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Taiwanese Woman Killed Herself Because Husband Wasn’t Polite To His Mother

According to an Apple Daily report, a 35-year-old man surnamed Wang (王) and his young wife celebrated Mother’s Day with his family. The man did not serve food to his mother, as respect for the elderly prescribes in traditional culture. His wife, surnamed Xu (許), stepped in and served her mother-in-law food, instead.

In the evening the couple returned home. While they were drinking some alcohol, the woman complained to her husband about what had happened at dinner, saying that his behaviour had been improper (不得體). The two began to quarrel. After a while the wife went to bed to take a rest.


(source)


However, the following morning the row started over again, and husband and wife came to blows. As the man later stated, his wife looked very agitated. Mr Wang left the house and went to a nearby park to calm down after the quarrel. But when he returned home three hours later, he found the door of the bathroom locked. 


He forced the door open, went in and found his wife’s dead body hanging from the window grills. She had hanged herself with a towel.

The man immediately called the police and recounted what had happened the previous night. He also notified the wife’s relatives, who immediately arrived and took with them the couple’s daughters – respectively 4 years old and ten months old – who were still fast asleep at the time of the tragedy.

This is just an exceptional case. But we should be careful not to underestimate family issues in Taiwan, including domestic violence and depression. The hierarchical nature of the Taiwanese family, about which I often wrote in this blog, remains one of the main source of tensions between family members. Though the background of the tragedy is unknown and no one can understand what went on in the mind of the young woman, some readers who commented on Apple Daily and other newspapers said that young wives are exposed to pressure that sometimes is unbearable. Some claimed that the wife feared her mother-in-law would blame her for the husband’s lack of filial respect – a strange thought to a Westerner, but not entirely uncommon in Taiwan, where conflicts between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law used to be the rule in the past (I will give an example of this below).

Zeng Yangqing, a professor of General Education at Zhongyuan University, said something very interesting about marital relationships. He advised couples not to quarrel over trivial matters and to avoid accumulating negative emotions. He said that couples should communicate more and discuss things over, instead of ending quarrels by going away or threatening to divorce. If a row happened in a public area and in front of other people (something I saw quite often in Taiwan) he said the couple should continue the discussion in private.

Suicide has long been a serious problem in Taiwan, though in recent years the efforts of the government to prevent the phenomenon have been quite successful. In 2012 suicide rates dropped to about 12.3 per 100,000, the world average being 10 per 100,000. In 2009, suicide was the second cause of death among Taiwanese people aged 15-24. Surprisingly, 60% of the suicides were motivated by relationship and interpersonal problems, while only 3% were driven by academic pressure.
Family quarrels happen everywhere and are certainly not confined to Asia. But I wonder if the problem of lack of communication – which I found to be particularly conspicuous in East Asia – is due to the evolution of traditional hierarchical structures that haven’t been able to adapt to contemporary society satisfactorily (a problem that also concerns the traditional Christian family in the West).

Here is an example of traditional Taiwanese hierarchy-based conflicts from Margery Wolf’s masterful anthropological study Women and the Family in Rural Taiwan, which describes rural Taiwanese families in the 1950s-1970s:

A Taiwanese marriage is not conceived of in terms of a man taking a wife, but of a family calling in a daughter-in-law, and every bride is well aware that pleasing her husband is the least of her concerns, that it is her mother-in-law’s face she must watch. In the first few years of marriage a woman spends far more of her time interacting with her mother-in-law than with her husband … 
We heard the following conversation between two mothers-in-law about a third woman whose son had recently married. 
“The other day I asked her if her daughter-in-law had returned to work. She told me, ‘She came and asked me if she should go back to work. She said, ”Mother, everyone is looking for a job and the factory is holding mine for me. I don’t think I should give it up, do you? I can still cook breakfast, and if you could cook lunch when I get home from work, I’ll cook the dinner. All right, Mother?“
Really, that woman is too much. She brags that when the girl gets home from work she changes her clothes right away and starts washing the family’s clothes. She gets up early and sweeps the house out and cooks before she goes out to work. She told Siu-ing all of these things, and it made Siu-ing so mad that she went home and scolded her daughter-in-law for being so slow. Kim-ki shouldn’t go around making everyone else mad at their daughter-in-law” 


(Margery Wolf: Women and the Family in Rural Taiwan. 1972, Chapter 9).

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