The Chinese ideal of three generations living harmoniously under the same roof is one that has endured through the ages.
Confucius taught that harmonious families formed the bedrock of a peaceful and orderly society.
A hundred years later, his follower Mencius wrote: “If only everyone loved his parents and treated his elders with deference, the whole world would be at peace.”
Even China’s ruling Communist Party – which attempted to eradicate many of the country’s traditional beliefs when it came to power in 1949 – felt something similar.
In the 1950s the government-affiliated All Women’s Federation of China (AWFC) created the Five Good Families award, which lives on today in Beijing as the Capital Harmonious Family award.
The prize, which includes scholarships and pension supplements, has changed over the years. In the early eighties families could pick up points for “being good at family planning” and later, as the country began loosening the reins on the state-planned economy, points were awarded for “daring to reform”.
But attempts to draw up a new set of criteria have sparked controversy after it emerged that the AWFC wanted to introduce rules stipulating that recipients in the “urban” category should own at least 300 books and a computer with an internet connection, as well as travel and dine out regularly, the Beijing News reported.
Media outlets were soon decrying the changes as too materialistic and even unobtainable for normal families.
“Shopping and tourism have nothing to do with family harmony,” Xinhua suggested.
“According to these rules, family life is for the rich, ordinary people can forget about it, ” weibo user HappyLiangMinmin agreed.
The Guangming Observer also warned that the proposals might “create disharmony by artificially provoking anger at the rich”.
Yet fewer commentators have picked up on the fact that the proposed criteria for assessing “rural” families are even more offensive and condescending.
Under the new rules, rural families are to be rewarded for “basic hygiene knowledge”, an implicit suggestion that most are dirty. Families who “petition without sense” (i.e. register complaints about local government officials) will not make the award shortlist either.
Aside from being clean and quiet, it’s also stipulated that rural family members don’t “engage in superstitious activities, cults or prostitution, gambling and drug abuse”. Strangely for the urbanites no similar criteria are mentioned, even though the vices are far more widely available in cities.
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