Jean and Matt’s English Class 11

Ninmen Hao,

in the last few classes, we talked about adventures and expeditions. In today’s class, we’re going to stay closer to home and talk about romantic relationships and family, and how people choose partners. We’ll think about how to explain modern relationship choices in Chinese everyday life to foreigners, and compare Chinese and Western views.

First, let’s do this exercise on relationships from the pre-intermediate Face2Face book:

a. Match a verb in A to a Phrase in B

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b. Working in small groups, use the phrases from this table to make a sentence about a relationship (it can be real or imaginary).

c. Let’s share your sentences with the class. We’ll try to guess whether the statements are true or false.

Now let’s look at some intergenerational family relations through the following sketch. Let’s look at some of the unfamiliar words it uses, then we can read it together and discuss.

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OK, let’s do the reading together.

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Young people at the Family Gathering

The situations below describe a series of family attitudes faced by young Chinese adults at New Year family gatherings.

1.Upon arriving at the family gathering, seldom-seen older relatives will ask: Are you married and do you have a child?

2. If you have a spouse, then older relatives will want to know everything about them, especially how much money they earn.

3. If you have a child, then the child will have to perform for them, for example, by singing, dancing, telling jokes or demonstrating their ability to speak English.

4. In contrast, if you are married but do not have a child, then older relatives will urge you to get pregnant that very day; and, if you are not married then they will beseech you to get married and have a child without delay.

5. If you have a boyfriend/girlfriend, you will be told to strike while the iron is hot rather than risk rejection by your partner and being unable to find another partner, then ultimately becoming old and unmarried, and socially ostracized as someone who obviously has a problem. The following discussion about the inevitable awfulness of becoming a social outcast should you delay in marrying will make you promise to register to get married the following day.

6. If you do not have a boyfriend/girlfriend then you will be told to find one immediately because being single contravenes the laws of nature, civilization and science, and is basically an anti-revolutionary crime that harms the well-being of one’s parents, grandparents, Chinese society, the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese nation!

7. Your older relatives will conclude by offering to introduce you straightaway to a suitable person whom you should promptly marry, and have a child with, to stop everyone from worrying that you will grow old alone and be forced to beg for food on the streets.

do your parents push youThese situations were jokingly called Chinese-style forced marriage (Zhongguo shi bihun).  It suggests that young adults are often reluctant to attend New Year family gatherings because, unless they are married with a child, their older relatives will compel them to become so.

Pause for thought: some reading questions (work in small groups first and then discuss with the class)

a. In the reading about family gathering, there are at least six words that indicate time in some way. Can you tell me what they are? Do you know what they mean?

b. What are some of the expectations that older relatives have of single young adult children in the reading above?

c. What are some of the expectations that older relatives have of young adult children’s girlfriends and boyfriends in the reading above?

d. What are some of the expectations that older relatives have of married young adult children in the reading above?

e. The reading is meant to be a little bit humorous but also true. What do you think? Is it accurate?

The character of young people today

Let’s look at the list of adjectives below and consider whether they apply to the young people you know (perhaps, those in your family, or in friend’s families, or more generally).

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a. Working in your small groups see if you can use one or more of the adjectives from this table to describe a young person (it can be someone you know or an imaginary young person).

b. Make a sentence using one or more of the adjectives to describe your real or imagined young person. Try to give an example of how the adjective describes the person.

For example: “My nephew Nathan is very shy. He always hides in the kitchen at family gatherings, and never speaks unless spoken to.”

c. Share your sentence with the class. Again, let’s see if we can guess: are you describing a real or imaginary young person.

d. Let’s discuss the younger generation in general. Which of the adjectives from the table above describe young people today? Are there other adjectives or phrases we could use?

Love, money, responsibility

Let’s read this abridged version of an article from the New York Times by Didi Kirsten Tatlow, which discusses the relationship between love and money in Chinese society. Note that the writer is giving an American point of view. While you listen think about whether you agree with her points.

To begin, let’s look at some of the words and phrases that may be unfamiliar before we start the first section of the reading.

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OK, now let’s read part one of the article together, then have a discussion.

Money really can buy you love in China — or at least that seems to be a common belief …

Many people seem to think that the ideal mate is the one who can provide a home and a car, …feelings are less important than money.

However, not everyone thinks it is a good thing. Some …have asked the question: What is love in an age of breakneck economic growth?

Many people were shocked when a female contestant  on a popular TV dating show, ma nuoFei Cheng Wu Rao said: I’d rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle.” But others insisted that the contestant, Ma Nuo, … was merely expressing a social reality.

Because of high property prices in recent years, many people in Beijing and other cities accept the idea that a woman will pursue a relationship with a man only if he already owns an apartment.

Feng Yuan, a 26-year-old who works in a government education company, tried to set up a friend with a man she thought suitable.

When she heard he didn’t own an apartment, she refused even to meet him, recalled Ms. Feng. She said, ˜What’s the point? Without an apartment, love isn’t possible.

Pause for Thought: some questions about the article (work in small groups first and then discuss with the class)

a. Is Ma Nuo’s attitude typical, or unusual?

b. Is it better to “cry in a BMW” than “laugh on a bicycle”? What do you think? Can you tell us why?

c. What are some of the modern pressures involved in finding a partner and getting married discussed in the article? Are there other costs? Who contributes to paying for the costs?

Once again, let’s look at some of the words and phrases that may be unfamiliar before we start the second section of the reading.

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OK, now let’s read the second section of the article.

“In China, Money Can Often Buy Love” (part two)

Fueling these attitudes … is anxiety among those who feel they .. lack.. the opportunities and contacts to make big money while all around them others prosper and prices soar.

The situation can be hard, as a 26-year-old events organizer learned.

The man … earns about 4,000 renminbi a month, making even a modest apartment in Beijing unaffordable. Beijing apartments can cost about ten times what they had cost ten years ago.

Instead, he tried to impress his girlfriend of three years by saving for a year to buy an iPhone. The newer iPhone had just gone on sale. But that was beyond his means.

The phone was not enough. Last week, she left him, saying that her parents wanted her to find a richer boyfriend.

He is heartbroken, believing that his girlfriend truly loved him. Why else did she live with me for three years? However, he also said I … understand that her parents want their daughter to find someone who can give her a better life.

The only way to find love, he said, is to become rich. The most important thing for me now is to work and earn a living, he said. I need to grow stronger, support myself and my parents, and then my future girlfriend can have a good life.

Pause for Thought: some questions about the article (work in small groups first and then discuss with the class)

a. Imagine you are matchmaking for a nephew, niece, granddaughter or grandson. What sort of person do you want to recommend for them as a potential husband or wife? What qualities should they possess? What level of income should they have?

b. How would you describe the attitudes of the young people described in this article? Would you use the words the journalist uses, or are there some other words we could use?

Once again, let’s look at some of the words and phrases that may be unfamiliar before we start the second section of the reading.

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OK, now let’s read the third (and last) section of the article.

“In China, Money Can Often Buy Love” (part three)

In a newspaper interview, film director Zhang Yimou. urged young people to think about their values.

“I don’t think economic advancement and our yearning for love are mutually exclusive,” he said.

Mr. Zhang … comes from an older generation that remembers the more egalitarian … Maoist era, before the economic changes that led to strong competition for material advancement.

uthtHis … film, Under the Hawthorn Tree, depicts the innocent love between a teacher, Jing Qiu, and a geologist, Lao San. Set in 1975 toward the end of the Cultural Revolution … the film shows the teacher spending quite a lot of time smiling on her sweetheart’s bicycle. Love is the thing, it concludes.

Ms. Feng, who had failed to find a match for her apartmentless friend, said the demands that many Chinese women make on prospective partners reflected weakness, not power. Lower in status, they fear not getting what they want in life, and look to men to provide it.

Women are very dependent,” she said. I blame them. Why can’t they work hard and buy a house together with their man? But very few women today think like that.

Few Chinese men do either. For the 26-year-old events organizer, losing his love to money was justifiable.

We didn’t need to waste time on a relationship that was doomed to vanish, he said.

Pause for Thought: some questions about the article (work in small groups first and then discuss with the class)

e.) Is Zhang Yimou’s film Under the Hawthorn Tree correct to suggest that there was a more innocent time in which love was purer (and not materialistic)? How were relationships different in the Maoist era?

f) In the article, Ms. Feng suggests that young women seek wealthy partners because they are weak and want to be dependent. Is she right? What do you think? Can you tell us why?

g) How do you think attitudes to love, romance and money in China and the West differ (if they do differ)? How would you compare them?

OK, now let’s look at the next exercises, which are based on the reading and exercises in Face2Face, pages 6-7.

Happiness: what makes you happy?

In listening to you in the last few classes I’ve come to realize that many of you do a lot of activities like swimming, table tennis (ping-pong), hiking, learning new things (like playing piano), and tai-chi. Let’s start this section on things that make us happy with the following exercises (1-2).

  1. Match the verbs in A to the words/phrases in B.

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2. Now, working in your small groups, discuss the following questions:

a) Which of the things in the table above do you do often, usually, sometimes or never?

b) What other activities do you like to do? Why do you like them?

3)  Now let’s share your answers in the class discussion.

4) A. Look at the reasons for happiness given in the list from a New Scientist study below. Working individually, put them in order from most important to least important. You can number them 1-10. I will walk around the class and ask you give me a copy of your ranking when you are finished. 

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B. Working in your small groups, compare the lists you made. Discuss your reasons for ranking them the way you have.

C. Let’s work through the list together in the class and use your rankings to give each item an average score. We can then see what the general view is and compare our individual views. 

D. What other things might be important or more important to your happiness?

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