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Ethnic Variation/Ethnicity

Asian Families

Asian families include the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Indonesian families. There is remarkable diversity between and within the groups in terms of history, language, and demographic variables (including education, population, income, religion, and occupation). The most pronounced belief in Asian culture, except in Filipino culture, is the Confucian value system. This code of conduct determined relationships an individual had with people and their obligations to them (obey your parents, be a good citizen, take care of your family).

Chinese families. Morrison Wong (1988) indicates that the Chinese family is the product of social, legal, political, and economic factors interacting with culture through generations of families. The majority of Asian families can trace their roots to the traditional family structure of China, which included (1) patriarchal rule, with clearly defined roles of male dominance; (2) patrilocal residence patterns, where married couples lived with the husband's parents; and (3) extended families; in which many generations lived with their offspring under one roof.

Traditional Chinese family roles are governed by prescribed roles defined by hierarchy, obligation, and duty. The family is thought of as a collective unit and an individualistic perspective is seen as disruptive and disrespectful to the family. Marriages are commonly arranged and spousal relationships are secondary to parent-child relationships. Males within the Chinese culture are dominant and fathers handle familial disciplinarian responsibilities. On the other hand, women are affectionate, self-sacrificing, and caring as mothers; taught to assist with household responsibilities as daughters; and adhere to the thrice-obeying rule (comply with fathers/eldest brother in youth, husbands in marriage, and sons when widowed) as wives (Tung 2000).

Because ancestor worship is emphasized, having sons to carry on the family name and serving in-laws is also a cherished value. Another important value is filial piety; family relations are characterized by duty, obligation, importance of the family name, self-sacrifice for the good of the elders, and respect for status (Williams-Leon and Nakashima 2001).


Japanese families. Like many other Asian cultures, the Japanese family assigns responsibility according to gender. Women are considered the transmitters of tradition and handle most housework and childcare. Men, on the other hand, provide financially for the family.

The Japanese are encouraged to think first of being part of a group. In other words, one is never fully independent; therefore, one must always be conscious of others. Examples of the Japanese we orientation include: (1) hiring practices, (2) decision making, (3) language, and (4) nonverbal expressions (Varley 2000).

Korean families. Korean families are hierarchical by gender, generation, age, and class. There is differentiation by gender and men and women have traditional gender roles. Parents support children and children are obligated to respect their parents.

Jip-an (within the house) identifies family membership, values, and traditions practiced within a particular family. Marriage is considered a union among families rather than individuals (Coleman and Steinhoff 1992). Prior to marriage, the family's community standing, as well as the specific credentials of the family members, is considered.

Vietnamese families. China has long influenced Vietnamese culture. Vietnam adopted Chinese Confucianism enthusiastically, and this code of conduct governed its society for centuries. Like many other Asian cultures, Vietnamese hold elders in high regard and respect their position in the family. Both adults and children are taught to remain quiet when in the midst of elders and to listen with great intent. Eye contact is seen as disrespectful and shaking hands with both hands is expected.

In most Vietnamese families rules of etiquette were followed. Couples wed through parental arrangement or by their own initiative. Once married, the union is considered permanent unless the woman committed adultery. Until the mid-1950s, adultery by men was overlooked unless the position of the wife was in jeopardy in the extended family or children were not guaranteed financial security.

In traditional Vietnamese families, the husband is the head of the family, chief financial provider, and the rest of the family looks to him for guidance. The wife is the caregiver and comforter of the family and only deals with the outside community by choice (Trinh 2002).

Cambodian families. Cambodian people are a racial mix of indigenous tribal people and people who came during the invasion from India and Indonesia in 1970. Unlike many of the neighboring countries, the majority of the people are Buddhists with a small Muslim following. The Cambodian family is based on close relationships (extended kin). Central values within the Cambodian family are built around harmony and balance (Sun-Him 1987).

The husband is considered the head of the household and expects to be consulted at all times prior to decision making. Women in Cambodian culture hold stereotypical gender roles within the family (Sun-Him 1987).

Indonesian families. Indonesia is one of the largest Muslim nations with over 90 percent of its people reporting it as their primary religion. There are over 100 distinct groups in Indonesia, each with its own cultural identity related to language, class, custom, and value. In the Indonesian family, family closeness and loyalty, obligation, and respect for parents is important (Collins and Bahar 1995).

Indonesian culture recognizes the responsibility of the male to be the economic provider for the family. Muslim men in Indonesia may have up to four wives, but few do, because the husband must secure the permission from previous wives and treat each equally.

Women are taught to respect their husbands and are the primary caretakers of the family; women are responsible for domestic maintenance. Children are taught to obey and respect both parents. It is also common for children to remain in the homes of their parents for extended lengths of time. In fact, it has been reported that most young Indonesian individuals live with either their parents or extended family until they marry (Collins and Bahar 1995).


Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsEthnic Variation/Ethnicity - Origins And Importance Of Ethnicity, African Families, Asian Families, Latino Families, Middle Eastern Families