It couldn’t be more obvious that saying “I love you” is the most direct way to express feelings of affection towards another person. It’s a universal language among families, friends, lovers and even human-animal interactions. It’s easy, quick and straight-to-the-point.
However, for many Chinese families, this idea is far from sensible. Parents who have heard their children utter the phrase for the first time were left in shock, responding with questions like (via Global Times):
“What is going on?”
“Are you drunk?”
“Are you pregnant?”
One father even slammed his daughter, “I am going to a meeting, so cut the crap.”
What could explain these families’ distance from such affirmation?
Apparently, speculations point at the nature of Confucius’ teachings and effects of 20th century communism, Business Insider said. Xia Xueluan, a sociologist from Peking University, explained:
“The parents’ responses show that many Chinese are not good at expressing positive emotions. They are used to educating children with negative language.”
Dr. Kaiping Peng, professor at the University of California at Berkeley, spoke of an alternative:
“We didn’t say ‘I love you.’ We said ‘wo xihuan ni‘ (‘I like you’) [to express our deepest romantic feelings].”
According to ChinaFile, Confucian ideals long discouraged romance between spouses and instead favored relationships between men—those of (1) fathers and sons and (2) elder and younger brothers. Women, simply, were cast aside.
The sudden turnaround of relationship conventions following the rise of the Communist Party is another area to look at. While arranged marriages were outlawed, campaigns that encouraged independent decision-making in looking for a spouse often sold the value of shared political identity over romantic attraction.
One result of these fabrics is the apparent, collective belief that actions speak louder than words, hence making any blatant expression of “love” seemingly unreasonable.
Nevertheless, some Chinese parents can still be expressive, China Daily said, although “not very often.”
When is the last time you told someone in the family that you love him/her?