June 27, 2011

High-functioning princess (HFP)

A friend forwarded me an excerpt of a eulogy that the chief of Taiwan's Examination Yuan, Kuan Chung, delivered at his beloved daughter's funeral in May. I cried in the subway when I first read it, and teared up again watching the TV clip of his speech when I got home.

It seems universally acknowledged that the father-daughter bond is something special - terms like "daddy's girl" and "Jewish-American princess“ (JAP) come to mind.

Although Chinese fathers don't tend to be openly affectionate, the few that are, from what I have observed firsthand, are testament to the Chinese saying that fathers and daughters were lovers in their past lives. Not lovers in a Western sense, but lovers in a puritanical sense - certainly celibate, and often pining from afar, as befitting the protocol of dynastic China. And perhaps that's why in their present lives, daughters hold a special place in their fathers' hearts - not a son that's imperative to carry the family name, but a little girl to spoil for spoiling's sake. That's the feeling I got from Kuan Chung's eulogy.

Kuan Chung's daughter by all accounts was the pearl of her father's palm (掌上明珠). What surprised me when all the news stories of her suicide/accident (a fall from her 27th-floor Shanghai apartment) came out, was how talented and independent she was, growing up largely on her own in the U.S. and carving out a film career in the U.K.

Chinese expressions like the ubiquitous four-character idiom can be fun but also excruciatingly difficult to learn for foreigners without the cultural context. The bright-pearl-upon-palm idiom is one such case of lost-in-translation, so for a Western tongue I would substitute it with "high-functioning princess". For my attempt at coining a new term complete with an armchair psychologist's observations, HFPs are often:
  • first-born, so growing up, they basked in the attention of their fathers without any competition from siblings in their formative years
  • attractive, so the pattern they established with their fathers are replicated to some degree in their dating relationships, with the balance of power titling in their favor
  • self-sufficient and usually fiercely independent, these type-A personalities earn the adoration they subconsciously seek
Kuan Chung carrying his favorite photo of his daughter and her remains 
back to Taiwan 

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