Issue 2: Making Conversation

The concept of family equality in modern society

This essay combines author articles, sociological research, and personal experiences with numerous sociological papers to investigate the author’s perspectives on their upbringing.


In discussions surrounding gender equality within Western contexts, the focus typically narrows to the power dynamics between spouses, emphasizing the interaction solely between men and women within the family structure. However, the concept of patriarchy extends beyond gender alone; it encompasses generational dynamics, exerting a significant influence on modern family relationships.

Historically regarded as a quintessential model of traditional patriarchy and later, post-patriarchy, China has undergone perceived shifts in these paradigms. While it’s commonly assumed that China has moved past its patriarchal and post-patriarchal stages, prevailing gender disparities and the omnipotence of family authority persist, manifesting prominently in both private and public domains.

From the “post-patriarchy” to the concept of equal family in modern society

When talking about gender equality in a Western context, we often only focus on the power relationship between husband and wife. It seems that the only parties to the power game in a family are men and women. The concept of patriarchy includes not only gender but also generation. In modern family relationships, Generations also have a significant impact.

China was once seen as a model of classic patriarchy and post-patriarchy. It is now generally believed that China’s patriarchy and post-patriarchy have collapsed, but at the same time we can see that gender inequality and the absolute power of the family still exist widely in the private and public spheres. This seemingly contradictory conclusion lies in the fact that post-patriarchy, patriarchy, and gender equality are defined and measured using different standards. The history of China in the 20th century is not only undergoing earth-shaking external revolutions, but also undergoing radical changes in the field of private life and within families [Gao 2005]. After the traditional isomorphic structure of family and country was broken, the turmoil and disintegration of Chinese families were written into the life history of the Chinese people.

In January 2018, Wang Meng (pseudonym), the top scorer in the college entrance examination from a prefecture-level city in Sichuan (studied in one of the best majors at Peking University, and later studied as a graduate student at one of the top 50 universities in the United States) published on major media platforms Published an article entitled “A 10,000-word essay by a master’s student from Peking University studying in the United States accuses his parents of “control and harm.” Twelve years ago, he stopped going home for the New Year; six years ago, he blacklisted all his parents’ contact information. He attributed his psychological problems, the root of his break with his family, and his character weaknesses to his parents’ excessive control over him in the name of “love” and “protection” since childhood. Many netizens recalled similar problems in family relationships and parent-child interactions during childhood, and reflected on the negative impact of unhealthy parent-child relationships on personality or behavior in adulthood.

Many people believe that in modern society, it is impossible to obtain the first call in the family just as a ‘father’ without the support of other factors. In other words, if you still imagine that status levels were determined based only on age and seniority in the past, then the legitimacy must no longer exist, and the identity of ‘father’ can no longer be the basis for the first right of appeal [Mou 1999].

Therefore, some scholars have put forward the term “post-patriarchal system”, which refers to male rule in the family and public sphere, and its meaning is broader than the concept of patriarchy. In contemporary society, fathers still have the power to dominate the family and the public sphere. On the basis of the ”post-patriarchal theory”, an ideal society of equality that is peaceful, free, diverse, differentiated, but without hierarchical oppression is envisioned. 

Everyone is influenced by the values, morals, traditions and standards in the family view presented by society, and then chooses and decides by themselves. From this point of view, we can know that both the family and the healthy development of human beings and social systems are affected by the individual’s family view. Impact [Li 2002]. According to different cultures, every society, era, and even every individual constructs different connotations of family values. The view of the disintegration of the traditional family view is also biased. It only starts from the constructive nature of the family view and infers the end of the traditional family view, ignoring the inheritance of the family view in the development process [Zhang 2000]. In the process of the evolution of family values, traditional family values are transmitted invisibly, and individuals actively or passively accept some traditional family values. Therefore, some conflicts and contradictions in family relationships can be rebalanced, and families can be regenerated.

For example, in modern society, the change of family ethics is the most subversive in the entire family view, and even directly shook the foundation of the traditional post-patriarchal society. However, the transformation of family ethics has not caused chaos in social order and disorder in social life. Instead, it is the communication of equal rights, that is, modern family relations give priority to communication [Peng 2004]. The tolerance achieved on this basis is a compromise method after the inability to communicate, which is very different from the traditional view of the family that directly requires the vulnerable party (usually women and children) to compromise. As another example, in the modern family, in addition to the traditional division of roles between men and women, it has become a new common choice for both husband and wife to go out to work.

Secondly, the construction of modern family ethics has a positive effect on family unity. Family relations in feudal society emphasize three syllabuses and five rules, male superiority and female inferiority [Zhang 1993]. There is no equality and freedom in such a family relationship at all. Modern family ethics requires equality between family members, that is, equality of personality and equality of obligations between husband and wife, parents and children. When dealing with family issues, it is necessary to take the form of equal consultation, and no individual can impose his own will on others. In addition to equality, modern family ethics also emphasizes freedom of personality within a certain range and degree [Wang 2009]. It can be said that a family without freedom of personality, even though it can be an orderly family, is not a happy and vibrant family. Therefore, modern family ethics has the responsibility of  “not giving in” to the mediation of the relationship between family members. Finally, the construction of modern family ethics has a positive effect on personal development.

It is not only in the third world or underdeveloped areas that there is extreme inequality and even violence in the family. Even in France, in a middle-class family, there is still violence by men against other family members. This violence is not only physical but also mental and financial control. The film uses Hitchcock-style thrillers to show the story of how women protect their children in the face of violent husbands. I believe everyone who has seen the movie shudders at the tyranny behind the gentle father in the movie. Power struggles in the family are often invisible. As this movie shows, the court did not notice the father’s problem at the beginning and made a joint custody decision, which almost caused a tragedy in the end.

In dialectical materialism we learn that nothing stands still. So the concept of family is also the same. Over time, the mainstream social concepts and social and cultural progress, social and economic development, and changes in various elements of the family have changed. Especially since the reform and opening up after the founding of New China, the rapid social development and tremendous economic changes have caused tremendous changes in the system and structure of Chinese families [Yan 2006]. Family relationships continue to become more complex, family ethics continue to become anomie, and family sizes continue to shrink. There is an urgent need for society to develop a new family outlook that can adapt to and promote the development of modern society.

In short, as people’s material lives become increasingly affluent in China, the emotional functions of family, such as comfort and psychological comfort, have become increasingly prominent. There is an old Chinese saying, “Everyone thrives when a family is in harmony.” Everyone longs for a harmonious and happy family. To build a stable and peaceful society, it must be composed of harmonious families of millions of households. After all, The foundation of social harmony is family harmony. In addition, individuals can only cultivate a healthy personality and form good qualities by living in a family of loving husband and wife, long-term kindness and filial piety, democracy and equality, and loose harmony, thereby promoting the development of the entire social civilization. In other words, love based on equality is the most important.

Mind mapping at the beginning of an article’s journey
  1. Gao Letian. 2005, ‘The family ethics of building a harmonious society’. Philosophical Dynamics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, 2005(3).
  2. Li Guimei. 2002, Conflict and integration—The modern shift and modern values of traditional Chinese family ethics. Hunan: Central South University Press, Hunan.
  3. Mou Zhongjian. 1999, ‘The contemporary value of traditional family ethics’. Journal of Shandong Institute of Mining and Technology, Social Science Edition, 1999(2).
  4. Peng Wanli. 2004, ‘An experimental discussion on the cultivation of modern family ethics and morals-A basic project of the construction of socialist spiritual civilization’. Gui Hai on the Series, 2004(6). 
  5. Wang Su. 2009, ‘An analysis of modern family ethics’. Lanzhou Journal, 2009(3).
  6. Yan Hui. 2006, ‘Watch the Homeland—The contemporary Situation of Family Ethics’. Journal of Beijing Normal University (Social Sciences Edition), 2006(2). 
  7. Zhang Bin. 2000, ‘The modern transformation of traditional Chinese family ethics’. Journal of Nanjing Institute of Political Science, 2000(2).
  8. Zhang Huaicheng. 1993, Family and Ethics in China. Beijing: Renmin University of China Press, Beijing.
About the Author

Xinyue Liang graduated from MA Fine Art: Drawing at Camberwell in 2023. Xinyue is an artist based in China, working in Chinese calligraphy, drawing and installations. Follow Xinyue’s work at:

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July 2023
Cloth, Light Silk, Chinese Ink, Hemp Rope, Wooden Strip, Nail