Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 4, April 9 -15

Henpecked Husbands  

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 self-criticism.

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 not.

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 filial enough.
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 forthcoming.

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.


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