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Chinese parents’ difficult art of letting go

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The  way some Chinese parents shower love on their grown-up children can
be  smothering, but from an outsider's perspective it may look like a
black  comedy eliciting laughs and tears in equal measure. When you spot
a  Mickey Mouse actor at a public recreation area, who do you think is
inside the costume? A child, perhaps? No, it's an adult because the  
figure is much taller and moves about with energy. Never in my wildest  
imagination would I say an elderly woman.

在中国,即使孩子已成年,父母对他们的爱仍然能让孩子们透不过气。不过以局外人的观点来看,这看起来像个令人哭笑不得的黑色幽默。当你在公共游乐场所看到打扮成米老鼠造型的卡通人物时,你猜什么人会穿这种卡通形象的服装呢?或许是小孩?不是,事实上是大人穿的,因为这种卡通形象通常较高,而且走起来也费力。但我怎么也不会想到穿这种卡通服装的是个上了年纪的老妇。


But Yang Zhiqiao is 75 and retired. She dons the Mickey Mouse costume  
in Luoyang, Henan province, to earn some pocket money from passersby,  
which she saves for her son. "My son is 40 and is still single. I don't
want to be a burden to him. I want to help him financially so he can
get  a wife," the Henan native says.

但是,75岁的退休老妇杨志巧,为了从路人那里赚些零用钱,在河南省洛阳市扮演米老鼠卡通人物。这些零用钱是为她儿子而攒的。这个河南本地人说:“我儿子已经40了,还是单身。我不希望自己成为他的负担,想要在经济上帮助他,这样他就可以讨到老婆。”


 According to an unrelated news story, parents in a Beijing suburb are  
getting up at 5 am each day and standing in line for the shuttle buses.
The early birds have developed this habit not for themselves, but for  
their grownup children, who work in downtown Beijing. The youngsters  
have to spend four or five hours each day commuting and their parents  
chip in by waiting in line for them so they can squeeze in an extra  
half-hour's sleep.

另据一条新闻报道,在北京郊区,许多父母早上5点就起床排队等公交。这般早起却不是为了自己,而是为了他们在北京市中心上班的子女。这些年轻人每天要花四五个小时坐车往返,他们的父母帮他们排队,这样他们就可以多睡半个小时。


These two examples are among the more exotic things Chinese parents  do
for their children, but they are a perfect reminder of the  generational
ties that bind a Chinese family. The parental sacrifice is  
traditionally embodied in a type of melodrama in which the mother, in a
desperate attempt to find money for food or school tuition for her  
children, starts to prostitute herself. This secret is inadvertently  
discovered by one of the children, who feels ashamed and blames the  
mother. In the end, the truth dawns on him and a feeling of gratitude  
gushes out of his heart.

以上举的两个中国父母疼爱子女的例子,算是比较独特,但却完美地反映了中国家庭父母和子女之间的关系。父母会为子女做出牺牲,就像传统情节剧演的那

样,绝望的母亲为了孩子的温饱和学费而去出卖肉体。这个秘密无意中被她的孩子发现,孩子觉得他母亲很可耻而且责骂她。最后,当孩子发现母亲这样做完全是为
了自己时,他的内心充满了感激。


There are countless versions of this tale in Chinese cinema or other popular art forms from the past century.

在上个世纪,中国的电影院或其他流行的艺术形式中有很多这种类型的故事。


Is it an equivalent of a mother in the United States who forsakes her  
career and turns into a soccer mom? Or is it sacrilegious to make this  
cultural comparison? Parents everywhere love their children, but the  
manifestation of that love can vary from culture to culture. What is  
considered acceptable in one country might be perceived as outrageous  
mollycoddling in another.

而美国妈妈们是否也是一切以孩子为主,为他们放弃自己的职业而成为家庭主妇?把中美两种文化作比较算是亵渎吗?世上的父母都爱他们的子女,但是文化背景的不同会使这种爱的表现方式各种各样。在某个国家可被接受的方式在另一个国家看来或许会是无度的溺爱。


When I first went to the United States, I was flabbergasted to find  
that parents would charge their college-age children for the phone calls
 they make while at home on holiday. I guess that situation no longer  
exists as now each one is equipped with a mobile phone and youngsters do
 not need to "borrow" their parents' handset. But no matter whose phone
 you use, you are supposed to pay your own bills, as is demonstrated in
 the HBO TV series Girls, in which Lena Durham's character, a recent  
college graduate, is kicked off the cellphone family plan by her  parents. 

第一次去美国时,我吃惊地发现,子女假期在家打电话,美国父母会向子女收取电话费,当然这些子女已经上大学了。我想这种情况现在应该不存在了,如今

年轻人都有手机,再也不需要向他们父母“借用”了。但是不论你用谁的手机,你都应交话费,就像美国电影频道HBO电视剧《都市女孩》中的莉娜·杜汉姆饰演
的角色那样,刚大学毕业,她父母就不让她用家里的手机。


Chinese parents' overindulgence of their children goes beyond  
the "little emperor" phenomenon, but it is exacerbated by it. Parents  
harbor a desire to pass on what they have to their children, be it  
wealth or social status. It's somewhat like an aristocrat passing a  
title to the younger generation. And some will resort to corruption to  
ensure that their children enjoy the ill-gotten fruits of their parents'
 positioning or work. This may be illegal but in many minds it is not  
unethical, at least not as unethical as squandering money on trophy  
wives or concubines.

中国父母对孩子过分溺爱,说这些孩子是“小皇帝”一点也不过分,甚至有过之而无不及。父母十分想把他们的所有都传给他们的子女,不论是财富或者社会

地位。这就有点像贵族把他们的头衔传给其下一代一样。有些贪官以权谋私将其非法所得拿去确保其子女享受他们带来的便利。这样做或许违法,但很多人觉得这样
做不违背道德,至少比把钱浪费在包二奶,养小三方面好得多。


There is no one right form of parents-children dynamics. What's  
over-protection in one culture may be the norm in another. And these  
things evolve with time as well. While US parents are obliged to raise  
their children to the age of 18 and see them through college, their  
Chinese equivalents take it upon themselves to take care of further  
needs, which include buying an apartment, finding a spouse and taking  
care of the grandchildren. That's why the 75-year-old Henan woman took  
on the ad-hoc job of a street performer, a notion possibly alien to her
for most of her life. She did this so she could afford a  
daughter-in-law. She must have thought it was her responsibility to  
ensure her son was financially capable of getting married.

父母和子女之间没有一种“正确的”相处模式。在一种文化中被视为过分溺爱的行为或许在另一文化看来就是正常的。而且这种关系还得考虑时代背景。在美国,父母有义务抚养他们的孩子到18岁上大学,而中国的父母会操心地更远,包括给孩子买房,给孩子找对象以及照料孙子孙女。这就是为什么这个75岁的河南老妇在街头穿卡通服装表演的原因,她这辈子或许一直都是这样想的,她这样做就能有钱为儿子找个儿媳妇。她一定觉得在经济上帮其儿子结婚是她的责任。


What if there is no financial issue involved and her son simply does  
not want to walk down the aisle with anyone? Any Chinese beyond the age
of 25 who is not married or does not have a regular date may face the  
experience of constant nagging from their parents.

要是没有经济方面的问题,她儿子只是单纯不想结婚呢?在中国,超过25岁还未婚或者还没有对象的年轻人都会遭到其父母不时地唠叨抱怨。


In the old days, you were not supposed to have a date while in  college
because that would interfere with your study. But once out of  college
you were supposed to find the right person and start a family,  possibly
within a year or two.

以前,父母不支持子女在大学期间谈恋爱,因为会影响到子女的学业。但是一旦你离开校园,也许一两年内,你就会被催着去找对象并且成家。


For whatever reasons young people in China are pushing back the age  of
marriage either out of choice or out of necessity. Some want to  
experiment with more possibilities, while others are simply intimidated
by the urban dating scene or are holding out for the right person to  
appear. The pressure these people's parents apply can be suffocating.  
And in turn, their parents have to field nonstop hectoring from their  
friends and neighbors: "Is your son or daughter married yet? When is he
or she getting married?"

无论什么原因,无奈亦或无需,中国的年轻人正在晚婚。有些人想要多些选择,有些人只是被迫去相亲,还有人在等待命中注定的那个人出现。这些人的父母
给他们的压力会令人窒息。反过来,这些父母们也一刻不停地向朋友或邻居打听:“你们的儿子/女儿结婚了吗?他/她什么时候结婚?”


The same pestering is repeated from the time one is married to when  an
heir is born. "Does your son or daughter have a child yet? Isn't he  or
she beyond the best age to give birth?" To be a grandparent is a big  
deal in China. It is considered the ultimate familial bliss to live  
under one roof with three or four generations, even if only during the  
New Year holidays.

结婚后,这种困扰还会一直持续到有小孩后。“你的儿子/女儿有小孩了吗?他/她是在最佳的育龄内生小孩吗?”在中国,当上爷爷和奶奶是件大事。三世同堂或四世同堂被认为是齐人之福,即使家庭成员只在过年期间才相聚。


The escalation of generational conflict reaches a crescendo when a  
grandchild is produced and the traditional way of child-rearing clashes
with the new way. Yes, you can expect parents to be unpaid baby
sitters,  but the implicit cost is that you give up your method of
bringing up a  baby or the part of it that does not conform to your old
folks' beliefs.  Of course, every family is different and not every
parent is  domineering to the point of turning love into torment. Some
move to  Hainan, China's equivalent of Florida in the US, or go on
extended tours  around the country or the world. But, so far, they are
still a  minority.

当孙子降生后,由于培养孩子的传统方式发生改变,父母和子女之间的矛盾不断加大。不错,你可以指望你的父母当保姆无偿照顾你的孩子,但这背后的代价是你放弃了抚养孩子的方式或者部分教育方式,而这种教育方式又恰恰与老一辈的做法有出入。当然,每个家庭都不同,不是所有的父母都这般溺爱,使爱变成痛苦。有些老人会移居海南享受生活,那里相当于美国的佛罗里达,有些老人会畅游国内外。但是到目前,能这样潇洒的老人毕竟少数。


And one should not place all the blame on the old generation. Many  
youngsters actually expect or even welcome such treatment from their  
parents. They develop a sense of entitlement when their parents pay for
their big-ticket purchases and go on scouting expeditions for potential
 in-laws.

年轻人不应把所有责难归于父母。事实上,很多年轻人希望甚至欢迎他们的父母这样做。当父母为子女的高额花销买单以及为子女寻找潜在的对象时,子女觉得父母亲理当如此。


Do you think standing in line in the wee hours for their children's  
commute is ridiculous? Wait until you hear of old folks who get into  
matchmaking games in public parks not for themselves, mind you, but for
their children. I wonder what will come next.

你觉得父母早起为子女等公车很荒唐吗?还有比这更荒唐的,老人们会去公园替他们的子女相亲,我好奇这相亲究竟怎么进行。


In the old days, parents would even hide outside the bridal chamber  
and listen to what was going on between the newlyweds. As soon as they  
got a chance, they would sneak in and check the bed to see if there was
any blood. They had to make sure the bride was a virgin.

以前,父母甚至会躲在洞房外窃听新婚男女在做什么。一有机会,他们就会溜进屋里检查床单是否有落红。他们要确保新娘是个处女。


Maybe it's a bit too cruel to mock such behavior. It's more cultural  
than moral. If you step back and look at the whole picture, all the  
things described above were done because parents cared for their  
children. There is the art of letting go that is largely elusive to the
old generation. If you tie your children too close to you, they are not
 going to fly very high.

嘲笑这种行为或许有点残忍,毕竟它关乎文化而不是道德。如果你退一步想,上述所有事情的出发点都是因为父母关心他们的子女。对父母辈来说,放手这门艺术太难了。但是如果你把你的子女紧紧地栓在身边,他们又怎能高飞蓝天。

2016-06-23

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