The Significance of the Family in the East Asian Thought
The word family has multiple meanings, definitions, and values in numerous cultures, religions, and societies. However, in most cases, it is a relationship of people who care about each other and are involved in the process of teaching and bringing up children. Analyzing the significance of the family in a certain society requires the proper understanding of its meaning. The most entrenched desire of most human beings is to have a happy marriage to the person who deeply loves and care. People seek the ways to share their dreams, hopes, and fortunes, to experience the most intimate aspects of the life. A happy marriage is usually blessed with the respectful, successful, and caring children who create an idealistic picture of the universal dream. Every person wants to live the life to produce the best results. The family values and significance of marriage greatly depend on the personal, religious, cultural, social, and political factors. The importance of the family differs from one country to another and tends to be altered due to a constant process of globalization, development, and improvement. The family significance for the East Asian society remains strong despite the Western influences and changes in people’s lifestyles.
The East Asian society has a distinct structure of a traditional family. Families in such countries as Korea, Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan tend to be male-dominated. A female leaves the house of her parents and usually lives with the husband. In the case a husband is the first son in his family, the couple lives with his parents. Traditionally, women have a strictly limited independence within their families. However, globalization, modernization, and development have been changing the social system of these countries and bringing more freedom and autonomy to the modern East Asian women. Therefore, in the 20th century, the position of females in this society greatly changed (Hollingsworth, n. d., p. 29).
Most people from the East Asian countries consider family “a group of people who are devoted to the same ideal and who form among themselves relationships which are like those of a large family” (Yao, 2000, p. 27). The family relationships turn around the relationships between the children and their parents, the old and young, husband and wife. The main aim of such relationships is to fulfill the responsibilities to each other showing sincerity and conscience. The East Asian family is in the basis of the human community. Therefore, the harmonious relationships within the family result in a harmonious and peaceful society. Harmonization of the family relationships is obtained through the cultivation of mutual responsibilities between the family members (Yao, 2000, p. 178). It is believed that the East Asian family is a cooperation of harmony and intimate mutual affection. Harmony takes a high place within the family values. It means that each family member strives to interact and live harmoniously with the others.
Males are highly valued in the Asian society. The families prefer to have sons rather than daughters as they carry on the family lineage. The role of females is dependent on the husband’s family and his will. Their main duty is to bear children, perform domestic tasks, and care about the husband and aging relatives. Traditionally, women are responsible for the well-being and upbringing of children. A mother is expected to sacrifice herself and be completely devoted to her children and husband. The fathers begin to take part in the child’s life after the age of three making investments in education and socialization. Men also have the extended responsibilities concerning the family life. They have to handle all family affairs, protect the property, and ensure financial stability.
The extremely close relations between a mother and her children are a mean that incorporates all values and beliefs. The increased child’s dependence on the mother lasts until the period of adolescence. The prime value of most East Asian children in emotional state that is considered central in creating loyalty and dependence, devotion, and ability to sacrifice on the behalf of the new family members. The children’s relational value is one of the strongest factors that greatly influence the family institution. People seek children because of the increased need in communication, caretaking, and reputation.
Children usually live with their parents until they marry. Therefore, they should be obedient and follow their parents’ advice. Despite the fact that some modern families form nuclear units, most of them still live in the households that unite several generations. Such huge devotion to the family and its values are in the center of Confucius’ teachings.
The governments of the East Asian countries have long considered their traditional family life and family values a big advantage over the European and Western marriage systems. However, this issue is no longer the case due to the substantial social changes in the Asian population. The modern pace of life, globalization, and increased development have initiated the change of the East Asian values. Until recent times, the family values in Asia were stronger than in the European countries and the US. It was one of the key reasons for the economic success of many Asian countries.
The changes that happen within the Asian marriages are different from the Western ones. In most Asian countries, marriage remains a widespread practice, and there are fewer cases of divorce. This situation is contrary to the Western marriages that often end in divorce. However, the marriage rates have been falling in the East Asian countries because today, people postpone tying themselves with the family bonds. The marriage age has risen around the globe, and this tendency has also influenced the Asian family values. In East Asia, this increase is particularly notable, as people prefer to marry later than in most Western countries. Therefore, the average marriage age in some East Asian countries is 30 for women and 32-33 for men. Many Asians do not marry at all. 30-35% of Japanese women are unmarried at the age of 30 while more than 15% of these women remain single forever. A similar situation is in Taiwan where 20% of women are single in their late 30s, and more than half of them will never marry at all. In some cities, the non-marriage rates are particularly striking. For example, in Singapore, almost 30% of women remain single; in Tokyo, the number reaches 21% while in Bangkok, 20% (Hollingsworth, n. d., p. 30-33).
The female retreat from marriage is often explained by the fact that women tend to go into the workplace. In East Asia, it is difficult to combine employment and marriage. Traditionally, women care about their husbands, children, and parents. Despite the fact that it is possible to combine these two roles successfully, the burden of most Asian women is particularly heavy. However, the employment opportunities for the Asian women increased their financial independence. In the modern East Asian families, the financial matters have also become a part of the women’s responsibilities. Male preference has substantially decreased, and women began to take central positions in the family.
Education has also added to the change of the family values in the East Asian countries. Educated women do not hurry to marry. Therefore, highly educated females often remain single. However, the decreased marriage rates in East Asia are the cause of social problems. As a rule, local people do not invest much in pensions and social protection possibilities as traditionally, the family takes care of the ageing relatives. Moreover, the marriage decline is blamed for the substantially decreased birth rate. It results in numerous demographic problems, rapid aging of the population in particular. In addition, there is a belief that the marriage socializes men as it means the lower testosterone levels and decreased criminal behavior. Therefore, the decreased marriage rate translates to the increased crime rate.
Despite the fact that globalization and western influence have brought changes into the East Asian family, these changes are not substantial in all areas. However, the family values of Korea and China have been greatly altered. The relational and emotional values of children have still been extremely essential and are in line with the traditional values followed by the Confucianists.
The family traditions of East Asia are based on the Confucianism. Cultural and social development of this region has been influenced by the Confucian philosophy. The main family values are respect for the elderly, harmonious relationships between a father and a son, a husband and a wife, a brother and a sister. The Confucian teaching suggests the increased respect for the experience and wisdom of the elderly.
In terms of emotional ties, the family relations presuppose voluntary association. Respect, care, obligation, and duty towards one’s family is a good indicator of the traditional family values. Sharing family values in East Asia is a basic principle of responsibilities, duties, devotion, obligations, and respect to the family members. Traditions and loyalty still remain in the core of marriage and family values.
Therefore, the traditional family values in the East Asia thought have undergone some changes. There is an altered undersigning perception of the family life, roles, and devotion. Women have become more independent; today, they help their husbands to support the family financially. The education and Western influences have changed the people’s understanding of the traditional family. However, the family is still of great significance in all East Asian countries, and the family values are in the center of any social relationships.