Living & Values -- Way of Life
The Chinese Way of Life is quite unique and very different from that of Western cultures in both Traditional and Modern China. Come and take a look!
Traditional Way of Life
Like all societies of the past, Traditional China had a very distinct class system. There was a very wealthy upper class as well as a poor, peasant class, and each lived their own separate ways.
How the Rich Lived
In ancient China, it was very easy to tell who was rich. From head to toe, the wealthiest had the finest clothes. Members of the royal family and high-ranking officials dangled jade, gold, or silver bracelets from their arms. They ate more and better-tasting food and had more leisure time. China's richest man was the emperor. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, the emperor lived in the Forbidden City, the 9,999-building Imperial Palace.
The empress' palace was called the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility, while the emperor's was known as the Palace of Celestial Purity. No one could enter the Gate of Celestial Purity except the emperor. The empress, her female servants, and other members of her royal household lived in palaces behind the gate, but they couldn't enter or exit through the same gate as the emperor.
Although fashions in men's and women's clothes changed over time, the fabric they wre made of did not. The rich wore silk. It was a status symbol and in some dynasties only the rich were allowed to wear it. During the Qing Dynasty, men and women wore robes tied at the waist with a large sash. Wealthy women wore silk slippers with wooden shoes.
The practice of binding the feet of young girls with long strips of cloth began among the rich during the Song Dynasty. Foot binding stopped the growth of the feet and was very painful. Tiny feet forced women to take small steps. Because small feet were admired, foot binding spread to other classes of society. However, farm girls, who were needed in the fields, escaped this torture. The custom died out in the early 1900's.
the Peasant Poor
While the rich lived a life of ease, the poor worked very hard. Few could read or write. Most were farmers, living on small plots of land. Some owned their land, but other worked for rich landowners, giving them part of each harvest. Poor familites sometimes sold their daughter to be servants of the rich. Even in good times, farmer kept little of their crops. Their work helped feed everyone else in society. When crops failed because of drought or floods, farmers risked losing their land.
In Northern China, the poor ate wheat noodles, steamed bread, and bean curd. In the south, rice was the staple of the diet. Meals that included meat were rare. The poor ate their food in small bowls. Along with their meals they drank green tea. In the dry, colder north, the farmer's main crops were millet, wheat, and barley. In the warmer, wetter south, farmers grew rice in flooded fields called paddies.
While a rich person's house was often made of wood with a tiled roof, the poor made do with mud and straw. A sunken pit in the center of the house held a heating and cooking fire. Many built their houses partially underground to keep them warmer in the winter.
Workers did not have to worry about getting enough exercise. With few tools to help them with their chores, they did most jobs by hand or by foot. Some spent long hours pushing pedals which turned a large wheel that brought water up a wooden channel and into the fields.
As for clothing, women wore simple wool garments in winter and cotton in summer. They never wore silk. Peasant men wore baggy pants made of hemp with a loose cotton shirt. Both wore shoes made of straw. Once children were old enought to walk, they wore child-size versions of their parents' clothes.
Family life has always been extremely important to Chinese culture as Chinese lived in large family units. As many as 100 or more relatives lived together under the rule of the oldest male. The ideal was "five generations under one roof." However, those who lived this way were mainly families of rich rural landowners, wealthy merchants, and government officials. Among the common people, most households consisted of only parents and children, but some also included grandparents and uncles.
Chinese families traditionally valued sons far more than daughters. A husband could divorce his wife if she failed to give birth to sons. In some cases, daughters were killed at birth because they were considered useless, for females could not continue the family name. Only men were expected to work outside the home as wives stayed home to do housework, cook, and attend to the children.
Relationships within families were extremely formal in Traditional China. Family honor was emphasized greatly as members of the family, especially of the younger generation, were expected to "know their place" in society and to give the family name a good reputation. Parents also expected their children to show unquestioning obedience. A father could legally kill his children if they disobeyed him. Marriages were arranged by parents, much of which were decided when the children were infants. Most brides and grooms did not see or know each other until the wedding day.
Modern Way of Life
Today, the way of life in China is not different at all from anywhere else in the world due to Western influence. You can see in China today modern apartment complexes and towering high-rise buildings as well as modern style homes. Clothing in China is very similar to that of the Western cultures now.
However, tradition still lingers in all Chinese households and societies all over the world. In older neighborhoods, rural mud and straw houses can still be seen, and in rural areas the traditional way of life are still very alive. And although the way of life now is very modernized, traditional values of family importance and reputation still is felt by all families.
Today, the Chinese live in smaller family units, usually only with parents and children, and sometimes grandparents. Almost all adults have a job, male or female. In many families, a grandparents looks after the house and children during the day, and more and more children attend nursery school and kindergarten so that mothers can be free to work.
Today, girls as well as boys are valued. Women now do many kinds of work outside the home. Many young households share in the shopping, housecleaning, cooking, and caring for the children to show that they believe the sexes are equal. Some of the older generations may still show slight hope for a grandson or great-grandson and disappointment if the outcome is a granddaughter, but in the end they love and value each with equality. However, equality between the sexes is more widely accepted in the cities than in the countryside.
Relationships have become more democratic as parents no longer expect their children to show unquestioning obedience; however, most Chinese parents today, although much more lenient and reasonable, still are strict and expect a good deal of respect. As for marriage, young people today generally choose their own marriage partners on the basis of shared interests and mutual attraction. However, parents still play a role in arranging some marriages, especially in rural areas. Any couple today would at least consult their parents about such a major decision.