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  • Sep 22, 2014
  • Updated: 3:13pm
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PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2012, 1:49am

Cecil Chao isn't the only HK parent trying to dictate marriage terms

Kelly Yang says Cecil Chao isn't the only Hong Kong parent trying to influence, through bullying or bribes, who their child dates or marries

I'll never forget the first time my mother met my then fiancé, now husband. She thought he was too old, too tall and too white - in that order. Her dissatisfaction was not subtle, either. We were sitting in a nice restaurant and my mother started to cry. Her cries became full-on sobs and, soon, everyone in the restaurant thought my husband was actually her husband and that he was breaking up with her.

My mother is not alone in her attempt to influence who her child marries. For centuries, parents have tried to sway their children's mate selection. Recently, this was taken to the extreme with tycoon Cecil Chao Sze-tsung's offer of HK$500 million to any man who succeeds in wooing his lesbian daughter. Chao seems to think that if you throw enough money at an issue - even homosexuality - it will go away.

Unfortunately for Chao, homosexuality is not something you can turn off with the push of a button. Love is rarely controllable. Yet, it hasn't stopped parents trying. A recent study shows that parents have considerable interest in influencing their offspring's choice of spouse; wealthy parents more so than less-wealthy parents.

I have seen Hong Kong parents try to bully, threaten, guilt-trip, cajole, bribe and pretty much mandate who their children are allowed to date. Often, they offer monetary rewards. One student said her father told her she could marry anyone she wants as long as he is Hong Kong Chinese (as in, not mainland Chinese). Another student said she must date someone Christian, and she receives bonus cash - and a Porsche - for dating someone Chinese.

These racial restrictions are sometimes so strong that children would rather live a lie than defy their parents. I have a Caucasian friend whose long-time Korean girlfriend has kept their relationship hidden from her conservative parents for over five years. To support this lie, she maintains a separate apartment which she only inhabits when her parents are in town.

To be fair, it's not just Asian parents. A friend in California recently told her Caucasian parents that she's dating someone half Swiss and half Mexican. Her mother's response was: "I like the Swiss part. I'm not too crazy about the Mexican part."

All these parents are wasting their time. Trying to influence who your children date or marry simply does not work today. All it does is create resentment and a lot of tension. While I understand many Asian parents' concerns over interracial marriages, I find it odd that these same parents also send their children to study in the US: it seems they want an open-minded liberal arts education for their children while retaining their closed minds when it comes to who their children date.

The only thing a parent can do is instil good values in their children early on, to show them through example what a healthy, mutually respectful relationship is. Beyond this, all we can and should do is trust our children to pick good people to have relationships with.

Although the initial meeting did not go well between my mother and husband, I was fortunate that she quickly dried her tears and gave us her blessing. Though they are by no means best friends, they now enjoy a comfortable détente.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. kelly@kellyyang.com

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