“Traditional Chinese Women”

Stella Guan
12 min readAug 16, 2022

A mini-memoir of the complex, strong women who raised me

Growing up in a small town in China’s Guangxi Autonomous Region, I’d never felt I had anything in common with the women in my family.

As a child, I was defiant, ambitious, fiercely independent, and more than anything else, I prided myself to be different. I thought I was one-of-a-kind.

My mother and I, 2016

There wasn’t really a word in Chinese for girls like me. If there was, it would probably be the dreadful “Buguai”, a word used to describe children who dare to defy their parents. I wasn’t exactly disruptive — after all, I had never climbed a tree, destroyed my parent’s priced possessions, or punched another kid, but I did once talk back at my first-grade teacher, for which I earned a “well-deserved” beating from my mother; when I was 15, I ran away from home to my maternal grandmother’s house for a week after an intense argument with my parents, which was probably the highlight of my “rebellious past”.

I remember I often watched my mother with a slight contempt because she, in my eyes, was everything I didn’t want to be.

She is the epitome of a traditional Chinese woman — an “arranged” marriage introduced by a family acquaintance; lacks a college degree; doesn’t believe in sex before marriage; cooks and cleans diligently at home every day.

The fact that my Laolao, my maternal grandmother, had a love marriage and her daughter, my mother, didn’t, was enough to convince me, a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic and feminist, that my mother had led the most boring life that I did not wish to emulate.

What kind of woman from the 20th century doesn’t have the independent will to meet and marry the man of her dream instead of settling for a “good enough” man from a lame family introduction?

I shuddered at the thought of leading a life even remotely resembling my mother’s.

My mother had a very close relationship with her mother-in-law, my paternal grandmother — my Nainai. In fact, my mother saw my Nainai as more of a mother than her own mother, who she did not see eye to eye with.