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As sort of “low woman on the totem pole” in her new family, one of her main jobs would be to serve her mother-in-law and make her happy.The Chinese mother-in-law (at least in ages past) had a reputation for being pretty demanding and difficult to please — after all, she had once been low woman on the totem pole as well, and had risen through the ranks to become mother, mother-in-law, and hopefully, grandmother.Abuse of the daughter-in-law is so common a circumstance, that unless it be especially flagrant, it attracts very little attention.The film depicts Hue’s grandmother as a traditional chauvinist Chinese mother-in-law who polices patriarchal loyalties in the conjugal home.Da Sao is no saint — but not once did my inlaws suggest that Da Ge, her husband, did anything wrong (Da Ge, according to my husband John, is an uninvolved father who has also exacerbated his son’s behavior problems).Clearly, this was a troubling Chinese mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship. For thousands of years, daughters-in-law have dreaded their Chinese mothers-in-law. Because the son’s mother has more power and status in the family.During Chinese New Year earlier this year, Peter told his girlfriend his mother would eventually move in with them, if they ever married.Peter had good reasons for it — she lives in poverty in Southern Henan Province; and since he’s the oldest son, he feels an obligation to care for her.
In a new home — bound by duty to the in-laws first, and the husband second — daughters-in-law have little status, and were even thought of as slaves to some families (notice that the character for slave, 奴, includes the character for woman, 女).It could have been any other pile of clothing — pastel linen blouses, jeans with a flower pattern embroidered on the side, a silk robe in peacock blue, and more.But they were my the clothes of my sister-in-law, Da Sao, married to my husband’s eldest brother.China Hope Live explains it in another way: Some of the tension in this relationship is inherited from the days when women in China really did marry OUT of their families and into their husband’s family — a girl might never see her own family ever again!
At the same time, even though she had married into this new family, she would likely still be considered an outsider.
One day, my inlaws chastised Da Sao for enrolling her son, Kaiqi, in too many afterschool activities.