The story appears on

Page A6

May 23, 2020

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

What’s in a name? Aye, there’s the rub

WHOSE surname should a child be given? The father’s or the mother’s?

The question aroused heated online discussion recently in China after an Internet celebrity famous for her individuality adhered to tradition and gave her newborn son her husband’s surname.

Jiang Yilei, an online video provider widely known as Papi Chan, or just Papi, is famous for her humorous scripts, lively performing and the ability to play numerous parts in a mini-play.

Jiang has more than 33 million followers on China’s social media site Weibo and more than 418,000 subscribers on YouTube. Jiang partially stopped video performances for half a year when she was pregnant.

On Mother’s Day, she commented on Weibo that being a mother is harder work than preparing for postgraduate entrance exams, making videos, going on business trips or shooting a movie. She included a photo of herself and her baby.

The post drew some instant criticism. Some Weibo users said they were disappointed that an independent woman famous for self-reliance would fall into the “marriage trap” and wouldn’t give her child her own surname.

“She looks so tired in the picture, yet the baby gets its father’s surname,” said a blogger whose screen name is Enhe.

The comment elicited more than a dozen responses from netizens. One claimed Jiang had become an “enslaved married donkey.”

Jiang herself never responded directly to the criticism, but her loyal fans did. They argued that the fight for equal rights should not descend into personal attacks.

“Individuals are free to choose whether or not to marry and whether or not to have children,” commented a netizen with the screen name Voiceyaya. “Stigmatizing family life and romanticizing careers cannot help women who have to rely on families for various reasons.”

The heated online debate pushed the topic to the “most searched” list of Weibo, with more than 30 million clicks. It also spread to other online social media sites, such as WeChat. Eventually, some online accounts attacking Jiang were suspended for violating user policies.

This is not the first time that the issue of matrilineal surnames has been in the public spotlight.

Last month, a blogger on Weibo claimed she was going to divorce her husband because he wouldn’t agree to change his son’s surname from his to hers. She called his refusal unfair after she was the one who “suffered all the pain and risks of pregnancy and childbirth, and lost time in her career development.”

Whether the story was true or not, it received more than 25,000 comments and 46,000 reposts. Some people applauded the woman for standing up for herself; others criticized her as a fusspot.

Yang Xiong, a researcher with the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, noted that a child’s surname affects no practical interests, such as property inheritance. Rather, the issue springs from an awakening of feminist consciousness.

“As women attain higher levels of education, income and social status, and become more independent and self-reliant, gender consciousness is awakened,” Yang said.

“Questioning traditions built on a patriarchal society follows naturally.”

Traditions, however, are not easily broken.

As early as in 2017, a survey of more than 2,000 people by the Social Research Center of China Youth Daily found that only half of the interviewees could accept the idea of a matrilineal surname. And some two-thirds of male respondents said they believed a surname is “very important.”

According to the research, reasons for not accepting matrilineal surnames varied. Some are based on the belief that children follow the bloodline of the father. Others said a mother’s surname might cause children to be subjected to awkward questions, such as if they’re from a single-parent family or if their parents are divorced.

Yang said there is no specific survey on how many people in China give the mother’s surname to children, but he guesses the number is “very limited.”

“Especially in the past few decades, a strict family planning policy in China allowed a couple to have only one child, and it was generally accepted that the child would bear the father’s surname,” he said. “But since couples are now allowed to have two children, you often see one child given the father’s surname and the other, the mother’s.”

Yang noted, however, that the debate has largely been waged online and may relate very little to general life across China.

“In more developed areas, we are discussing legislation on egg freezing to guarantee the reproductive rights of single women,” he said. “But such a topic has yet to penetrate less developed areas. The development of society is still evolving.”


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend