Since its premiere on Mar. 1 to the finale on Mar. 25, the TV series “All is Well” caught Chinese audiences’ attention for nearly a month. Audiences discussed the characters as if they were real people in their lives. In the TV show, after the decease of the mother in the Su family, the conflict between family members, especially between the three kids and their father, intensifies and the family starts to break down as the father seeks excessive support from his kids.
Although domestic life has always been a hot topic in Chinese TV series, “All is Well” provides an interesting perspective for us to look at parent-children relationship in modern China. Coming from the same family, the three children in the Su family have distinctive characteristics: The big brother Su Mingzhe is a typical book smart person but suffers from being overconfident; the second brother Su Mingcheng was spoiled by his mother and as a result continues to live off his parents way into his 30’s; Su Mingyu, the youngest daughter, grew up as an emotionally deprived kid and learned how to stand up and provide for herself. Each of them represent a different type of upbringing, however, I found the big brother Su Mingzhe to be the most interesting, not only in that he has a U.S. background, but also in the way he interacts with his father.
Su Mingzhe: a “Tripple-A student” haunted by his parents’ expectation
After graduating from Tsinghua University (one of the top 2 universities in China) and Stanford University with a Ph.D. degree, Su Mingzhe found a engineering job and settled down in Silicon Valley. He is supposed to serve as the role model of his younger brother and sister. However, it is evident that he lacks life experience and resembles his father in terms of cowardice and indecisiveness. When he was fired from his job, he kept it as a secret and pretended it never happened. As the old saying goes in China, “You can lose anything except your face.” His living status was not revealed to his younger sister until she came to the United States for a visit.
When Su Mingzhe’s father asked to move to the United States, he immediately agreed without talking to his wife, not taking his financial situation and increasing living expenses into account. After making the promise, he was soon challenged by his wife and began to stagger.
One interesting detail was brought up by a Chinese blogger, who works as a project manager in Silicon Valley. In the TV series, Su Mingzhe earns an annual salary of 100+k USD. However, he doubted with a Stanford Ph.D. degree and 10 years of working experience in a Silicon Valley company would earn less than 300k USD. The blogger broke down each scenario of Su Mingzhe’s career path and calculated in detail how much he would earn in each scenario, and educated Chinese audience about the real life of an experienced Silicon Valley software engineer. If you didn’t already figure it out; he would definitely be much richer than Su Mingzhe.
Parents’ Expectation as an Eternal Topic
Leaving the inaccuracy of Su Mingzhe’s salary aside, living up to your parents’ expectations is an eternal topic between Asian kids and their parents. In “All is Well”, it appears that Su Mingzhe doesn’t have any choice but to put his wishes before his own needs and feelings.
Interestingly, Chinese-American actor and comedian Jimmy O. wrote about similar problems with his parents when he was trying to launch his stand-up career in his latest memoir: How to American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents. He described his experience coming to the United States at the age of 13, growing up as an immigrant in a traditional Chinese family, quitting his decent job as a financial analyst and finally pursuing his dream as a comedian. His journey to become a successful and well-known comedian was not an easy one. A strip club DJ, a shoe salesman, an employee at a restaurant called Chop Suey, and an Uber driver — these are just some of the many jobs Jimmy O. Yang held before making it big as a stand-up comedian.
“In America, people will always tell me, ‘Money can’t buy happiness. Do what you love,’” writes Jimmy O.Yang, best known for playing the Chinese app developer Jian-Yang on the HBO comedy Silicon Valley. “In my Chinese family, my dad always tells me: ‘Pursuing your dreams is for losers. Doing what you love is how you become homeless.’”
While Jimmy O.Yang was lucky enough to have the courage to pursue his own dream and discover his own path, more Asian kids are like Su Mingzhe, who internalize their parents’ expectations as a measurement of their own self-worth and who fear off the rails as a model citizen. When dealing with family issues, Su Mingzhe always says to his siblings, “You really let me down.” He tries to act like the head of the family after his mother’s death, taking the place of his mother and projecting his expectations onto his siblings.
At the end of the TV series, Su Mingzhe goes back to the United States and continues his life as a software engineer. However, the theme of the series lives on in reality: the overbearing Asian parents and their children who try so hard to (or not to) live up to their expectation. The parenting style of Asian families is brought to the screen, criticized from time to time, but still unshakable.
Featured photo credit to sina