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Under One Roof

11 November 2006

Four Generations under One Roof
- one of the greatest Chinese novels written by Lao She

China used to be a society that esteemed highly the value of big family with several generations living under one roof.

But since earlier last century, this thousands-year old custom has been rendered into oblivion in the urban areas, and by the end of the millennium, it began to fade in the vast countryside. Yet oddly, two decades into the era of one child per family, at least in theory (in reality, it has little affect in countryside and does not apply to minority ethnic people), big family quietly makes a comeback.

When the only childs start to get married and have their own only child, many of them keep living with their parents, but with a modern twist, that is, instead of living with HIS parents, they opt to live with HERS. In other words, a man marries into a woman’s family.

It is said that there are three reasons for embracing this kind of living arrangement, which is particularly popular in Shanghai.

The first reason lies squarely in the domain of economics. In recent ten years, Shanghai has been transformed beyond the recognition, with splendid new commercial skyscrapers and luxury real estates emerging everywhere. The transformation, however, is often not to the benefit of the ordinary local population, but some corrupted government officials, many greedy property developers and a certain number of foreign architects who have little respect for and even less knowledge about Chinese culture and conditions. Unbalanced growth as such pushed into formation by former Shanghai chief Chen Liangyu and his associates has resulted in relatively high vacancy rate for office buildings and luxury villas on the one hand, while on the other hand, young families finding it harder and harder to afford their own nest. That leaves living in parents’ home after marriage becomes a better, sometimes the only, option for a lot of young couples.

The second reason has much to do with China’s one child policy. Grown up as only child and spoiled by their parents and grandparents, a great number of young Chinese couples lack basic skills to run their own family. Surely it helps if their parents can keep doing housework for them.

Finally, it is said due to the gradual return to the traditional social values. Respecting and caring for one’s parents (and grandparents) are once again considered as admirable virtue, and many young people are keen to live with their elderly so they can take the best care of them.

And the last reason may have profound implications, particularly in the country with its population that is rapidly aging.

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