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Home  /  Inside China  /  Konggui Zu: Youngsters' fear of returning home for the Chinese New Year as a natural response to traditional and popular values
Konggui Zu: Youngsters' fear of returning home for the Chinese New Year as a natural response to traditional and popular values print version
In days when everything is colored in red and traditional family values intertwine with commercial campaigns, stressing the importance of a happy New Year's family reunion, some young Chinese find it harder to make the shift between their daily life and the festive event. Spring Festival for them is an emotionally challenging period.
It is not surprising that the immense buildup to the Chinese New Year's (春晚 chunwan) family reunion is inducing stress and sleepless nights for young adults. A new term '恐归族' (konggui zu), translated by the Chinese media to 'home-fear group', signifies the fear of returning home for the New Year. Such phenomenon is becoming widely acknowledged as society shows greater understanding of the burdens of these individuals. But more than pointing at a distinct 'group' of society, konggui zu represents thoughts and feelings that occupy the mind of most Chinese to a certain degree.

A year ago, an article about 'renting a girl for New Year' was published here, describing children's desire to make parents proud and relieved during the festive week by bringing a 'fake' date to the family dinner. While this trend is still developing, a new phenomenon is threatening to take this facade one step further, as narrated by an article in the Hangzhou 杭报在线 newspaper (

Miss Qian is 32 years old. Five years ago she found her 'second half' in the city of Hangzhou, where she has been working since college graduation. In 2009, after marrying, Ms. Qian and her husband were ready to expand their family, but this turned out to be a difficult task. After a while, they turned to medical help, but doctors didn't find any medical disorder, suggesting that the problem could be emotional. Mrs. Qian has since quit her job, trying to work on her mental and physical health, while continuing to spend her precious money on the help of professionals. A breakthrough seemed to arrive last year, as the couple tried to produce a test-tube fetus (shiguan ying'er 试管婴儿), but even this attempt failed shortly after.

Changing from a successful well-off newly married woman to a non-working, fatigue, frustrated 32 years-old wannabe mother, Ms. Qian is also trying to hide the details from her parents to avoid extra shame. Since 2009 she hasn't returned for New Year's and now the pit she had dug herself is growing deeper. The husband and wife have recently heard from friends that in addition to online offers to rent-a-date for New Year's eve (zuyou 租友), few people have put adds offering children for rent (zu haizi 租孩子). Renting a baby and turning a disastrous reunion to a cheerful encounter is exactly what Ms. Qian has decided to do, blocking her mind from any rational contemplation.

Needless to say, renting a baby and renting a girlfriend are two completely different deceptions. While the former could simply lead to a happy short-lived family celebration, and could later turn out into a normal premarital breakup (even if some parents wouldn't be happy about it), bringing a new baby home is a deed that immediately turns the focus of family members towards the future irreversibly.

Leaving Ms. Qian's extreme case aside, it is clear that many young Chinese who have yet to reach a solid lifestyle of a family, respectable work and a decent income (and believe they should have achieved it already) find it hard to face parents, especially in a week when the small family reunion is enhanced by larger family events and additional encounters with friends and neighbors. Some village natives who had moved to big cities find it frustrating to return home and admit that thus far they have yet to experience the good urban lifestyle. The self-disappointment of the youngsters is easily intertwining with the fear of letting down parents, since one's own 'face' is indistinguishable from a concern of filial piety (xiao). What is left is anxiety, though this doesn't mean that happiness isn't also highly sensed when Spring Festival is approaching.

A recent survey conducted by China's Association of Social Workers have resulted in article titles such as "70% of Chinese are anxious about returning home for New Year's" throughout the Chinese online press. The reasons that have been expressed by respondents for causing such feelings were divided into 'concern of finding a train ticket' - 83%, 'high holiday expenses' (including travel, gifts and inviting friends and family for meals and drinks) - 71%, 'finding the seven-day vacation too short' - 73% and 'being concerned of family-related issues' - 35%.

Although some survey respondents perhaps didn't wish to acknowledge family sensitivities, it is clear that anxiety is mostly a result of the pressure of wanting to get home fast and easily, lamenting the short time left to spend with parents, and the financial cost of the travel. Technical issues shouldn't be easily discounted here. Buying a train ticket could be an intense time-consuming battle, which people of most countries cannot begin to comprehend. On the other hand, for Chinese who truly wish to abolish this journey, not finding tickets could be a solid excuse (jiekou), even if it would not prevent parents' disappointment.    

Anxiety isn't a response that reflects indifference or lack of love and respect towards parents, but rather the opposite. Sometimes it is the desire not to let them down as an unmarried son or motherless daughter that produces these discomforts. The short visit at home during Spring Festival naturally produces many mixed feelings and a tension between one's childhood and social responsibilities as an adult.

The Chinese media and popular discourse are showing greater understanding to the burdens of youngsters and the complex emotions stimulated during this time of year, rather than simply labeling konggui zu as non-filial (bu xiaoshun 不孝顺) children. Clearly, this doesn't change a reality in which every media and street corner seems to announce that New Year is a happy smiley warm event, raising the level of guilt among some youngsters whose hearts aren't so wide open. Other individual desire a family reunion that would take place under less formal, festive, crowded and emotionally tiring conditions.

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