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As sort of “low woman on the totem pole” in her new family, one of her main jobs would be to serve her mother-in-law and make her happy.

The Chinese mother-in-law (at least in ages past) had a reputation for being pretty demanding and difficult to please — after all, she had once been low woman on the totem pole as well, and had risen through the ranks to become mother, mother-in-law, and hopefully, grandmother.

Unfortunately, the girl broke things off immediately.

Still, even among today’s married women in China, Chinese mothers-in-law aren’t unlike Chinese deities: something to revere and fear.

The looming prospect of a live-in mother-in-law was enough to break a relationship, in the case of my friend, Peter Pi.

It could have been any other pile of clothing — pastel linen blouses, jeans with a flower pattern embroidered on the side, a silk robe in peacock blue, and more.

But they were my the clothes of my sister-in-law, Da Sao, married to my husband’s eldest brother.

Abuse of the daughter-in-law is so common a circumstance, that unless it be especially flagrant, it attracts very little attention.

The film depicts Hue’s grandmother as a traditional chauvinist Chinese mother-in-law who polices patriarchal loyalties in the conjugal home.

(Fortunately, they mended the relationship later this year, but only because Peter persistently called her.) Some daughters-in-law fret over their behavior in front of the Chinese mother-in-law — because violating the hierarchy of traditional Confucian filial piety means trouble.

Consider this example in the same post cited above, from China Live Hope: The classmate asked her boyfriend to get her a drink of water, and the boyfriend (foolish boy) asked his mother to get him a drink of water (intending to give it to his girlfriend)….

The father-in-law is not only unfitted to take the control which belongs to his wife, even were he at home all the time which would seldom be the case, but propriety forbids him to do any such thing, even were he able.

In families where a mother-in-law is lacking, there are likely to be much greater evils than the worst mother-in-law.

Da Sao is no saint — but not once did my inlaws suggest that Da Ge, her husband, did anything wrong (Da Ge, according to my husband John, is an uninvolved father who has also exacerbated his son’s behavior problems).

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