The Story of My Friend and Her Controlling Mother

My friend, Zhou Xueshu

My friend, Zhou Xueshu

In one of the posts about Taiwanese women Kevin wrote that filial piety, one of the most important constructs of Confucian philosophy, is often used as means of control. In this case parents love their children not for themselves but only if they fit certain conditions and agree to be “instruments” for whatever goal parents want to use them.

About a week ago I talked with my friend from high school Zhou Xueshu and a little glimpse into her relationship with her mother immediately reminded me the concepts of filial piety and instrumental love. Possibly that day Xueshu was especially frustrated and used a chance to complain about her misfortunes. Surprisingly she agreed to get her story published in LoveLoveChina and the next day we met online again for a little interview.

Some background about Xueshu:
She is 29 years old Chongqing girl. After graduating from college she started working as an auditor in one advertising company.
In the past Xueshu lived together with her parents in the tiny apartments (about 20 square meters). It comprised 1 bedroom which had just enough space for a double bed and wardrobe, 1 sitting room in which Xueshu’s bed was constructed by her father in a way that it had to be unfolded from the wall every evening, kitchen and bathroom (just enough for a slim person to squeeze in).
Several years ago, their house was demolished and they moved into new apartments in which they finally could “breathe” (60 square meters).

Me: I remember that in the past your mother was taking all of your salary.

Xueshu: Yes. In my first job I was earning 800 RMB per month. My mom would take all of it and give 5 RMB per day to me.

Me: Are you kidding? How could you survive?

Xueshu: No need to worry. She calculated everything for me. I lived and ate at home. So, 2 RMB was enough for transportation, and 3 RMB to buy noodles or fried rice for lunch.

Me: Sounds crazy. But now it’s better, right?

Xueshu: Yes. We have a different arrangement now. My salary grew to more than 2500 RMB. So every month I pay a “rent” of 400 RMB.

Me: That’s a totally different story.

Xueshu: But that’s not all. Even though I didn’t ask for it, my mom bought a new car for me. Not only I don’t like it at all but now I have to return 10,000 RMB per year for it. And I turned into a private driver of our family. Of course, all expenditures for insurance and gasoline are also on me. Now I have to wait until next month’s salary to buy some clothes for myself.

Me: Poor you. Well, at least you don’t have to pay insurance every month.

Xueshu: Yes. But then there will be something else. My father needs to see a dentist. So, mom insists that I give 1,000 RMB. Now this is OK for me.
But then she comes and says: “Your aunt’s phone is broken. Accompany her to buy a new mobile phone and pay for it.” My God! I think it will cost me another 1,000 RMB.

Me: What? She didn’t even talk with you before promising something to your aunt? And why your aunt’s children can’t buy it for her?

Xueshu: I myself wonder why. She has two sons both of whom work in other cities. What’s the use to bring up sons [if they can’t take care of you]?
I don’t know – maybe my mom was emotional or cared about face things when she talked with her. She said this aunt treats me well. But I honestly have never felt it. When we had hard times and didn’t have enough money for my tuition, nobody helped me.
And I remember that in the past whenever I had fights or quarrels with cousins, it was always my fault and me to be punished. I really don’t understand why she thinks that my aunt treats me well.

Me: I am sorry to hear that. Do you think that somehow your aunt felt superior to your mom because she had sons? Whether your mom said that she wanted a son?

Xueshu: I think so. In the past my mom mentioned several times that the first child was a boy (aborted before I was born). But now it’s OK although I am still not good enough.

Me: What do you mean?

Xueshu: Now – when I don’t give her all my salary – she constantly nags at me or tells others that I am not a filial daughter and not as good as my cousin sister. I think mothers don’t usually say bad things about their daughters in front of others, right? I really don’t understand why my mother does that.
Once I said that in the future I want to do a small business and run a shop. Her immediate reaction was – “We will not support it. You want? Save money and do it yourself. If you lose, don’t come back to cry. We will not help.”

Me: So why don’t you move out? You are 29 years old.

Xueshu: Don’t even mention it. Once I told my cousin sister that I want to move out and rent an apartment, she generously offered me to live in her apartment together with her. But when I told my mom about it, she got extremely angry. She told everyone in our neighborhood and family what bad daughter I was, that I didn’t want to live with her and take care of her, that I wasn’t a filial child and didn’t love her, and that her health was bad and she would die soon. She just made me crazy.
You know, immediately after my graduation I wanted to find a job in another city. Guess what my mom did when she heard about it? She took my wallet and hid my ID card and all of my certificates!

Me: If I were you, I would just move out without letting her know. After some time she would accept it. What is your dad’s attitude, by the way?

Xueshu: Oh, no. Not her! You saw my mom and knew her a little bit, right? I can not talk with her in a reasonable way. When she wants something from me, she can do anything to make it or control me. It’s been for years. Moreover, now I have other things to worry about – such as job, new car and so on. After I get married, I will have a decent reason to move out of my parents’ house. She won’t have anything to complain about. Somehow, I already don’t want to fight against her. Nowadays, when I come back home, I seldom talk with them. And my dad most of the time just keeps silent.

Me: So how is your dating? Does your mom allow you to go out to have fun?

Xueshu: Yes. But she always calls me at 7 p.m. to say that it’s dark and I should go back home. Of course, I decide myself when to go home but she just continues calling me.

Me: I don’t understand, isn’t she worried that you are still not married? Does she try to find someone for you?

Xueshu: Yes, she does. But since she is already retired for few years, she has less acquaintances and her circle is limited to our family, neighbors and people in the market.
Besides I myself am very busy at work lately. Anyway, there were few guys with whom I went out. But somehow we just didn’t have anything in common and it didn’t go well.

Me: What do you mean?

Xueshu: Well, for example there was a guy from the village. Very hard working, studies a lot. But you know, he opposed me spending (my own) money and for that reason we wouldn’t go to this place or to that place. He was also somewhat awkward in everything related to social intercourses. One time we had a dinner with a friend. I introduced my friend to him. He just smiled and during the whole dinner didn’t say a word. And then – in the end of the dinner – it was me to pay the whole bill!
Another guy who said that he liked me very much, he would call me every day. But most of the time I just couldn’t understand what he was talking about. His favorite topics were what kind of pranks he played on his colleagues or friends and various video games. It just drove me crazy.

Me: How old were the guys?

Xueshu: About one year older than me [thirty years old].]

Me: Uh!

Xueshu: Yeah, that’s it. So help me to find a nice guy if you have some friends to recommend.

Me: I will keep it in mind. Anyway, I really think that you should move out. I think that when you start dating someone seriously, your mom could influence your dating in a negative way.


Well… I have nothing to add to what you already have read.
If you have any advice to Xueshu, you can either leave your comments here or even send her an e-mail (

Lucky to have sane parents, Crystal Tao

22 comments to The Story of My Friend and Her Controlling Mother

  • Absolutely ridiculous. Tell your friend to grow a spine because it was more than a little difficult for me to feel bad for her at the end. If she’s the only one who makes the money then she controls the household. Every month she should give her parents a certain amount (700 RMB if she must :x ) and that’s it. No buying stupid stuff for other people. And if they call her a bad daughter and nag about it then only give them 500 RMB the next month. BOOM.

  • Craig

    Crystal Tao wrote a blog entry on your very typical family situation.

    I wanted to give you some perspective.

    I live in Korea (I’m from Canada). All of my friends growing up were Chinese (from Guangdong and Hong Kong). I’m very familiar with the kind of cultural issues you face.

    I don’t have specific advice, but I feel deeply for you. Here are some general observations.

    – In polite Chinese society, there’s no way for you to escape from your mother’s reach.
    – Your mother is using you as a prop and support; her “love” for you is about *your* obligations to *her*. It’s not about “love” at all; it’s about the duty of a daughter to serve her mother.

    Okay, so this is typical in Chinese families. I want to tell you, though: This is not an absolute. Many Chinese mothers and families are not like this. Do NOT excuse your mother’s behaviour because she’s Chinese and that’s her culture. Just because many Korean men are tough on women, doesn’t mean a man should be tough on women. Just because Canadian women are typically very independent doesn’t mean that all Canadian women must be rigidly independent.

    Ultimately, when you die, you will not get any awards for being uselessly loyal. Your life is yours to live. Every minute you choose not to act for yourself, you surrender.

    Ultimately, only you have responsibility for your decisions. If you become bitter or angry or can’t escape, this is entirely your fault. In efect, you are “enabling” your mother. By always giving in, you are allowing your mother to expect you to give in.

    Unless you resist, you do not have the right to complain. Think about this. Sheep and slaves have no right to freedom unless they try to free themselves or are genuinely helpless.

    You do have options. You could choose to move out. If you do so, your mother will complain.

    I have a good suggestion for you:

    Endure the complaints. Say, “I’m a 29 year-old woman, and I need to pursue my own life on my own. I will come and visit and help, of course, you’re my mother. But I must live for myself as well. I can do both.”

    Then, I have a strong suggestion for you. This is radical but you should consider it.


    Unless *you* need your car, leave the car with your mother. Do not pay for it. Never, ever use it. Use a taxi before you use the car. Don’t be angry with your mother, don’t confront her.

    The best way for a daughter to escape from this kind of pressure is to use the same method: Passive aggressive. Simply, … make it practical… to get distance.

    I have two very close Chinese friends who did exactly this. They found reasons to put distance.

    When you’re 85 years old, and looking back, you need to think: Did I do service to my mother and myself?

    – IF you always serve your mother in this way, you will never give her a chance to see the error of her ways. In effect, you are acting out of fear. You are cheating both yourself and her. You could have a real, close relationship with her not based on her using you: but by letting her use you, you keep up the “illusion” of love.

    Do yourself a service. Do your mother a service.

    Give her a REAL daughter: A proud, independent daughter able to make her way in the world and not be a servant. You can still help out, but you need to carve your own space.


    Relationships are fickle. Be careful. if you seek a man because you want to escape from your family ,remember this:

    You can run away from a place, but you cannot run away from yourself.

    If you seek a man for the wrong reasons, then you will simply find yourself in the same trap.

    Look to your own personality to see why you’re trapped. Then, change or modify those aspects of your own personality.

    I know it’s easy to blame your mother. It makes sense, too. She’s using you as a tool, not as a daughter. This is all too common, all over the world, and not just with parents and children Husbands and wives, friends, family – people all do this.

    It’s up to YOU to keep your relationships decent and free. Not other people. You need the strength to do that in every aspect of your life.

    When you get married, you will probably carry the BAD lessons you learned with your mother to your husband; and you will slowly succumb to his dominance or dominate him.

    Or worse: Your future children.

    My father was quite abusive. His father was a difficult, violent man. My father was very angry at his father, and carried his anger with him all his life. It lashed out at other people, including me and my siblings.

    When I was young, I realized: I didn’t hate my father. I felt bad for him. He lived in pain, and hurt others without thinking. In fact, if I was thinking about him, I should forgive him.

    But it was important for me to forgive him, for myself. His anger was directed at us because he was angry at his own life. If I carried my anger at my father with me, I would carry it forever.

    So, before he died, I made peace, and came to understand him, I think. I let go of the anger.

    The problem for *my* life wasn’t my father when I was young. The problem was the effect it had on me.

    So look at your own life. Look at what YOU do. Look at how YOU feel.

    And then release yourself from that trap.

    Sometimes, other people make our cages. But we often get used to living in cages, so eventually, we’re almost comfortable in them. Remember: even a golden cage is a cage.

    So, my advice:

    Find a good reason to get rid of the car.

    Find a good reason to move out; and be kind to your mother as you move out. Make sure you take your papers and everything important.

    Give her a reasonable sum of money, but make sure you have other expenses you need to pay – so when she asks, you can say, I have no more money for X or Y. You will have to ask me later. And later, give some – but not all of it.

    And then slowly, carefully, CHANGE THE DYNAMIC OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP.

    It’s like training a dog. It’s like studying Yoga or martial arts. It’s like learning a new skill. You need to train yourself as well as others.

    Do that.


    – You will have to endure some criticism. Decide that you can endure some criticism. Criticism is not the worst thing in the world. As one friend tells me, “If you never make anyone angry some of the time, then you’re not living properly.”

    Say: Mother, I love and respect you, but I need to do X or Y. And I need to save money for M.

    Do not expect help. Don’t be angry or jealous.

    Be grateful that you escape.

    In short, you have choices right now, but you’re not making them.

    I have one more piece of advice for you.

    Make choices. Once you decide, stick to your plan. And make the best of your choices. If there are bad consequences, then limit the effects of the bad consequences.

    Free yourself now, in the most polite, careful but FIRM way you can.

    Get everything ready and make sure she can’t sabotage you. Have your things at a friend’s house. Carefully move out. Say you’re staying at your friend’s house late, then over night. Then come home. Then stay at your friend’s two nights. And then make a habit of it. And then don’t come home.

    In French, we call it a “fait accompli” – basically, before you say anything, make sure it’s already done.

    Youcan do all this and still show respect to your family. You know that.

    As Crystal tells your story, it’s obvious that you know what to do. You just lack the moral courage to do something.

    Your lack of moral courage is the biggest betrayal of you and your mother. Show courage.

    I hope this helps.

  • magbest

    Take a Katana and kill… wait.. That’s Japanese cartoons…

    I think Wandering and Craig have said it all. This is the time to act. If you don’t feel good with your life at this point, just image how is going to be in a couple of years. Also, every single day that you are leaving with that frustration is very harmful. When I came to this country my father (real father) wanted me to live with him, which I did. It was hell, he wanted me to be there 24/7 for him. I paid my rent, food, bills, and all. I realized that leaving with him was a bad idea when he asked me money for one of his alcoholic meetings (he was an alcoholic), I answered no and the fight started. I moved out and my father and I are still in contact.
    But really, there is a big decision that you have to face. I said “no” to may father and move away from him just because I was really confident that I didn’t like that kind of life. Now, you have to think about it and take your own decision, be positive and confident, plan your route of action, and then be ready to act, which is the hardest step. If you need help in one of any steps that you would make remember that we can help you out.

  • whatwhome

    OMG!! Tell your friend to RUN AWAY!!!!!!


    My mom is no where near that controlling [I feel very fortunate and privileged right now haha] but I still ran away haha. To be specific, I moved to the other side of the world to avoid my natal family. But I came back and am now again being reminded of how fortunate and privileged I am LOL! Thanks for that.

    OMG…your friend…all I can do is shake my head in sympathy.

    • Actually, one of the reasons that I moved to china in the first place was because of my family situation.

      Although my incredibly abusive mother (mentally and physically) had moved out and the home situation had improved somewhat (no need to fear footsteps or opening doors) she tried very heavily to maintain a sense of control over everyone through guilt, violent angry out lashes and other methods.

      When she walked out I was left with a brother 15 months my junior that I was supposed to be responsible for but who was already in and out of Juvenile jail (he used to say that he was tougher cause I’d only been in jail once for a little over a month)and a father who had never cared for either of us especially after my older twin sisters walked out a few years before (as a result of my mother).

      I was left with the washing, cooking, cleaning and other responsibilities while I was still in high school while my father became even more distant because of the new girlfriend he had in Toronto. At least he paid “child support” in a way, just didn’t give a shit about the visitation thing except that he still slept in the same house.

      So trust me when I say, that I can understand EXTREME family situations and they are never easy to escape and dealing with them is extremely long and painful and never fully over it seems.

      I tried to be the good son and visit my mother once a week (my brother who was always her favourite stopped after a couple of months), but I just became her support beam and mental scratching post. It wasn’t helping her like I hoped and it was definitely not helping me. So right around the time that my father was selling the house and telling us to literally get the fuck out (I was 19 and my brother was almost 18) I found a TOEFL program and threw everything I had into it.

      Don’t get me wrong, I love travel, learning new things (especially languages and cultures), I enjoyed the classes (and teaching for the first few years), but it was a doorway out, so I took it.

      The absolute freedom at first was astounding, along with the financial situation. I’d never had any money before and paying for my own bills was a steep learning experience. I also had to teach myself how normal people socialized which was incredibly strange and fraught with a number of difficulties.

      So tell XueShu, that it IS possible to break free. It’s painful and takes time to heal like tearing a growth off your own body, but you will be healthier as a whole. You’ll be able to interact with the world in a semi-normal way. You’ll be free and that is absolutely an amazing feeling after been incarcerated physically and mentally for so long.

      She needs distance so that she can dictate when she’s ready to communicate again. She’s needs independence to grow strong mentally. She also needs new friends to help stabilize herself and have a network to learn from.

      I hope she can make it.

  • Django

    I know its easy to tell her to leave but it has to be very difficult for her. She’s been put down & made to feel inferior her entire life. This coming from the one person who is supposed to protect you. If she can’t count on her mom then who can she turn to? Kind of hard to trust people when you can’t even count on your own family. I feel sorry for her, however she does have choices. I think Craig & Crystal gave a lot of good advice. No matter what she does it will never be good enough. Leave & let them sweat it out.

    Besides what was mentioned, she should also get her own bank account and get her salary directly deposited into this new one and transfer her money from the old one.

  • Chinese mothers……………

    Freaky huh?


  • Guy

    I also blame your friend. I am a Chinese expat from the states. When I feel my mother’s expectation is not reasonable, I simply ignore her. Don’t give me the Chinese
    bs tradition line of being respectful to elderly or folks.

    • I agree with Guy.

      I think a large part of this is ‘victim mentality’ and the Chinese custom of ‘eat bitterness’.

      My mum stopped trying to have any control over my life when I was 18. I left home and said ‘that’s your life, this is mine, get the picture?’.

      And Shanghai girls seem to be highly independent and live their own lives. Their mothers seem to have very little control over them.

  • Lily

    Wow!It sounds unbelievable.
    I feel sorry for her. But I have a question:”Does this girl somehow rely on her mother too?”

    You know, some people know what is right and what is wrong, but they still do the wrong thing because of its influence.
    She complains about it, she knows it’s not good, so it must have some reason (not just from her mother but maybe herself) why she hasn’t moved out until now.

    Anyhow, in my opinion, the earlier to move out, the better it is. Wish her could have the courage to move out soon :!:

  • Sean

    The best way is move to a different city, find a higher paying job in a different city, or get in a college in another city that is way better than your current city can offer. (If you live in Beijing or Shanghai, try to go abroad with a scholarship. No parents can say no to that!)

  • Kevin

    Instrumental love creates rebellion in some, Stockholm syndrome in others; the difference is no doubt attributable to an uncertain and variable combination of genetics and environmental –especially peer — influence. Whatever, “immutable” never applies; Life does not neglect giving people chances to glimpse their main chances. Finally, she’ll break free only if she wants to break free — end of story. Perhaps the insights in the comments here will help; I hope so, but one never knows.

  • Wow, it’s really tough situation. To Xueshu: “I pretty much agree with what Craig said. Move out (different city if possible), get rid of the car, and respect your mom as your parent. After moving out, you can keep communicating with your mom by texts or letter(maybe better option), to share your thoughts, plans and what’s going on in your life. I would not support simply “running away” idea. I believe it takes time and effort to improve the relationship with your mom”, to be away from mom, it also creates chance for your mom to think about and probably realize something what she did wrong. As Marriage, you may not rush into it because you simply want to escape from messy relationship with your mom, but end in another “trap”. it takes time, efforts and courage to fix this.

  • Thanks to everyone who responded.

    I talked with Xueshu.

    She read the comments and was surprised that most people gave similar advice.

    I want to join to what others said already (especially the long and detailed Craig’s response) and wish that Xueshu will do something to change her life for better.

  • That is very sad.

    It basically reflects that Chinese parents need their children to be prestigious and have good reputation around town to enjoy the pride and “face”. It’s also ridiculous that a lot of parents don’t treat their daughter(s) well when they cannot get a son.

    The fact that parents expect their children to pay for their living expenses and give them “pocket money” is also outrageous. It’s okay for the children to do so in rewarding the parents’ effort in bringing up the children as their moral gesture of being grateful to their parents. But, if the parents take it too seriously and have gone too far, it loses the meaning, they’re just ruining their children’s lives.

    Xueshu is already over 30 but still unmarried – I’m not saying she’s not attractive – but at this moment in life she’s still not seeing anyone potentially suitable to share the rest of her life with just because of the obstructions imposed by her parents, then that is just very very sad.

  • Caseyorourke

    There is little else I can add to the comments other than this. First I would take all my certificates and other important documents and put them in a safe place, then the next time you mother demands your paycheck, commits you to something without telling you or something similar, say NO! If she starts up with all the criticism and threats, call ber bluff, tell her that you will call a friend and be out of her house in an hour.

    She probly uts on this show because she knows that you will back down and submit to her demands.

  • Calmness

    You can never make peace with a petty tyrant like your mother.
    She is cruel beyond measures and if you want to embrace change, sometimes people like her will poison you for the rest of your life instead of evolving you. So the choice here is which one do you choose? A life for your own or with your tribe: mother

    I’m Chinese too by appearance and have gone through exactly what you’ve went through but not in the most extreme ways. But more smothering me and also like checking on my room and reading my personal letters and keeping tabs on me who i hang out with.

    I slowly got my finances together(3 yrs), secretly saved and find an apartment to rent before they even found out about it. Then i just took off without them realising for days i was gone for good and Never looking back. I’ve totally cut the cord. There’s a new found sweetness about being independent and not really relying on anybody except friends and colleagues. Yeah it was difficult at first because i was so used to being around them and feeling down and beaten up emotionally but we learn to become our own entity of power and being of sustenance

    • Congratulations Calmness, you’ve done something very hard, no matter what culture you’re in. Looks like you have made an important move and are developing the personal strength to see you through. Good luck going forward; discovering your own inner power is its own reward.

  • Never live in the same city as your mother (or mother in law).

    And to any Western men contemplating marriage to a Chinese girl – try to find one with older brothers, you’ll have an easier life.

  • Mila

    May be she can find some guy and strike a bargain with him that you will marry and for relatives you will play a good family but then after relatives go back you will have not a wife/husband relationships but just friends relationships. They can share bills for a flat and even live in one flat but have nothing between them except living together and playing their roles for parents.

  • Ginsterlam

    What kind of a life is that?
    It makes me so angry and sick to know how some parents can treat their children like that. A parents basic job is to love, protect and support their children. Your mother just treats you like a cash cow! She has no regard or respect for you as an individual let alone her daughter!
    Sorry to say this but your mother has no soul! So long as you are providing her with sons incentive then you’re welcome to stay with her. As she said, if the business you eventually set up goes bust, don’t go running to her!
    What a cruel and horrible woman! If I were you, I’d get out of there and start to live a fulfilled life before it’s too late! You’re more than capable!!

  • CupOfTea

    My girlfriend is Chinese, and I’m British, we met at University and have been together for just coming up to a year now and the problems we are facing seem similar to this. At the moment we’re doing a long term relationship, but her Father is determined on sending her away to America to study to do a post graduate and work after she finishes her current undergraduate degree. She’s said she really doesn’t want to, and that she loves me and wants to build a life with me in the UK (I’m currently doing a graduate scheme for a large firm and am learning Mandarin in my spare time)… but her Dad has just bullied her into accepting going to the USA, and there seems to be nothing I can do. How can I break this hold he has… it seems ridiculous that she’ll throw everything away between us and move to a country she really doesn’t want to. I even offered to move to China for a while but he has his plans for her and no one can change it. I feel so helpless.

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