Apr 19, 2012 By S. E. Smith , eChinacities.com

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

64 Comments Add your comment


What it means

And now the stalking begins :-)

Apr 19, 2012 09:10 Report Abuse



it all sounds good to me. i want one of those china girls.
some day ill just jump in the big water and swim all the way over till i find one :p

Apr 20, 2012 02:00 Report Abuse



just helping :-)

Apr 20, 2012 02:42 Report Abuse



What's the reason? Please tell us here.

Apr 20, 2012 03:46 Report Abuse



It is 日志 you bozos!

Apr 21, 2012 01:53 Report Abuse



That and the cat fights....

I always wanted to sell tickets to these things.

A man standing by while two girls go bo lo on each other.

Shouting "San Ba" and He's mine at each other.

I understand the Thai girls took lessons from Lorena Bobbitt.

Neil Sedaka was right....


Apr 19, 2012 10:07 Report Abuse



one thing i know probably every person knows..that if a couple break up that means they didn't have true love..actually people dont seek for true loves cz they so busy that they don't have time for that they just want to pass the time when the time comes..or gets any problems they just break up and get a new one.but did they ever think that when they began their relationship they kissed or even more things after that they broke up and go for other people how would they react than they do the same thing again,....especially cheating it is. this is my request to the people if you have any relationship please make it serious and get married don't go for anymore.a true love really makes people happy if really want to be happy just make a real love relationship and get married cz true love just come once in a life never for a second time just like our lives. if you really want to be happy get your ture love and you''ll get the answer,

Apr 19, 2012 10:58 Report Abuse



imagine someone comes to you and said i love you and you already know that the person had a relationship before she/he kissed her ex-bf/gf even slept together and said i love you to each other and hugged each other...now she/he came to you and wants to do the same with love,do you really call it love?you loved someone before now you don't....what is this??if it is about in teen dt might be acceptable but not for adults...but i can't accept someone who had relationship before n now saying the same words to me....i can't accept it and also i will never do this.in china is really common now...you might think love isn't serious but please be serious when you do so..especially when it involves with physical things....and also i request please don't do anything silly/physical related things before getting married wait for your marriage and you will get the happiness....

Apr 19, 2012 11:10 Report Abuse



Earth to John, Earth to John: Time to come back to EArth.....

Apr 19, 2012 14:40 Report Abuse



John's gone !

Apr 19, 2012 16:18 Report Abuse



English, please John!

Apr 19, 2012 18:00 Report Abuse


John said What?!?!

If we were in the states I would swear you just stepped out of the 50's or a really obsessive church.

Apr 19, 2012 23:08 Report Abuse



John. you have the ideas of love of a fourteen year old buddy!! This is why people in China are so dramatic. you have this fairy tale wedding princess and prince idea that isn't realistic!!

Apr 20, 2012 03:54 Report Abuse



What are you, ten years old?

Apr 20, 2012 13:42 Report Abuse



Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.

If we were thinking like a kid, maybe that means we are wise.

Apr 20, 2012 18:54 Report Abuse



John is a dreamer... and a paranoia

Apr 20, 2012 20:22 Report Abuse


Mike D.


Apr 21, 2012 06:14 Report Abuse



You're probably a virgin. Virgins have this overly possessive attitude of "you're mine and I don't want you if you have been touched by another man," attitude. With your mindset, I suspect you have no idea what love is. In your mind, love is conditional. Do you know the ultimate cure for it? Children. When you have a child, you stop focusing on your spouse's past, and you start focusing on the child's future. You are really limiting your prospects with an attitude like yours. Another cure, and I'm going to speak bluntly, find a 35-year-old divorced Chinese woman who is at her sexual peak, who is not afraid to wear a super short mini-skirt, who is looking for some young stud to play with, and just let her suck your d*ck until it falls off! It is a 50/50 probability that a woman at that age, depending on her financial position, is just looking for something to play with anyway. Whether it be to seek revenge against her cheating ex-husband or just because she is equivalent to a 19-year-old guy at Lake Havasu Arizona during Spring Break. Either way, you'll get it. My wife inquired about my past relationships, and I've told her when she really wants to know something, but I warn her ahead of time. I ask her, "Do you really want to know about this?" I'm happy with who she is today. I don't care who she was 5 years ago.

It does remind me of that movie "Clerks." When he finds out that his girlfriend may not have slept with a lot of guys, but she told him that she has given BJ's to over 30 men before him. Haha! That's funny. I guess the point is, if it makes you uncomfortable, then just don't ask about her past. Ignorance is bliss in this case. Hope you find that diamond in the rough.

Apr 23, 2012 06:43 Report Abuse



Actually John,
I know a couple divorced Chinese women who are just looking to have fun with some foreigners with no strings attached. They don't speak a lick of English, but that hasn't stopped them. I've played translator for them. So, they are out there. Now John, just polish your shoes and go have some fun. China = conservative? HA! Maybe just the college students who are still controlled by their parents. No one can tell me that Chinese people don't really like sex. All one has to do is look at their unprecedented population growth over the last century to see that Chinese people love unprotected sex more than most. Hehe! Just playin'. It's a numbers game.

Apr 23, 2012 07:00 Report Abuse



Love both your comments here.

May 11, 2012 21:04 Report Abuse




May 11, 2012 21:06 Report Abuse



John I totally understand why you put all this, and I kinda agree with you to some extence. So many people laughing at your opion, while I bet you are a responsible person.
The concept of being responsible is different between western countries and Eastern ones.
I think you must have been hurt before, just as I am experincing now. Nobody loves to think about his/her lovers' past romance, right? I agree with what Chaching said, ignorance protects you in a relieving way. And I wish you find a peace of mind.

Jul 07, 2012 20:53 Report Abuse


All American

Are you kidding me? Some kid in Michigan just killed hs ex-girl's mom and new boyfriend. Look it up. Some articles "look for differences" and imagine them and forget to check their world of reference. Relationship breakup actions are rarely unique to one's culture. They're emotional expressions that are human. Someone do an article that tells me which girls in short dresses are more western and non-traditional. (excl. KTV)

Apr 19, 2012 17:01 Report Abuse



I think you are talking about a kook or two in the US who has access to a gun. The Chinese cultural dynamics mentioned in this article are more encompassing than a kook or two with access to a gun. The US is good at having a kook or two with access to a gun, but that's ought not count as a rebuttal to what this article is saying.

Apr 19, 2012 18:11 Report Abuse



I think the American's point was that there is not that much difference in culture besides the fact that the Chinese don't have easy access to guns. Can you imagine if they did? Whoa! Instead, as the article mentioned, they express their anger and rage through other means of criminal behavior. I actually agree with All American. I too would rather read an article that unveils the difference between conservative and non-conservative Chinese women. Oops, I can't say that.

Apr 23, 2012 07:11 Report Abuse