• 'The Family Law' is peppered with subtle Asian traits. (SBS)Source: SBS
Mixed within its universality is a treasure trove of specific cultural references for Asian-Aussie viewers.
Michele Lim

23 Jan 2019 - 9:19 AM  UPDATED 23 Jan 2019 - 9:24 AM

The Family Law follows the everyday lives of young Benjamin Law and his Malaysian Chinese family on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. But while the show certainly explores universal themes and problems all Aussie teens face, it is also filled with references to the Asian-Australian experience - interracial dating, filial guilt and responsibility, busybody “aunties” and racism.

In other words, the kind of thing you might find on the Facebook page 'Subtle Asian Traits'.

There are plenty of these Asian Easter eggs - or, thousand-year-old eggs, if you will – that Asian-Australian viewers will delight in spotting. Here are just a few of them...

We need to talk about 'Subtle Asian Traits'
Subtle Asian Traits Facebook group strikes a chord with its members because it reassures us that our experiences aren’t just awkward, or unintentionally hilarious — but valid.


The fashion: Mainland Chinese vs. Hongky

The Family Law cleverly distinguishes between Danny’s girlfriend, Ming-Zhu, who is Mainland Chinese and Ben’s mum and “aunties”, who are Malaysian Chinese and Hongky (aka from Hong Kong – technical terms, keep up) through their wardrobe. 

The dig here is at Mainland Chinese, who are portrayed as snobbish and while they may have money, they have no style, wearing things like full Gucci tracksuits or clothing inappropriate to the situation.

Meanwhile, Jenny and the aunties are not much better as they tend to wear garishly clashing patterns on patterns, get outdated perms and put sequins on everything. 

Oh, and it’s ad-VISOR-ble to always remember the sun protection!


The decidedly un-PC digs at the Japanese

Of course this is not appropriate or helpful, but it is something that Chinese parents sometimes do. It stems from the resentment many Chinese people of the previous generation have towards Japanese people because of what happened during the second Sino-Japanese war.

Because of these historical events, many older Chinese people will selectively take opportunities to remind their kin of how “cruel” Japanese people are (even though the people who actually committed the war atrocities are long gone).


3. The sibling relationships

Characters in the show often don’t refer to their siblings by their name but rather by their rank in the family eg. er gesan jie (second brother, third sister). The show also highlights that in many Asian families, the siblings often all live in close quarters and spend a lot more time together as Asian kids tend to move out a lot later than their Anglo-Saxon counterparts.

On top of this, older siblings are often expected to act like secondary parents to their younger siblings, helping with homework, driving them around etc.

4. The filial guilt

There are countless scenarios in The Family Law where Ben feels genuinely stressed out as he tries to help his mum sort out her own personal problems, including working on her CV and teaching her new English words.

This is very recognisable for many Asian-Australians whose parents, due to language barriers, are often unable to seize upon the best opportunities. These parents can also feel isolated as immigrants in a new place, putting additional pressure on their children to be primary confidantes and conduits between them and their adopted homeland.



5. The social commentary on the fetishisation of Asian women 

As Ben’s mum navigates the dating world, the scenarios bring up themes of interracial dating and the fetishisation of Asian women. The show exposes prejudice on both sides, with Ben’s mum stereotyping that “all Australian men only want one thing” and a potential suitor saying “there’s a certain strength and beauty that only Asian women have”.




6. The Asian home decor

From fake flowers, to random hong bao packets, to strategically placed lacquer artwork, fans, wicker cabinets and piles of Tupperware, the set designers did a great job in accurately representing an Asian house.


7. It’s either abstinence or AIDS

Many Asian-Australian viewers will appreciate that when it comes to talking about sex and relationships, most parents are not exactly forthcoming regarding education and practical advice. For them, having sex when you’re young immediately equates to getting AIDS. There is no in between. Which can lead to…


8. Hiding your romantic relationships

With so much focus on academic performance, I honestly do not know any Asian parents who are cool with their child (specifically daughter) dating before university. So, viewers will empathise with Candy, Ben’s older sister, as she tries to hide the fact that she is dating (a white guy no less!).

Stories like Candy’s are very familiar – many Asian parents don’t seem to see the point in dating for fun. Infuriatingly, once in the workforce and nearing their 30s, many females will begin to feel the pressure to find a husband as if finding the perfect match is as easy as making instant noodles.


9. Busybody aunties

Many Asian mums will have frenemy relationships with other Asian mums. I think this may be in part due to the fact that while they may not have been friends in their home countries, they're stuck together in Australia so they need to take what they can get. This leads to several conversations filled with backhanded compliments, prying questions and constant one-upping of their children’s accomplishments.

10. Hardworking, stressed out parents

While every family goes through ups and downs, it’s easy for audiences to relate to the tumultuous relationship between Ben’s mum and dad. They constantly bicker over money and working hours.

Again, many of these pressures can be directly linked to the migrant experience. Because they are migrants, the parents are only able to obtain lower paying jobs, meaning they need to work longer hours to produce sufficient income and then feel guilty for missing quality family time.


Seasons 1 to 3 of The Family Law are now streaming at SBS On Demand and as bingeable as want-want rice crackers.

Check out season 3, episode 1:

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