The Traditional Family Units in America and China


All societies known to man are based on the family unit. The family is a social unit and seemingly
always consists minimally of a married couple and their offspring. Members of a family, particularly
families of parents and small children, usually share a common residence. The family also provides a
learning environment for children until they are able to care for themselves.
The traditional family unit in China is highly patrilineal, which means that the generations are
continued through the male line. A typical household consists of parents, their unmarried daughters, the
sons and the sons' wives and children. As the girls of the family married the family grew smaller because
they would go live with their husband's family. After leaving her family of orientation (the one she is born
into), she is only allowed to communicate with them as much as is allowed by the new husband's family.
The woman would continue to live with her husband's family even if widowed; they remain responsible for
her and her children. The eldest male was always the head of the establishment. A son had to obey his
father's wishes as long as his father was alive; women were obedient to their mother-in-law. A woman did
not really receive any social status until they became a mother-in-law and a grandmother. Also included
with the family would be concubines and their c!
hildren as well as servants and earlier, slaves.
Chinese households functioned as economic, social, and to some extent, religious units (Brown
40).
There are many differences between the Chinese family unit and its typical American counterpart.
In the American culture, the interdependence of human beings is sometimes unclear because of the
emphasis placed on individualism (Brown 31). The family unit can be best measured in a time of great
celebration or crisis in which relations become more clearly defined.
Traditionally, the American family is both patrilineal and matrilineal, since men and women share
equal status. The American family depends on both the women's family and the man's. A typical
household consists of a married couple and their children, although families with extended relatives are not
uncommon. Both children leave the family for their own when they marry. Traditionally, the male is the
head of the family, which is a commonality with their Chinese counterpart. However, if the male dies, his
spouse takes over as head of the family instead of the next eldest male. A son is required to obey his
father's wishes only as long as they live in the same house. Once independent, the young male is under no
obligation to listen to his father. The traditional family in America also function as economic and social
units, but usually do not serve as religious units, which separates them from the Chinese family.