What does family mean to you?
The notion of ‘my family’ is meaningful to me in several different ways. First, it allows me to experience the sensation that I am not alone in the universe, as the individualities of my parents and siblings are inseparably fused with that of my own. This simply cannot be otherwise, because at least half of the genes that determined my character and my physical appearance are present in the bodies of my closest relatives. What it means is that invoking the term family provides me with a sense of psychological comfort, because it reminds me of the fact that, despite the comparative shortness of my personal life, some part of my genetically defined sense of self-identity will be preserved in the future. That is, of course, for as long as the continual proliferation of my family-bloodline is being ensured.
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Second, by being affiliated with my closest relatives (family) I can take additional pride in practicing some Chinese cultural traditions, passed within my family from generation to generation, such as respect towards elders, hard workings, and the love of education (Thornton 1994). In other words, my very awareness of the fact that I am a child of my parents causes me to think that I indeed have what it takes to be able to succeed in life.
Third, my family means to me that I will always be able to find much-needed support when experiencing hardships because it is namely the sense of solidarity, which defines my family members as individuals more than anything else does.
What group, or groups, of people do you include when you say “my family?” What other people do you consider to be in your family?
When I say ‘my family’, I primarily refer to my closest relatives – grandparents, parents, and siblings. Nevertheless, I often refer to the notion in question as such that connotes an additional meaning. For example, being of Chinese descent I sometimes apply this notion, while talking about other Chinese people that happened to share the same existential values with me – especially the ones that I know will stick up for me when I find myself in trouble. Therefore, I sometimes refer to my closest friends in terms of family members – because these individuals never refused to offer a friendly hand when I needed it, there is indeed a certain rationale in thinking of them, as such that is being related to me.
What have been the major events in the life of your family – intimate or public; recent or past; small or large?
Probably the most important event that took place in the life of my family was the initial encounter that occurred between my mother and father before they became married. Even today, my parents talk a lot about it – hence, helping me to realize the sheer importance of allowing young men and women to socialize. The stories of how my parents had met each other, to which I have been exposed throughout my childhood, also contributed towards the fact that I consider myself an individual who adheres to the traditional concept of marriage.
That is, I believe that this concept cannot be discussed outside of what accounts for its foremost social function – legitimizing the married couple’s willingness to give birth to children (Gerson 2010). This is one of the reasons why I consider myself a strong opponent of same-sex marriages, as such that cannot result in the actual birth of children by definition.
Another two major events, which took place in the life of my family, were the births of my younger brother and sister. Even though that when they were deciding to conceive more kids my parents used to experience the lack of money, they nevertheless decided to proceed with the undertaking. They were aware that the lack of financial stability cannot possibly be thought of as a legitimate reason for those spouses, who experience it, to refrain from ‘baby-making’. My parents’ decision proved rather wise – especially if we evaluate it from the sociological point of view.
The final major event, worthy to be mentioned in this paper, was concerned with my parents’ decision to purchase a new house fifteen years ago. As a result, my siblings and I were provided with spacious living quarters and with a large backyard, where we used to play when young. I think that this particular event contributed rather substantially towards ensuring mental healthiness, on my part, and the part of my siblings.
What kinds of relationships does your family have with other groups and institutions in society?
My family can be best described as a socially integrated one. One of the reasons for this is that it has a strong legacy of community serving – my grand grandfather and grandfather were feldshers. This partially explains why, just as it happened to be the case with my younger siblings and myself, my parents strive to play an active role in the community’s life. For example, we take pride in being committed blood-donors and participating in several volunteer activities. We also consider ourselves a politically involved family. The validity of this statement can be illustrated in regards to the fact that my parents never skip an opportunity to try to promote their political views to as many people, as possible – especially during the time of elections. The same can be said about me and my younger siblings.
Family in social and historical context
In what ways is your family life similar to or different from typical families in other historical periods or social contexts?
The main similarity between my family and some other families in different historical contexts is that its continual functioning is being ‘fueled’ by the family members’ unconscious strive to assure the survival of the genetic phenotype, which we carry in our blood. This is the reason why I have no doubts that my foremost purpose, as the society’s responsible member, is creating a family of my own. Nevertheless, unlike what happened to be the case with families even as recently as 50 years ago, my family enjoys many more opportunities to go about pursuing its agenda, in this respect. The reason for this apparent – my family happened to be affiliated with the discourse of post-modernity, which in turn presupposes that the qualitative aspects of its functioning continue to be increasingly affected by the ongoing technological progress.
How might the choices made by you and/or members of your family have been different in other times/places? What constraints and opportunities would be different?
Illustrating how the choices made by my family members could have been different in other times/places does not represent much of a challenge. For example, as it was already mentioned, my parents (who now reside in the city) gave birth to three children. However, had they lived some 100 years ago in the rural part of China, they could have well ended up with conceiving as many as ten or more kids.
The rationale behind this is quite apparent – unlike what it happened to be the case with people who reside in large cities, the well-being of rural dwellers overwhelmingly depends on how successful they are, while tending crops. Hence, the phenomenon of rural people’s high fertility – by making as many babies as possible, these people simply try to survive physically, because even young children can be turned into agricultural helpers.
Essentially the same line of argumentation applies when it comes to discussing the fact that, unlike my grandmother and grandfather, my parents are not religious. While living in a large city, they do not need to possess a strong sense of religiosity, as the main precondition for them to be able to ‘fit’ into the community – quite unlike those individuals who reside in the country.
What economic, social, and other processes of change have been involved in shaping your family?
The main socio-economic process, which contributed towards shaping up my family as it is, can be well considered China’s industrialization, which took place during the 20th century’s seventies and eighties (Young and Deng 1998). It was specifically this process that created objective preconditions for my grandparents to consider relocating to one of the largest Chinese cities, in search of the newly emerged industrial jobs.
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The same process can be referred to as such that prompted my parents to seek education, as their foremost priority in life – the financial well-being of people who live in the industrialized country positively relates to the level of their educational attainment. The fact that I strive to become a qualified professional also indirectly relates to the earlier mentioned process of China having been set on the path of industrialization. The reason for this is that, ever since my early childhood years, my parents never ceased endowing me with the respect towards the values of urban/industrial living.
Another socio-technological development, which affected my family rather substantially, was the rise of the Internet, as the revolutionary medium of distributing information. It was namely due to the emergence of the Internet that my parents were able to broaden their intellectual horizons, which in turn caused them to decide in favor of promoting their children to study abroad. The same technological breakthrough can be referred to, as such that helped me to form my views on the surrounding social reality and my place in it.
In what ways is your family experience similar to or different from other contemporary families?
The main similarity between my family and other contemporary families is that we never miss a chance to take practical advantage of the conveniences of today’s living. For example, my parents, siblings, and I: own cars, use iPhones, spend long hours on the Internet, etc. What is different between our family and others is that our continual exposure to technology does not seem to undermine the integrity of the manner, in which we perceive the world and address life-challenges.
In this respect, we can well be deemed ‘exclusionists’, as Powell (2012) defines them. For example, as it was implied earlier, we do not think that allowing homosexuals/lesbians to marry is socially appropriate – not to mention forcing young children to ‘learn’ about sexual deviations at school. Being self-made people who had to overcome many difficulties, while striving to attain a social prominence, we have an immunity against the propaganda of political correctness, which is nothing but a byproduct of people’s physical and intellectual degradation.
This also explains why, unlike many White families in Western countries, we are not afraid of taking pride in our racial identity. At the same time, however, we do not think of the ‘celebration of diversity’ in terms of a priority – it is not the color of one’s skin, which defines the concerned individual’s value, but his or her ability to act as the society’s productive member. It appears that we are quite similar to other Chinese families, in this respect. This may well serve as an explanation for the fact that the ethnic Chinese account for at least one-third of those students that study ‘hard’ sciences (physics, chemistry, math, software designing, and engineering) in Western universities.
Gerson, Kathleen. 2010. The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation is Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Powell, Brian. 2012. Counted Out: Same-Sex Relations and American’s Definitions of Family. Ithaca: CUP Services Publishing.
Thornton, Bonnie. 1994. “Fictive Kin, Paper Sons, and Compadrazgo.” Pp. 140-155 in Women of Color in U.S. Society. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Young, Denise and Honghai Deng. 1998. “Urbanization, Agriculture andIndustrializ ation in China, 1952-91.” Urban Studies 35 (9): 1439-1455.