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Under Pressure: Chinese Full-Time Mothers Demand Time Off

With the number of stay-at-home mothers on the rise in China, so are the challenges that come with being a full-time mother.

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The story of a full-time mother who was slammed by her husband and mother-in-law for asking some ‘time off’ for traveling during the national holiday has gone viral on Chinese social media. Her account strucks a chord with other stay-at-home moms, who face difficulties in being a full-time mother in a society where family responsibilities are shifting.

Chinese netizen ‘@DoubleTrouble’ (@二捣蛋), a Guangzhou stay-at-home mother of two kids, recently posted about her desire to take “an absence of leave” (请假) from her life as a mum and travel by herself during the Chinese National Holiday.

The woman shared her grievances on WeChat about being severely criticized by her husband and mother-in-law for wanting some time for herself during an 8-day vacation after taking on the sole care of her two children non-stop for years.

The unhappy mother’s story, which was posted some days before the start of China’s national holiday, was picked up by Chinese media and went viral. It triggered heated discussions on the role of China’s stay-at-home mothers within the family.

 

A FULL-TIME MOTHER’S DILEMMA

“I raised the subject of wanting to go away for a while. But I couldn’t even finish speaking before my mother-in-law said: How dare you think of things like this as a mother?!”

 

The original text, which was posted by the woman on a WeChat forum for Guangzhou mothers (gzmama.com), is as follows:

“The past two days I’ve had a falling out with my family members. I wanted to use the National Holiday to travel somewhere, but my husband and mother-in-law strongly opposed. Now, there is all this turmoil because of this, with them criticizing me for being selfish. They also say I am irresponsible and that I am an unfit mother. I feel really low.

The situation is that I have two children, a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old, both raised by me. Although my parents-in-law are also in Guangzhou, they’ve never helped me out at all. Even when one child gets sick, it is me who has to take both the children to the hospital.

I’ve been married to my husband for six/seven years now. After we got married, I resigned from my job to become a full-time mother. We did not hire a nanny and I took on the care of the two kids by myself. My husband is very busy, and couldn’t help out either.

The last couple of years have tired me out. All mothers will know what I mean, even if they don’t say it. For this year’s [national] holiday, my husband also got a few days off, which is very rare, so I finally wanted to seize this opportunity to go out for a while, and let my mother-in-law help out for a bit to take care of the children.

A few days ago, we were all having dinner together, when I raised the subject of wanting to go away for a while. But I couldn’t even finish speaking when my mother-in-law said: “How dare you think of things like this as a mother?!” My husband also strongly opposed to me leaving the house. My father-in-law said nothing; he didn’t oppose nor approve.

My husband and my mother-in-law at the dinner table took turns in telling me how selfish I am, and how irresponsible I am, and I could not help but quarrel with them.

Now the family relations have gone sour, and my husband and I have not spoken for few days, I also haven’t gone to see my mother-in-law.

Am I really being selfish? The two children are already older now. The little one does not get breastfed anymore, and the kids get along great, they hardly ever fight.

Sigh, I do not know what to do now. Should I go anyway, regardless if they are against it or not? Or should I just forget about it it and just bitterly stay at home with the kids?”

 

The woman’s post received some 17,000 views and over 200 comments from other mothers on the Guangzhou forum before it was widely shared and discussed in Chinese media, receiving thousands of reactions on Weibo.

 

STAY-AT-HOME MOMS IN CHINA

“Once you have children, your time is no longer your own – your time must be dedicated to them.”

 

More than two-thirds of mothers in China work full-time. According to this report (video) by CGTN, China’s modern-day moms belong to a generation that attaches great importance on having a job – so much so that there is an alleged social stigma to staying at home full-time to raise the children.

“There are a lot of Chinese mothers who work, and this might not necessarily always be their choice,” says Roseann Lake, author of upcoming book Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower.

Lake tells What’s on Weibo that the relatively high percentage of working mothers in China, on the one hand, can be explained through the historical background of the Cultural Revolution, which placed great importance on the full participation of women in the labor force. On the other hand, she notes, it also has a lot to do with today’s China.

“Giving the nature of China’s economy, there is a need for double-working households. And at the same time, there are also many grandparents with free time on their hands who are willing to take care of their grandchildren.”

Lake does not think there necessarily is a social stigma attached to being a full-time mom: “If the financial conditions allow it, women in China can certainly be stay-at-home moms. But then there is the expectation to take on the bulk of looking after the household.”

Nevertheless, Lake stresses, usually – despite expectations that the wife will then take on full care of the household and children – Chinese grandparents will pitch in to help take care of the children, whether the mothers like it or not.

About the case of Chinese netizen ‘@Doubletrouble’, Lake says: “There are plenty of in-laws in China who would pass judgment on something like this, saying that once you have children, your time is no longer your own and your time must be dedicated to them at all times.”

While there is pressure on both working and stay-at-home moms, there is a growing number of Chinese women who choose to fully dedicate themselves to their family life.

According to China Daily, more than 70% of post-90s young mothers are willing to be a full-time mom. By contrast, mothers from the post-80s would rather stay in the workforce; approximately 46% keep on working after becoming a mother.

 

ONLINE REACTIONS

“If women cannot even have this piece of freedom, then why do we get married at all?”

 

With the number of stay-at-home mothers on the rise in China, so are the challenges that come with being a full-time mother. The story of @DoubleTrouble shows that there are many other full-time mothers who have a similar story.

“Women have to think of themselves, they should not completely dedicate all of themselves to the family,” one woman (@潼潼囡妈咪) writes: “We need our own social space in order to have the capability to support ourselves and our children.”

“Just go!”, one person pleads: “If women cannot even have this piece of freedom, then why do we get married at all?”

Other people also point out that it is not the mom who is selfish: “If a woman becomes a mother, it doesn’t mean she has to give up on everything. There are 8 days in the National Holiday – why can’t she leave for 2 days? Can’t she have a break from working hard all year round? It’s not only her children, what’s wrong with the mother-in-law looking after them? They are the ones who are selfish and take her for a free labor force.”

There are also commenters who say that there is a big difference between being a stay-at-home mother and a ‘house slave’: “Just go and apply to be a nanny somewhere else,” one person suggests: “At least then you’ll have wages and get days off.”

“The one who has no sense of responsibility is not this mother, but her husband,” another woman writes.

“It’s not like she’s leaving for two months,” one commenter said: “If women cannot even enjoy this freedom and support after getting married and having babies, then what’s the point?”

“When I get married,” a male netizen writes: “I want my wife to take time for herself and go outside, I will watch the kids. I don’t want to see her depressed or restless.”

Despite all the support for @DoubleTrouble, and all the other mothers demanding that ‘time off’ should be normal for all stay-at-home moms, there are also some who disagree.

“When the child is 2 years old, they are too young. Wait until they go to school,” some say. Or: “Just take the children and go on a trip together with your husband, the four of you together as a family.”

 

THE “GREAT TRANSFORMATION”

“The grandmother does not have the duty to help out her daughter-in-law, but then she also shouldn’t expect her daughter-in-law to take care of her when she is old and sick.”

 

The recent account of ‘@Doubletrouble’ is not the only complaint from full-time mothers who feel the pressure of taking on the full care of their children and not getting any help nor personal time. An important recurring issue is the changing role of the in-laws, who traditionally lived with their son’s family and usually have an active role in raising their grandchildren.

One woman from Fujian (@林小夕的梦) cries out on Weibo: “I am so tired, I am on the verge of collapse. It’s unbearable being a full-time mother. Don’t ask me about my mother-in-law or why she doesn’t help me out – I’d be better off without her, she doesn’t understand.”

The transformations of Chinese traditional family structures in the modern-day era have not necessarily brought about equal gender divisions in the household.

As pointed out by Harriet Evans in The Gender of Communication (2010), the focus in Chinese society has gradually shifted over the past half-century, as there is “[a] shift away from a collectivist and family-oriented ethics of personal responsibilities to an individualistic ethics of rights and self-development” (981).

This “great transformation”1 manifests itself, amongst others, in the clashes between those younger mothers who seek self-fulfillment and personal satisfaction, and those older generations who still expect them to fulfill the traditional women’s role in the domestic sphere, while they, as grandparents, now also play a much less significant role in the upbringing of their grandchildren – not just because they are detached more from the family in social terms, but also often because there is a bigger spatial distance between families.

“The grandmother does not have the duty to help out her daughter-in-law, but then she shouldn’t expect her daughter-in-law to take care of her either when she is old and sick,” a popular comment said.

Since the post has gone viral, @DoubleTrouble has not given an update about whether or not she did go on that trip. If not, at least her story has triggered some relevant discussions online.

“I just hope this post will receive enough attention so that women who want to become a full-time mother will realize the difficulties they might face,” one woman writes.

By Manya Koetse

References

Evans, Harriet. 2010. “The Gender of Communication: Changing Expectations of Mothers and Daughters in Urban China.” The China Quarterly (204): 980-1000.

1 Evans (2010) quotes Yan Yuxiang here, author of The Individualization of Chinese Society (London: Berg, 2009).

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Bruce Humes

    October 7, 2017 at 9:32 am

    It’s quite revealing that — at least in the Weibo comments cited — all the potential “solutions” are limited to family members.

    There is no mention of hiring a baby-sitter, part-time amah or full-time nanny. How come?

    Obviously, many Chinese households couldn’t afford the latter, but in 1st- and 2nd-tier cities, they can. In Hong Kong and Taiwan, many middle-class families hire part- or full-time nannies to do housework and look after children. Hong Kongers in particular do so, and insist on a Filipina or Indonesian female who is both truly caring about children, and can teach them English to boot!

    Among the Chinese mothers I know in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, however, hiring someone from outside the family to look after one’s children is considered very problematic, and most refuse to do so. Why? Because they are afraid their hires will 1) Steal from them, 2) Mistreat their children if a relative is not present, and/or 3) Kidnap their children and sell them to traffickers.

    Tells you a lot about contemporary Chinese society, doesn’t it?

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China and Covid19

These Are China’s Ten Brand-New Stadiums That Will NOT Be Used for the 2023 Asia Cup

Billions were spent on the venues to host the Asia Cup, what will happen to them now that China will no longer be the host country?

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China’s withdrawal as the 2023 Asia Cup host leaves netizens wondering: “Will these newly built stadiums become Covid quarantine centers instead?” These are the ten stadiums that will not be used for next year’s Asia Cup.

News that China will no longer host the 2023 Asia Cup due to the Covid situation has left Chinese netizens wondering what will happen to the mega venues constructed especially for the event.

On Saturday, May 14, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) released a statement saying that, following extensive discussions with the Chinese Football Association (CFA), they were informed by the CFA that it would not be able to host the 2023 AFC Asian Cup due to circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The event was planned to take place from June 16 to July 16, 2023, across ten Chinese cities: Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Chongqing, Chengdu, Xi’an, Dalian, Qingdao, Xiamen, and Suzhou.

On Weibo, one popular post listed ten stadiums that were renovated or newly built to host the 2023 Asia Cup, adding the alleged (staggering) construction/renovation costs.

1. Xiamen Bailu Stadium: costs 3.5 billion [$515.5 million].
2. Qingdao Youth Football Stadium: costs 3.2 billion [$470 million].
3. Chongqing Longxing Stadium: costs 2.7 billion [$397.7 million].
4. Xi’an International Football Center: costs 2.395 billion [$352.7 million].
5. Dalian Suoyuwan Football Stadium: costs 1.88 billion [$277 million].
6. Chengdu Phoenix Hill Stadium: costs 1.865 billion [$274.7 million].
7. SAIC Motor Pudong Arena: costs 1.807 billion [$266 million].
8. Suzhou Kunshan Football Stadium: costs 1.6 billion [$235.6 million].
9. Tianjin Binhai Football Stadium: the renovation cost 320 million [$47 million].
10. New Beijing Gongti Stadium: renovation cost 280 million [$41.2 million].

All of these stadiums were built or renovated for the Asia Cup on a tight schedule, as there was just a three-year timeframe from design to construction completion. In the summer of 2019, it was confirmed that China would host the Asia Cup.

Now that these venues will not be used for the Asia Cup, many netizens are wondering what will happen to them.

One of the most popular answers to that question was: “Perhaps they should be turned into makeshift hospitals [fangcang].”

Fangcang, China’s ‘square cabin’ makeshift Covid hospitals, are seen as a key solution in China’s fight against the virus. Together with mass testing and local lockdowns, the Fangcang have become an important phenomenon in China’s dynamic zero-Covid policy.

Since every city needs quarantine locations to be prepared for a potential local outbreak, many people half-jokingly say the venues would be more useful as Covid isolation points if they are not used for the Asia Cup anyway.

“So many great stadiums, what a waste,” some commenters write, with others suggesting the stadiums should be opened up for the people to use and enjoy.

In response to China’s withdrawal as the 2023 Asia Cup host, another popular comment said: “China has taken the lead in achieving Zero at the level of major sports events,” jokingly referring to the country’s Zero-Covid policy that currently impacts all aspects of society.

For others, the announcement that China would not host the Asia Cup came as a shock. Not necessarily because of the cancelation of the event itself, but because it made them realize that China’s stringent measures and Zero-Covid policy can be expected to continue well into 2023: “How did it get this far? I thought the country would open up after the general meeting,” one person wrote, referring to the Communist Party National Congress that is set for autumn 2022.

Another Weibo user wrote: “They finally said it. The Asia Cup will be hosted by another country because our Strong Country will continue to stay sealed, the money spent on building all these venues is going to go to waste.”

“The point that many people missed is that the Asian Cup is no longer being held in China because China refuses to hold the event in ‘full open mode’ as requested by foreign countries,” another commenter wrote. Some people praised the decision, calling it “courageous” for China to persist in handling the pandemic in its own way.

Others are hopeful that all of the money spent on the venues won’t be in vain, and that China can use these venues to still host the World Cup in the future.

Below is the list of the ten brand-new venues where the Asia Cup is not going to take place.

 

1. The Xiamen Bailu Stadium (厦门白鹭体育场)

The Bailu Stadium in Xiamen is an impressive construction with a steel structure similar to that of Beijing Bird’s Nest, and, like most of the stadiums in this list, it was designed especially for the 2023 Asia Cup.

Expected to be finished by late 2022, the building does not just offer a beautiful sea view, it is also fully multifunctional and has a floor area of 180,600 square meters and a capacity of 60,000 seats. It is the first professional soccer stadium in China that can switch from a soccer field to an athletic field. The inner and outer circles of the seating area can be moved to transform the stadium.

 

2. Qingdao Youth Football Stadium (青岛青春足球场)

The Qingdao Youth Football Stadium, a high-standard soccer stadium with a capacity of 50,000 people, is the first major professional soccer stadium in Shandong Province.

The stadium, located in the city’s Chengyang District, started its construction in 2020 and the entire stadium with a floor area of 163,395 square meters, is expected to be finalized by late 2022.

 

3. Chongqing Longxing Stadium (重庆龙兴体育场)

Like most of the other stadiums on this list, the Chongqing Longxing Stadium started to be constructed in 2020 and the 60,000-capacity football stadium is expected to be finished in December 2022.

The design of the stadium is based on a twirling flame, meant to convey the hot image of Chongqing (the city of hotpot) and the burning Asian Cup football passion. Aerial photos published by state media in March of 2022 show that the construction of the roof and decorations has come to the final stage.

 

4. Xi’an International Football Center (西安国际足球中心)

The Xi’an International Football Center is a Zaha Hadid project, which is the same architects office to design prestigious buildings in China such as the Beijing Daxing International Airport or the Galaxy SOHO.

On their site, they write that the Footbal Centre, which started construction in 2020, is a 60,000-seat stadium in Xi’ans Fengdong New District. Besides the arena, the stadium will also provide recreational spaces for the city.

 

5. Dalian Suoyuwan Football Stadium (大连梭鱼湾足球场)

Located on the Dalian Bay, this is a spectacular new 63,000-capacity stadium that was, obviously, also meant to host the AFC Asian Cup in 2023 and to provide a home for the Dalian Professional Football Club.

An animation of the design for the Dalian Football Stadium can be viewed here.

 

6. Chengdu Phoenix Hill Stadium (成都凤凰山体育场)

The Chengdu Phoenix Hill Stadium consists of a a 60,000-seat stadium and an 18,000-seat standard arena. The large open-cable dome structure is reportedly the first of its kind in China.

Besides football, the venue will also be able to host other major tournaments, including ice hockey, badminton, table tennis, handball, and gymnastics.

 

7. SAIC Motor Pudong Arena (上汽浦东足球场)

The Shanghai Pudong Football Stadium, currently named SAIC Motor Pudong Arena, was supposed to be one of the stadiums used for the AFC Asian Cup, but it was not necessarily built for that purpose.

The 33,765-seat stadium, which is supposed to remind you of a Chinese porcelain bowl, is home to the football association Shanghai Port FC and was the first football-specific stadium designated for a club in China. Its construction, which started in 2018, was finished by late 2020.

 

8. Suzhou Kunshan Football Stadium (苏州昆山足球场)

The Suzhou Kunshan Football Stadium is the first professional soccer stadium in Jiangsu. With a total construction area of ​​135,000 square meters, the stadium can accommodate about 45,000 spectators.

The design of the building is inspired by the Chinese traditional “folding fan.” More pictures of the venue can be seen here.

 

9. Tianjin Binhai Football Stadium (天津滨海足球场)

The TEDA football stadium in Tianjin has been fully renovated and upgraded to host the 2023 Asia Cup. The stadium, build in 2004, originally could hold 37,450 people. The renovations of the original stadium started this year and the construction work was expected to take about six months.

 

10 . New Beijing Gongti Stadium (新北京工体)

Beijing’s old Workers’ Stadium or Gongti was closed in 2020 to be renovated and reopened bt December 2022, in time for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. The Beijinger reported on the venue’s renovating process, with the stadium’s capacity increasing to 68,000, with the venue getting an all-new roof structure.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

For more articles on hot topics related to architecture in China, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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China Food & Drinks

Would You Like Coffee with Your Sneakers? Chinese Sports Brand Li-Ning Registers Its ‘Ning Coffee’ Brand

Li-Ning enters the coffee market: “Will they sell sneaker-flavored coffee?”

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An unexpected competitor is joining China’s coffee market. With over 7000 stores in the country, Li-Ning has the potential to become the biggest athletic coffee chain yet.

Another player is joining mainland China’s growing coffee market. It’s not an American coffee giant, nor a coffee house chain from Hong Kong – it is China’s leading sportswear brand Li-Ning Sports (李宁体育).

Li-Ning registered its coffee brand under the ‘NING COFFEE’ trademark. As reported in an article written by ‘Investment Group’ (@投资界) and published by Toutiao News (@头条新闻), Li-Ning has confirmed on May 6 that it will provide in-store coffee services to enhance customers’ shopping experiences in the near future.

The move means that Li-Ning could potentially become a big player in China’s coffee market, competing with major brands such as Starbucks, Luckin Coffee, Costa and Pacific. If the in-store coffee cafes would roll out in most of its shops, there could be over 7000 Ning Coffee cafes in China in the future. By the end of 2021, Li-Ning Sports had a total of 7,137 stores in China.

Starbucks has 5,400 stores in China. Leading domestic coffee chain Luckin Coffee expanded to over 6000 stores last year. Costa Coffee, although closing some of its China stores in 2021, announced that it aims to have a total of 1,200 stores open in China later this year. Looking at Li-Ning’s presence across China, its in-store coffee cafes could be serious competition for the leading coffee chains in the country.

Over the past few years, various Chinese sportswear brands, including Anta Sports and Erke, have seen a rise in popularity, but Li-Ning is still China’s most famous brand name for athletic apparel and shoes. The company was founded in the early 1990s by Chinese Olympic gymnast and business entrepreneur Li Ning (1963) and was generally seen as a Nike copycat – the original logo was even similar to the Nike swoosh. Although Li-Ning looked like Nike, the brand is more appealing to many Chinese consumers due to the fact that it is cheaper and made in China.

Li-Ning markets itself as being “deeply and uniquely Chinese” (Li Ning official website 2022), which has made it more popular in an era of “proudly made in China” (read more about that here). Moreover, it also promises to offer high-quality sportwear at a price that is cheaper than the American Nike or German Adidas.

Li-Ning’s success is also owed to its marketing strategies. Besides being the official marketing partner of many major sports events, including the NBA in China, the brand has also contracted with many household athletes and famous global ambassadors.

Over a decade ago, marketing observers already noted that despite the remarkable success of Li-Ning in China, the brand still had a long way to go in order to strengthen its image as a long-term brand, recommending Li-Ning to “create excitement around the brand” by building more associations related to lifestyle and coolness to better resonate with younger Chinese customers (Bell 2008, 81; Roll 2006, 170).

With its latest move into the coffee market, it is clear that Li-Ning is moving its brand positioning more toward the direction of lifestyle, trendiness, and luxury. Although purchasing a coffee at Starbucks or Luckin is part of the everyday routine for many urban millennials, coffee is still viewed as a trendy luxury product for many, relating to both cultural factors as well as economic reasons. As noted by Cat Hanson in 2015, the price of a single cup of coffee was equal to a month’s worth of home broadband internet (read more).

Previously, other fashion brands have also opened up coffee stores in China. As reported by Jing Daily, international luxury brands Prada, Louis Vuitton, and FENDI also opened up coffee cafes in mainland China.

Another unexpected coffee cafe is that of China Post, which opened its first in-store ‘Post Coffee’ in Xiamen earlier this year. On social media, many netizens commented that the brand image of the national post service clashed with that of a fairly expensive coffee house (coffee prices starting at 22 yuan / $3,3).

“The postal services are located in cities and in the countryside and are often used by migrant workers, and generally this demographic isn’t buying coffee,” one person commented, with another netizen writing: “This does not suit the taste of ordinary people, it would’ve been better if they sold milk tea.”

Post Coffee, via Jiemian Official.

On Weibo, Li-Ning’s journey into the competitive coffee market was discussed using the hashtags “Li-Ning Enters the Coffee Race” (#李宁入局咖啡赛道#) and “Li-Ning Starts Selling Coffee” (##李宁开始卖咖啡##).

Like with China Post, many commenters say the combination of sportswear and coffee is not something they immediately find logical. “Will they also sell sneaker-flavored coffee?” one person wondered, with others thinking selling coffee – seen as a product from western countries – does not exactly match with Li-Ning as a ‘proudly made-in-China’ brand.

“How would you feel about trying on some clothes at Li-Ning while sipping on Li-Ning coffee? I understand Li-Ning is jumping on what’s popular, and this time it’s coffee,” one Weibo user writes, with others also writing: “I think it has potential.”

“I’m willing to try it out,” various commenters write. For others, they want to see the menu first: “It all depends on the price.”

For more about the coffee and tea market in China, check our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse

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References

Bell, Sandra. 2008. International Brand Management of Chinese Companies. Heidelberg: Physia-Verlag.

Roll, Martin. 2006. Asian Brand Strategy: How Asia Builds Strong Brands. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

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