The Ugly Woman with the Smile

I went to a factory just out of Ningbo a few years ago.  And while in Guangzhou last month I came across this factory yet again.  The product of the factory isn't worth mentioning.  Nor is their lack of innovation.  Rather, this company sells about one million units a month to one of America's super cheap, bargain chains.  The ones that brag every item is a dollar or less. 

I met the CEO of course, because people like him rarely get to speak to barbarians in their own language.  While there I had the privilege of meeting his daughter, and his son.  They actually manage the customers.  The son drives a very nice chocolate brown Benz.  The daughter, well I don't recall what she drives.  But I do recall she is very ugly, with a fair smile.  Not a nice thing to say, but that is how I remember her.  (Men can be that way.  I have other ways of remembering other women, too.)

While in Ningbo, she mentioned her husband works in the factory as well.  And just on cue as we began the factory tour he appeared.  He walked past me in a hurry.  No smile.  No recognition. He was decently handsome, but my several decades of living on this planet informed me right away,

"This is a very unhappy person."

I would've thought the husband of the daughter of the owner of the company might have walked a bit slower, a bit more self assured.  Perhaps even with a glowing look on his face.  He had made it, hadn't he?

Well, no he hadn't.

And that is what I want to talk about today.  Something I've seen with more and more frequency.  The fact that in China, the son of the daughter of the founder of a company is in my view, treated like a second class citizen.  No true involvement in the affairs of the company.  A firm, Chinese wall built between the son in law and the "Family Factory". 

I will always be an outsider within my wife's family.  But to be fair, in a way, my wife will always be an outsider within my family, too.

To be sure, the Chinese daughter's family has all the cards.

Lifetime employment
Lifetime status
If they have a son it's even better.

Still, the man must make a decision.  Once he marries, he effectively becomes neutered.  Can't just go out when he wants.  Can't lead his own life.  Can't be his own man.  Once this choice is made, how does he not become the laughingstock within the company itself?

As a customer to a few of these factories, I find it annoying.  Annoying that I cannot use the husband as a source of information.  As a point of leverage.  My biggest supplier in Manchuria right now has a 74 year old CEO.  He is semi-retired.  A good fellow.  But his daughter is an idiot.  A nice lady, but with very little business acumen.  And she has a husband.  What role does he play within the company?  He's the factory driver.  Yeah, he does other stuff, too, but recently when we had a serious issue at the 2nd tier level, and I desperately needed help, he was someone I wish I could have turned too for guidance towards solving my problem.  Instead, during dinner he point blank just told,

"I can't help you.  I have no involvement in the operational affairs of the company."

The son in laws of these factories know their role.   They stay in their lane.   They keep the peace.  And let the shit lay where it falls.    To my detriment.

It's very hard to see this type of situation I think outside China, to this extreme.  Yes, the daughter would be the heir, but regarding private, family company's, one must believe the husband of the heir would have somewhat more of a role to play than "driver".   Yes?

Instead, time and time again I've found the son in law to be a nonentity.  A "nonperson", if you will.

Meanwhile, the 74 year old continues to manage many elements of the business.  And regarding his grandson?  He's a real estate salesman.  And I've never met him.

Let's talk about my Nanjing supplier. 

This is a more interesting case.

The company is again family owned.    Started by grandfather, another 70 year old something fellow.  Not incredibly smart, he simply "fell into" a product that various militaries across the world are interested in.   His only child is his daughter.  She married a policemen, and he himself is about to retire. 

Still, I've noticed when he is on factory grounds he NEVER involves himself in my affairs, or business discussions.   Rather, the daughter does all "the work".  She lives in the factory several weeks at a time.    Over my several visits and even dinners with the family, I've never had the husband of the daughter join.   It is very apparent to me he knows his place.  Yet the son himself is still involved in the business.  He is the heir to the company.

I can offer more examples. 

My theme here is that Chinese seem to have a very strong, invisible dividing line between their daughter and the company finances, and the son in law himself.   A big part of the husbands life in my view goes unfulfilled.  No say in the life of his wife's activities.  No right to have an opinion in something indeed very important to his wife.

It's not that the son in law does not have an opinion, but rather his opinion, it is understood, is simply not wanted. 

One wonders how the CEO treats his son in law at times?  If one joins the company "business", aren't you actually selling your soul?  For the sake of quick prestige and job security?  How can one develop his own capabilities as such?  Spread his wings?  Doesn't a man need ambition?  Why so content to merely be "sleeping" with the daughter of the CEO?  Is that really enough?

And when the children grow up what will the cascading side effects be?  Will they gravitate more towards their mother's family?  Will they look down upon their father's?  Will their feelings for their father be solely based upon his status within the company? His power and prestige?

Will the mother have the final say, based upon her economic power, on how the child is raised?  

While this situation is in all societies, I just believe it is more ”set in concrete“ in China. 
I don't wish my legacy to my son to be that of a mere "driver".   And I don't wish for my children to grow up believing I'm a second class citizen either.   


  1. I would think most of the SILs like the policeman are marrying up. That is why they don't care. They have a better deal then could have gotten on their own. Furthermore, they are probably beta-type personalities so they are happy to have the financial security, without any responsibility.

    Actually, I have seen a similar set-up multiple times before in Taiwan but in that case the SIL is a foreigner. Basically, his job is to make the company look international, so the father company-founder is happy to have his daughter marry him. Of course he is just an English Translator, and "Consultant" with no real power company in the company. Back when I was in college, a platonic Taiwanese female friend's father who had a pretty large trading company gave me such an offer if I married her. Easy life with no responsibility. His son who was heir apparent had already agreed to the arrangement. Needless to say, life led me in a different direction.

    1. First of all thank you for your comment. Interesting to hear Taiwan is this way, too....a bit surprising. I do have an American friend however, that married a wealthy Taiwan lady, and her family insisted their child have their name. When the American's dad heard about this, he basically went apoplectic. As for myself, I don't think I could ever agree to such an arrangement. It's not for everyone, and not for me.

  2. Sign me up! -if she's pretty and can be nice to live with, I can go fishing during the day and do what I want. Win-win


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