As I sat with a Chinese girl named Yang Junxiao over dinner, she described her relationship of a year with a former high school classmate. She and her boyfriend began dating shortly after finishing the college entrance examination, after which they discovered they would attend separate colleges in the same city.
“I haven’t told my parents,” said Yang. To my American ears, Yang’s statement sounded rather foreign. In America, a relationship of the same caliber, duration and seriousness would inevitably become part of the parents’ knowledge. Though we may attend school states and even countries away from our parents, a year-long relationship would certainly warrant parental attention.
Perhaps the reason for this is the existence of American parents on Facebook (which the Chinese Facebook equivalent, Renren, lacks), which allows moms and dads easy access to information regarding the status of their children’s love lives. But that answer does not cover the number of American students who choose to keep their parents out of their Facebook lives, regardless of any long-term relationship.
The reason seems to be that American students are more willing than Chinese students to tell their parents that they have established a relationship. I wondered. Is it because Chinese students feel the need to hide their relationships?
This may be the case in high school, but not when it comes to college. In my last column I interviewed a Chinese student named Eva about her long-term relationship. She said that once in college, parents typically permit their children to date, as they believe college is a safe environment for dating. Eva said that she hid her high school relationship from her parents but told them about her second relationship that began during college.
This relationship was not without controversy. Eva revealed that her boyfriend is a Hui Muslim — one of China’s 55 recognized minority ethnic groups. China’s population consists mostly of Han Chinese with whom Eva identifies. Eva told me that her parents are heavily prejudiced toward the Hui Muslims. She explained that her hometown is predominately Hui, and the group’s exclusivity has caused tension between her parents and their neighbors.
Because of these acrimonious feelings, the parents had forbidden Eva from ever marrying her boyfriend. They hoped she would dump him and find a Han Chinese man to eventually settle down with and marry.
But Eva was confused. Even though she never expected to date him, her boyfriend’s long courtship warmed her heart. She was troubled because if she ever wanted to marry him, she would have to convert to Islam — a large commitment that would demand a lot from both her and her parents. The idea of converting felt next to impossible, so Eva preferred not to think about the future.
Under China’s one-child policy, parental acceptance of relationships becomes tantamount to a family’s happiness. Eva was experiencing inner turmoil, because when it comes to modern Chinese marriages, the background of a potential mate must accord with the background of one’s family.
Parental guidance of students’ decisions is not a foreign concept in China. Many Chinese students refrain from telling their parents about their relationships — not because they desire to hide the relationships, but rather because it is more of a mutual agreement that once students have found someone they are serious about marrying, then they will introduce that person to their parents.
Of course, many students do tell their parents anyway. Yang’s friends were surprised to hear that she had not told her parents about her year-long relationship. Eva told her parents because there was never an option in her mind not to do it.
Despite the relationship’s difficult circumstances, Eva maintained a positive attitude.
“Dating gives special feelings and makes life more interesting,” she said. I could not agree with her more.
Anastasia Taber is a junior in the College. She can be reached at [email protected]. DATING DALAI appears every other Friday in the guide.