Overseas Chinese students: Is not returning home a violation of filial piety? – China’s latest society and culture news


“At the risk of sounding obnoxious, I will never support my daughter to study abroad. If she is unable to stay and returns after graduation, it means that I wasted a huge amount of money on her. But if she successfully lands a job overseas and marries someone, it means she dumps her parents. I mean nothing to her.”

“So glad my parents are not like you. They don’t see me as an investment. I am grateful for their unconditional love.”

From Weibo (in Chinese)

“I want my only child to be with me. What’s wrong with that?” said a frustrated Chinese father in an article that recently went viral on the Chinese internet. The parent, whose daughter has been residing abroad since she went to the U.S. for college in 2007, expressed profound regret at the decision to send his only child overseas. The sentiment echoed that of many other Chinese parents whose offspring are thousands of miles away from them, and triggered a fierce online debate about Chinese parent-child relationships.

In the article (in Chinese) originally published by Chengdu Business Daily, the father said that conflicts between him and his daughter started in 2013, when she was determined to get married and settle down in the U.S. despite strong opposition from her parents. “We were surprised and we didn’t agree,” said the mother. “But what could we do? She was too far away.” What ensued was a strong sense of loneliness and uncertainty that still haunts the parents every day, though the mother said that sometimes she questions if she is too traditional and puts too much emphasis on family reunion, and if the two generations should part their ways and pursue their own lives.

Based on Confucian philosophy, filial piety, for centuries, has been considered an obligation for every Chinese person. The famous Chinese saying “Of all virtues, filial piety is the first” (百善孝为先 bǎishànxiàowèixiān) epitomizes how deeply the moral concept is rooted in the country’s perception of parent-child relationships. However, for many young Chinese who don’t live in the same city as their parents, especially those who are abroad, coming back to their homes usually means forfeiting their jobs, their partners, or the lives that they aspire to live.

In an online poll (in Chinese) conducted on the social media platform Sina Weibo, more than 70 percent of respondents say it is not selfish for an only child to settle down in a foreign country. Many argued that parents shouldn’t treat their children as their property and they should respect whatever decisions are made by their children, whereas others insisted that filial piety should never be tossed away as a thing from the past. “These overseas students relied on tremendous financial help from their parents to pay tuition, rent, and other living costs. And now they feel they can make a living on their own and their parents are just a liability, so they refuse to return to China,” wrote one internet user. “I would call them cold-blooded and shameless.”


Share
Jiayun Feng

Jiayun is a Chinese native and was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allows her to pursue a journalistic career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.