Chinese Break-ups – What a Goodbye Means in China

Chinese Break-ups – What a Goodbye Means in China
Apr 19, 2012 By S. E. Smith ,

Chinese Break-ups – What a Goodbye Means in China

Several days ago as I was walking down a main street in Guangzhou city centre, I witnessed a young lady, squatting beside a tree on the pavement, howling with such unbridled anguish into her cell-phone it bordered on lunacy. Her shopping and handbag had been discarded behind her in a kind of Hansel and Gretel trail. At the time I was with a friend, who began to translate what this poor girl was wailing about. He told me her boyfriend wanted out of their relationship, the result of which meant she wanted to "leave this earth", as she no longer thought it had a place for her anymore. As we passed, she began bashing her head against the tree, screaming "Are you there?!" into the handset. 

Such dramatic breakups are common in China, particularly at the younger end of the scale. In the past six months, I’ve heard numerous and disturbing stories of Chinese final goodbyes. Several university students I’ve befriended have detailed how they were threatened with knives on the day they tried to dump their boyfriends. My Chinese teacher told me that after what seemed to have been an amicable split from her boyfriend turned sour when he then decided to beat her up as a parting gift. Finally my own girlfriend was once blackmailed with suicide from a 30th floor balcony if she were to leave her ex.

Tradition and expectations

Adolescence and even adulthood can be an emotional time regardless of creed or ethnicity. Yet from my experience, Western breakups on the whole lack the all-consuming intensity they have over here. Clogged with scantily clad boys and girls provocatively pouting and posing, social networking sites can paint a picture of Chinese youth that is both easygoing and promiscuous. These images, I am repeatedly told by young men and women around me, represent only a small proportion of the still traditional and conventional population.

Newly formed Western relationships tend not to carry such expectations from the get go. Unless one person actually inquires as to the status of the relationship the whole situation can be rather informal. For me, being "an item" has always been preceded by weeks, sometimes months, of a laissez faire scenario where no one really knows where they stand. The Chinese culture isn’t one that looks favourably upon casual dating and much less so on friends with benefits. If one partner states from the outset that marriage isn’t probable, it’s thought that there’s no future between the courting couple. Once a relationship has begun both parties may begin the process of planning a future and thus a life together and so a surprise early axing may be hard to take.
The usual suspect: the 4-2-1 family tree

Whenever a social phenomenon arises, so to does a theory attempt to better understand it. As a consequence of the introduction of the one child policy in 1976 came the arrival of a generation absent of siblings. Such an unprecedented policy took time to be adhered to, and it wasn’t until the late 80’s and early 90’s that it was in proper effect. Chinese with a birthday in the 90’s have been dubbed "Little Emperors" by sociologists. Indeed, a "90后", a Chinese person born in the 90’s, is often used pejoratively online: "crazy 90后 girl does…". When one reads the characteristics of a "Little Emperor", it doesn’t take a psychologist to predict where conflicts could potentially arise:

"A 2005 survey by the Internet portal Sina of about 7,000 respondents between ages 15 and 25 found that 58 per cent of one-child respondents admitted being lonely and said they were selfish. But many also revel in being the "sun" around whom the household revolves.

Though the Emperors and 90’s children may be spoilt rotten there may be another reason for their behaviour that also has ties to the one-child-policy. Children with no brothers or sisters may be lavished upon by their family, yet all that attention comes at a price. When the child reaches adolescence, he/she is expected to support the older adult relatives – a scenario that’s been coined the 4-2-1 problem. Prior to the introduction of the one-child-policy, support could be divided between siblings. This isn’t the case anymore.

Because of this narrowing family tree, an immense amount of pressure is placed on the single child to grow up, marry, have a boy (hopefully), be successful, and be able to take care of the aging relatives. With so much weight and expectation placed on the shoulders of one child, it’s not hard to understand why some people feel they’ve lost a lot more than a sweetheart after a breakup.

Related links
Dealing with Negative Stereotypes of Cross-Cultural Dating
Money Honey: The Cost of Dating in China
Conflicting Mindsets: 3 Foreign Contestants on Chinese Dating Show

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Keywords: breakups in China relationships in China pressures on Chinese children young couples China


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This man is genius, I've never read anything so insightful, my life has been changed (for the better)...

Jul 07, 2012 23:48 Report Abuse


Pete Marchetto

Nice article, though I'd differ on one point.

I think the 90s generation has a bad rep in the media because of how it has broken away with traditionalism. More independent and more free-thinking, the 90s children put down in the media are more likely to be able to deal with break-ups in a more mature fashion. It's the traditionalists who have the hard time of it as your article says.

Wayward youthful behaviour held up for denigration in the Chinese media is very often no more than modern youth in a modernising society the powers-that-be would have be more traditional and more compliant.

May 12, 2012 20:05 Report Abuse



Isn't it just the same everywhere in the world? Don't see anything particular as the title claims.

Apr 26, 2012 17:12 Report Abuse


Jen zhong
comment|26699|76619 is very comon here in china ,do not be so serious ,but anyway ,,,good report for most of the foreigners

Apr 25, 2012 02:42 Report Abuse



I came here to marry a woman that we have talked for about a year. When I got her, shortly after, she kept delaying our marriage. Then later i learned why. She had a exboyfriend that was jeleous of me. Funny thing is he is married. So she wants me, but also wants him! She does not want me to leave. I think she is the queen of lies. She thinks that because my Mandarin is soso, that I am stupid! So we marry (not sure why she did this), and she had me stay at yet another house. We have slept together 3 times since we married. We have been married about 11 days. I have got reports from people, that she has been out with her BF! So tomorrow we do the divorce, unless she gets her act together, which I doubt will happen. She lied to her boss that her dad was very sick. But as justice would happen, he got sick the other day. Becareful what you wish for!

Apr 23, 2012 17:42 Report Abuse



love is always blind..even in china is true...

Apr 20, 2012 18:43 Report Abuse


Joe Realist

It is expensive everywhere. If you have no money you have no girl. It is the nature of women. They ALL sell themselves for something. Money, house, car, a nice anniversary necklace, etc.
Love does not exist. The sooner people realize this, the better.

Apr 23, 2012 02:34 Report Abuse



@ Joe Realist*

If love doesn't exist for you, it may be because you have an ugly personality. Other people experience plenty of love.

*Feeling bitter and rejected does not make you a realist.

Apr 23, 2012 03:05 Report Abuse



I have also seen many dramatic scenes. I think the reason for all these tears and suicide threats(suicides) is not the lost love - it is the humiliation. In the last moment before jumping from a high building, the neglected boyfriend/girlfriend thinks: "I am so noble, so selfless, because I suffer so much over somebody else". Lame.

Apr 20, 2012 10:26 Report Abuse



me love you long time... NOT!

This is a pathetic excuse for writing.

I thought I was reading Cosmo-China. Is everybody in touch with their feminine side yet?


Apr 20, 2012 07:42 Report Abuse



I knew an Ashley and Ged...

The probability seems so incredibly small, but your names and comments are just too coincidental.

Ashley, are you from Guilin?

Apr 20, 2012 05:17 Report Abuse



I was...

Apr 21, 2012 04:56 Report Abuse



Guess Ashley does not like you....

Apr 22, 2012 08:07 Report Abuse



Haha, it's not like that!
I knew someone called Ashley who was previously involved with someone called Ged (who I haven't met). Her relationships are of no personal significance to me, but it would be amazing to stumble across someone so randomly on the internet.

Apr 23, 2012 02:32 Report Abuse



I don't think so.

Apr 20, 2012 02:57 Report Abuse



i had lived in china for the past 5 years , i have seen dramatic scenes of couples fighting and girls crying 2 years i saw the news a young girl took a taxi she was carrying a can of gas she spray herself with gas and light herself in fire just because her bf left her,, i think is has to do with culture in ths usa and other countries friends talk about this things with friends and family and is not a taboo , here is a taboo is not open and i beilive thats a major factor about this behavior

Apr 19, 2012 23:44 Report Abuse



True love is hard to define. Even in America we have break-ups. I am an only child and yet was not spoiled alot. As an American I fell in love with girls all my life believing this was true love. It is not. Flowery words, sweet kisses, acts of kindness, hugging are fine but not true love. True love is not being selfish, giving when it hurts, patience, work, work, work, and more work, consideration, understanding and more work, more giving, and love, simple love, i.e., a touch, a kind word, a soft and tender touch or kiss, and more work.
Today even in my country and around the world it is hard to fine true love. It is there but people want it now and they want it easy. Love is never easy nor was meant to be. WE have these illusions that love is always easy. Here more so as in America they spoil the "only - child" and when they grow-up and not having had a single relationship of worth; find a mate and get married. That is not true love ! here nor in America. As we say in English "as the twig bends so does the tree". If you spoil a child anywhere all there life do not expect them to mature and act like a grown-up when they have become a man or woman. This is the problem in China mostly and around the world. Chinese laugh at foreigners for being divorced but I say " I would rather be divorced and dating and happy and be in an unhappy marriage. I say don't rush into anything especially marriage. With time you will know to some degree if you are meant to be together and that is just the beginning of your relationship not the end. ....a blissful love !
Love takes time.....ditto.

Apr 19, 2012 18:34 Report Abuse



Love is never easy to say or to do.
You relize you are in love when the love is gone.
So, be greatful when we have love!

Apr 19, 2012 23:05 Report Abuse




Apr 19, 2012 23:17 Report Abuse


tattered tales

This is just one facet of the social unbalance created by the one child policy. A sense of undeserved entitlement in the workforce and lack of sibling competition/support are others. The crying jags I've seen from kids who lose something so silly like a three-legged race are indicator of the how this policy is producing a potentially dangerous demographic.
Slowing generational turn-over would be a better solution. Give young people incentives to delay becoming parents. For example, a couple that waits until their late 30's to have their first child would receive higher retirement payouts when they reach 70. As people continue to live longer it only makes sense to push back the child-rearing years. Older parents would likely be more emotionally and financially stable too.

Apr 19, 2012 18:00 Report Abuse



The One child policy will have a bigger long term impact on population than your idea of "slowing demographic turnover".

If we weigh the environmental cost of all the extra people, I think it is clear that the One Child policy is better for China. Whether this leads to more dramatic breakups is just a little bit insignificant.

Apr 19, 2012 22:11 Report Abuse



Do you know what the UN is and how it works?

I doubt the UN is capable of doing anything like this considering the US would have to sign on as well. Being a state that holds a Veto on these kinds of things, the US wouldn't agree to something that goes against US citizen constitutional rights. You would have luck going door to door and killing the younger siblings of each household in the world by yourself. Read a book.

Apr 19, 2012 23:14 Report Abuse



i quietly agree with you !!!

Apr 20, 2012 03:25 Report Abuse



I think imposing a one child limit is a bit extreme, but perhaps a worldwide two child limit wouldn't be a bad idea. The problem is that the only way to enforce such things is by seriously punishing those who break the rules.

Apr 21, 2012 20:33 Report Abuse



Another Dumb Ass.

This planet was self sustaining when the populations was 2 and it will be self sustaining long into the future.
All this planetary control is an stupid excuse to take away human freedom and rights...

In other words, Dumb Ass, you don't know you head from a hole in the ground.
If you even bothered to measure how the world has survived your kinds of stupidity lo these many years, you would quake in your boots.
It certainly does not need your blathering breathing of boobish nonsense to take care of itself.

It will be here long after you draw your last breath, just like it was here before.

It was vibrant then and it will shine very well then too...

There is NO crisis except in your shallow mind.

Apr 22, 2012 04:34 Report Abuse