How Chinese Traditions Work

Traditional Chinese People

The structure and importance of family is one of the most central and defining characteristics of traditional Chinese people. We've already seen how central the family is to living conditions, as houses were modeled to accommodate multiple generations. In this communal atmosphere, the family shared property and income. In fact, the traditional ideal was to have five generations under one roof, which is considered a "round" family, and was a sign of prestige. However, this was rarely possible, and three-generation households were more common [source: LaFleur].

The principles of Confucianism largely guided family structure and held that family was a building block for society. Confucianism put special emphasis on filial piety, which was believed to preserve harmony and keep families together. And entwined in the concept of filial piety is worship of ancestors, which is a central tradition for the Chinese family. For thousands of years, traditional Chinese family structure was strictly patriarchal, with the father or eldest male as the head of the household as well as provider and guide.

Women had little power in the family system, and the patriarch held absolute authority. Both tradition and laws upheld this patriarchal structure. Property passed down to the male line and was divided equally among sons. A daughter who got married was always to move in with her husband's parents to assist that household. In general, sons were prized more than daughters, as sons were seen as carrying on family lineage (the way for a father to achieve immortality), but daughters were often considered simply a burden. In fact, one traditional Chinese saying states that raising daughters is like "watering a neighbor's garden."

Fathers also had final say in arranging the marriages of their daughters. Traditionally, the institution of marriage was for the benefit of the family and had no basis in the romantic feelings of the bride and groom. Love was not considered a sound foundation for marriage under the Confucian view [source: Yang].

As we merely skim the surface of the ancient traditions of this civilization, we've only seen a glimpse of what is obviously a complex and rich culture.

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