Sat, July 13

Young people in China are increasingly reluctant to visit relatives.

Post-80s occasionally visit relatives, post-90s are not very willing, and post-00s are even less willing. This generation of young people are increasingly disliking visiting relatives. When was the last time you visited relatives? At some point, while the older generation maintained family ties, the younger generation started to avoid them. This phenomenon is known as “cutting off relatives”. In a highly praised short video about “cutting off relatives”, the comments section surprisingly had a unanimous voice. Some people said it’s not that they don’t want to visit relatives, but they don’t know what relatives can bring. For example, I now have a more stable relationship with delivery drivers and food delivery workers. Some relatives are even worse than strangers, they don’t usually keep in touch, but when it comes to the Lunar New Year dinner, they start to meddle. The comments section almost unanimously agreed.

Associate Professor Hu Xiaowu from the School of Sociology at Nanjing University once conducted a survey involving 1200 people. The survey results showed that younger people have less contact with their relatives. People over 18 years old do not have much contact with their relatives, while among the post-90s young people aged 18 to 25 and 26 to 30, most of them only occasionally contact their relatives. The Institute of Sociology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences also conducted a similar survey of nearly 4000 young people, and the results showed that over 80% of the respondents have contact with their older relatives once or twice a year, and close to 1/5 of them do not interact with their relatives.

In the eyes of the older generation, the lack of communication between relatives is considered a serious matter, which may indicate serious conflicts between families or a lack of courtesy from one party. However, for the younger generation, cutting off ties with relatives is not a big deal. They believe that it is better not to maintain contact than to do so insincerely, as it can create a more relaxed atmosphere for everyone. Sometimes, relatives with blood ties can feel more like strangers.

When do young people start cutting off ties with their relatives, and what are the reasons behind it?

Young people may start cutting off ties with their relatives at various stages of their lives, depending on individual circumstances. Some common reasons behind this decision include:

1. Conflict or disagreements: Young people may choose to sever ties with relatives due to unresolved conflicts, disagreements, or differences in values or beliefs. These conflicts can create tension and strain in relationships, leading to a decision to cut off ties.

2. Toxic relationships: Some relatives may exhibit toxic behaviour such as manipulation, abuse, or negativity, which can be harmful to the well-being of the young person. In such cases, cutting off ties may be a necessary step to protect oneself from further harm.

3. Lack of support: If a young person feels unsupported or unloved by their relatives, they may choose to distance themselves to prioritize their emotional well-being. This can be particularly common in cases of neglect or emotional abuse.

4. Personal growth and independence: As young people mature and develop their own identities, they may find that certain family relationships no longer align with their values or goals. In such cases, cutting off ties can be a way to assert independence and prioritize personal growth.

5. Mental health reasons: Young people may choose to cut off ties with relatives for their own mental health and well-being. This can include setting boundaries with toxic individuals or removing oneself from stressful or triggering situations.

Overall, the decision to cut off ties with relatives is a deeply personal one, influenced by a combination of individual experiences, values, and circumstances. Young people need to prioritize their own well-being and surround themselves with positive and supportive relationships.

Once upon a time, relatives would come and go, exchanging family news, while the younger generation would play and chase each other, creating the festive atmosphere of the Spring Festival. However, nowadays, apart from a few close relatives who still gather, most people prefer to visit friends’ homes instead. The most direct reason for this phenomenon is the transformation brought about by urbanization. According to official data, the urbanization rate of residents in China soared to 64.27% in 2020, nearly double that of 1999. Correspondingly, China has experienced an unprecedented wave of population mobility. According to the results of the seventh national population census, China’s floating population is close to 376 million, almost equivalent to the total population of the entire United States. People have left their familiar land, gradually drifting away from some social relationships and extended families. Many young people may have very few chances to meet their relatives from birth to adulthood, lacking emotional connections and common topics, making gatherings awkward instead.

The deeper reason lies in the fact that some relatives lack a sense of boundaries. There is a very interesting question on a Q&A community: What unreasonable requests have your relatives made? This question has attracted over 170 million views, and some highly upvoted answers are simply unbelievable. Let me briefly list a few particularly outstanding examples: my second aunt wanted to take away my family’s household registration book, claiming it was for a loan that could be used to pay off my family’s debts; my great-aunt stole the groom’s friend’s wallet at a wedding and asked me, a middle school student, to help hide it, reasoning that I was a minor; another relative said they wanted to buy my house but didn’t transfer ownership first, asking me to move in and pay rent monthly until the rent accumulated enough to buy the house, at which point they would give me the money to purchase it. The list of bizarre behaviours from relatives is endless, ranging from borrowing money to buy a house to making various demands based on the person’s profession, such as asking a lawyer to help rescue someone from prison, requesting a university professor to get their nephew with a score of 193 on the college entrance exam into a university, or even asking a Tencent employee to add money to their WeChat account.

Of course, relatives who are so out of line are rare. More often, during the Chinese New Year, they will ask you the usual questions about when you are coming back and when you are leaving. At this time, you would typically answer that you came back a few days ago and will leave in a few days, and then the relatives would nod and proceed to ask all sorts of questions as experienced individuals. How much money do you make in a year? Why don’t you have a partner yet? You’re not young anymore, you can’t be too stubborn. How did your child score on the exam? Having a second child will harm your health, why haven’t you had a child yet? The conversation always revolves around money and finding a partner, making every family gathering feel like you are being stripped of a layer of skin, with no boundaries or privacy, and no one willing to listen. They may even blame you, saying you weren’t like this before, becoming more reclusive as you grow older, unwilling to speak. In the midst of these questions and answers, an atmosphere is invisibly formed that summarizes the characteristics of bad relatives: they hate you for laughing, despise you for being poor, and fear you for being rich. When you are poor, no one pays attention to you in the bustling market, and when you are rich, you are isolated on the mountain away from the world.

Another netizen shared their experience. I was born in a small village in the north, where there were less than 50 households. In this village, building relationships entirely relied on ancestral origins. During festivals, my family would always gather at my grandfather’s house for a meal. However, due to our poor economic conditions, my parents were often ridiculed by other relatives. They always chose to silently endure it, putting on a smile on the surface. When distant relatives visited, the banquet would only have me, my grandmother, mother, and aunt. All the women had to eat in the kitchen and couldn’t sit at the table. My grandparents favoured boys over girls, and during the New Year, all the brothers in the family would be there except for me, the only girl. Over the years, I never received red envelopes from other relatives. Fed up with the atmosphere of favouritism and gender bias in the family, when I applied for university, I couldn’t wait to leave the North and escape to a city in the South. The result was a growing distance from my family. This Chinese New Year, after not going home for two years, I went to visit my grandparents. They rejected me, solely because of my father’s face. I wished them a happy New Year through a video call, but I didn’t want to return to that home. This is my bottom line.

Therefore, some young people choose to cut off family relationships out of helplessness. They are unable to receive material support from their relatives, nor can they find emotional comfort. Instead, during family gatherings, they often face condescending attitudes, criticism, and even verbal abuse from their relatives. Over time, they become unwilling to maintain these superficial family ties. On the other hand, the intensification of social competition is quietly changing people’s mindsets. A generation growing up is occupied by heavy academic schedules, and during the college entrance examination, they have to compete with millions of others, making the situation grim. Those who fail to enter university can only choose to retake exams. Even if they eventually graduate from college and find a job, they realize that their wages are far behind the rising housing prices. Taking Shenzhen as an example, the housing-to-income ratio has exceeded 40, which means that an average family needs to save diligently and it would take 40 years to afford a house in Shenzhen.

In addition to housing prices, the cost of raising and educating children is also a significant expense. A survey conducted by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and the Institute of Population and Development Research shows that it costs 800,000 RMB to raise a child in Shanghai from birth to junior high school, which is even higher than in developed countries. These pressures are making it difficult for young people to breathe. This is reflected in declining marriage and birth rates. In 2022, the marriage rate was only 4.8‰, hitting a new low in 42 years. According to data on maternal health records, the number of births in 2023 is less than 8 million, nearly halved from five years ago. Therefore, many people are beginning to realize that life can be better by lowering their desires. If they can’t afford to buy a house, then they won’t buy one; if they can’t find a partner, they can still live well alone; if they can’t afford to raise children, then they simply won’t have any. However, some relatives fail to understand the predicament of young people and only resort to criticism. Why aren’t you married in your twenties? Why don’t you have enough money to buy a car or a house even though you’re working? Why do office workers complain about being tired all the time? Young people are not only dealing with the pressures of reality but also enduring questioning and criticism from relatives, so they choose to cut off contact altogether.

Some internet users joke that they are already capable of cutting off relationships with others, so why would they fear cutting off family ties? As long as they are not constrained by morality, no one can control them. Therefore, more and more young people who are experiencing internal conflicts and ineffective social interactions are starting to pursue a sense of relaxation, living in the moment, enjoying themselves, and investing more time and energy into their interests and hobbies. In reality, most young people do not wish to voluntarily sever ties with their family members, unless their relatives’ behaviour is truly intolerable. Maintaining harmonious relationships is still the most important aspect. The revival of family bonds also requires effort from both sides. The environment can influence people, and different periods call for different ways of socializing. The older generation has their traditional customs, while the younger generation has their style. In the process of integrating with or resisting tradition, young people are also re-establishing their boundaries. It is not just family ties that are being cut off; many young people are also no longer keeping in touch with classmates or fellow townsmen, and may not even socialize with colleagues with whom they have nothing in common. With the development of commercial civilization, we are gradually transitioning from a traditional society of acquaintances to a society of strangers. In the past, interpersonal relationships were crucial for getting things done, but now it is more about exchanging skills. Therefore, young people are gradually no longer required to sacrifice their individuality; instead, they need to blend boundaries, avoid internal conflicts, steer clear of labels, relax appropriately, and maintain their health.