One Sunday morning we sat in a park and watched families relaxing. Children skipped about or chased each other. Parents kept an eye on them, while talking to grandparents. The grandparents, in their turn, were unpacking large baskets of food for the children. There were photos being taken all around. The Family was relaxing into a deep sense of the universality of this scene.
I had to knock it down. We had already discussed the fact that China enforces a single child policy. So I followed the logic: each child grows up with two parents and four grandparents lavishing all their attention on her or him. This leads to the lovely scene we saw before us.
What takes some time to sink in is the rest of the logic. The child has no brother or sister, there is no rivalry at home, no need to learn to accommodate to a sibling, no lessons from parents on how to deal with disagreements. But more: no uncles or aunts, no cousins. No slightly older kid to help you grow up, no younger kid to whom you are a hero for a few years. No adults who disagree with your parents when they try to discipline you. Families in China are totally different from those in India, or in the rest of the world.
The Family and I grew up in a family full of aunts and uncles, forever changing our plans and putting everything into disarray. We grew up with cousins with whom we formed a secret society of non-adults inside the family. The most important part of this was the difference during one’s teenage years. As teenagers grow apart from parents and grandparents, the bonds with siblings and cousins deepens; they keep you tied firmly to a family. None of that in China! Behind the universality of human love that we see every day, there must be gulfs of difference modulating its expression.
What replaces these bonds? Do childhood friendships run deep? Are college friends a different family? The cracks in our understanding run out through everything we see before us. It will take time to understand China.