Family Life and Family History in China

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An interview with Meng, Yuemin, Beijing, China

Shown above: Meng Yuemin and Brooke Wright (translator)

We are here in China and have been in Beijing for the past few days. As we were driving to the Great Wall of China this morning, we asked our taxi driver, Meng Yuemin to describe family life in China. Meng is happily married and has a daughter who is sixteen years old. She will be attending a university in Canada after she graduates.

Importance of family history

According to Meng, the Chinese people believe that it is important for them to know about their ancestors, however, it is more important to have a record of the last and middle names of the family members. Meng mentioned that his last name – Meng – is a respected name. He said that because of his last name, people are really polite to him.

Recording of genealogies and family histories

In ancient times in China, the genealogies were recorded on wood. Today, the genealogies are recorded on paper. Meng also said the tradition in China is to record every family name in the book. However, Meng said that he felt that his generation has not been careful in keeping the names, and usually just the name of the oldest son is now recorded.

It is very rare for a Chinese person to record the history of another person, however, Meng said that many people keep a record of their personal histories and they are usually very private an personal. He said that some people write a great deal about their personal life. However, most of the Chinese people write very infrequently in their journals. None of the personal histories or diaries can be read until after the individual who has written the history or diary has passed away.

Meng said that he does keep a journal, however, he only writes in it sporadically. He also said that his daughter does not keep a journal at all. Meng mentioned that he felt that the younger generation is rather interested in themselves, and their own lives, rather than the lives of someone else. Meng has had several discussions with his daughter about their family history.

Interest in family history and in the digitization of records in China

Meng said that usually the people in China who are the poorest care the most about their family history. They think a great deal about the past and wonder why their lives are the way they are. The upper class in China are generally focused on the future, rather than focusing on the past.

He also said that he would be really interested if he could see the history of all of the families with his last name. Right now he doesn’t have much time, but he would love to when he retires.

Names in China

In China, the name of the female is usually not preserved when she is married. However, Meng mentioned that recently that when a couple marries, the couple can decide whose name to preserve. If the man agrees, the last name of the female can be used instead of the male. In China it is important to have a successor to the family link. Couples who live in the city and have a daughter as their first child are allowed to have another child. Couples who live in the country are allowed to have two children. If they have more than that, they must pay extensive fees.

How important is the family in China?

According to Meng, the family is of average importance in the lives of the Chinese people. Oftentimes up to three generations live together. Usually the grandparents take care of the children while the parents work.

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