“You should have a baby boy”


In February 2014, one of my former co-workers who just had a baby girl stops me in my tracks: “Let me see your belly.”

After looking at it, she concludes: “It’s really big. You’re wearing quite sexy clothes. You should wear more layers.”

She says that on a sunny day with 21°C that reminds me of spring, on which I am wearing cotton tights, warm winter boots, an undershirt, a dress and a long-sleeved cotton shirt (and this is only what I’m wearing when I’m inside). The same day, a few of the other female co-workers have remarked on how little my belly still is.

After telling her that I’m sweating already, she goes on:
“You should have a baby boy. Boys do look more like their mothers than their fathers and since your husband isn’t that handsome…”
I: “I’ve heard that before – that supposedly boys look more like their mother, while girls look more like their father. We’re 8 brothers and sisters and I can’t say that I see evidence of that belief in our looks.”
She: “Well, it holds true with Chinese genetics. Anyways, if you have a boy, he will also be an insurance for you*.”

*Traditionally, in Chinese families boys would support parents in old age while girls were marrying out of the original family and were considered part of their husband’s family once married. Nowadays, the belief that only boys can support their parents in old age is still quite common in many rural areas and although this kind of view is getting rarer in larger cities, there are still many parents (and grandparents) who wish for a “male heir”. This, the one-child policy and the fact that many abortions in China are gender-specific, is the reason why it is not legal for Chinese doctors to determine a child’s sex before birth. It’s not legally allowed – but this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen: According to my former co-worker who did determine the baby’s sex before giving birth, it cost them 2000 Yuan (about 241 EUR or 330 USD) to find a doctor willing to determine their baby’s sex here in Shenzhen.

Has anyone ever told you something similar? How did you feel about it? I’d love to read your comments.

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Hi, I'm Ruth, welcome to China Elevator Stories! I have been living in Kunming and Shenzhen in the past and am now staying in Northeast China with my Chinese husband and our baby and toddler son. Join us on our journey bridging worlds!


  1. Boys do look more like their mothers than their fathers and since your husband isn’t that handsome…”

    Wow, such nice coworkers! Not. You should have defended him. What sort of a person says that about a friend’s other half??? Very rude

    • Robert

      people here often say out what they think, especially if they know you a bit more closely. It’s not necessarily meant in an insulting way. I came across many things that would be considered rude in the west, which the Chinese just shrugged away. Maybe call it a lack of sophistication (and sometimes language skills). The best thing you can do is taking it lightly and laughing it away

    • In China, it’s quite common to say things like that. People even say their babies are ugly (in that case, it’s actually a way of being modest). I don’t take such things personal and I really don’t care if my co-workers think my husband is handsome or not. To me, he’s the most handsome guy out there because of the person he is, not because of his looks.

      • robert

        Chinese say weird things sometimes that make you really wonder…
        supposedly it’s not uncommon that parents tell the kid they found it in the trash when the kid asks where it comes from. I like the story with the stork much better though…
        Also people told me and my girlfriend we look fat and didn’t really seem to mean it in any insulting way. Although by the definition of “fat” some people have here, China is full of fat people.

  2. Suigetsu

    I think Shenzhen now allows couples to have two children if either one of the parents is an only child. Does the ban against sex determination apply to you as a foreigner?

    By the way, do you watch Eurovision? You guys won this year! Can’t go wrong with a bearded drag queen. 🙂

    • Theoretically, yes. I don’t know how that works in real life yet – being allowed to have two kids. It’s illegal for the doctor to determine the sex of the baby, so I assume it doesn’t matter if I’m a foreigner or not (and my husband is Chinese, it’s not like we’re both foreigners).

      I didn’t watch Eurovision live this year, I just watched a recap. Austria winning was a huge surprise.

    • The two-child policy is not lowering rates of sex-selective abortions. In fact, it is getting worse. Also, being an only child is not the only criteria for having a second child. 2,000 qualified couples applied for a second child in Shenzhen last month. Almost 900 applications were denied.
      Foreigners (even if one partner is a foreigner and one is Chinese) are 100% exempt from the 1- or 2-child policy. They can have as many children as they want. However, the ban on revealing the sex is still enforced (though most doctors would probably waive it). http://www.twoamericansinchina.com/2014/04/chinas-two-child-policy-sex-selective-abortions.html

      • Do you have any references stating that foreigners (even if one partner is a foreigner and one is Chinese) are 100% exempt from the 1- or 2-child policy? This is the first time I hear that.
        I think that most couples with one foreign partner choose foreign citizenship for their children, which is why the 1/2-child policy doesn’t apply, meaning that they would not be exempt from the policy if the children were to get Chinese citizenship.

        • If one partner is foreigner and one partner is Chinese they are always excempt from the policy and this is the case for a very long time already (for Chinese law standards).
          Furthermore as you have the Austrian citizenship your child will be automaticaly Austrian (Jus sanguinis – right of blood). This means even though you may get in the beginning the Chinese citizenship for your child it will gain the Austrian (most likely at the airport you will be filtered out by friendly men in uniform to go through paperwork) as soon as you visit Austria and hence lose the Chinese one…

          • Huh? Where does it say so?

            A child that is born in China to parents where at least one of them is Chinese is automatically a Chinese citizen by birth. China does not allow dual citizenship, so if I want my child to get Austrian citizenship, I’ll have to apply for it with the Austrian embassy in China and give up Chinese citizenship in the process. Yes, since I’m Austrian, my child is eligible for Austrian citizenship, but it does not automatically get Austrian citizenship if it’s born in China, I would have to apply for it.

            If my child is born in Austria, it will automatically get Austrian citizenship by birth. Since my husband is Chinese, we could theoretically apply for Chinese citizenship – but we would have to give up Austrian citizenship in the process (again because China does not allow dual citizenship).

            • I know several people from both Germany and Austra who are married to Chinese and live in China. As they want to keep only the Chinese citizenship and not get the German/ Austrian they either had to travel through other countries and then enter their homecountry via “land” not plane to avoid the problem that the child will get automaticly their new citizenship or they simply avoided going back to their homecountry to not even get into that problem.

            • Also I will try to give the according links when I find them again. Last case I read about it was last summer. I hope that I am now wrong about when it comes to the Austrian regulation however it is sadly dead on in Germany and in Finland and several other EU countries (I had my ruffle already with the embassies…)
              However, China also changed some of its regulations this January with the citizenship annoyance. This is a bit off topic for you/ for your situation but as an example. Wife Chinese, Husband German, living in Germany, their child has German nationality. But if the wife is only with temporary residence permit in Germany, the child will get an Chinese travel document -> even though China does not accept dual citizenship it results that there are many children now with a European Nationality and a Chinese travel document 旅行证(my baby included)

      • robert

        I heard the same, that the citizenship of the kid is the deciding factor. However you can have 1 kid with Chinese citizenship and one (or more) with foreign citizenship. The doctor won’t tell you the gender in any case because he’s not allowed to – after all, the kid isn’t born yet and has no citizenship.

        The only real reason stated by some foreigners for choosing Chinese citizenship is schooling. And they are lucky that their country makes it easy to gain citizenship even at an older age. For other countries you have to choose right after birth, and then you can’t switch any more.

    • Laura

      If a baby is born in a Chinese hospital is assumed to be born with Chinese citizenship till you do the changes you must do to get the foreign nationality. Therefore if a foreign couple (both foreigners) have their baby in a hospital in China the policy also applies.

  3. “‘You should have a baby boy.'” — It sounds like your co-worker was trying to persuade you to have a boy instead of a girl — as if this were something you could control!

    • Just shows one of the fundamental differences between Chinese and Western cultures. In China, the sex is considered a choice. If you don’t like what you’ve been dealt, just get an abortion and try again. Such a thing would be totally unacceptable in the west (though even in the west some people do still prefer one sex over the other or would like a different sex if they already have a bunch of one).

  4. When I was pregnant (in the United States) some people were absolutely certain they could tell whether it was a boy or a girl depending on how low I was carrying it. These folk beliefs powerful. Besides, it’s fun to think you know the answer to a mystery.

    All three of our kids are girls, and they look as much like me as their dad. Of course, it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Asians thought they looked very American. Americans thought they looked very Chinese, at least they did when they were babies. Not so much now.

  5. Lots of urban Chinese people prefer having daughters now because they are supposed to be more well behaved and loving, and when they get married the parents won’t need to buy an apartment for them (as the guy will need to provide it for her).

    I disagree with your coworker genetics theory. A Chinese friend and his European girlfriend had a boy who is now 2 years old and looks totally Chinese, no European or mum features at all.

    • That’s the first time I’ve heard there are many urban Chinese who prefer having a daughter now. Many of the people I’ve met said they want to have a boy or that they wish for me to have a boy, as though it’s some kind of common knowledge that boys are better than girls. I’m always offended if someone says things like that.

      • Laura

        Hi R!
        You should meet my mother in law then 😉
        When people say to me to have a boy she knows my reply so she jumps in and say “Or a daughter! we don’t have many girls in this family and I already have two grandsons”.
        She is from a rural area in Shandong

        • There are always exceptions to the rule. But then, your mother-in-law doesn’t have to worry about getting a male heir, because she already has two.
          I’m not saying that everyone thinks having a boy is better than having a girl, just saying that there seems to be a majority of people who want to have a boy no matter what. I’ve heard people say that they want to have a daughter occasionally, but it pales in comparison to the many people I’ve heard say they want to have a son or grandson.

    • The idea that having a daughter is fashionable is a myth. People are not abandoning or aborting them at the same high rates they used to, but given the choice, most families still want a boy.

      • I’m talking of what I see around me, and I have heard lots of people say how they would like to have a girl. Just a couple of months ago some friends had a baby boy and they were pretty disappointed, they were hoping it would be a girl and bought pink clothes. Now they have a baby boy wearing pink clothes hahaha.

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  7. maybe I’m weird but I hope my child, no matter what gender, will take care of me when I’m old and unable to do it myself, haha. but actually that’s pretty true, at least looking for my husband’s family, his cousin stays with his parents while his ‘incoming’ wife stays with them and doesn’t really visit her father nor take care of him anymore (he lives alone, his wife died of cancer in 2012). Hopefully no parent will need to worry about this, I cannot imagine not taking care of my parents or at least having paying for someone else to take care if I’m far away.

  8. Laura

    Hi R!
    Well first…your husband is handome but maybe not for her standards.
    I also think my hubby is handsome, but I have heard from some Chinese colleagues that they think his skin is too dark and they hope if we have children they have my skin…When I say: “He is handsome”, they say “Well, not for Chinese standards”. 😉

    Were you able to determine the sex of your baby in your case? I know couples who just ask and get a direct answer, no payment needed in their case.

    A boy or a girl, doesn’t matter as far as your baby is healthy and you are also healthy. You are growing your beautiful family and that’s all that matters.

    • Haha, yes, I’m pretty sure that this would have been her reply if I said that I think my husband is handsome.

      We didn’t ask the doctors in China about it, but we had it determined in Austria.

      • Laura

        You really don’t disclose details…Is it a little R or a little boy? I’m sure you have plenty of posts ready for that, you just keep us here…holdingggg

    • We haven’t decided on a name yet. But we’re thinking of choosing a German name that will be the official name in the passport and a Chinese name for use in China in situations where the formal name is not required.

      • Robert

        whatever you do, don’t pick Siegfried. I was prompted to pick a name for a guy after we realized I could neither remember nor pronounce his name. But it’s kinda boring since everyone always picks English names (why English? Why not from another country?), so I jokingly suggested Siegfried. He was quite proud, given the story of Siegfried. However it’s just not a good name for most Chinese to pronounce. Everyone ended up calling him Seafood. I feel bad now 🙁

        • Haha, I can see how my husband would like that name just for the story behind it. But I have the last word when it comes to settling for a name in German, since my husband doesn’t know all the connotations that come with certain German names. We’re thinking of something shorter since our last name is already pretty long. Our double last name’s initials are two s, so a first name with an s is out of the question.

      • Suigetsu

        Just to throw in my two cents, you could consider giving your child a name that can be easily transliterated into Chinese. That way, one name would effectively function in both languages.

        • German and Chinese pronunciation are so different that it would make it really hard to find a name that works in both languages (without the Chinese name sounding too foreign). Whenever I’m fed up with looking for a name that would work (we’re still looking), I tell my husband that we’ll just settle for a Chinese first name.

        • Suigetsu

          I think it’s quite doable. For example, if it’s a girl, you could name her “Heidi”, and her Chinese name would be “海蒂”. But, I dunno…

          • It’s doable, but not ideal, especially if it’s a name like Heidi. I don’t like the name in German and it wouldn’t work well in Chinese because 海蒂 is a foreign name, not a Chinese one. We don’t want to choose a foreign-sounding Chinese name for our child. Finding two corresponding names for your child sounds easier in theory than it is in practice. There’s a lot more we are considering than just the sound of the name.

          • Suigetsu

            I see. But now that I think about it, “Ruth” would be another good example. Normally, it would probably be transliterated as something like “露丝”. However, you could also have “如诗” for a more Chinese-sounding name (which, BTW, means “like poetry”).

  9. Wow. I didn’t know it was illegal to check the sex of the baby.

    I can understand why… but wow. That’s kind of surprising.
    (Also, I think it’s funny they’re telling you that you should have a boy – like you can control it).

    Is the one-child policy still active in China? Will y’all just have one? (Sorry if that’s too personal)

    • We’re planning for our child to have Austrian citizenship. If our child has Austrian citizenship, the one-child policy won’t apply. If we got Chinese citizenship for our child, the one-child policy would apply and we could only have one child with Chinese citizenship (but we could have more children if we chose different citizenships for the other children).

      We’re planning on having more than just 1 child.

  10. My father-in-law, who was a kind of scholarly person, was asked to choose the Chinese names for our daughters. First he chose a generation name, so all the cousins now have the same first character for their Chinese name. Then for the second character, he chose something that sounded a bit like their English names. Is the “generation name” out of fashion now?

    • Suigetsu

      I think it is becoming obsolete, but even back in the old days generation names only applied to male children as they were the ones who were supposed to continue the family line and mark the generations.

      • I guess my father-in-law was somewhat modern (He included the girls.) and somewhat old-fashioned. (He used generation names.) He ended up with 6 grandsons to carry on the family name along with 6 granddaughters.,

          • Laura

            R, I would love it if in the future you have time to post an article about the name of your child.
            The process you followed and your base ( generations, sounding, meaning, …).
            I really like to hear how other people go through that not simple at all process.
            Hey come on we are talking about the forever and ever name of a human being!
            Btw, in Spain people still use generation names. Is very common. All my uncles share the same middle name.

        • Suigetsu

          Girls could carry generation names too, but I believe it was not a requirement in the same way it was for boys.

          As I understand it, the characters for generation names are derived from the text of a piece of writing/script that the family holds in significance. So, eventually, the family is bound to run out of characters for generation names unless they find new ways to generate the characters.

  11. My high school students always ask me if I want a boy or a girl (I’m not pregnant… I’m not even dating anyone!). For me, I’d prefer to have one of each, which always shocks them since they seem to forget that I can have as many kids as I want. But I tell them if I had to pick it would be a girl. Hopefully my answer might change a few of their opinions about female value in society.

  12. cronji02

    I had an opposite experience during my first pregnancy (all those years ago – in the US). My husband’s family had only had boys for many generations. My mother-in-law had wanted a girl so badly both times she was pregnant, but no such luck. For the first few months of our first pregnancy, every time I saw my MIL she would say, “boys are fine, but a girl would be really nice.” After 4 months of smiling & nodding, I patiently explained that she should talk to her son about that as I only had X’s to give. And, the sex was already determined for this one, she’d have to put in a request for the next one. ♡♥ We ended up with a girl (much happy screaming from my MIL), then a boy, then another girl. The baby girl drought for my husband’s family was truly over! Thank goodness, as I couldn’t have taken my MIL’s sad/hopeful face throughout another 9 months! 😉

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  14. Anggi

    Love your posts! Im not married with Chinese or China, but we have been staying in Shanghai for awhile. The funny thing is, according to my ayi, my chinese friends and neighbours, apparently having a baby girl is more and more favorable. Maybe because it’s Shanghai. What they say is that girls are caring for their parents more than boys and cost less (maybe because to get married to Shanghainese girl, one has to have a house and a car? Plus the dowry)

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