Living in China

Cup Noodle Education

Yesterday I watched the two first episodes of a new Chinese TV series called Small Daddy 小爸爸. As I was watching it and later discussed it with my boyfriend, I started to think of the rapid transformation young Chinese adults have to go through when graduating from university.

For my Finnish point of view, Chinese youngsters live quite a controlled life until right up to their university education. They will live in dorms that separates girls and boys, they might have curfews and lights go out at eleven. The campus becomes their second home and the staff their second parents.

In Finland we live on our own when we go to university, we don’t even have dormitories! Our parents don’t give us permissions anymore and we often don’t listen to them even when it would be wise to do so. We do what we want and learn to be adults by experimenting the real life.

But Chinese young adults are very guarded until their graduation and what happens after that? They need to find a good job, a good husband or wife and start a family! In Finland we usually have time to live our independent adult life before settling down, but in China it happens much faster. From a kid to a parent transformation seems to be much more abrupt.

I asked my boyfriend how Chinese young adults are supposed to learn to live their lives if they can’t open their wings first and try it out. How can you be a parent when you haven’t learned to take care of your self first?

This actually applies to my boyfriend as well, he’s been living with the parents since graduation. His mom is cooking for him and washing his clothes and at the same time pushing him to grow up. My boyfriend calls this Cup Noodle Education. In his opinion Chinese parents pour the hot water over their kids and require them to get ready for life in three minutes.

It seems that because kids have huge pressure to excel in school, in order to get into good schools and universities, hoping it to lead to successful life, they necessarily don’t have to worry about anything else. My boyfriend’s dad had said how my boyfriend and his little sister didn’t have to do much around home when they were kids, they could fully concentrate on their education. But how do you learn to take care of your self if there’s no actual need to do that?

As a Chinese young adult I would be really lost, perhaps I wouldn’t be able to cope it all, for example when as a student you shouldn’t date as it interferes with you studies, but after graduation you have to marry as soon as possible. I’m wondering how they do it.

I have to say I’m grateful for my mother for teaching me to be independent and letting go when the time came. Always encouraging me, but also giving intelligent advice. If Chinese receive cup noodle parenting, then I’m more like the Finnish Christmas pork that has to be in the oven whole night.


  • Itspams

    great post!
    and I completely agree, my bf is in the same situation, 26 and still living with his parents, he wants to move out but he said its impossible,that if he moves out before getting married would be like “betraying” his parents and that there would be a big problem … sigh, like u said, its like they push them to be adults and get a family but still want to control them at the same time (-_-)

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you for the comment! My Finnish mind can only think that it’s a lot of trouble for the parents too to take care of their kids, cook for them and wash their clothes. But I guess Chinese parents are a bit worried that their kids can’t take care of themselves or it’s their way of showing how much their love their kids. I can imagine a Finnish parents pushing a 26 year old kid from the door already!

  • chinaelevatorstories

    Love this article! It’s right to the point for many Chinese, but it doesn’t apply to my husband. He was already 31 when we married and he had been living on his own for quite a while (which is good because if he had still been living with his parents he would have never been allowed to do household chores on his own). When we were staying at my in-laws this summer they did everything for us, which at some point was driving us crazy (they only meant to be good hosts, but even my husband couldn’t bear his mother doing every little thing for us, he’s quite independent). He once had to tell her in very clear words that she should let us do certain things on our own. This is new for her, so it wasn’t easy adapting to this situation for her either. She and her husband will share household chores, but when it comes to her son (my husband), she’ll do everything for him. When he told her that she shouldn’t, she said: “You’ve finally grown up.” At 31! But still, he’ll probably always stay their little one.

    One thing you haven’t taken into consideration though is that many Chinese kids have to take care of their families at a much younger age than Westerners. A few of my friends don’t only have to send money home to their parents, but also have to see that their brother/s and/or sister/s can go to university or the like. So on the one hand, they grow up very protected, but on the other hand once they are grown up (or sometimes even in their teens), they have to take care of their families (be it earning money or caring for them in other ways), which we usually don’t or don’t have to do in the same way they do.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Great to hear your and your husband’s side of the story!

    You also made an excellent point, that many kids are forced to take care of their families way too early. And no matter when that responsibility starts the pressure seems to be very though, like you mentioned, to send or give money to the family members. In many cases they will put their family before them selves, which is something we in FInland rarely do (unfortunately).

  • Hugh Grigg (葛修远)

    I think this often true for young Chinese people, but it’s certainly not the rule. I know just as many Chinese people who grew up very independently from a young age, e.g. because their parents were often out at work leaving them alone at home, and lived independently the whole way through uni.

    I feel like the main difference is that the dorms and that whole lifestyle exists in China when it doesn’t in European countries, but there’s definitely a huge proportion of Chinese people that don’t do it that way.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Good point Hugh, chinaelevatorstories brought this up too. It’s absolutely true, that not all Chinese young adults are the same. Some go to the very extremes of the scale and rest somewhere between.

    I’ve met people too that have been forced to take care of them selves and their families at an early age. They don’t have much education because there wasn’t money in the family to pay tuition/books, and they needed to find a work to support everyone.

  • R Zhao

    I definitely see this a lot with Chinese people I know, although I know some rather independent Chinese young adults. I think there is a bit of a divide between those who live in big cities and those from smaller cities and the countryside. Chinese from smaller cities, like where I currently live, tend to be more traditional, perhaps depending on and ‘obeying’ their parents well into adulthood.

    My husband learned to do a lot at a very young age, such as cooking and chores, since his parents had to work long hours when he was a child. When we moved to Beijing several years ago he was, however, completely clueless. Despite being 30 years old at the time it was very hard for him to navigate finding an apartment and getting a job. Stuff I had done when I was in my teens!

    We do have dorm life in my home country (the U.S.) but we are still pushed to be independent in a lot of ways that many Chinese are not. We don’t have adults supervising very much of what we do and we tend to avoid moving back in with our parents.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Great to have you in the discussion R Zhao! You and other commenters have brought up great examples of different kind of life situations young Chinese people live.

    My boyfriend was also clueless about the rents in Guangzhou and was surprised to hear how much would be needed to a nice apartment. Rents are cheap and rooms simple here where we live.

  • Random

    Amazing Post !!! I have a 46 year old husband who is still trying to learn to be an adult. sad. (he is Chinese). I think their parents spoil some of them their whole life.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Thank you! Some kids really do get spoiled, perhaps because they don’t have any siblings? But this must be usually the case in a more wealthy families.

  • chen gang

    well it goes hand in hand with Chinese political, social, and economical structures too. Imagine the Chinese society was similar to some western countries, where people are independent, not only personally but also political and socially, how long do you think the totalitarian government would last? Chinese people complain about not having freedom as other countries enjoy, but we need to look nowhere else but ourselves. even if we were endorsed with it now can we actually know how to “use” it? not if you can’t even take care yourselves personally!

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Good points chen gang! Lots of these family level issues have much deeper roots to the whole society. There is always a reason why Chinese families do things like they do. At the same time it can be a cycle that is hard to break.

  • 安婷娜

    Hei! Mäkin katoin pari päivää sitten samaa sarjaa. En kestänyt kovin kauaa sen parissa. Sulla on hieno blogi menossa, jatka vaan ja tiedä, ettet ole yksin! :)

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Kiitos mieltä lämmittävästä kommentista! :)