Modern life in China is moving further and further away from traditional values and traditions, one of which is arranged marriages. They still exist but many young Chinese people are following their heart rather than their parents’ wishes when it comes to long-term relationships. As a result, many young Chinese people are bringing foreign boyfriends and girlfriends home to meet their parents. What should you do if you find yourself going to meet your partner’s Chinese parents?
First of all, ask your partner for advice since you’ll be meeting their parents and they have a lifetime of experience with their parents’ tastes and opinions. If your partner wants their parents to like you, they will do everything in their power to make it a pleasant and successful meeting. It’s important to know what a big step this is, for your partner and their parents. If you are not serious about the relationship, don’t accept the invitation to meet the parents.
While it’s polite to show up to a Chinese family’s home with a gift when you are invited to a meal, it is required that you show up with very nice gifts when meeting your potential spouse’s parents. Your partner can advise you on how much money to spend and what type of gift to buy, but consider this the first impression that you will make. In Shanghai, you might spend as much as a few thousand RMB on this first impression but for some parents, it’s the thought that counts 礼轻情意重 (lǐ qīng qínyì zhòng, the gift is small, the thought is important), especially if the gift is from your home country.
One of the main differences between visiting a friend’s and a girl/boy friend’s family is the type of questions that the family will ask you. For a casual visit, the questions are usually friendly and superficial about your background, your current living situation, what you think of China, your hobbies, etc. If the family knows you are considering marriage, they will ask much harsher questions. Don’t worry, this is a sign that the family is at least taking your relationship seriously. You should be prepared to discuss how you expect to support your partner (financially and emotionally), whether you plan to stay in China, your plans for children, etc. The family is just as nervous as you are about the future of their (often only) child. Consider their concerns, answer respectfully, and remember to use peoples’ titles when you address them.
There are many other local customs and family dynamics that your partner can advise you on but the most important thing is to show the family how much you care about and respect their child and them. If the family is especially nervous about their child marrying a foreigner and living abroad, tell them about the benefits of life in your country. Consider things like no limit on the number of children, the income level, the quality and costs of medical care, education and work opportunities, and other living or environmental benefits your country can offer. Remember that relationships of any kind take time and don’t push your partner or their family into immediate acceptance. Win them over slowly with the help of your partner and any other family members you can enlist to speak highly of you!