Family Life

Among the Chinese, the family is regarded as a very sacred institution. In pre-communist China, the family included not only the living but the dead. This is a value which remained alive among the Chinese of the 19th century Diaspora; they continued to revere the dead. First of all the extended family as practised in China did not exist in Trinidad. The experience of Chinese indentureship made no provisions for such a practice, Chinese indentureship was intended to recruit strong, able-bodied males. The very and old were not considered suitable candidates for field work. The records do not reveal any extended families as immigrants. The labour-hungry planter was only interested in a nuclear type family as opposed to the extended family which as Old China’s basic social unit, compromised three or four generations living together.

As in Old China the structure of the Chinese family in Trinidad was based on patriarchal lines: authority devolving along male lines while women remained marginalized in the power structure.  The family functioned as unit of production and much of its integration was based on the unconditional obedience of children to parents and the subordination of young to old, females to males and ancestor worship. This was in the beginning and even at that time considerable changes began to take places in the Chinese family. In their search companionship many of the male Chinese immigrants were forced by circumstances to befriend and even marry non-Chinese women in Trinidad who acted as agents of creolisation among them. As the decades went by even more changes occurred, in these modern times the most outstanding feature of the new Chinese family is it growing liberalization; there was the rise of professionalism among the young and greater interaction with the wider creole society. As a unit of production, all family members of a family were expected to contribute their labour to the shop, laundry, restaurant or whatever. This was consistent with the value of diligence held high by the Chinese community. All members of the family were expected to exhibit commitment and conscientiousness in work. Sons were urged to work hard and try and become successful businessmen. On the whole close family ties were maintained. Education was emphasized in most Chinese households because parents would like to see their children progress and get ahead in society.

The Lee Lum Family

The Lee Lum Family

It was not long before creolisation began to take inroads into the lifestyle of the Chinese community because creole culture overshadowed the traditional cultural system of Chinese. As the Chinese were never concentrated in any spot giving rise to a Chinatown, they became very vulnerable to the influence of the dominant creole culture. In other words, as individual families scattered all over the country they were especially susceptible to the influence of creole culture. They had to interact with other ethnic groups in their business places and no matter how minimally as neighbours. Their children also interacted with the children of these groups as schoolmates.

With regards to marriage, it was not uncommon for women to become participants in planned marriages. Romantic love had little to play in such matches; they were brought about largely through the instrumentality of parental authority. In the attempt to protect the interest the interests of the family, parents arrogated the right to choose the mate of the young man or woman. Everything including the wedding ceremony was entirely in their hands. Because the society of Old China placed special emphasis on the institutional of the family, marriage assumed particular importance for the Chinese. “Marriage was a means of perpetuating the family line and ancestor worship. It is therefore not surprising to learn that the mating of couple was regarded as a concern of the elders and of the family.” As time changes courting became an important prelude to marriage among the Chinese thus allowing both parties sufficient time to determine beforehand whether the future should be spent in the company of the particular individual.

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One thought on “Family Life

  1. Mom born in Trinidad in 1925; trying to find the Chinese connection to my family. Do you know of any Triniadian genealogy organizations who can lead me to a thorough recitation of Trinidad/ Chinese culture/history?

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