Last month, I went back to China after being away for 4 years. My country was "calling" for me and I was yearning for it, like a long-distance lover. It comforts my soul to visit the country that I first took breath in. Every time I go back, it reminds me of a part of myself that is often forgotten here in America. And I miss my dad a lot. Regardless of his flaws, he was once my best friend during my childhood. His mother, my paternal grandmother, is now the only living grandparent that I have. They were "calling" for me as well and I could feel it.
So off I went. After about twenty hours of flying and ten hours of driving, I finally arrived at my hometown, Zhanjiang, southern part of the Canton province. This city has experienced drastic transformation in the last two decades. However, so much has changed yet so much stays the same. Every time I walk these streets, a feeling of familiarity came over me. I was so excited to see everyone, but part of me was getting ready for some family drama and cultural shock. Yes I said cultural shock. I have been disconnected from my culture naturally because I live in a whole different country. But part of that disconnect was intentional on my part. Let's just say some customs and ways of thinking have rooted in its people for thousands of years, even if they no longer serve the purpose of its people.
What I am talking about is sexism. I know people don't like to hear that word nor do they like to acknowledge they are sexists, but the core of Chinese culture is sexist, there is no other way to describe the fact. Yes it's the twenty-first century. Yes women are supposed to be treated equally as men. Yes women are getting more opportunities and rights. However, it will still be a long way before gender equality can be achieved, especially in China. It's a well-known fact that China had the "one-child" policy to control the population. It is also no secret that because of this policy, many parents aborted or abandoned the daughters in favor of the sons. Luckily, that was not the case with my parents, or else I would not be alive and giving you all a piece of my mind today. But this gender-preference is like the elephant in the room, everyone knows it's there, but no one wants to acknowledge it or take it out.
So my grandmother has been requesting for a grandson from my dad, her oldest son, for a few years now. Just think about that for a second. A parent somehow feels like she has the power to tell her child what to do; ordering him to produce children of a certain sex like ordering food off of a menu. What's worse, she nags about it like a broken record while I was there. I couldn't take it anymore and had to confront this near eighty-year-old woman, knowing that her mind still lives in the 1930s and will not get out of that time period anytime soon. I said: "so am I not good enough for you as a granddaughter?" She immediately said no and that she loves all her granddaughters, but she thinks a grandson will bring my father and the family good luck. I said: "Well my younger male cousin is your grandson." She said: "Well that it's different" without telling me why. I knew it's because he is the son of my aunt, her daughter. Somehow he doesn't count.
So then she went on to talk about how only a son can carry on the family name. I understand that some women change their family names to that of their husbands' when they get married. But I know for a fact that will not be the case for me. So I told her that I will carry on our family name even after I get married. This is when she became quiet. She was either mad or had no come-back for what I said. I mean how do you explain why only men could carry on family names in this new age? Are they physically or mentally more capable of signing their family names on a piece of paper? If anything, women live seven years longer than men on average. That's seven more years of family-name-carrying. And why is it that the family heritage of a man is valued over a woman's? Why does a woman have to feel like she has to "marry into" a man's family; abandoning her family name, parents, and heritage? Why do the parents of a daughter have to feel like they have "transferred over" or "lost" her once she is married? This interaction with my grandmother has really stirred up all these questions in me. It makes me wonder why I should carry on the Lin family name when I am pretty much carrying patriarchy on my back. Why can't I honor my mother's Huang family in the same manner? What has the Lin family done that is worth honoring more than the Huang family?
Something else I discovered was that the printed Lin family book was biased and inaccurate. For one, it left my aunt out of the book, stating that my grandparents only had two sons. It's as if she never existed. I, on the other hand, was lucky enough to be listed in the book probably because I was a firstborn and of a more recent generation. But what about my dad's other children, especially the "unborn grandson" that my grandmother longs for? Would they reprint the whole book or put in an "addendum" section for the family book if he was ever born? So what good is a family book if it doesn't track accurate information of all the people who contributed to the family history?
Honestly, none of this should have surprised me as I know the deal. But coming face-to-face with sexism is something that I can never get used to nor want to accept. I know that the fault does not lie entirely in the people but the history, culture, and society which have influenced its people. What a lot of people don't realize though, is that they have the power to challenge the deep-rooted culture if it no longer serve themselves and others. Ultimately, it's up to the people to change history, culture and society. Of course it's easier said than done, but it all starts with the heart and mind that refuse to accept the status quo. No matter how advanced and developed a country portrays itself to be, if the heart and mind of the people don't progress and evolve with it, the country ultimately still stays in the past.
I love my country, culture, and family. But I refuse to carry on the patriarchy, sexism, inequality, and ignorance associated with a family name.