This Friday’s Feature is from Zhongguo Jumble, a fantastic American expat living and experiencing life in Shanghai, China. I found her fascinating blog after a trip to China last year, and have been addicted every since.
A 妹妹 (little sister)
My good friend had a baby in the last couple of weeks. This in itself is pretty normal with my friends in China. I’m at the age where lots of friends and coworkers are having little ones. The unique part though is that this was my friend’s second baby, second daughter, and both she and her husband are Chinese.
When she told me she was pregnant towards the end of last year I had a lot of questions – some of which I asked and some which I didn’t. I know that the pregnancy was not “planned.” I know that she has a sister herself, so they are not eligible to have a second child without paying a huge fine. I know that she considered “options” to deal with the situation. I know that they are not rich and this wasn’t a trophy baby that they were going to keep at any cost. I know that given her husband’s job that he may lose it if the wrong people decide to use him as an example. And I know that they decided to keep the baby.
I went to visit last weekend. I hadn’t seen her for quite a while with my travel schedule. She looked great despite the heat and I spent some time with her and the little one. Her elder daughter was staying with her parents for a couple of months while they adjusted to life with the newborn so the apartment was quiet. Her father-in-law flitted through the apartment keeping an eye on the baby. We chatted about people we know and my job and her job and kids. I asked if having the second child was easier or harder. She said it was nice to know what was going to happen and so she felt it was more relaxing this time. I still have a lot of questions, but I didn’t ask most of them again. It’s such a sensitive topic.
Chinese can be very specific when it comes to certain sets of words. Elder sister (姐姐), younger sister (妹妹), elder brother (哥哥), younger brother (弟弟) are all different. The words for aunt and uncle tell you which side of the family someone is on and whether that relative is older or younger than your parent. The words for grandparents differ by mother’s side and father’s side. China historically has been a country of big families and now that has changed. What is going to happen to these words?
I can already see that some of them have been re-purposed. The different words for siblings （兄弟姐妹）now also apply to cousins. When someone my age or younger says 我姐姐 (My older sister) I have to ask if it’s the sister of the same mother. Most of the time it’s not. The rest, I don’t know what will happen.
I do know though that one little girl in Shanghai now has a little sister, by the same mother, and I am very proud of my friend.
Visiting my friend also made me proud of my country. An American never has to consider punishment for having a child. Of course there is always a balancing game – timing, finances, career opportunities, family support – but there is another side which just never comes up. By means of my passport I hit the lottery. And living in China makes me realize that on a regular basis.
I know that implementing the one child policy gave China a competitive advantage as an emerging economy. I know that it probably did save thousands if not millions of children from dying of hunger. I know too that the demographic dividend is just about spent and there are going to be a whole new set of problems with the aging population just around the corner.
But this is my opinion. What do you think?
I’m an American woman who originally came to China in the fall of 2007 and nearly five years later I’m still living and working in Shanghai. As my Mandarin has improved, my understanding of the culture and history of this country deepens layer by layer. Shanghai is a vibrant place with lots of opportunities and challenges which I share. I also share photos and stories from my travels throughout Greater China and Asia.
If you’ve enjoyed this post by Zhonggou Jumble, here are three others worth a read:
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