CHAN Kwok-bun and Odalia M.H. WONG (Hong Kong Baptist University), Private and Public: Gender, Generation and Family Life in Flux, English/21pages, August 2005.
In the past four decades Hong Kong has seen a dramatic transformation of the social location of women in the public sphere, with deep and far-reaching ramifications for courtship, marriage, fertility, conceptions of parenthood, familial power, and equality and freedom. A sociology of the family is thus by necessity a sociology of women in particular, and of gender relations in general. Indeed, recent developments in research on marriage and the family in Hong Kong reflect this new awareness. Using rigorous sociological frameworks, this new line of research has begun to meet with some success in analyzing contemporary social issues that are prominent in the public consciousness. This essay reviews studies of four topical areas: determinants of the postponement of first marriage among women, the effect of live-in foreign domestic workers on family dynamics, violence against women and children in the family, and the livelihood strategies of cross-border families. These studies have attempted to integrate the interplay of the impact of a changing economy and society on the family and the role played by women in the family. The resulting dynamic interactions amongst the members within the family and the changes they bring about become propellants for change in the economy and society and pose new challenges. The family is indeed a troubled institution. It is so because myriad public issues are being taken on, confronted, worked through, and acted out within the family. The agony, and indeed the ecstasy, of the family is a reflection of the success, and failure, of society.