My Life in China…
Since coming to China almost two years ago, I have made friends with many of the Chinese people and learned a lot about how their culture is different than mine. I have often been struck by how different the Chinese education system is to my own as well. The children go to school in classes of 40 or more. They each have individual desks and rarely interact with their classmates or teachers. They are taught to focus on their own studies and can easily spend hours a day studying by themselves.
When they get older, there is a strong focus on marriage and finding a husband or wife as quickly as possible, so they can start a family. This is almost considered a measure of their life’s success. I decided to ask someone firsthand about their experiences in China to gain a clearer understanding. It’s very easy to have misconceptions of a place you’ve never lived before, so I also asked her perceptions of how Western women’s experiences differed in similar situations. Please meet Kitty Wong, a 29-year-old Chinese woman from Southern China.
A.G: Firstly, let’s talk about your childhood and upbringing. Could you give me an insight into how your parents raised you, what kind of morals they taught you were important and what life lessons you learned while growing up?
Kitty Wong: Honestly, my childhood was a bit lonely. My parents were always busy, so I usually stayed at home by myself. This is because I’m the only child in my family. I think that when I was in primary school my best friends were the TV and some fluffy toys. I felt like I could talk to them and share my stories about school when my parents weren’t around. My parents thought that I was quite independent, and they didn’t worry about whether I could take care of myself or not. This is normal though, many parents have to work to earn money. They want to do it so that they can support the child’s education and give them a better future.
I can remember that they always told me “sorry, Mommy and Daddy have to work! Can you take care of yourself?” I would always say yes, but the reality was that I felt quite upset by this. I felt like I didn’t learn from my parents. Instead, I would learn from my schoolmates, books, and TV shows. Back then there were many TV programs that showed you how to be a good person. Because my father was a soldier he always spoke abruptly, like a commander or a major. He would say things like, “Kitty, you are wrong. You have to do things in this particular way. If you don’t, people won’t like you!” Because I was a child I thought he was too strict about everything. The way he spoke made me a bit scared of him so I never dared to express my opinion. I always followed what he thought was the right thing to do.
A.G: Do you think that western parents raise their children differently to Chinese children and if yes, what do you think is different?
Kitty Wong: I think it’s quite different. Chinese parents try to protect their children too much. It’s like they think “I want to help you to figure out what is best for you and I want to help you to decide which school to go to and what to do in the future”. They are also more afraid to let their children try something new because they are scared it’s too dangerous. For example, the child might want to try ice-skating, they would be too afraid let the child try because they might hurt themselves. The parents would then make up the excuse of “No, you’re old enough to do this.” If the child were to continue to insist then the parents would ensure that they only did it through professional instruction and never allowed to just try by themselves. I’m not sure if Western parents are different, but I think they are more open to letting their children try different things. I think it depends on the parents because, of course, we also have some very open-minded Chinese parents.
A.G: At school what kind of friends did you have? Did you hang out with boys and girls or mostly one sex? Have you remained in contact with your school friends?
Kitty Wong: This is a good question! Yes, I usually hung out with girls because the teachers and the parents would tell you “don’t hang out with boys!” This is because they wanted to avoid early close relationships with the opposite sex. They don’t want you to have a boyfriend or girlfriend when you’re at school. Everybody would tell you that you are not allowed to do it at your age. Because of this, I hung out with girls. I am not really in contact with many schoolmates, but I do have one and she’s one of my best friends. We’ve known each other for maybe more than 15 years since we started in junior high!
A.G: What about the schooling system, do you think Chinese education is good? What age did you start school? Do you think it benefitted you?
Kitty Wong: I started primary school at 7 years old. Looking back to over 20 years ago I think the schooling system was far too strict, almost like an army! It’s organized by really firm structures. Firstly, you have to listen to your team leader. Next, the team leader has to listen to the class representative. Then the class representative has to report to the Chinese teacher. The Chinese teacher then reports to the team leader at her level, until after many different levels of communication someone finally speaks to the principal. There is very little immediate communication between you and the person you, perhaps, really need to talk to. In some ways, it was a good system, but in others it was frustrating.
A.G: What do you know about Western education systems, and how do you think they differ from the Chinese education system?
Kitty Wong: I don’t know a lot about Western education systems. I guess it’s pretty much the same? What I do know is that you have different lesson style to us. For example, you can do a group project and you have to set up a team and work out who does what part. It gives you the chance to really learn how to work together. It also gives you chance to find out who is the better team leader or who is the better problem solver. It’s a good way to show how to communicate with each other to reach a final decision. We don’t do this until we go to university, so I think that’s way too late for Chinese students!
A.G: Could you tell me about your personal life a little? What pressures, if any, do you feel from your society with regards to relationships and family?
Kitty Wong: Right now I am 29 years old. My biggest pressure is from my family and society. Everybody is just so concerned when I will get married! They want to know why I am not trying to find someone to get married to. The thing is, I don’t want to force myself to look for a guy because I don’t think being single is a problem. If I am meant to meet my ‘Mr. Right’, I will. I know that somewhere, at some time he will appear. However, if he doesn’t then that’s fine too! I have my life, and I have other things to pursue. I don’t think getting married or having children is the only way to tell if a woman is happy and successful in Chinese society. However, I receive many concerns and pressures from my family, particularly in the past 3 years. I truly believe that this is a big problem that has happened to many Chinese girls my age right now.
A.G: Do you think Western women feel some pressure to settle down and get married?
Kitty Wong: I guess that some of them do. I’m aware that Western people also have traditional families. Generally speaking, I think it is more common and acceptable for you to be single and not have children compared to China.
A.G: Could you ever see yourself married with a family? What goals do you have for your future?
Kitty Wong: I want to have my own space! I want to have somewhere I can do things. I like and enjoy my spare time.
Right now, I live with my parents. It is usual in China for girls to live with their parents until they are married. I work in Foshan and my parents live here too, so I don’t really have a reason to move out. They might become offended if I said I wanted to. They would think that I didn’t like them anymore, and that was why I didn’t want to live with them. Nevertheless, one of my goals is to have my own space. I will as soon as I move into my own place at the end of this year or beginning of next year. I also want to try to figure out if I can buy a little studio with my friend. We want to try to open a small business. This is just a dream, but we’re going to work it out next year!
With regards to marriage and family, if I meet someone that I love, I want to have our own little family together. I don’t think I want to have children, though. I think this is something that is out of my comfort zone. It is really such an important responsibility to raise your children and educate them. I don’t want to repeat the same story as my parents. My childhood was a little bit unhappy and lonely. Not to mention, I want to have my personal time and life!
A.G: How about learning English, how do you feel that has affected your life?
Kitty Wong: Yes, yes, it does. Because English is the International language and by learning English you can know about the Western countries. You can understand English books, videos, and movies. Therefore you can receive new information and find out the differences and the interesting parts of cultures all around the world. So, yes, I think it does affect me, a lot!
A.G: Have you ever considered living somewhere other than China?
Kitty Wong: Yes! I’d quite like to live in Europe either in England or Holland!
A.G: What’s your favorite aspect of Chinese culture?
Kitty Wong: I think it’s the kung fu! It’s something very special and unique to the rest of the world. Kung fu is like the perfect gift that we can share in order to make friends with foreigners and the rest of the world!
A.G: What’s your biggest achievement to date, a memory that makes you proud of yourself?
Kitty Wong: Have I ever felt proud of myself? Sometimes, I ask myself this as well. My biggest achievement? I’m not sure if I have one. Here’s my problem. Sometimes, I think deep down in my heart that I am not really a confident person. Perhaps I will do something that other’s think is a big achievement, for example learning English. However, I only think it is something normal or common. I think it’s too small to be regarded as an achievement. So, maybe if I can survive on my own, without my parents, when I move into my new place and complete university, then that will be my big achievement!
A.G: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, do you have anything else you think is important for people to know about life in China that they may not be aware of?
Kitty Wong: I think that the new generation of Chinese people is more confident than my generation. They are now very creative and are trying to catch up with the Western countries. This is particularly true with regards to Artificial Intelligence technology inventions. We are now working on some intelligent robots to serve and help people without limbs and, of course, anyone who needs help. Also, I believe that the education system has been improved a lot, so we now are able to try to be a more international member!