Monday, March 18, 2013

Today was Ma Lei's brother's birthday, but he didn't have much of a celebration.

He and his girlfriend had been in process of getting married, with a big wedding planned for June. He and the girlfriend planned to go today and get their wedding certificate. At the last minute, her parents renewed their demand for money — $15K, on top of the $3K they've already been given — and when Little Brother wouldn't budge, they called off the wedding.

I absolutely knew this was going to happen, way back last summer when the parents first backed down on their demand for a dowry. You may recall that they forced the couple to break up, then supposedly caved in when the daughter cried and cried.

I knew they hadn't given up, they were just biding their time until the eve of the wedding. Those crude little peasant-extortionists figured Ma Lei's family would have to cave in once the wedding had been announced and paid for, guests had been invited, and Face was to be lost.

Thankfully the family didn't back down, even though of course Little Brother is now devastated. At age 25, he thinks there's only one woman in the world for him, and now he's destined to die in miserable solitude.

Although I feel bad for Ma Xiao (Little Brother's name), I couldn't have been happier at the news. I never did like that spoiled little twit girlfriend with the big dumb grin plastered on her face. I didn't even think she was pretty, though on that front I am a minority of one. (It's possible my personal dislike for her biased my assessment.)

Anyway, I think that chapter in his life is over. At this point, if she tried to come back for a third time I don't think anyone in the family would accept her — even if Ma Xiao wanted to take her back. If her family can call off the relationship, then presumably his can, too.

Ma Lei has spent all day on the phone, speaking in harsh and angry tones with family members, friends, and the aggrieved little brother. Her Didi, normally extremely reticent, spent 67 minutes on the phone with her, alternately crying and verbally chopping the girl's family to shreds.

It's instructive to compare Ma Lei with Didi's erstwhile girlfriend. Ma Lei has always been a popular woman, but she's quick to "ma ren" — cuss somebody out — when she thinks they deserve it. She's loving and fiercely loyal to her family, yet perfectly willing to tell her own father he's crazy when she thinks he's doing something foolish.

Ma Lei's father told her flatly "you may not have a foreign boyfriend," the first time she told him about me. For most Chinese girls, that would have been the end of our relationship, but Ma Lei knew what she wanted.

She told him, "Okay, I'll break up with the foreigner, but then I'll never have another boyfriend and I'll never get married." She would've gone through with it, too, and they knew it, so they backed down. It's lucky for everyone involved that her judgment was good, her father and I became best friends, and the match was perfect for everyone.

Ma Lei has said multiple times that, if Little Brother's girlfriend had any moxie, she would've bucked her parents as Ma Lei did.

I told her that her standards are unfair: there may not be another woman in all of China who has her level of fierce independence. I went so far as to say "you think you're Chinese, but you're not. Actually, you're American." At first that made her mad, but she seemed eventually to accept it.

I hadn't wanted to post this story on a public forum, and I told Ma Lei as much. I've posted a lot of bad stuff about life in China recently, and I'm not comfortable with dumping so much on a country that I do actually love in spite of itself. So I had planned to discuss this situation only with a handful of private friends, via email. At first Ma Lei pushed for this: "You shouldn't talk about this on Facebook," she said.

But then after a while, she changed her mind. "You should tell the world about it," she said. "I want everyone to know that Chinese women are no good!"

She doesn't mean it, of course, and neither do I. Chinese women by and large are lovely people with great endurance and tragically heroic integrity. Nonetheless, there is this strain of crass, gutter materialism that cuts right across the genuine traditional virtues that someone like Ma Lei represents.

Unfortunately, Cao Dan (Didi's now ex-fiance) represents a sizable plurality of today's Chinese women. Pretty (I suppose), sweet, unfailingly smiling, useless and unproductive, capable of nothing but a big warm smile. In America, we have a word for this: Bimbo.


  1. Interesting story . . . tragic on one hand, but hopeful on the other. Thank you for sharing.

  2. My wife has several female former classmates in China who have been ripped off by unfaithful husbands. Their story is that Chinese men are generally jerks and have no conscience. Some stories are of unbelievably cold and calculating behavior.
    Sounds like neither Chinese women nor Chinese men are good, if you ask most. I think this is a side effect of a culture that places an emphasis on "face" (ie. perceived status from others) over individual self-worth. Thus conscience and integrity are seen as weaknesses.

  3. AHWest, your points are well-taken. Generally it's the men who are the worst users in China, because (I suspect) they are more steeped in the culture of "Face." But women can be pretty awful, too.

    In this case, it wasn't Cao Dan who was at fault, it was her scheming family (and especially her mother).

  4. I have to say Robert that Ma Lei does share her particular traits with at least one other young Chinese woman.....our future daughter in law. Like Ma Lei she takes no prisoners and is quick to stand up for her own, her family or her friends rights. Its just such a pity that most of them as you said in your article are "bimbos". Its a sad reflection on the modern youth of this country....spoiled, the world owes me and I am out for what I can get... hmm sounds a bit like this generation in the rest of the world too.

  5. Under such pressure integrity can turn turn into diamonds or dissipate.