How hurt would your mom be if you refused to tell her you loved her? What if both of you were too shy to say such a thing?


Telling Mom “I love you” is an almost mandatory expression of affection in the Western celebration of Mother’s Day, but it’s almost completely absent from the typical Chinese parent-child relationship.

Though 67% of those responding to an online survey said that they would give their mother a gift to mark the day, only 25% said that they would verbally express that love to their mothers on the blessed day. And while that number may seem low, it’s not a reflection of less love – just less love expressed in language.

Many of the 6,000 responding to the online poll from said that they were “too shy” to tell their mothers how they felt.


To sociology professor Hu Shoujun, this reflects the “quiet, reserved, and serious” personality of the Chinese people: “For Chinese, it’s unnecessary and even regarded as ‘weird’ to display their affection for relatives and friends.”

“Very few Chinese, at least those I know, are used to saying ‘I love you’ … they may never even say it once,” said US-born and Shanghai-based English teacher Mike Denver.

The quarter of Chinese offspring who would explicitly express their love to their parents were far outstripped by the 75% of respondents who knew their mother’s birthday and the 51% who planned to phone their mother on May 10, showing that Chinese sons and daughters don’t love their mother any less – they just didn’t feel as comfortable showing it.

Stella Wang, a 27-year-old office worker, was one of these daughters. She said, “I do love my mother deeply but I have never said ‘I love you’ that often. It just feels quite weird for me to say it to her in person.”

Chinese adult children may be trying to protect their mothers’ sense of propriety by avoiding those three little words; they’re saving themselves and their parents the embarrassment of being overly effusive. “I have to say that it’s difficult for me to express my love for my mother… if I did say it out loud, it might confuse her,” said Liang Hao, a 32-year-old engineer.


Rachel is a writer and tutor living in Virginia. She loves learning about other cultures and thinks we’re all a little wacky.