Opinion / Raymond Zhou

Love isn't blind

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily) Updated: 2016-02-22 08:37

Love isn't blind

When the nation was gripped by the unsubstantiated story of a city woman fleeing her boyfriend's backwater of a hometown, it showed the stumbling blocks to upward mobility, which can be social, psychological or economic.

Facts and fiction tend to mingle, sometimes to such a seamless degree that you never know where one ends and the other starts. If an outrageous story breaks on April 1 or is reported in Onion, you'll interpret it as a satirical take on a real news event or some social phenomenon. But that is assuming one is familiar with the custom of All Fools Day and the all-satire format, an assumption that should not be taken for granted in this age of globalization.

The biggest piece of news that came out of the just past Spring Festival in the vast expanse of the Middle Kingdom is a story that has the strong aura of a hoax.

It started from a first-person account of someone who claimed to be a woman from Shanghai in her late 20s. No professional journalist seems to have successfully contacted her since she posted her article and photo of her experience of a Lunar New Year's Eve dinner.

I feel uncomfortable with identifying the two protagonists as "Shanghai woman" and "Jiangxi man". I don't know their names either, not even nicknames or fictional ones. Since this is a story of pride and prejudice carried to epic proportions, it is unfair to even label a whole metropolis or province as fronts for the two individuals. So, I'll tone down that association by using S and J, or for the sake of convenience, Sandy and Jay, in my discussion.

Now the story itself: Sandy and Jay have been dating for a year. Her parents, who are middle-class Shanghainese, staunchly oppose the relationship because Jay is from a poor village in Jiangxi province, and though with a regular job in the big city, does not seem to have much prospects for a car or an apartment. But Sandy has not budged. She admits that part of the reason is Jay's good looks.

When Jay asked her to go to Jiangxi for the big holiday, she decided to go - again, against her parents' objections. But her journey turned out to be a rude awakening for her.

After long hours on a train, bus and ox cart, she entered his village of birth. When she was served the big dinner for the Lunar New Year's Eve, she could no longer take it.

As her photo shows, the room is not properly lit; the chopsticks are of uneven length; the dishes look like a jumble and are served in steel basins instead of plates.

Sandy wanted to leave right then and break up with Jay. She ended up publicizing her account online, which triggered a tidal wave of feedback and national debate.

Now, I'll repeat: Nobody can guarantee the veracity of her story. We don't even know it's a "she" behind it as some suggested it could be a ploy of some organization. But part of the reason it went viral and for so long, is it has a ring of inner truth.

So many Chinese have followed it and commented on it because it is not only melodramatic but it reflects their understanding of social conflicts. It resonated with me so strongly that 10 days after I first came upon it I still have not given up on the topic.

I know of a relative who got into a similar relationship 40 years ago. The woman is a resident of a small town and the man of a nearby rural area. So, the gap was much smaller than that between Sandy and Jay, but that was in an age when the residence permit system was much more rigid. So, it was like inter-caste dating. Even though she loved him, there was a constant put-down and humiliation because of the class difference.

From the moment I could understand such things, there was never any equality to speak of. Every time members of his family, such as brothers and sisters, came to town for a visit, it would be a clash of life-styles, which would look ludicrous in retrospect since the townsfolk were not much farther from subsistence back then.

Throughout history, the Chinese have placed an inordinate emphasis on "households matching each other" in marriage. Sandy and Jay would be seen by most as ill-matched due to their disparity in economic status. Mind you, not their own earnings, but those of their parents.

Of course, the balance could be corrected if he is much richer or possesses movie-star looks or has climbed up the social ladder to a rung that her family would envy.

Chinese arts and literature are chock-full of stories of lovers conquering that divide, which to me proves the norm is otherwise. In Jay's case, a small uptick in the looks department is not enough to enable him to vault over the invisible but enormous chasm.

You may ask: Where does love figure in this equation? Shouldn't it be the decisive factor? Technically, yes, but in reality it can never be so pure. So, I would not judge Sandy for ending the relationship with Jay. It is in her right. But that's not saying she did not commit errors. Actually she tried to use one blunder to justify another.

First, she should not have agreed to go back to his hometown. In Chinese tradition, the decision to meet his parents for that particular occasion almost amounted to an engagement. It's not written but it's implicit.

She should have asked herself a string of tough questions before embarking on that trip: What if I don't like his parents or other family members? What if I hate his place of birth? What if I'm not accustomed to the weather, food, lodging etc? She should have gone only if the answer was: "It doesn't matter because I love him".

Once there, she should have known the propriety of being a guest, let alone a potential daughter-in-law. Generally his folks would have put in their best to make her happy. To expect them to serve her with a Shanghai standard fare is unrealistic. Unless they tried to gag her or do other immoral things to her, it would be extremely uncivilized to act the way she did.

I have been to some of the most poverty-stricken areas of the country and, to be fair, living standards even in those parts have risen substantially over the past few decades. Of course you can argue the rich-poor gap is wider now that the wealthiest have reached the stratosphere of high life. Beyond a certain level of basic living, a standard of decency should come into play. And I'm not including love, which is a luxury in this equation.

Contact the writer at




Most Viewed Today's Top News