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The difficult art of letting go

By Raymond Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2014-03-22 07:41

The difficult art of letting go
Pang Li / China Daily

The difficult art of letting go

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The way some Chinese parents shower love on their grown-up children can be smothering, but from an outsider's perspective it may look like a black comedy eliciting laughs and tears in equal measure.

When you spot a Mickey Mouse actor at a public recreation area, who do you think is inside the costume? A child, perhaps? No, it's an adult because the figure is much taller and moves about with energy. Never in my wildest imagination would I say an elderly woman.

But Yang Zhiqiao is 75 and retired. She dons the Mickey Mouse costume in Luoyang, Henan province, to earn some pocket money from passersby, which she saves for her son. "My son is 40 and is still single. I don't want to be a burden to him. I want to help him financially so he can get a wife," the Henan native says.

According to an unrelated news story, parents in a Beijing suburb are getting up at 5 am each day and standing in line for the shuttle buses. The early birds have developed this habit not for themselves, but for their grownup children, who work in downtown Beijing. The youngsters have to spend four or five hours each day commuting and their parents chip in by waiting in line for them so they can squeeze in an extra half-hour's sleep.

These two examples are among the more exotic things Chinese parents do for their children, but they are a perfect reminder of the generational ties that bind a Chinese family. The parental sacrifice is traditionally embodied in a type of melodrama in which the mother, in a desperate attempt to find money for food or school tuition for her children, starts to prostitute herself. This secret is inadvertently discovered by one of the children, who feels ashamed and blames the mother. In the end, the truth dawns on him and a feeling of gratitude gushes out of his heart.

There are countless versions of this tale in Chinese cinema or other popular art forms from the past century.

The difficult art of letting go

Is it an equivalent of a mother in the United States who forsakes her career and turns into a soccer mom? Or is it sacrilegious to make this cultural comparison? Parents everywhere love their children, but the manifestation of that love can vary from culture to culture. What is considered acceptable in one country might be perceived as outrageous mollycoddling in another.

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