January 16, 2013

Compliments From Parents

Ming Tang, Yan Bai, Grace Tang, Ming's  parent...

Since I started art classes in 2009, I have very few American students, however, the cultural difference doesn't escape even in such an unbalanced proportion, that is how they compliment their kids: American parents's compliments were loud, directly made to their kids, Chinese parents' compliments mostly were not loud, and usually not directly to kids, but to me, such as "oh, she seems doing better," "looks like he made some progress."

Of course, I hardly heard any criticism made openly, but I know in China, I would. It is widely believed in Chinese culture that humans were born "bad", so criticism is constantly needed. By Confuciansim virture is learned and vice is always a born nature. That's why in China, education mean "discipline". It is also a custom in China that when kids doing good, people naturally praise their parents and teachers, and when kids did something bad, people would condemn kids alone.

Yes, Confucius also said something like "it is the father's fault if the son did not behave well", but that's just some old cliche that nobody really believe in real life. What is really believed by Chinese people, now and then, is that compliment definitely will spoil kids. That's why most Chinese parents just don't give compliments to their kids. In case that compliments are desperately necessary, they must be presented in very reserved way, such as indirectly, or spoken out with seriousness, or better followed by criticism, just to make sure kids know that they are not really that good.

Also, I believe generally nature plays a rule of "balance" - we treat people by how we are treated. Most of these parents were treated harshly when they were little, so they naturally get so "stingy" on compliments - which they did not have much "saving" in their own emotional account.

Not only compliment, according to Chinese tradition, LOVE, should also be expressed in reserved way. I kind of understand, if we were born "evil", how could we deserve good thing? I myself as example, I don't remember being ever held by either of my parents. My father would pretend he did not see me if he encountered me in public areas. Through all my adult life, I had not touched my parents until my last visit back in China, which was 5 years ago, when my parents both were too old and sick (and if I did not hold their arms, they probably would fall down). There is a book out there called "Chinese People - a race without hugs". My personal experience certainly proves that. But I know this is not just about my experience,   every Chinese person knew this is true, despite there plenty of exceptions.

I believe we human are such animals, that if anything that is essential to our nature was deprived at the beginning of our life, such as foods, love, more likely than not, we would struggle with this issue for the rest of our life. I don't remember where I heard a story about one person who had a "hobby" to store breads everywhere in his house only because he was once almost staved when he was a child. Same as our confidence, or self-esteem, if one was not proved by her/his parents from beginning, he/she might spent all his/her life to look for prove. So I believe, psychological wise, one of important reasons for the overwhelmingly diffused social competitions, insatiable need of career success, money and fame among Chinese people*, really stem from most of Chinese people's childhood: lack of proof from parents - our first connection with the world.

*Of course I do not mean that this social phenomenon is exclusively occur in Chinese culture, but I do mean that in Chinese culture, it appears to be overwhelmingly disseminated.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Fantastic post, Yunyi. It's impossible to spoil a child with too much love, encouragement, or physical affection. Crying babies need to be picked up and held first and always; that's the only way they know how to communicate discomfort, hunger, or loneliness. Then again, I'm a very warm person from a warm, affectionate family. I've definitely observed "coldness" in other cultures that embrace group identity over that of the individual. The culture of criticism is foreign to me, as I'm more interested in connecting with people than confronting them.

  2. There are so many ways in which cultures express themselves - it's too bad that your experiences with the Chinese culture have dealt you some bitter blows. I grew up thinking that the older German generations were also very undemonstrative with both affection and praise - I don't know if that is true of all, but it certainly was my own experience. How sad. I agree with you - whatever the deficit in early life, we seem driven consciously or subconsciously to fill the gaps, and those drives are certainly very strong!

  3. @Melody, I also heard that about German culture. I do believe culture express themselves differently, in a general level. Of course this doesn't say that we are not made in different materials. I think the cultural differences were made historical context, but we all humans, we all have similar reactions toward outside stimulation. Maybe that how we connected.

  4. @kris, thanks for your compliment! I agree, children would never spoiled by true love!

  5. Fascinating post, Yun Yi. It's always interesting to me how different cultures treat their kids and how that translates into how they end up as adults. I learned something today. :)