The institution of family is paramount to Chinese society. Value is placed on family unity, size, cooperation, and mutual support. This has long been believed by the Chinese who hold family bonds sacred and honor them accordingly. The traditional Chinese family is patriarchal, with the father at the helm. Traditionally, this position endowed him with earning responsibility as well as complete authority in family affairs. A child’s insubordination to a parent was considered a capital offense.
The father is also responsible for housing and educating his children up until the time of their marriage. Once married, the children move into their own homes. Often, married couples would stay with the parents of the groom for a short while before moving into their own homes.
The roles played by each member of the family in Chinese society are greatly influenced by religion, social order and community behavior. One’s family membership is inherited from one’s father. A woman is eventually removed from the family of her birth and affiliated with her husband’s family. Elders are given the utmost respect and many Chinese homes are three-generational, the children providing personal care for their parents as they age.
Reverence and devotion is also given to ancestors. It is believed that the departed depended upon the sacrifices of the living and wield significant influence over the lives of their descendants. The ancestors were informed of all important decisions that were made in the family. On certain days of the year, the Chinese burn paper money to contribute to their ancestors’ prosperity.
With the passage of time, Chinese family values have undergone many changes. The father is still the provider and protector of the family. He may still have a final say in the important matters concerning his children but no longer does the he enjoy absolute control. The children of today’s Chinese family are more or less free to make their own choices but are required to consult their elders for advice.
These changes are due in large part to the one child policy that was created by law in China as a means of controlling the rapidly growing population and to control the draining of the country’s natural resources. The Chinese government refers to it as Family Planning Policy. It officially restricts married, urban couples to having only one child. Exemptions are made for twins, rural couples, ethnic minorities, and parents without any siblings themselves. Approximately 36% of China’s population is currently subject to the restriction. The government has stated that the policy will remain in effect until at least 2015, however in 2011, they expressed considerations to allow some couples to have a second child.
Today, the Chinese live in smaller family units, usually only with parents and children, and sometimes grandparents. Girls as well as boys are valued. Almost all adults have a job, male or female. In many families, a grandparents looks after the house and children during the day, and more children attend nursery school and kindergarten so that mothers can be free to work.