Nobody likes Chinese New Year reunions, period

Jan 24, 2020

Lunar New Year is the most important holiday on the Chinese calendar. But for many millennials, it can be a dreadful time, as they fend off questions from prying relatives.

Every year around January or February, there is a popular poll on the Chinese social media site Weibo of the top questions young people don’t want to hear during Lunar New Year reunions.

For those who haven’t graduated from school yet, the highest-ranked questions are about their test results and plans for the future. Those in the workforce, meanwhile, have to field prying queries about their salary, bonuses, and marriage prospects.

Lunar New Year is the most important holiday on the Chinese calendar, comparable to Christmas, and the day is marked by bountiful feasts, exchanges of red envelopes filled with money, and family reunions.

And while the experience of getting together with parents and relatives is a joyous occasion—especially since many people in China work away from home and Lunar New Year is their only time off—it can also be dreadful.

Many Chinese millennials find themselves fending off remarks from aunts and uncles they only see once a year about everything from their job prospects to outward appearance (“you’ve gotten fatter” is a common retort).

(Read more: Why Chinese millennials don’t want to get married)

Most jabs, though, are more subtle, wrapped around questions like why we’re still living with roommates in pricey Beijing when we could be saving up for our own apartment, and reminders about how we’re approaching 30 and still single.

Their remarks are caustic, like salt on a festering wound, but deep down, there’s also this sinking feeling that they’re right.

Their remarks are caustic, like salt on a festering wound, but deep down, there’s also this sinking feeling that they’re right.

In a culture where personal achievements are not just a measure of our own success but also of the family’s status, we often feel like we’re not good enough for our relatives, which is why so many of us dread Lunar New Year reunions.

(Read more: Imagine your parents spying on your date. In China, there’s an app for that.)

It’s not necessarily because of the uncomfortable conversations or inappropriate remarks; it’s because our insecurities are exacerbated by the input of prying relatives. We might be doing just fine, but during reunions, we realize our own sense of personal fulfillment can run counter to our family’s expectations of success.

During Lunar New Year, we all find ourselves caught off-guard as we seek validation from our families.

My peers are all well-read and well-traveled. They are convinced of the choices they’ve made in life. But once a year, during Lunar New Year, we all find ourselves caught off-guard as we seek validation from our families.

But when the festivities come to an end, we return to our jobs and the daily grind, grabbing coffee, rushing to work, and paving our own path forward, prying relatives be damned.

Chinese New YearPersonal essay