Apr 14, 2015

What the Chinese want

I've just finished reading "Battle hymn of the tiger mom". It's an entertaining, easy read, and as a Chinese mom and child of Chinese parents, I found myself nodding again, and again. 

She is American Chinese, I am Malaysian Chinese (now Australian Chinese?) and our links to China is separated by several centuries and thousands of miles. And yet I understood her perfectly (even if I found her quite crazy!). Chinese have immigrated around the world for centuries, but despite immersion in different cultures, the Chinese culture itself has remained strong throughout generations.

This question of "What the Chinese want" had made headlines in Malaysia for various reasons, and many a piece has been written with this exact headline. In an effort to crystallise why I am Chinese, even though I only feel half so, and am often not recognised as Chinese by other Chinese, I'll give this topic my 2 cents. (Note: perhaps most applicable to the Gen X generation and their parents, the generation which struggled through the growth years)

1) We need to be financially secure. It's like we have centuries of famine encoded in our collective memory. Like Scarlett o'Hara says, "As God is my witness, I'll never go hungry again." The Chinese have a fear, irrational or otherwise, of going hungry.

2) We are one of the world's oldest civilisations, and I think this somehow influences our private timeline. The view is often long-term. It's not uncommon to make a decision today, based on the outcome 10 or 20 years from now.

3) Sacrifice is big. Robert Kiyosaki didn't invent delayed gratification - his 'guru' in his books must have been an old school Chinaman. You sacrifice some pleasure today for bounty far off in the future.

4) Work hard for your living. Work hard, work late hours, work weekends, don't take holidays. (for parents, often with the aim of building a better life for your kids, see point 5)
Not working hard is frowned upon. Not working at all is dishonourable. We tend to be miffed when lazy, dishonest people take our hard-earned money and use it, ie corrupt politicians are the bane of our existence. Relatives who take our money but use it unwisely (in our view), will likely get no more of it. It's a bit like that story of the ant and the grasshopper - only the ant isn't so gracious about it.

5) You aim to be not a financial burden to your kids but a beneficiary to them. That's why we save for our retirement and delay gratification. That's why parents hope to send their kids to good universities and gift them a car or the deposit for a house purchase, upon adulthood.

6) Making money is important but managing money is equally important. Seeing relatives mismanage funds is painful, and worthy of even sleepless nights because we fear for their wellbeing.

7) We like to scale up ...each generation should be better off than the last. I once interviewed a rags-to-riches millionaire, who told me what motivated him when he was young and struggling. It was an old Chinese saying along the lines of :
"It's alright for the current generation to suffer, as long as the next is better off."

8) We believe leverage. Good education is leverage. That's why we invest so much effort into our kids education, why houses in good school catchment areas sell like hotcakes.
In Malaysia, for parents who can afford it, they buy a house with the birth of each child. 20 years later, they sell the house to pay for university tuition fees (to disbelieving Aussies, in Malaysia, a degree can cost the price of a house)
We want to give them a good 'send off' into the adult world, and parenting success is based on us being able to give them this.

9) Actions talk louder than words. In Malaysia, we have an acronym - NATO stands for "No action, talk only."
Empty words are disdained. Chinese work in the space of reality, not dreams and wishy washiness.

10) The language of love between parent and child is sacrifice. A friend said that it is money, and I've been thinking about it - in a sense yes, but there is another layer to it.
Money is earned through hard work and sacrifice, the money is used to better the child's (and their future generation's) future.
Once a long, long time ago, I told my mom, "One day, I hope to be able to stay at home with my kids."
She blew her top. "What? That would be such a waste!"
"A waste?" I responded incredulously. "That would be a luxury!"
And so started one of our fights.
You see, she had sacrificed to give me 'a better life', she worked hard, not buying herself anything, or going on holidays but spending the money on my tuition, and college fees. And by saying I wanted to throw my career away seemed like throwing away her sacrifices and rejecting her love.
Parents want their children to have a better life, quite literally. This is how love is displayed in a Chinese family, not in hugs and kisses, but in the sacrifices made.
The irony with this often is, that parents are working so hard they miss out on interacting with their child.

11) Good is not good enough when it can be better.  It's part of the 'face' thing, and part competitiveness thing, and part scaling up thing. A Chinese parent's love is sometimes reflected in the driving to tears of the child. Parenting is not a popularity contest, we tend to say.

12) All that sacrifice and pushing often results in pride. My mother used to boast about my grades to others and it annoyed the heck out of me. But for the parents who never drove a nice car, or lived in a big house, or went on holidays because they were paying for their child's tuition, they end up living their life and revelling in their 'success' through their children.

On that last note, I append a video that is very true and poignant, an ad by the late, great Yasmin Ahmad.

If you think those ladies regret any bit of it, I can tell you, they wear their loneliness as a badge of honour; indeed, as their last sacrifice.





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