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Traditional vs Modern


Pre-reading introduction to Traditional/Modern Family

Wan Lam, a woman from Hong Kong, describes the dramatic transition that took place in her own family as it made the transformation from a traditional to a modern family structure. Freewrite about your own family. Would you consider it traditional, modern or somewhere in between?

1. Nowadays, the traditional family structure no longer exists in this modern world. It's not surprising the modern family structure has replaced it instead. My family, for example, has made a great leap from traditional to modern in which I can feel the existence of freedom.

2. It seems like a characteristic of traditional families that men are dominant. When I was born, my grandfather urged my mother to give me up, for I was only a girl. He suggested my mother throw me down to the sea or give me to my aunt and uncle who didn't have any children. Under the pressure of my grandparents and relatives, my mother did give me to my aunt. But she brought me back a few hours later because of her regret in doing so.

3. In my childhood, all my family members and relatives lived in a big old building in Hong Kong. They had the same kind of job--the sculpture of ivory, and they worked together in that big building. In my family, my grandpa had the power of making all significant decisions, such as stopping my father, who was an excellent and outstanding student, from going to high school, and forcing him to work as a skilled worker in ivory sculpture.

4. There was no exception to my mother. She had to obey absolutely to the men with no argument. From what my mother said, I don't think she was the daughter-in-law of my grandparents. Maidservant is the better word to describe my mother in that building. She had to do all the housework by herself without any help from anyone or machines, and had to take care of the children and the elder parents in the meantime.

5. By the same token, children had to obey what the older people said, especially my father, such as going to bed by nine o'clock exactly, going home right after school, and no walking alone or with other children in the streets. We, my brother, sisters and I, had to do what my father said with no reasons at all.

6. The ripple of change began when the old building was broken down. Every individual family moved to a different place. I think the reason for not living together was my grandpa had died, and another building was very expensive. My mother began to work outside to support the family (the rent on the small apartment and other expenses). We had to share the housework when my mother was out. However, my father was still stubborn and strict to us as long as we lived there.

7. The change really came when we came to the United States two years ago. My father began to be concerned about us, and tried to communicate with us. To a large extent, we have the right to make individual choices and have a certain freedom, like coming home at night which we were never permitted to do before. Perhaps my parents are getting old or maybe we have grown up.

8. Undoubtedly, to a large extent, the modern family is better than the traditional one. At least there is a great improvement in the relationship between us, where everybody plays an important role in the family.


1. Unfair treatment of women is something that Wan associates with the traditional family structure. How do you feel about the points concerning the treatment of women in paragraphs 2 and 4? Do you know of any cases where this type of treatment still occurs? 2. Wan feels that the modern family is better than the traditional one. However, many people today are concerned about the breakdown of traditional family values. How do you feel on this issue. Is there anything in the traditional family worth preserving?


Reading & Discussion Activities

Step 1. Write a definition for what you consider to be a traditional family structure.

Step 2. Write a definition for what you consider to be a modern family structure.

Step 3. Discuss your definitions in groups. Be prepared to say whether you consider your family to be traditional or modern, and why you think so.

Step 4. Re-read the essay by Wan Lam. Write a T next to any examples of traditional family life. Write an M next to any examples of modern family life.

Step 5. Write down some advantages and disadvantages of a traditional and modern family structures.

Step 6.  Create a time line similar to the one below showing some important events in the life of your family. Try to think of some traditional or modern aspects associated with these events.

1979 I was born and christened, Maria Gonzalez

1985 Started going to school

1987 Grandfather died

1989 Received first holy communion

1993 Immigrated to the U.S.

1997 Graduated from high school

1998 Entered college
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