The family unit is considered to be one of the most central institutions. For many, their family provides them with a sense of identity and a strong network of support. In China, the family is largely understood through Confucian thought. In Confucian thinking, the family contains the most important relationships for individuals and forms the foundations of all social organisation. For instance, the roles of husband and wife, parent and child, elder brother and younger brother are clearly defined. A husband/father is expected to exhibit dominance and kindness to his wife in return for obedience and love, and offer guidance and protection to his children in return for respect and obedience.
Confucian roles are not strictly adhered to anymore. Nevertheless, children are still expected to obey their parents and honour their elders. This is in accordance with filial piety, the Confucian tenet that stresses the importance of age. For example, in most regions of China, the entire family is expected to consult family elders on big decisions. Moreover, children are expected to care for their parents as they age. Sending elderly parents to an aged care facility is considered shameful.
Families are also perceived to have a collective identity and reputation in China. This is often referred to as face, whereby the act of a single individual will impact the perception of all its members by others. The interest of the family is expected to supersede the interests of the individual. Family members are also expected to receive preferential treatment in return for their loyalty to the family.
The average Chinese household dynamic has evolved away from the traditional archetype as the country has modernised and advanced technologically. Financial success is now a key status symbol. The implementation of the Chinese government's one-child policy meant that for years the family's prospects rested largely on the shoulders of their only child. While the policy was phased out in 2015 and parents can now have more than one child, most are still utterly devoted to their children's success. They ultimately want to see their children be more prosperous than themselves. Therefore, receiving a good education and attending university is highly regarded. However, this is often expressed in a way that puts heavy expectations on the child to excel in meeting their parents’ aspirations.
Today, some Chinese believe that love is shown through the provision of money to one's family members. Less focus is being put on personal bonding as parents work harder and for longer to earn more money. More mothers are becoming full-time workers, and fathers are often absent due to work-related commitments. It is common for young children to be raised by their grandparents while their parents work away from home. As such, quality family time is scarce. Chinese families also often aim to build or buy a house, as home ownership represents a higher status. These goals entail saving for many years, making thrift and careful money management top priorities for the average Chinese family.
Within the traditional household hierarchy, the patriarch and family provider was the father or eldest son. He was upheld as the ultimate decision-maker, though some families may have deferred to consulting their elders. Traditionally, the mother's role was to fulfil domestic duties and care for the children. Extended family also commonly lived with the immediate family. Nowadays, this household model is common only in very rural areas.
As gender equality has been embraced, women are now able to work and exercise authority in family matters. In some metropolitan areas, like Shanghai, women can be more dominant than men in the household. Moreover, many women residing in large cities will work to lower the financial burden on their husband. Nevertheless, there is still a gender gap in politics and business. Women are also often expected to care for the children and household.
Marriage and Dating
Couples will often meet each other through mutual friends or social gatherings. However, online dating and matchmaking are becoming more popular. Intimate relations and public displays of affection are discouraged throughout the country but are becoming more common in cities. According to a general health report, the percentage of the population engaging in premarital intercourse has increased from 40% in 1994 to 71.4% in 2012. More than half of the younger Chinese population no longer consider virginity at marriage a serious matter. However, there is a generational divide around this value. Intimate relations engaged in for the sake of pleasure are still discouraged or forbidden by many educational institutions and parents. Virginity is still sometimes a prerequisite for a Chinese marriage, and a bride's husband and family may ask for proof of it.
Most Chinese expect to be married, largely because family is considered the most important facet of one's life. Marriage is often seen as a step towards reaching adulthood. Socioeconomic status is an important consideration for many Chinese when choosing a spouse. The permitted age for marriage in China is 22 for men and 20 for women. The Chinese government encourages people to marry later in life to reduce population growth and those who marry before the sanctioned ages are not entitled to the same benefits. It is also becoming more popular for young people to cohabit before marriage; many will hide it from their more traditional parents. When a couple decides to marry, they first sign a legal contract at a local government office without ceremony. Afterwards, there is a large reception with both the groom and bride's family and friends. There may be more ceremonies depending on the family and their traditions.