Language, like a midget, is a funny thing. The word qiguanyan (bronchitis)
has taken on a metaphorical new meaning in modern China. Qi (from qizi
- wife), guan (from guanjiao - to discipline) and yan (from yanli -
severe) has a similar fayin (pronunciation) to Ôbronchitis,’ and is
now a popular term for a henpecked husband - an affliction that knows
no cultural bounds!
In the good old days, nanzhuwai, nuzhunei (men handled external affairs,
women took care of the home). But now, with the advent of nannu pingdeng
zhuyi (equality of the sexes), the old jiating zhufu gainian (housewife
concept), is disappearing faster than a bottle of baijiu (rotgut) at
a gong’an (police) convention. These days men are increasingly responsible
for household chores including shopping, cooking, cleaning and periodic
But doing household chores alone doesn’t make a man a qiguanyan. Or
does it? Since the Comrade happens to be an expert in both Chinese culture
and relationships with women, it is only fitting that he dictate the
contemporary criteria for determining whether a man is henpecked or
Every danwei (work unit) has at least one guy whose spending habits
are unduly consistent. Chances are this fellow is allotted a fixed shenghuofei
É (lit: living expense) from his spouse. Kind of like the way a parent
gives lingyongqian (an allowance) to a child. And when the danwei apportions
jiangjin (bonuses) to the employees, you can bet your Little Red Book
the wife of the henpecked husband never finds out about it.
Most qiguanyan also give themselves away by their conduct. They’re the
ones whose dananzizhuyi (machismo) runneth over when their wives aren’t
around to scold them. It is likely that these guys have more experience
at rencuo (confessing mistakes) than a heiwulei (capitalist or intellectual)
during the Cultural Revolution.
Balancing the roles of wife and daughter-in-law is an age-old social
dilemma for Chinese women. As most Chinese couples live with the husband’s
parents, the ignoble wife must practice the utmost diplomacy in handling
nuclear and extended family relationships. But with the advent of sexual
equality, these traditional roles are now frequently reversed. Woe is
the henpecked husband in modern China who finds himself torn between
filial responsibilities to his own mother and the demands of his wife.
For example, it is common practice for Chinese couples to give their
parents a gift of money every month. Henpecked husbands are frequently
chastised by their wives for giving their parents too much money, and
at the same time reproached by their own parents for not being fiscally
But being henpecked may not be without its virtues. Certain studies
show that henpecked husbands actually live longer and enjoy significantly
better health than danshenhan (bachelors). One theory is that marriage
provides men with a health-regulating mechanism preventing overindulgence
in activities like drinking and debauchery. In layman’s terms, that
means wuliao (boredom) promotes changshou (long life).
And now here’s a postmodern parable (with Chinese characteristics, of
course) that will illustrate the vagaries of love and matrimony, Beijing-style.
The Henpecked Taxi Driver’s Three Wishes
Once there was a henpecked taxi driver named Dan Xiao (lit: Ôsmall gall
bladder’) a man of meager means who drove a miandi taxi for his daily
rice. He lived with his parents, child and wife in Chaoyang District.
He wistfully longed for his bachelor days, when he could come and go
as he pleased, play cards and majiang and drink erguotou with his comrades
without having to listen to his family’s kvetching.
Late one night his dirty yellow taxi was stopped at a red light on Jianguomen
Avenue when a goddess of mercy floated in front of his windshield. Dan
Xiao instinctively sought her blessing, beseeching the deity for protection,
longevity and melon seeds.
The holy apparition took pity on the wretched cab driver and deigned
to grant him the fulfillment of sange yuanwang (three wishes). Then,
in a puff of exhaust smoke, she was gone.
Dan Xiao wasn’t sure if that last bottle of baijiu wasn’t playing tricks
on him. Turning his lemon around, he headed home.
Daylight was breaking, and he knew that a verbal drubbing from his beloved
wife Luo Suo lay in store for him. But he wanted to tell her about the
divine visitation and his three wishes. He resolved to sober up, think
carefully about the entire matter and consider how to make the most
of this unexpected boon.
As Dan Xiao parked his taxi on the sidewalk in front of his building,
Luo Suo loomed in the doorway. She immediately began berating him as
a fubuqide liuadou (worthless good-for-nothing) who couldn’t even feed
two mouths, let alone an entire extended family. She scolded him gouxuepentou
(lit: Ôblood from a dog’s slit throat’ or harshly), tuoyefeijian (Ôwith
spittle flying in all directions’). Why was he returning so late, she
demanded, calling him a wonangfei (useless numbskull) and shouting,
"qiaoni na xiongyangr! Ganshenme doubuxing!" (Look at this excuse for
a man! Can’t do a damn thing right!). Finally she cursed the wicked
smell of baijiu emanating from his seed-encrusted mouth, "And you stink
of that evil booze!"
Suddenly, Dan Xiao biebuzhu qi (his temper flared up like a case of
hemorrhoids). I hope "evil booze" floods this whole kitchen! he shouted.
And lo and behold, Chinese baijiu began to fill the room at an alarming
pace, threatening to drown wife and man in a matter of seconds...
Luo Suo screamed bloody Mao. So Dan Xiao spontaneously exclaimed,
"I wish this baijiu would disappear!" which was instantaneously the
case. The booze evaporated and the room dried up like a bone, leaving
the place more of a shambles than usual.
Luš Suš gaped in amazement, silent for once. Dan Xiao, grasping his
predicament with sudden sobriety, exclaimed vehemently, "I wish I’d
never met that holy hussy in the first place!"
That was that. The three marvelous wishes were exhausted, and poor
benighted Dan Xiao was right back where he started from. Moreover, to
add insult to injury, his wife lambasted him bitterly for squandering
their three precious wishes. "They could have been eternal boons for
us!" she lamented. "We could have had a sedan (jiaoche) and a villa
(bieshu)!" But no matter how fervently they burned incense, how indefatigably
they combed the streets of Beijing, divine intervention was not again
Ironically, the event broke, uh tamed Dan Xiao’s spirit, and he became
a chuangtougui (lit: 'bedside cabinet’, a pun also meaning 'a husband
grovelling at the foot of the conjugal bed’) and settled down to a life
of marital piety to Luo Suo. The couple became the picture of xiangjing
rubin, ju an qimei (domestic harmony) and Dan Xiao and Luo Suo renewed
their vow to baitou xielao grow grey side by side.