As foreigners in Shanghai, we understand the difficulties with assimilation: if you’re not from Shanghai you are different, no matter where you’re from. In all honesty, though, it may be easier to be a foreigner in Shanghai than it is to be an waidiren, an outsider from another part of China.
JF Daily has an interesting opinion piece written by a woman from another part of China who married a man from Shanghai, detailing all of the subsequent grief wrought from such an… inauspicious? arrangement.
Apparently, Shanghai families just don’t know how to get along with people from other places, especially as in-laws. The poor woman was immediately made the scapegoat of the extended family’s problems, and a host of sob stories follow: estrangement from the family, indifference towards her pregnancy, publicly embarrassing her every time they go out to dinner.
Of course, the woman bears it all with remarkable resolve, trying to break through their prejudices time and time again. This passage is most telling:
Shanghai’s mother was in poor health, and there was a time when she had to spend a few days in the hospital. I worried that no one would look after his father, and so every week I would take a taxi to his apartment, child in hand, and clean up for him. Old people don’t have water heaters: after cleaning in the middle of winter, my hands would be frozen stiff.
On one occasion, I went and found him just to chat. The result? He spoke to me in a very calm voice about his son: he had a good salary, good character, good conditions, and there were many acquaintances that had wanted to set up their daughters with him. My husband refused all of them, but his father just couldn’t believe that it was me his son had chosen for a wife! He was certain that it was because I diligently pursued “success” with his son. Knowing we were to be married caused him to lose sleep, and he became depressed over worrying about what would happen to his son. When I heard all of this, I became really upset. But now that I make almost as much money as my husband does, I’ve unexpectedly come a step up in the eyes of his parents!
How Shanghai of him: unabashedly berate his son’s wife about her personal failings, but make up for it by admiring her ability to make money. Sadly, these stories of in-law grief seem all too common. We have a friend from Shandong who happily married a Shanghai girl and had a baby, which naturally brought the parents directly into their relationship: it took less than a month after the birth of their daughter to start the divorce proceedings.
The question of foreignness is a pretty fascinating topic that hits close to home, for a lot of us. We truly marvel at the tension between xenophobia and the love of money: it seems scarily emblematic of many of the issues Shanghai will face in the upcoming years, as both foreigners and money flow into the city at breakneck speed.
Photo from Xinrenli