year falls on February 10 that marks the start of the Chinese lunar new year, an annual occasion for family get-togethers and reunions.
The Shanghai Daily article describes a festival fear among many young Chinese who are becoming increasingly independent and values their privacy more than ever and are therefore reluctant to rush home fore the holiday. For them, the packing of bags and suitcases strike fear rather than evoking joy and excitement.
The dread comes from the likelihood of their privacy being invaded. A lot of young Chinese complain about their probing parents and relatives wanting to know their salary and marital status, for example. This is a litany of questions that are typically considered invasive: How much money do you make a year? How much do you get for the year-end bonus? Do you have a boy/girl-friend yet? When are you getting married?
In the western society, these questions are largely taboo, but only becoming so in China in the recent years. People who grew up in my era, however, still have the tendency to probe.
I remember a story in the late eighties when I took my Aussie professor to visit the Great Wall. On the train ride to Beijing, crowds of fellow passengers flock together to our seats, shut in on all sides of us and bombarded her with such questions. She was appalled at first, coming from a culture that views such invasion of privacy as only barbaric. I had to explain to her what she was experiencing was quite normal in China. People generally left no space to each other’s privacy. Instead of being viewed as a social taboo, it is often considered endearing and affectionate, because that means people generally care and want to know more about you.
Back then, Chinese people, young and old, did not have much sensibility of privacy. It’s just a cultural norm to want to know the others’ business, no matter how private that could be.
Time has certainly changed. So has the cultural norm.
Young people nowadays are standing up and guarding their own private matters. They consider the relatives’ overwhelming concern about their private lives intrusive rather than well-intentioned.
The difficulty these youngsters have in accepting their parents’ intrusive probing can be attributed to the fact that the two generations are growing apart in terms of how they believe the younger generation should live their lives.
For centuries Chinese parents have believed in marrying off their children at an early age, so that they can have grandchildren at a relatively early age. However, youngsters now are more inclined to set their own timetable regarding marriage and kids.
Like marital status, salaries are also considered a private matter that young people would rather their parents did not pry into.
The essence of Spring Festival should be family reunions and affection, which should not be shadowed by fear.