The Family Structure and Cultural Clash in Chinese / Asian Families

Cultural differences are clearly something that we wrestle with more than ever in society, church and even homelife. Things are not simply black and white. Those who live in the margins know that very well.

djchuang recently highlighted two articles from the gospel herald about Dr. Peter Lam (director of Asian Family Today and father of two second gen children) on improving the communication between Chinese parents and their ABC (or not) children. lam points out the obvious problems or methods employed (to those of us who are ABC) – rebuking, punishment, guilt – and he offers simple advice to parents – encouragement is key – and other biblical sounding counsel.

two articles
Researcher Comments on Cultural-Clash in Chinese Families
Communication Must Improve in Chinese Families, Researcher Says

i also enjoyed this thoughtful post from Nikki Toyama co-contributor of more than serving tea, about boundaries, enmeshment and justice. she poses some great questions that i wrestle over with my non-asian wife. how do you manage boundaries on the mission field, in doing mercy and justicework? do you?

I’m beginning to wonder if boundaries are the luxury of the middle class. Is there such thing as boundaries when you’re doing justice work?

I’ve wondered about boundaries, Asian American families, and Christian discipleship. What therapists call “enmeshment” is a common occurrance in Asian American families. Is it an issue that we need to fight against in the Asian community. Or is family therapy culturally bound.

What some might called “enmeshed” has great characteristics. There’s a wonderful sense of involving everyone, and a corporate identity that is a healthy antidote to a narcissitic individualized model. But it has its problems too.

From my limited vantage point, it comes across as parents who are very upset at a young person’s decision. A lot of emotional pressure lands on the young person to comply to their wishes. I’ve heard extreme cases of threatening suicide unless a young person changes their plans. More common examples are sleepless nights, extreme anxiety, etc. Are the young people just clueless and self-absorbed? Or is the older generation enmeshed? Both?

Is this just how things get done in Asian American households? What’s the Christian response?

What’s cultural? What’s Christian? What’s do we embrace and what do we work against?

Back in 2003, the BBC had featured the cultural clash in The Asian Family.
Listen to their program here.


1 Response to “The Family Structure and Cultural Clash in Chinese / Asian Families”

  1. August 9, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Often times, both sides of the spectrum are close minded. The parent, fustrated at the child for not recieveing the message and the child fustrated because he or she does not understand the message. Before pointing fingers, most often, the child must way the situation. This is because, it is far harder for someone who has lived with one mind set such of the rigidty of the Chinese culture to bend to new ideas. Kids of parents who have emigrated from China, sometimes need to understand the financial, political, and cultural climate that their parents were from. How their society worked and functioned and the methods it used to communicate. Often times, most arguments with Chinese adults on part of their children relates to education. From a society that values education, especially the Chinese, its apparent the distance and vigor that parents would go to enforce to what they believe is the nessacary goal. Though you can’t argue that playing 5 instrument, perfect SAT scores, and a giant college resume can’t hurt, sometimes, the price that comes along with those things are large. Myself being only recently 16, and having emigrated from China with Chinese parents, it is apprent that they want me to be perfect. And their ideas of perfect are different then mine. Yet, I don’t blame them for everytime they beat me, yelled at me, or put me down because I know that in a weird way they can’t help it. They are no different then us except they have different experiences and far more experiences. But in the end, they are just like us. They do feel constrained, they feel the pressure, they feel helpless. Sometimes yes, things can go to far, but for the majority, look at the world you live in. Look at your friends. Be happy with what you have, the parents you have. Logic often times don’t work with your parents, but you only live with them 18 years and after that your gone. So, for those who entered highschool, 4 years and your gone. Even though your parents push you to the extreme on occasions, don’t scuttle your future to prove them wrong. Realize that if you don’t do what they tell you, in some regards, just to get back at them, your the one that ultimately loses. Because in 50 years, your parents will be up there, God Bless their souls, and your gonna be down here, regreting what you did to get back at your parents.

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[american born chinese pastor]
seeks to be that third place for those who are american born chinese [abc] in ministry.
here we may explore issues unique to the chinese church and doing ministry in that context
expand the intersection of asian american culture and christian faith
or simply expose what goes on in the mind of this abcpastor

this may be a bit ambitious or even naiive but i do hope that through the posts we can bring together different faith communities, passions for the advancement of the Gospel and the equipping of the body of Christ.

if you are an abc pastor or have any suggestions or would like to contribute to make this space evolve, just comment.

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