The communist takeover of China ended centuries of traditionalism, bringing about new thoughts and social systems in the country. As a result, modern Chinese society is more a reflection of communist values than traditional values. So what would a traditional Chinese lifestyle look like?
The one important thing that traditional Chinese values stressed was strong family bonds. The family was considered the basic unit of society, with individuals being a part of the family. This is in contrast to the communist regime’s ideology of focusing on individuals even at the cost of breaking up families. In fact, communists saw the family as a cultural relic that hindered the progress of China by keeping it tied to a feudal system. As such, the regime heavily promoted the idea of nuclear families and limited the number of children in its early period of rule.
The Chinese traditionally had a saying: “four generations under one roof,” which meant that the father and mother together with three subsequent generations would be living in a single home. Respect for elders was greatly stressed in the olden days, to the extent that the youngsters were expected to always be unquestioningly obedient to the seniors. Even after an elder died, people in the family prayed to them. This strong ancestor worship was extremely important to ancient Chinese people since an elder’s soul was believed to be a guiding spirit for the family. Plus, an ancestor who made a name for himself served as a point of honor for the family who could take pride in being born in his lineage. There would be special altars in the home honoring the ancestors.
In the late 1970s, the Chinese government introduced the “One Child Policy.” As such, the Chinese family, which used to focus on having several children, was now made to only produce one child. In earlier times, the joint family system instilled filial piety in the children. But in the new, nuclear family system, kids roamed around freely without facing any moral obligations or restrictions. In fact, the excessive care given to these children by their families is believed to have created the “Little Emperor” syndrome due that led to these kids growing up to be self-centered youngsters. The culture of respecting elders has declined. In fact, many elders now face complete rejection from the youth and are left alone in the last part of their lives.
Ancient Chinese people were influenced by three religious ideologies — Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. As far as society was concerned, Confucianism had the biggest impact. Confucian ideas on family, social structure, rulers, etc., were propagated and implemented by several emperors. Taoism and Buddhism were seen as admirable spiritual philosophies to better oneself. Kings and the general public would constantly donate to ensure the welfare of Taoist and Buddhist monks. After the Communist Party came to power, they engaged in persecuting religious followers.
Confucianism was portrayed by the communists as being the primary reason for class divisions. Taoism and Buddhism were said to be promoting superstitions. The communists promoted the idea that destroying these faiths would ensure equality and progress throughout society. As such, they restricted the religious activities of the people, and as a result, several religious customs and traditions have disappeared. More than 50 percent of the Chinese population in the country today professes to have no religious affiliation, a far cry from the past when most people would observe religious customs with great devotion.