Sunday, September 10, 2006

What Price Face?

One of the aspects of modern life in China is the confusion between modern and traditional thinking. My cleaner, XH, has demonstrated a great example of this.

XH was divorced, after her husband ran off with someone else, leaving her alone with her daughter. After the divorce she left her native Sichuan province (and left her 12 year old daughter with relatives) to come to Hangzhou in a bid for a new life - I'm not entirely sure how, but after arriving in Hangzhou my wife found her and recruited her as our cleaner...

So much, so ordinary. Apart from leaving your daughter behind, which people seem to be more accustomed to here, this story could easily have been the same in the UK.

What isn't the same is what follows.

Last year, XH was very excited about the fact that she'd saved up and bought her very own stealth scooter, but after a few days she stopped coming to our house on her new bike and seemed very down. As it turns out, her ex-husband had been to her apartment and, being very fatherly, had said unless she gave him money and the scooter, he would kill their daughter. Not surprisingly she conceded.

What surprised me was that a couple of months later he appeared at our house to look for XH. XH admitted to YY that she was now living again with her ex-husband.

She admits that she hates him with a passion, won't share a bedroom with him or cook him meals. She's even 'lent' him all of her savings (about 15 months of her current pay) even though she knows she'll never see it again. We've learnt of at least one use for the money as he was kind enough to tell her he'd been to see a prostitute only last week.

Yet, despite the fact the relationship has completely broken down, she won't leave him or kick him out. The reason for this, apparently, is purely to preserve her 'face' with her neighbours as they would, apparently, think she was a 'bad' woman for leaving her husband.

I'm aware of mad situations in the UK where people, for a variety of reasons, stay with people who abuse them, but to be at the point of genuinely violently hating someone and staying with them solely because the neighbours would talk about you behind your back seems very peculiar to me.

There's no love, there's no loyalty, there's only face.

To me it seems that even the face problem could be so easily solved by simply moving somewhere else - given that she's done that before you'd think it would make sense but before it wasn't her 'fault' as he left her but it would be if she now left him but, apparently, I simply don't understand. Which is true.

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