If work or extended travel takes your family to China, it is important to have a working knowledge of Chinese customs and how these customs differ from American customs. This is especially important if you have teenage kids, because Chinese dating and marriage customs can be very different from those in the U.S.
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No Casual Dating
American teenagers are used to a dating culture where neither partner usually considers marriage until both partners are much older. Many American teenagers expect to date several people before they settle down with one person, and they may view dating during their teenage years as primarily for fun. In cities like Beijing and Shanghai, some young people follow Westernized dating customs. Almost everywhere else in China, however, traditional attitudes to dating prevail. Dating is a form of courtship and is not casual. In traditional Chinese culture, boys and girls are introduced to each other in a group social setting. A girl would only agree to go out on a date with a boy if she were willing to consider marriage.
Expectations about gender roles are much more conservative in traditional Chinese culture than in American culture. If an American boy goes out to dinner with a Chinese girl and does not pay for her meal, the locals will view him he as having lost "face" or social status and they will regard him as a poor dating candidate. Similarly, a girl who goes out for dinner with a Chinese boy and offers to pay for his meal or "go Dutch" could be viewed unfavorably. Public displays of affection are much less common in Chinese culture, and the Chinese regard these as much more serious expressions of emotion. If you are invited to meet a date's parents, that is regarded as equivalent to an engagement.
Sex and Marriage
Sex isn't always an easy topic to discuss with teens, but if your teenager is or might be sexually active, it is important for them to understand how different the expectations about sex are likely to be in China than at home. Because dating is a precursor to marriage in traditional Chinese culture, the concept of casual sex is foreign, except among Westernized young people in the largest cities. A Chinese girl with traditional attitudes would not necessarily choose to wait until marriage to have sex with her boyfriend, but she would consider sex to be virtually the same as a promise to get married.
China is a very large country with hundreds of different regional ethnic groups. Each ethnic group has its own customs and traditions about dating and marriage, some of which can differ considerably from those of the majority Han Chinese. For instance, some members of the Moniba ethnic group still follow customs where one woman is married to two or more men. Most ethnic minority groups in China do not traditionally date or marry outside their own group, but be aware that social rules can differ 2. depending on where you are.
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