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Why Chinese families don’t say ‘I love you’


“I love you” might be one of the most important combinations of three words in the English language. It’s the signal that a romantic relationship is serious, an indication of closeness for a sibling, parent, or child, and a constant refrain for pop songs.

“I love you”可能是英语中三个词组成的最重要的一句话了。它是认真对待恋爱关系的标志,它是兄弟姐妹、父母或孩子之间亲密程度的象征,它也是流行歌曲副歌部分的常见内容。

In Mandarin, “I love you” translates as “我爱你” (Wo ai ni), but the way it’s used in China might be a little different, and Chinese state media is wondering why.

“I love you”用普通话说是“我爱你”,但是这句话在中国的用法可能有点儿不同,中国的官方媒体也想知道原因。

The Global Times reports that two online videos showing children telling their parents “I love you” have gone viral in China. The first, filmed by an Anhui TV station, shows a number of college students telling their parents they love them. The response are mixed. “Are you drunk?” asked one parent. In another similar video, shot by a Shanxi TV station, a father responded even more bluntly — “I am going to a meeting, so cut the crap.”


Even the positive reactions make it clear that the words are expressed rarely: “I am so happy you called to say that, it is the happiest thing that happened to me in 2014,” one parent answered.

即使是正面的回应,父母清楚地表明这句话用的很少:“我很高兴你打电话说这句话,这是我2014年最开心的一件事了。” 有个家长这样回答。

Why don’t Chinese families use those words? Theories revolve around the nature of Confucian teaching, or the remnants of 20th Century Communism. “The parents’ responses show that many Chinese are not good at expressing positive emotions,” Xia Xueluan, a Sociologist from Peking University, told the Global Times. “They are used to educating children with negative language.”

为什么中国家庭不说这句话呢?普遍的观点认为是受到儒家思想的影响。“父母们的反应表明大部分的中国人不擅长表达积极的情感,” 北京大学社会学家夏学銮对《环球时报》的记者说。“他们习惯用负面的语言来教育孩子。”

This isn’t the first time that China has done some soul-searching about familial love-last year China Daily asked a cross-section of people if they said ‘I love you’ to their parents, spouses, and children. “I have never said ‘I love you’ to my family, and I don’t think I will in the future,” one 56-year-old told the paper. “Saying it aloud is embarrassing for me.”


Still, that doesn’t mean that love can’t be expressed. In a separate article, China Daily spoke to Zhao Mengmeng, a 31-year-old woman who said she had never told her father she loved him face-to-face. Sometimes actions speak louder than words, however — Zhao gave her father, a single parent, a photo album featuring photographs of them together on almost every one of her birthdays in June 2012. The pictures went viral online, being forwarded hundreds of thousands of times on Weibo.


“I didn’t sleep the night I heard about it,” her father told China Daily after the story attracted mainstream attention. “I have now memorized some of the comments on the collection of pictures.”

“当我知道时,我一晚上没睡,” 在这件事受到了主流媒体的关注后,她爸爸这样告诉《中国日报》的记者。“现在我还能记起一些照片下面的评论。”


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