Politics, religion and their influence on family systems in Asia

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Did you know that in India, China and South-Korea they believe that girls are useless, men have a higher net value and therefore, families prefer having a son? Did you know that in China, the one child policy was introduced in 1979, because the country was overpopulated and millions of babies where abandoned? Did you know that in Thailand, the king is seen as holy and can’t be insulted, and otherwise, you end up in jail? Those are a few of the examples which influences politics have on family systems in Asia. Within this blog, we will explain several family systems and the impact of religion and politics on those systems.

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Family systems and religions

There are many family systems existing, explaining them all takes too long, because of that we will discuss the most important ones. To make a clear overview, we can divide them in three types of Kinship systems, which are Patrilineal, Matrilineal, and Bilateral. According to Dube (1994) kinship systems are an important context in which gender relations are explained. These systems define the rules of inheritance and residence within a family. Matrilineal and Bilateral Kinship Systems mainly exist in Southeast Asia, which includes Thailand (Yeung, Desai, & Jones, 2017).  Firstly, we have the Patrilineal Kinship system. This is a system in which the men are more dominant, whereas women are not. This because of son preference, since men are seen as stronger and can provide for the family best. This is currently the most popular kinship system in South Asia. Secondly, we have the Matrilineal Kinship system, which is a system where the women are dominant. This system is not very common these days. Thirdly, the Bilateral Kinship system, which says that men and women are equal. From both sides, mother’s and father’s, it is possible to inherit and are allowed to live with family members from both sides. This is also called a ‘stem family’  (Dommaraju, Premchand, & Tan, 2014).

The next video explains Kinship systems:

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Around the world there are many ways of living together, whether that may be in poverty, the middle class, or the wealthy people, we all live a certain way. In this blog, we look at Asia. Often, these types of live style are based upon religion or philosophies. When considering Thailand and other Asian countries, Buddhism is the main religion. If you believe in Buddhism, you will be learned how to end suffering and live without hatred, and other types of negative feelings that can have an impact on others. Buddhists believe that if someone does something good or bad, this person will experience something good or bad in the future, which is a description of the word that we al know as ‘Karma’’ (History.com Editors, 2017).

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Apart from Buddhism, Confucianism is also a religion that is popular in East  Asia. Confucianism is a religion, or some say a philosophy, that originated in China. In this religion, the group is more important than the individual, there is authority over liberty, and rights are more important than responsibilities (Fukuyama, 1995). These values had a big impact on Asian people when the patrilineal Kinship System became more popular. This led to men having the authority within families, again (Fukuyama, 1995).




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Family values

To get a better understanding of family systems in Asia, we must also know the values of their religion and culture. Let’s start with Thai families. Influences like religious beliefs, rural and urban considerations, relationships, societal values, sexuality and the role of men and women are topics we should look at (Pinyuchon & Gray, 1997).

Religious Beliefs – As mentioned, Buddhism can be seen as the national religion of Thailand and therefore, Thai people have been learned to see their parents theoretically as “house gods”, the people who gave life to a child. Due this, Thai children are supposed to listen and respect their parents. Of course, in the Western culture it is also normal to respect your parents, but most of us don’t do everything that is expected from us. We want to decide ourselves what to do in our further life and career.

Rural and Urban view – The life of people living in rural and urban arias in Thailand is different. The urban arias have much more Western elements. For example, there is less time to eat together with the whole family which is in contrast with families living in a rural community. In our situation, it is normal not having dinner or breakfast together every evening. The same goes for living with multiple generations in one household, which is more common in rural areas then in urban areas. In our culture, it is normal that our grandparent’s life their last year in a retirement home, in the Asian culture that is a weird thing, since that shows disrespect. The elderly people have worked very hard for the family, so taking care of them in their last years is expected.

Societal Values – The societal values of the Thai people shaping family systems as well. For instance, in the eyes of a parents, children are children for good and therefore a child will always need permission and guidance in life and a parent is never wrong.

Relationships – Each individual in a Thai family has a role. The leader of the family it the father, who needs to be strong and wise. The mother must follow and support the father and be humble, kind and loving (Hofstede, 1991).

Sexuality – Charoenthaweesub  & Hale (2011) says that sexuality is a big taboo in Thailand and the topic is avoided by parents. Parents believe it is the role of teachers, doctors and professionals to educate their children about this topic.

As mentioned before, the Patrilineal Kinship System is popular within households. To make this even more well-known, countries in Asia made sure that Confucian values were used. These values lead to more authority for the state’s ruler and the state itself. In the process of that, it meant that people had to become patrilineages. This led to the fact that households had to be under the authority of the male head of the family, who decided what the roles and status were of his household. The preference of having men as part of the authority, can not only be seen in the households, but also in politics and even the leaders and kings of these countries (DasGupta, 2010).

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The Thai King

Beside those values, the king has an important role in the family systems as well. To explain that, we first have to consider that the king is the head of state, the head of the Royal Household, armed forces, protector of Buddhism, and he is the upholder of religions (South China Morning Post, 2019). These titles have a big impact on everyone living in Thailand. This, because almost everyone believes in Buddhism. This religion, and religion in general, influences the way people live in Thailand, due their norms values, and believes. This life style is strongly connected to the three types of Kinship systems.

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The King of Thailand, Mr. Rama X has great authority and is using the patrilineal Kinship system to rule its country. No inhabitant of Thailand may insult the king in any form. If someone still does that, they can expect a jail sentence. This law is called the ‘Lese-majeste law’. The reason for this heavy punishment, is because the government thinks that the royal family should be protected, because of the many good things they did for the country. This is pretty ironic, since Thailand’s main religion is Buddhism and the thai citizins are predominantly living in Biliteral Kinship Systems. Still, authority is very important in Buddhist culture, but is used wrongly according to many Thai people (BBC, 2017). Still, there is great respect for the Thai King.  Especially, for the previous king, named Bhumibol Adulyadej. This king played a crucial role during different political issues and asked to stop violence protest more than once (Britannica, 2020). Even though the king of Thailand is and has been very important and may not be messed around with, the king mostly has a ceremonial function. Next to that, he can’t make any laws in Thailand, but the government must show it to the King and ask for approval when implementing new laws. In case the King doesn’t approve, the law can’t be used (South China Morning Post, 2019).

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Son preference 

Further, when taking a look at son preference, many Asians believe that when a girl marries, they become useless for the family. We as people of the western culture can’t imagine that this is the way of thinking of many people in Asia. As feminism reaches more and more attention, especially in the Western culture, there are still countries that have the complete oppositive view of gender equality and have a son preference.

Especially, in countries like India, China, and South-Korea people rather have a son than a daughter.  People in Asia believe that girls are useless and that men have a higher net value then daughters. For example, men can help in their parents’ farm. Moreover, men are seen as strong enough to work hard and they see daughters as major drain when marriage expenses become high. Next to that, they believe women are getting useless when they get married. This way of thinking shows an economic side of the problem.  The reality is that women are mistreated when they have no sons and men are willing to adopt another child or take another wife to make sure they get a boy who can take over the family’s land or company.

The worst things are happening with new-born baby girls, they are left on the streets, in basement or even more horrible places. There are even shelter places where people can leave their babies. Another shocking aspect is that abortion is illegal. However, there are many abortion clinics, and we believe they are not there without a reason. A shocking number is, for example, that in India there are 44 million more men than women at one moment and around two million women were missing. There is sex selective abortion happening.  Around 2000 there came more awareness via mass media and there are many people trying to eliminate the son preference, however this is not as easy as it sounds (Das Gupta, Zhenghua, Bohnua, Zhenming, Chung, Hwa-Ok, 2002).

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One-child policy

In china, another influence that politics have on family systems, is the one-child policy. China introduced the one-child policy in 1979, due the fact that China had a population of 1.4 billion at that time, which was still growing. At that moment, China had the largest population compared to the rest of the world and the leader of China, Deng Ciaoping, made the decision to implement this policy. This policy was important for China because they didn’t want to grow anymore, and the demand of water and other resources needed to be limited (CBC, 2015). In 2016, the one-child policy ended and couples where allowed to have two children. Isn’t it crazy that your government can decide what your future looks like?

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Overall, we can conclude that the power of politics and religion are having a huge impact on family systems in Asia, for a long time already. It starts with having certain family values, often based on the religion’s Buddhism and Confucianism, wherein a particular image has been created. These family systems, also called Kinship systems, can be divided in three types. These are Matrilineal, Patrilineal, and Bilateral Kinships systems. In Thailand the Bilateral system is most common. But, when considering the Thai king we can state that he is strongly influenced by the patrilineal system, which is influenced by the strong values of Confucianism. Due to that the Thai King has great power over the country, even though he mainly has a ceremonial function. He can’t make any laws, but every new law has to be approved by him. Next to this, nobody is allowed to insult the king. If so, this person can expect a jail sentence. Lastly, the king also is the protector of Buddhism, which is the most practiced and important religion in Thailand.

Considering this power, we can state that the king has a lot of influence in the Thai culture. Looking at the influence of men in general in Thailand, we can see that men are more important to a family than women. This can also be described as son preference. In the western culture, we grow up with the idea that everyone is equal, supported by politics. Leaving a baby girl alone on the streets to die because of preferring a son, is something we will not even consider. Next to this, in some cases politics have the ability to apply laws to restrict family systems. The fact that in China politics even have the power to decide about how many people a family should contain, is the perfect example of how far the influences of politics go regarding to family systems.

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BBC. (2017, October 6). Lese-majeste explained: How Thailand forbids insult of its royalty. Retrieved from BBC WORLD NEWS: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-29628191 

Charoenthaweesub, M., & Hale, C. L. (2011). Thai Family Communication Patterns: Parent-Adolescent Communication and the Well-Being of Thai Families. The First International Conference on Interdisciplinary Research and Development,, 84.1 – 84.6. Retrieved October 4, 2020, from http://www.ijcim.th.org/SpecialEditions/v19nSP1/02_84_16E_Mathurada%20Charoenthaweesub_[6].pdf 

DasGupta, M. (2010). Family Systems, Political systems, and Asia’s ‘Missing Girls’. Asian Population Studies, 123-152. 

Dommaraju, Premchand, & Tan, J. (2014). Households in Contemporary Southeast Asia . Journal of Comparative Family, 1-35. 

Dube, L. (2000). Doing Kinship and Gender: An Autobiographical Account. Economic and Political Weekly, 4037- 4047 (11 pages) . 

Fukuyama, F. (1995). Confucianism and Democracy. Journal of Democracy , 20-33. 

History.com Editors. (2017, October 12). Buddhism. Retrieved from History.com: https://www.history.com/topics/religion/buddhism 

Hofstede, G. (1991). Software on the Mind. Cultures and Organizations, 4-17. Retrieved October 4, 2020, from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5b53/90078b153ff9d9f805f09c570fb82f90c9a5.pdf 

Pinyuchon, M., & Gray, L. A. (1997). Understanding Thai Families: A Cultural Context for Therapists Using a Structural Approach. Contemporary Family Therapy, 209-228. Retrieved October 4, 2020, from https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1026119202888 

South China Morning Post. (2019, May 3). Youtube.com. Retrieved from Why is the Thai king so important?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuwG5EGSNFw 

Yeung, W. J., Desai, S., & Jones, G. (2017). Families in Southeast and South Asia. Annual Review of Sociology, 1-28. 


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