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Another major cultural difference

I've been watching a lot of movies with subtitles lately. Lots in Chinese. During the school day my opportunity to learn the language is limited. Watching movies with subtitles I can pick up a word now and then.



Today's movie was "The Farewell". A true story starring Awkwafina (I'm a big fan). She plays a girl living in New York. The majority of her family is still in China. She learns that her grandmother is dying of cancer and doesn't have long to live. Further, her family has collectively decided not to tell her grandmother about her cancer. The logic is that the family bears the burden for her. It's the fear that kills, not the cancer. The family puts on a smile on the outside while being heartbroken on the inside.


In the east a person is part of a whole before being an individual. Being part of the family comes first. In the west the opposite reigns true. In the states we are individuals first. Awkwafina's character struggles with the family's decision. Her father tells her that she wants to rid herself of the guilt and tell her grandmother. He explains that she's afraid to take responsibility for her grandmother. They don't tell her because it's their duty to carry the emotional burden.


So I'm watching this film and asking myself, is this typical here? Ask Aiyun. She confirms. Yes, this is the typical practice. Doctors will tell family members when an older family member doesn't have long. At first I'm floored. Like, really? But the more I think about it, it jives with what I've experienced while living here. Responsibility to family is paramount. Secondly, responsibility to the greater society as a whole comes before individual needs and wants. Well, that's the consistent sermon. I'll make no claim as to how well people here live up to that spoken standard, but it's is a repetitive theme.


This movie comes from a true story. Her grandmother that had a few months to live ended up still kicking six years later and still in the dark when this movie went to theaters. Hmm. Would I want to know if I had terminal cancer? Maybe not...

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