For as long as there have been stand-up comedians, there have been mother-in-law jokes. China is no different. So far this year there have been seven TV series that explore the subject of female-in-law relationships, says Xinhua. And they all seem to deal with the same issue: tyrannical mothers-in-law battling with their headstrong ‘new’ daughters.
Take Good Times of Daughters-in-Law. The TV series, which saw millions of people tune in this spring, tells the story of a wife who has to deal with not one mother-in-law but two. That’s because the original set of parents both remarried after divorce. The poor wife is stuck between two equally demanding mothers-in-law, neither of whom like each other.
The popularity of shows like Good Times seems to reflect age-old issues of intergenerational tension. According to a recent study published by the Hangzhou Academy of Social Sciences, more than 65% of women felt that friction with their husband’s mother had caused them long-term stress. Almost 86% of the respondents said they would not want to live under the same roof as their mother-in-law if they had a choice.
The problem, experts say, is the changing role of women in Chinese society. Gone are the days when mothers-in-law had absolute authority over their son’s wives. Young women these days, especially those in the post-1980s generation, are likely to have jobs and very little interest in becoming housewives. Women today are also increasingly independent, see themselves as equal to men and don’t take kindly to anyone telling them how to behave.
“This generation of daughters-in-law is different from the past because they are more independent, which is hard for mothers-in-law to accept,” says actress Hai Qing, who plays the role of a daughter-in-law in Good Times. “Many of them also do not want children, which is hard for many mothers-in-law to accept. The older generation wants to influence the younger generation; the younger generation wants to change the older generation. This is an inevitable battle.”
Maybe Confucius is to blame? China’s traditions place strong emphasis on filial respect and the obligation to care for parents. Even in big cities, many older people still live with sons and daughters-in-law. This can put an enormous strain on relations. “Female in-law relationships in the West value equality: mothers-in-law are not superior over daughters-in-law. Married couples also have the option of moving out,” says one netizen on Tianya, a popular internet portal. “But in China, mothers-in-law demand filial respect and uncompromising obedience.”
To help improve ties between female in-laws, the city of Hangzhou even organised a Mother-in-Law/Daughter-in-Law Festival.
The festival, which was held in May, showcased 10 pairs of “Good Mothers-in-Law and Daughters-in-Law” who then shared the secrets of building a positive relationship between two natural antagonists, says the Shanghai Daily.
Those who did not make it to Hangzhou could tune into Anhui TV for Niang Jia 2, another show exploring a similar theme that launched early this month (starring Ma Yashu as the daughter-in-law). It also claims to be educational, offering tips on how to keep over-controlling mothers-in-law happy.
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