For an independent woman, paradise lost in a clash of generations and mindsets
Dated: Sunday, February 11, 2018
At the 54th Golden Horse Awards, an annual Asian film festival held in Taipei last November, a movie that bagged three awards caught my attention: The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful, a suspense film about the ugly political and business circles of Taiwan in the 1960s.
In the movie, Madam Tang is the matriarch and absolute decision maker of an antique business and everything else, a whitewashing meditator between the powerful and the rich. What struck me most is her controlling nature. She tells her daughter and even her granddaughter that whatever she asks them to do, or does for them, is just for their ultimate benefit. The grand-daughter follows in silence. The daughter is fed up, but when she tries to escape from her mother's overarching control by stowing away on a boat to Viet Nam, Madam Tang erupts in ruthless fury.
The director, Ya-Che Yang, said one inspiration for the movie is that nowadays in Taiwan, many youngsters cannot marry the person they love simply because their parents say no or are looking for someone of the same family background and status. "Please, since when has the matter of your marriage become your parents'?" he said. Yang was appalled that today's young generation still have to kowtow to their parents' instructions for everything, major or minor, in life. "There is this kind of goodness--I do it for your own sake--but actually for whose sake? This is a scary question to ask." Yang said.
This resonated with me. I was raised in China by parents who always believed in me and listened to me and gave me great autonomy to decide for myself. It never dawned on me that there were parents for whom offspring are supposed to be permanently indebted to their parents, simply because their parents gave them their lives.
When my boyfriend and I planned to get married, his parents requested me to quit my hard-sought, rewarding job simply because for them, having a daughter-in-law working is a slap in the face. According to them, a woman is supposed to take care of the household, raise children, and support her husband unconditionally. They made it a non-negotiable condition for marrying their son, and so I left my job. To me that was a huge sacrifice; to them it was a given.
It took enormous courage for my boyfriend to tell his parents that he wanted to marry me because I am simply not from the same clan circle as them. His parents wanted him to marry a girl whose father is richer than God, but my boyfriend could not bear the mere thought of that. His father berated him non-stop and refused to talk to him for half a year or longer. He was so sure enough that any girl from the same circle, and no one else, would be the best possible wife for his son.
My father-in law's story is of rags to riches. For his generation, degrees and knowledge are worthless. They cannot feed you and your family during hard times. He harbours contempt for intellectuals; for him, success is measured by net worth and nothing else. Men from his region of China consider women inferior, even today. He and his wife simply follow tradition because they don't read and they don't care what has happened and what has changed. It is a clash of generations, of course, but it is also a clash of mindsets; I was brought up liberally and they believe that they are free of errors. I don't think they are bothered to care about what is good for me. My existence is to take care of whoever bears the family surname, to continue the family line.
We have had to live with my in-laws from day one of our marriage, and it's been two years now. No one ever mentioned this requirement before I signed the dotted line on our certificate. Worse, there were grand promises that there was an apartment ready for us. Until today, not a brick has materialized. And now that they have a grandson, why on earth would they want us to move?
In this house, I don't have a say on anything I do, particularly on the way I raise my child. I am pro-Montessori and firmly believe that every child is entitled to grow up in his own way. He should be free to explore the world. I want to be my boy's friend and I hope he will to talk to me about anything. However, my in-laws relish it when everything is under control. Mother-in-law is more concerned about her whether porcelain set is broken, her Persian rug stained, or her Italian sofa spoiled than whether her grandson has enough fun exploring. She scolded me, saying, "Don't you listen to the science, it is non-sense!"
Cee lives in Asia. Because of her sensitive family situation, she wishes to be known only by her initial.