The Maybe-Magic Well Water of Twins Town

SICHUAN, Southwest China — When Xiao Renchun was four months pregnant in 2011, her belly had already grown much larger than expected. Even for a resident of Guxian Town, which has a high birth rate for twins, her stomach looked enormous. She visited a county clinic for an ultrasound, which showed she was pregnant with triplets. Thinking this couldn’t possibly be true, she visited a hospital in a city nearby to make sure. There, another scan showed that she wasn’t expecting three, but four babies.

“It was bittersweet,” Teng Demei, the children’s grandmother, tells Sixth Tone. “We were all excited about the quadruplets but were afraid they wouldn’t all survive the pregnancy.” Luckily, all four children were born healthy — further validating the legend of Guxian.

“Many people believe it’s the water in the well,” says Zheng Zhilin, an official in Guxian’s Xiaomenlu Village, the quadruplets’ hometown. Until 2016, when Xiaomenlu residents received access to running water, the village’s main water supply came from a single well. “People from the surrounding villages would come and drink our water if they wanted to have twins,” Zheng chuckles. Currently, the village of 1,400 residents has 13 pairs of twins, a trio of triplets, and one set of quadruplets.

The well of Xiaomenlu Village in Guxian Town, Sichuan province, Jan. 9, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone The well of Xiaomenlu Village in Guxian Town, Sichuan province, Jan. 9, 2018.

There is no official data on twin births in China. However, Zheng says that the local government previously calculated the rate of twin births for Xiaomenlu and five nearby villages. Of the 240 children born between 2006 and 2010, 14 were twins — accounting for nearly 6 percent of the new births. Naturally, only around one out of every 100 newborns is a twin, Wu Xin, a doctor at Shanghai’s Obstetrics & Gynecology Hospital of Fudan University, tells Sixth Tone.

The frequency of twin births in China has risen significantly since the implementation of the two-child policy in January 2016. Older mothers taking the opportunity to have another child often resort to assisted reproductive technology. Currently, 20 to 30 percent of women who conceive through treatments like in-vitro fertilization become pregnant with two or more children. But the mothers in Guxian Town say that they all got pregnant naturally.

Another popular theory for the region’s numerous twin births is the local DNA. There has been no research into Guxian genomes, but scientific research into twins shows that this line of thinking could hold more water than the well theory. Most twins in Guxian are believed to be fraternal — where two eggs are fertilized by two separate sperm cells, as opposed to identical twins, where one egg is fertilized by one sperm and then split into two. A 2016 study of mothers in Iceland identified two genetic variations that together increased the likelihood of a woman giving birth to fraternal twins by 29 percent.

The ancestors of some Guxian families moved here in the early 1900s from Yongzhou, an area in central China’s Hunan province — as is evidenced by the unique Guxian dialect, a mixture of Sichuanese and the dialect spoken in Yongzhou. Guxian locals say that before these migrants arrived, twins weren’t nearly as common, and so the migrants must have brought the genes to the area when they came.

Nevertheless, the well remains alluring. Sometimes people travel a long way to visit, and the government of Guxian Town, which oversees Xiaomenlu, hopes to turn this into a steady stream of tourism money. In their vision, villagers will open guesthouses for out-of-towners coming to see the well. The name for the main attraction hasn’t been decided yet, but Zheng says he likes “Water of the Many Children.”

A view inside the quadruplets’ house in Xiaomenlu Village, Sichuan province, Jan. 10, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone A view inside the quadruplets’ house in Xiaomenlu Village, Sichuan province, Jan. 10, 2018. Fan Yiying

Guxian made national headlines when Xiao gave birth to her quadruplets — two boys followed by two girls. She delivered her children in the West China Hospital in Chengdu, touted as southwestern China’s best medical institute. Chinese parents often choose a nickname for their children’s early years that is known and used only within the family. In the case of Xiao’s children, these are Chengcheng, Dudu, Huahua, and Xixi — after Chengdu Huaxi, the hospital’s name in Chinese.

As Chinese people have an affinity for “double happiness and blessing,” having twins has been seen as enviable — especially during the decades of the one-child policy, when having twins was a legal way to circumvent family planning restrictions. However, for many families, the financial pressures of raising more than one child are high, especially when they are the same age, and even more so when there are four of them.

The quadruplets’ family decided their old house was too small, so they knocked it down and built a three-story dwelling. When the children were born in October 2011, the family had only finished building the first floor. While Xiao was “sitting the month” — a Chinese tradition that dictates mothers to stay at home for a month after childbirth — construction was going on all around her. The new house cost the family about 200,000 yuan ($31,000), almost their entire savings.

Luckily, media attention inspired a local dairy company to provide the family with free milk powder for one year, worth more than 100,000 yuan. “Without [the company’s] help, they might not have been able to survive,” says their 58-year-old grandmother, Teng. The quads’ parents left home when the babies turned 1 year old, and now work in the coastal province of Zhejiang. They manage to send home around 3,000 yuan every month. Teng and her husband hardly make any money, spending their time on subsistence farming and taking care of the children.

The eldest child, Chengcheng, is the naughtiest among the four. “He always starts fights, but I know how to deal with him,” says Teng, adding that she plays the “bad cop,” as Grandpa is too soft and gentle. The younger boy, Dudu, is stubborn but clever. Huahua, the elder girl, is quiet, and the youngest girl, Xixi, is outgoing and talkative.

Now 6 years old, the quadruplets started preschool last September. The grandparents bought a three-wheeled tuk tuk to bring the children to and from school — it proved too difficult to keep an eye on four rambunctious children walking next to traffic.

Eight sets of twins who attend Guxian Secondary School pose for a photo in front of the school’s gate in Sichuan province, Jan. 9, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone Eight sets of twins who attend Guxian Secondary School pose for a photo in front of the school’s gate in Sichuan province, Jan. 9, 2018. Fan Yiying

To help the family out financially, the local government pays for the kids’ tuition, which is 650 yuan per child per semester. “Although China has not yet drafted a national policy to help families with multiple births, there is no doubt that there are financial difficulties in raising four kids,” says Yu Yang, deputy Party secretary of Guxian Town. Additionally, the family receives a 495-yuan monthly subsidy from the town’s government.

Long Xiaomei, also a Xiaomenlu mom, gave birth to twin girls in 2004, Mengting and Yuting. Because of the financial challenges of taking care of two newborns at once, “Concerns outweighed joy,” Long, 34, admits. Back then, the couple earned less than 600 yuan a month. She and her husband left Xiaomenlu to make money in the city when the girls were just 7 months old.

To Long’s shock, she got pregnant again three years later. And again, it was twins. Her husband urged her to get an abortion, afraid the family wouldn’t be able to provide for two more children — and she did. Then, in 2014, when Long and her husband were working in Shanghai, Long unexpectedly found out that she was expecting once more. Fearing it would be twins, she went to get an ultrasound. “The first question I asked the doctor was how many babies this time,” Long tells Sixth Tone. She decided to keep the baby after confirming “it was just one.”

Long’s youngest daughter, Fengting, was born in February 2015. By then, the Chinese government had amended its one-child policy to allow couples to have two children if either parent is an only child, but a third child still meant Long and her husband were fined 12,000 yuan. They started out raising Fengting in Shanghai, but mother and daughter moved back to Xiaomenlu earlier this month. “The twins are 14 and they need their mother during their adolescent years,” Long says.

Long Xiaomei and her daughters pose for a photo in Guxian Town, Sichuan province, Jan. 10, 2018. Fan Yiying/Sixth ToneLong Xiaomei and her daughters pose for a photo in Guxian Town, Sichuan province, Jan. 10, 2018. Fan Yiying

Mengting, Yuting, Fengting, and their mother now live in Guxian, where the twins attend middle school. Long rents a room from distant relatives for 1,000 yuan per year. It has two beds, a table, and a couple of chairs. They share the kitchen and bathroom with the neighbors. During the weekends, all of them return to the village to help with farm work and take care of their grandparents.

Yuting and Mengting — one looks like their father and the other looks like the mother — enjoy wearing the same outfit, down to matching gloves. “We often have the same grades and say the same things at the same time,” says Yuting. However, being twins can be frustrating, especially when you don’t want to stand out. “Everyone knows [everything] about us and we are a bit [embarrassed] because our grades are not good enough,” she adds. To Long’s disappointment, the teenagers don’t seem to be too happy about being around their mother every day. “I’ve never been there for them,” she says. “They still see me as a stranger.”

Long still thinks about the twins she aborted a decade ago. “The doctor later told me they were boys,” she recalls, sobbing. “I sometimes see them in my dreams.”

This article was published on Sixth Tone.


Jiangsu Drafts Law for Fairer Parenting, More Paternity Leave

In a national first, the eastern province of Jiangsu has drafted a law for “joint parenting leave” for fathers to promote equal employment and collaborative child-rearing, local media reported Wednesday.

Fathers in China already have seven to 30 days of paid paternity leave, depending on local regulations, though this is termed “birth companion leave.” In June, the provincial law office of Jiangsu — which currently provides 15 days of paternity leave — published a consultation paper that proposed at least 15 days of additional joint parenting leave for fathers.

But the draft submitted to the legislature on Tuesday watered down the proposal from a mandatory minimum of 15 days to a recommendation of at least five days. The provision was reduced, an official told the local news outlet, because of concerns about increased costs to employers.

If the draft passes, Jiangsu will be the first in the country to institute such measures, but other provinces may soon follow suit. Shandong province, also in eastern China, is exploring similar legislation, and the state-endorsed All-China Women’s Federation has repeatedly called for joint parenting leave to encourage more active parenting from fathers.

“In China, women take on a lot more responsibilities, while men fail to do their jobs when it comes to bringing up a child,” said Xia Xuemin, a researcher at Zhejiang University’s Public Policy Research Institute. Xia believes joint parenting leave is crucial for pushing Chinese men to do their fair share, especially as the government continues to promote the two-child policy. “Five days seems too short,” he added.

The two-child policy came into effect nationwide in January 2016. However, many women, especially working mothers, say it is too hard to have two children, given inadequate public child care services and the uneven division of child-rearing labor between husband and wife. In addition, though employees are legally entitled to maternity leave, many women are still scared that having children could ruin their careers.

While Jiangsu’s proposed policy has earned the approval of many users on microblog platform Weibo, some wonder whether it will be implemented effectively. “If it’s just ‘an encouragement,’ few companies will actually make it happen,” commented one user.

China’s LGBT Youth Face Lots of Bullying, Little Acceptance

From his first day at school, Sun Bin, now 21, was bullied for being feminine, a “sissy.”

“I’m used to being called a faggot or a pervert,” said Sun, who is now a junior at a university in central China’s Henan province.

There’s one instance from primary school that Sun will never forget. A dozen or so female classmates one day picked him up, carried him to the girls’ bathroom, and threw him inside. “I was scared and crying in the bathroom for hours,” Sun told Sixth Tone. “I felt hopeless and humiliated.”

Most LGBT — lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender — students aren’t sure of their own gender identity or sexual orientation until they are in high school. Their classmates, on the other hand, are much quicker to draw conclusions, labeling anyone who deviates from the norm as “gay.”

“We got bullied because we are different, and being different is not appreciated,” said Sun.

School bullying in general is a widely discussed topic in China, and it even came up during the recently concluded “two sessions” — annual meetings of China’s top legislative and advisory bodies. Policy advisor Shang Shaohua noted that gender equality and gender diversity in particular should be included in teacher training as a preventive measure.

Though Shang’s initiative was widely applauded in LGBT circles, many feel that more should be done to raise awareness. “As a group, students of sexual minorities remain neglected by the public,” said Liu Zhaohui, a project officer at Tongyu, a Beijing-based lesbian advocacy group. “When they are bullied at school, they often have nobody to turn to for help.”

Sun’s experiences don’t stand alone. Chinese media reported last year that a female student was drugged with an aphrodisiac by three male students in Huangshan City, eastern China’s Anhui province because they wanted to see a lesbian “making a fool of herself.” The case was deemed a prank by the teachers and the police, and the boys got off with a warning.

Tongyu in 2016 surveyed 3,452 LGBTI (“I” for “intersex”) students about their school environment. Of the respondents — whose average age was 20 — more than two-fifths said bullying and violence against sexual minority students happened in their schools. Of the victims, over half were verbally bullied by homophobic remarks and were told to “pay attention to” their behavior and self-expression. Fourteen percent of victims were sexually harassed by their classmates or teachers.

“In some severe cases, victims were expelled from school or forced to transfer,” Liu at Tongyu told Sixth Tone on Monday, adding that such recourses violate the students’ right to an education.

Sun had hardly any friends at school, regardless of how hard he tried to get in everyone’s good books. “I always played as the monster in video games,” Sun said, referring to the characters that would usually end up getting beaten by the game’s hero, played by someone else. “Only in this way would they play with me,” he added.

Sun tried to report the bullying to his teachers. “They don’t really care how [bullying] can hurt a student mentally,” he said. “They just want to make sure you study hard and have good grades.” When he went to his parents for help, they thought what was happening to him was just normal children’s behavior. “They blamed me for not looking and acting like a ‘normal’ boy,” recalled Sun, who added that he was used to the people around him stereotyping men as tough and masculine.

After a long period of depression, Sun attempted suicide — and more than once. Though he got better, the mental strain impacted his studies and his score on the gaokao, China’s rigorous college entrance examination.

At primary, middle, and high schools, most bullying revolves around the gender expression of sexual minority pupils. But at Chinese universities, by which time students are more open and confident, most discrimination focuses on sexual orientation and gender identity. The survey conducted by Tongyu also showed that only 27 percent of respondents reported that their university campus is friendly or relatively friendly to sexual minority students.

Yang Zongxian, 20, told Sixth Tone that the majority of students at his university in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province are LGBT-friendly. “Although they sometimes ask questions that make me feel uncomfortable, I don’t feel as if they mean me any harm, and are merely doing so out of curiosity,” he said.

Yang started a “rainbow association” at the university, but it hasn’t been encouraged or recognized by the school yet. “We are like an underground student group that has to be careful every time we hold an event,” Yang said.

Li, who identifies as bisexual, was not a victim of school bullying. “Sissy boys are easily bullied at school; tomboys, however, are usually fine,” said the freshman at a university in Yangzhou, in eastern China’s Jiangsu province.

Li witnessed one of her “sissy” classmates being physically and mentally bullied by his peers in high school. “They hit him with badminton rackets and threw his school bag out the window,” Li recalled.

“I wanted to help him, but I was afraid of being isolated by my classmates if I did so,” confessed Li, who only gave her surname to protect her privacy. She said her university is “not LGBT-friendly at all.” “Many heterosexual students feel disgusted and offended that our association organizes activities so often,” she said.

Another student surnamed Wang, a junior at the same university in Yangzhou, confirmed to Sixth Tone that many people on campus describe LGBT students as “disgusting” and “unpresentable.”

Wang, who identifies as lesbian, recalled that a gay senior student was refused a faculty position after school leaders found out about his sexual orientation. “Many of us are afraid of coming out, as this would adversely affect our career prospects in the future,” Wang said with a sigh.

For Sun, things eventually got slightly better at university. While the verbal violence continued, the physical bullying stopped. “But I’ve become strong and confident after connecting with so many LGBT friends,” Sun said.

Over the years, Sun said he has realized that he was bullied because he was weak and didn’t stand up for himself. “If you want others to respect you,” he said, “you have to respect yourself first.”

This article was published on Sixth Tone.


The Battle between Tiger Mom and Cat Dad


China’s latest TV hit ‘Tiger Mom, Cat Dad’ has sparked online debates over the best parenting style. Is it better to be an iron-fisted tiger mom, or a relaxed cat dad?

The Chinese-American author Amy Chua and her best-selling book ” The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” (虎妈战歌, 2011), brought up the image of a strict Mom who pushed kids extremely hard to be the best at school. Although her iron-first parenting methods sparked controversy in the West, her book was well-received in China, as it made Chinese parents more assertive in their parenting.


But now the term “Cat Dad” (猫爸) has become trending on Sina Weibo due to the popular Chinese TV drama “Tiger Mom, Cat Dad” (虎妈猫爸, 2015). The topic “The Battle between Tiger Mom and Cat Dad”(#虎妈猫爸大作战#) has been viewed over 25 million times and commented on more than 16 thousand times since the TV show was released in May.

“The right school is the ticket to success.”

In the TV hit ‘Tiger Mom, Cat Dad’, 7-year-old Qianqian (茜茜) is the daughter of strong-willed mother Bi Shengnan (毕胜男) and easy-going father Luo Su (罗素). She’s the little princess of the family. She is raised by her grandparents until Bi Shengnan realizes they have spoiled their daughter – other kids her age seem to have learned so many more things before officially entering school. She then becomes a typical hyper-disciplining ‘tiger mom’, aiming to help Qianqian catch up with her peers. However, her husband (the ‘cat dad’) does not seem to care too much about his daughter’s school scores, as long as she is happy.


Chinese parents like Bi Shengnan are well known for putting extreme pressure on their kids to do good in school. They make every effort to offer their kids the best education. To the majority of Chinese parents, the right school is the ticket to their kids’ promising future. Many of them have moved in order to get their children admitted to good schools. The term “School District Houses” (学区房) refers to those houses located within the range of primary or secondary schools. Children are ensured to be admitted to these schools after living there for a certain period of time. In the TV show “Tiger Mom, Cat Dad”, Bi Shengnan and the rest of the family pay more than double the price for an apartment in Beijing, so that Qianqian is eligible to enroll in a “key primary school” (重点小学) to get better education.

“I push my daughter now so she has more freedom in the future.”

Not satisfied with the level of education in their own district, Chinese parents are willing to pay high fees on an apartment so that they can send their children to the best schools possible. On Sina Weibo, a user named “Yoyo looks like Daddy” believes this is necessary, since a good school offers the right study environment and resources. “After all, the chances of kids becoming talented and successful without being pushed are very slim,” she says: “Parents don’t dare to take such a risk because we all only have one child in the family.” Stating that she is the mother of a four-year-old girl, ‘Yoyo’ stresses that it’s the parents’ responsibility to help children decide what is the best for them while they are young: “I push my daughter hard so that she can go to a good university in the future, and then gain more freedom to choose what she wants to do in the future. I want her to be able to choose meaningful jobs rather than being forced to do work she doesn’t enjoy at all. It’s all about the sense of achievement.”


Her statement also well explains the importance of academic achievements in Chinese society. Chinese students spend their entire youth working hard and preparing for the gaokao (高考), the college entrance exam, which is the only way to guarantee a bright future for most Chinese students. Therefore, Chinese parents push their child to achieve high scores. According to many parents, they are not trying to put excessive pressure on their children, but instead, are doing what is necessary to set their children up for a successful future.

User “Hanzi V” regrets that her parents were not hard enough on her when she was younger. She recalls: “My parents believed in happiness, and they thought it was my own responsibility to study hard. My mom used to ask me to learn a lot of things, but she gave up quickly after I lost interest. I’m not satisfied with my current state of life. Happy education only works for those kids who study consciously. I realized I was so naive and ignorant when I was a kid. How I wish my parent pushed me harder.”

“All my decisions are based on my mom’s wishes.”

However, a large number of users are inclined to “Cat Dad”, who prefer to give kids the right to choose whatever they think is the best for them. User “Spring” says: “I understand the parents’ cares and thoughts, but I do feel lost, as all the decisions I’ve made in my life so far are based on my mom’s wishes. I feel like I have lost the ability to know what I really want. Isn’t it a better idea to let the children obtain such an ability earlier? We all live once and life cannot be designed. Why do parents always expect their kids to realize the dreams they failed to fulfill?”

At the end of the TV show, daughter Qianqian gets depressed because the pressure and stress associated with school becomes too much to handle. It finally hits mother Bi Shengnan that a happy childhood is crucial to a child. “I’m not a tiger mom at all and my son is now doing his postdoctoral research on high polymer materials”, Weibo user “Fish is Flying” says: “I raised my son on my own, and he considers me as his friend. I don’t understand the intentions of these parents who put great pressure on their kids and themselves. The key is to teach the next generation how to behave and improve their learning methods. That’s all that really matters.”

By Yiying Fan

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.


Should China’s Singles Pay Their Parents?


Giving money to the parents is a common practice in China, especially for singles who still live at home, as a way for children to ‘give back’ for their parents raising them. But as times are changing, not all children are willing to share their finances with their parents anymore.

A popular Dragon TV interview program, “Meeting Room of Two Generations” (两代会议厅), recently talked about whether unmarried children who live with their parents should hand over their salary bank card to their parents after they begin working full time. The topic sparked a debate on Sina Weibo.

For the post 1950s and 1960s generations, it was a tradition that kids financially supported their parents by handing in their wages. This was before the one child policy(独生子女政策)came into effect. Typically there were 2 to 4 unmarried adult children living with the parents. They put money in together, letting the parents (mothers in particular) take control of the finances. In those days, the majority of Chinese people earned approximately US$5-20 a month; the whole family would give their share to make sure there was enough food and clothing.

“My income belongs to me exclusively”

Times have changed. China has become a well-off society in an all-round way. The Post-80s and 90s generations generally want to be financially independent now; a symbol of individual independency.

One Sina Weibo user called ‘A Cat’ says: “My income belongs to me exclusively. I get to spend my money in whatever way I want. I believe that economic independence is a sign of a person’s general independence. Financial independence not only means I can support myself without asking money from my parents, but more importantly, it means I am able to control and manage my own income.”

User ‘Xiongmiao’ emphasizes the importance of being independent as a girl: “It’s so weird to have to hand over the pay card to the parents, and then wait for them to give me allowance. I’m not a kid anymore. Personally I think it’s a good thing to form a concept of money as soon as we start working and learn how to manage our income. It is especially important for girls.”

“I give my mom half of my salary every month to show filial obedience”

But some netizens also support the idea of handing in their income to the parents, as supporting the elderly is a traditional virtue in China. Chinese parents lavish children with love and money when they are young, and they expect to get a return when the kids start to make money.

“I don’t hand over my pay card, but I give my mom half of my salary every month just to show filial obedience. I’m a grow-up man who is supposed to support the family and shoulder some of the responsibilities”, confesses a netizen called ‘Super’ on Sina Weibo.

User ‘Dodo’ comments that supporting parents is the right thing to do especially if you are not from a wealthy family. “I’m from a poor family and I always wanted to financially help my parents. I send them one-third of my salary every month. It’s a relief to see that they are having a better life now.”

One thing to note is that usually is the mother that demands the child to hand in the salary. As the user ‘Small Bun’ shared: “I’m single and not making a lot of money, but my mom insisted that I should let her manage all of my income. However, my dad said I don’t need to do that because I need money as an adult.”

“Chinese women have a big say in how the money is spent”

Compared with women in other countries, Chinese women seem to have a bigger say in how the family money is spent. It’s very common that the wife control the finances of the family after getting married in China. The financial management ranges from small household items to buying a house.

In China, money is often a way to women to secure their future. Many married women worry that their husbands will cheat on them (take on a ‘second wife‘) or lose interest in them after having kids. Though holding the money doesn’t necessarily mean holding the man’s heart, many Chinese wives see financial commitment as a promise from their husbands. In a similar way, mothers also often think they can control their kids by controlling how much they spend, even when they are grown-up.

One advantage of this system, is that Chinese wives control of the family finance is likely to increase the household savings, as the savings in the bank will also give them a feeling of security. “I don’t think my mom ever spends the money I give her,” says Tianya (online forum) user ‘Rain’: “She just saves them into our bank account every month as my wedding fund. It’s a brilliant idea.”

Conclusively, on social media, most netizens seem to agree that it is necessary for Chinese kids to make a contribution to the household while they still live with their parents. However, parents should not expect their adult children to hand in their pay cards with the excuse that it is ‘to help them manage their money’. All in all, it is considered beneficial for the kids to learn how to control and spend their own money before they starting a family themselves.


Image source:

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.


“Sitting the Month” – a Gift or Torture?


After Mother’s Day, it is still a hot topic on China’s social media: how could Kate Middleton appear in public, high heels and all, only 10 hours after giving birth? In China, new moms are confined to their beds for weeks after giving birth. This tradition, called ‘sitting the month’, comes with many rules. Amongst them: no showering, no drinking cold water, no leaving the house.

Just like a lot of countries in the world, China celebrated Mother’s Day last weekend, on the second Sunday in May. While the whole nation was preoccupied with buying mum’s gifts, one online picture was still passionately discussed on Sina Weibo: the photo of The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, leaving the hospital and showing up in public looking pretty and rested, only ten hour after giving birth to Princess Charlotte.

According to Chinese tradition, women are expected to rest indoors for a full month after giving birth, which is called “sitting the month” or “zuo yuezi” (坐月子) in Chinese.

Zuo yuezi” can be dated back to Western Han Dynasty (B.C. 202 – A.D.9) and was even mentioned in the 2,000-year-old Book of Changes, or I-Ching (易经). After giving birth, tradition keeps a new mother indoors for the month after the baby is born. The new mother is treated like a queen – waited on hand and foot. She doesn’t need to do anything; not taking care of the baby nor cooking for the family. Every year, millions of Chinese women submit to this practice. Women generally see it as a gift as well as a torture.

No taking showers, no brushing teeth.

During the traditional confinement period, new mothers sit around in pajamas for a month to recover from childbirth. There are a lot of rules, which many new moms are struggling with: no going outside, no stairs, no lifting, no cold drinks, no open windows, no air conditioning in summer or winter, and, inconveniently, no taking showers or brushing teeth. Even when breastfeeding, women lie on their sides instead of holding the baby.

From generation to generation, Chinese women are told if they do not undergo this confinement, they will suffer from health problems later in life. Therefore, Chinese netizens were shocked by Kate’s public appearance in her fancy high heels just ten hours after her delivery.


One user called “Potty-mouthed Queen” posted on Sina Weibo: “I felt extremely weak and tired after I gave birth to my daughter. There’s no way I could stand and show up like Kate after 10 hours.”

Kate’s public display led to the reflection of Chinese tradition in modern society. Another user, “Lemon”, said: “I’ve been staying in bed for 10 days already and I really hate it. I can’t brush my teeth or take a shower. I’m not allowed to eat raw fruit or vegetables, or drink coffee, cold drinks or even cold water. I understand that these rules are aimed at restoring balance to the new mother’s body after childbirth, but I’ve had enough.”

“Comparing Western women with Chinese women is like comparing apples with oranges”.

Most Chinese still believe that women following the tradition of ‘sitting the month’ later will have less health problems than those who don’t. In addition, Chinese traditions still play an integral role in everyday life, as people tend to respect them and pass them on to their children: “It must make sense since the tradition has passed generation to generation,” said many users on Weibo.

Other netizens pointed out physical differences between Chinese and westerners. “It’s like comparing apples with oranges. We shouldn’t follow what western mothers do as the diet habits and geographical environments are different“, user Zhang Daidai commented on Weibo. According to her, Caucasian women eat a lot of beef and high protein food, making it unnecessary for them to ‘sit’ the month after delivering the baby. However, the user points out, they put on weight easier than most Chinese: “It’s all about the diet habits. Westerners already have more than enough calcium and protein in their body, thus, the loss of calcium and protein during labour doesn’t really affect them. On the contrary, Chinese women generally miss these nutriments in a great amount, so it’s better to endure it for a month and avoid serious health problems in the future.”

The practice of ‘sitting the month’ related to existing ideas about balancing yin and yang. If the yin and yang are balanced in the body, one will not get sick. If they are out of balance, people tend to get ill more easily.

In spite of all the arguments online, the benefits of ‘sitting the month’ are evident for many Chinese women. As one of the new mothers shared: “I was totally against the idea of confinement in childbirth. But after 30 days, I did feel like it helped me recover and the constant headache which always bothered me before delivery is now gone.

Despite the rapid speed of China’s modernization, the long-history practice of ‘sitting the month’ remains popular and treasured. Although the radiant post delivery Kate Middleton fascinated Chinese netizens, it is unlikely that Chinese new mums will step out in their high heels after giving birth any time soon.

Image sources:
The World of Chinese
Huffington Post

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.


Grandparenting, not Parenting

One of my oldest friends Judy just delivered a baby boy a couple of months ago. As a Shanghainese woman, she followed her life path arranged by her parents: no boy in high school, went to college, found a boyfriend after graduation, got married after dating for two years and then had a son when she reached 26 years old.

Everything seems perfect. But when I visited her two months after the labor, I couldn’t help noticing that she didn’t even touch the baby the whole time I was there. And when I was at her son’s 100-day celebration feast last week, she still didn’t know how to carry a baby!

Apparently, like millions of young couples inShanghai, her parents look after the baby, 24×7. She moved to her parents’ with the baby and her newly married husband lives alone in their apartment in suburb Shanghai and he only visits her and the baby at the weekends.

Judy’s job is to breast feed the baby, do exercise to lose weight as soon as possible and hang out with girl friends. She even quit her job to enjoy the best time of her life as she posted on Weibo the other day. Her poor parents, aged 55, have to get up at midnight to feed and coax their beloved grandson.

As her close friend, I just pointed out directly, “shame on you! It’s your baby. You should be more responsible.” In her defense, as a young parent, she desperately needs help from her parents who have experience of raising children; what’s more, her parents LOVE to look after their grandson.

It’s true. According to Shanghai Municipal Population and Family Planning Commission, around 90 percent of kids under three years old are being looked after by grandparents.

“I love to help my daughter take care of the baby so that she could release some pressure. Plus, I’m retired. I feel like it’s my job to look after my grandson. I enjoy doing it!” her mom said with a sense of proud.

In Shanghai, women get retired at age 50 and men at 60. That’s probably why they always urge their kids to get married and have kids so that they could help them raise the babies. The “four-two-one” family system, namely families with four grandparents, two parents and just one kid makes it easy for grandparents to get involved to support their kids by looking after their grandchildren.

However, in my parent’s generation, most of them had to raise the kid by themselves. I was raised by my parents, though both of them had to work full time. My dad didn’t go home until 11 or 12pm when I was little but he insisted holding me and feeding me at least an hour a day even though I was asleep.

Back then, they didn’t have their parents to depend on because they both have siblings who also have kids and it’s impossible for grandparents to take care of each of their grandchild. I turned out to the leftover one. They asked a neighbor to look after me before I went to preschool when I was three. But now the supply and demand has been switched. Grandparents often fight about who should take care of the grandchild. Often times, the ones with more stable financial situation and live closer to a good school win the case.

Chinese grandparents are always controlling their children, even when their children become parents. They tend to spend most of the time focusing on how to support their children. You might think they have paid their dues after the kids have their own family but as soon as a grandchild is born, they are sucked into the old parenting cycle over again.

My friend Judy’s father told me when I was visiting the baby, “I have to teach him how to play an instrument and I have to make sure that he goes to a great school…”

Sigh. What are the parents doing then? Grandparents need to give up power. They are no longer the parents. It’s time for single kids to learn how to be more responsible.

My parents were a bit upset when I told them I wouldn’t want them to take care of my babies in the future. They explained,

“We understand how hard it is to raise a kid without parents’ help. We’ve been there, so we want to help you in whatever way we can do to make your life easy.”

I just said one thing that changed their attitude.

“Look how awesome I turn out to be! You taught me to be independent and responsible. I don’t think I could be as good as I am now if I was raised by my grandparents.”


Making Allowance for Wealth

I read an article in a local newspaper the other day that said a 10-year-old pupil in Shanghai had saved more 200,000 yuan ($30,000) in her bank account. What’s more, a couple of her class-mates got allowances from their parents that were in the tens of thousands of yuan.

Maybe her parents are rich enough to give her anything she wants, or maybe they are just middle-class but don’t want their child to have to grow up poor like they did. Regardless, I think an allowance that large exceeds a child’s ability to manage.

When I was a pupil, I had a few classmates from rich family, but they got nowhere that much. My parents only gave me 20 yuan just in case I got hungry.

It’s not the girl’s fault that she is richer than many adults. Her parents think of the money as an emotional investment in her, but it will likely cause her to pick up some bad spending habits. She won’t have any idea about the value of money.

I heard a different story from one of my expat friends, who’s a personable business-man. I was surprised when I noticed the calluses on his hands. He told me that he came from a rich family, but his parents didn’t hand over money lightly; instead, he and his brothers had to work on the farms that their parents owned. No pain, no gain. That’s where the calluses came from. He said he was working for his parents when he was 8 years old.

That’s the difference between Chinese and Western parents. My friend is grateful to his parents. They taught him how to earn money with his own hands. It taught him independence. “My parents are wealthy but it’s their money. If I want to be like them, I will have to work hard,” he said. I think this attitude has contributed to his current success.

I watched a documentary on ICS last week. It was about a British millionaire named Paul who took his son to experience how poor people lived in Middlesbough. His son, Ben had been living lavishly off his money for 20 years and Paul thought it was time for him to experience the real world. After working at a shelter for a week, Ben realized the huge gap between the wealthy and poor.

Paul made a right decision, but wouldn’t it had been better if he had done this when Ben was younger? I talked to the father of one of my students about how he taught his daughter about money. He said he will only buy things for her if they’re good for her. He keeps telling her that it’s not easy for dad and mom to earn money so she shouldn’t take it for granted.

However, some of her classmates haven’t got that message from their parents. As he recalled, one of her classmates paid the daughter 5 yuan to do the cleaning that the class members take turns doing. She took the money and told her dad afterwards. He was shocked but had a heart-to-heart talk with her. Not everything can be bought, he told her.

Parents, especially those born in the 1980s, take as an example how Westerners edu-cate their children. If we fail to teach our children about the value of money, they will have no idea what it’s worth.


Parents Responsible for Shengnu Issue in China

In China, single women over 25 years old are now creatively called shengnu. With exactly the same sound as the Chinese word for saint woman, shengnu actually means leftover women.

Last week, I had a chance to talk with 10 attractive and successful unmarried women in this age group. Each had a different reason for not being married, but they all had one thing in common: their parents have given them a poor education about romantic relationships. Their parents, like most Chinese parents, are so conservative and backward in their mind-set about marriage that it directly leads to their daughters becoming shengnu.

Many leftover women, especially Shanghainese, have always been “good girls.” Following their parents’ advice, they didn’t date boys in high school or at university – and maybe not even in the first two years of their careers.

But once a girl turns 25, her parents become anxious, even desperate, for her to get married. They don’t understand why their excellent daughter can’t find a boyfriend. They set up their daughters up on blind dates that they don’t want to go on, and go to the matchmaking corner that is held regularly at People’s Square.

In many parents’ eyes, a relationship is like a faucet. It can be turned on and off at will. The purpose of dating is to marry and it has to be done on the first try. When I told my parents that I broke up with my first boyfriend they were astonished. “Then why did you go out with him for a year?” they asked. They are greatly influenced by Mao Zedong whose philosophy goes as those who are in love and don’t consider marriage as an intention are regarded as hooligans!

According to those Shanghainese parents, their daughters shouldn’t be in a relationship before 24 and must be married by 25. That leaves us with one year to find a husband.

For parents who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, there weren’t any leftover women because the government wouldn’t let you remain unmarried. There were labor unions, the women’s federation and youth league committees who helped single employees find partners. Most parents never experienced a real relationship. Back then, a girl just needed to stay at home and wait for someone to propose.

So this is what they teach their daughters. Be good at home and we will find you a husband. Most leftover women still live with their parents. They are legally single, but I think they are really married to their parents, in a matter of speaking.

I believe that shengnu should start by moving out of their parents’ home. You don’t have to own a house. You could rent or even share the apartment. Of course many parents don’t see the point. But have leftover women got the point?

Parents are to blame because they manipulate their daughters. However, girls bear some of the responsibility because they are too obedient.

As one of the girls I talked with said she was trying to move out but her parents didn’t allow her to. She gave in. Isn’t it pathetic that a 30-year-old woman can’t decide her own life?

In my opinion, the first thing that these leftover girls should do is to fight with the old-fashioned thoughts of their parents. They are more experienced than us in many aspects, but when it comes to relationships, I don’t think they are experts. Like my parents, most parents of post 80s got married with their one and only partner in their life. How much do they know about men or women and the complicated relationship? We can’t expect our parents to teach us how to manage a relationship or when to get married.