CHILDREN IN CHINA
In Asia, children are sometimes seen less as individuals who are supposed to find themselves and more as people within a family unit that have responsibilities to the family unit and are required to help keep the family going. These ideas are at least partly rooted in ancestor worship and Confucianism. Children are regarded as extensions of their parents, arguably more than in other places. Children of criminals are often treated like they are criminals themselves. If a man is regarded as a hero, his children are often regarded as heros too.
Children are generally encouraged to spend their time studying not playing outside or participating in sports. Parents put a lot of pressure on their kids to study. The Economist reported: “Many older Chinese believe this younger generation, doted on by grandparents and parents, lacks a work ethic. It has even become a bit of a slur to say of someone that “they were born in the 1980s”. [Source: The Economist , August 18, 2007]
Chinese have traditionally considered it auspicious to conceive a child around the time of the Chinese New Year but unfortunately babies that are conceived in the winter, when food, particularly fruit and vegetables, have traditionally been in short supply are more likely to have birth defects. The problem is being combated today by giving out vitamin supplements with folic acid to children born on the winter. A shortage of folic acid, not found in the traditional winter time food, cabbage, cause many severe birth defects.
In the old days it wasn’t uncommon for villagers to sell their children, "Before Liberation" in 1949, a peasant farmer told the New York Times, "I was just a farm hand, working for the landlord, because I didn't have any land. I had two sons then, but I had to sell them because I didn't have any money. I was ill with typhoid. So I sold my two boys for 400 pounds of rice each. I never saw them again." In some parts of China, people paid a few pennies at traditional fairs to gawk at basket-shaped children who were brought up in baskets. Up until the 1950s, one of five children died before the age of one.
A survey carried out by the Japan Youth research Institute involving 7,200 high school students from Japan, China, the United States and South Korea found that Chinese students had relatively high levels of self confidence and satisfaction with themselves. According to the survey only 36 percent of Japanese students said they were valuable people compared to 89.1 percent among the Americans, 87.7 percent among Chinese and 75.1 percent among South Koreans. Asked if they are satisfied with themselves 78.2 percent of the Americans, 68.5 percent of the Chinese and 63.3 percent of the South Koreans said yes but only 24.7 percent of the Japanese said yes.
Good Websites and Sources: Busy Kids chinadaily.com. ; Precious Children PBS piece pbs.org Young People ; Sheyla’s News blog /sheylawu.blogspot.com ; PBS Piece pbs.org; Human Trafficking Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in China gvnet.com ;Human Trafficking.org humantrafficking.org; China Development Brief chinadevelopmentbrief.com ; International Labor Organization ilo.org/public
Links in this Website: POPULATION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; ONE-CHILD POLICY IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; BIRTH CONTROL IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; PREFERENCE FOR BOYS Factsanddetails.com/China ; WOMEN IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; FAMILIES, MEN AND YOUNG ADULTS Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE EDUCATION Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE SCHOOLS Factsanddetails.com/China ; SCHOOL LIFE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE UNIVERSITIES Factsanddetails.com/China
Traditional Views on Children in China
Although Chinese families continue to be marked by respect for parents and a substantial degree of filial subordination, parents have weighty obligations toward their children as well. Children are obliged to support parents in their old age, and parents are obliged to give their children as favorable a place in the world as they can. In the past this meant leaving them property and providing the best education or training possible. For most rural parents today the choice of a career for their children is not a major issue. Most children of peasants will be peasants like their parents, and the highest realistic ambition is a position as a lowlevel cadre or teacher or perhaps a technician. The primary determinant of a rural child's status and well-being remains his or her family, which is one reason for the intense concern with the marriage choices of sons and daughters and for the greater degree of parental involvement in those decisions. [Source: Library of Congress]
“Urban parents are less concerned with whom their children marry but are more concerned with their education and eventual careers. Urban parents can expect to leave their children very little in the way of property, but they do their best to prepare them for secure and desirable jobs in the state sector. The difficulty is that such jobs are limited, competition is intense, and the criteria for entry have changed radically several times since the early 1950s. Many of the dynamics of urban society revolve around the issue of job allocation and the attempts of parents in the better-off segments of society to transmit their favored position to their children. The allocation of scarce and desirable goods, in this case jobs, is a political issue and one that has been endemic since the late 1950s. These questions lie behind the changes in educational policy, the attempts in the 1960s and 1970s to settle urban youth in the countryside, the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, and the post-1980 encouragement of small-scale private and collective commerce and service occupations in the cities. All are attempts to solve the problem, and each attempt has its own costs and drawbacks. [Ibid]
Having Children in China
Confucius taught that not having children was the height of filial impiety. On the Internet you can get some sense of what that means. One person quoted by Reuters wrote on one chat line: “My parents threatened to never see me again or even to commit double suicide if I don’t have a baby soon...Many coworkers look at me like a jerk, an impotent, or a sick person, just because I’ve been married for two years and have no child yet.”
In the Mao era infertility treatments other than herbal remedies didn’t really exist. Today if you have enough money, many of the treatments available in the West are also available in China. The first fertility clinics opened up in the late 1990s. Now demand is so high there are almost 200 of them. Some couples seek treatment to have twins or triplets as way of getting around the one-child policy.
Despite an official ban on surrogate mothers, women offer their service for between $5,000 and $12,000 depending on the surrogates education and physical qualifications, with the highest prices earned by those with college degrees.
Enforcement of the surrogate mother laws enacted in 2001 is weak. There are brokers, middlemen and agencies who help match infertile couples that desperately want a child with women who are willing to be surrogates. There have been some cases of surrogate women impregnating themselves with the sperm of a donor after being paid about $10,000. In a typical case an agency who works out the surrogacy is paid $20,000 and the surrogate mother receives $10,000.
Young Children in China
Song-dynasty painting 100 Children In the old days children were treated well but not spoiled because family members often had other duties and obligations. Mothers were the primary givers, but fathers, grandparents and older sisters helped out. When the children reached 6 or 7, discipline was stressed and boys began studying Confucian texts, and learning farming or some skill while girls were taught about modesty and household chores. These days children are much more spoiled (see Little Emperors Below) and more emphasis than ever is put on education (see Education).
Some Chinese peasant families shaved the heads of young boys, leaving a patch of long hair at the top, to trick evil spirits into confusing the boy for a girl, who is considered by spirits not worth the trouble to harm.
Kaidangku are pants for toddlers with a slit in the seat that allow a child to relieve himself without removing his paints. Sometimes foreigners are shocked to seem them but many Chinese defend them as comfortable and healthy, plus they make potty training easier. Sex shops sell adult verison of kaidangku that are “transparent, green and charming” and “convenient for you and your partner.”
Day care in China can be a problem. Public kindergarten are often oversubscribed and private day care centers are expensive by Chinese standards, often over $400 a month.
A woman from Shenzhen told The New Yorker blog: “I have an elder brother…. In our case, my parents felt even luckier that I am a girl, because a son and a daughter together forms the character “good.” Another reader said that Chinese attitudes on the boy/girl combo to the French obsession with “le choix du roi.” “The preference for a girl being the elder is that traditionally the big sister is perceived as a more helpful member of the family, who can help to care for the little brother and do family chores,” he writes. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, November 24, 2010]
Raising Kids in China
Chinese parents in the opinion of some tend to coddle their children more than Western parents, who are more likely to have their children work out things on their own and sort out their own problems. These days many urban middle class Chinese parents are bucking this trend and sending their kids to day care, keeping the grandparents at arms length and teaching their kids to be independent.
One mother in Shenyang with a British husband told the China Daily, “Most Chinese families have grandparents to take care of the children. They love the baby too much and don’t let it experience life for itself, so it can be a bit spoiled and passive. We want an active, independent boy.”
Children often sleep with their parents well into childhood and “alone time” is not something that is emphasized. Christopher Panza, a philosophy professor and expert on Confucianism at Drury University, told the China Daily, “What’s important is that parents do their best to not only to care for the child, but also to develop very close relational ties. From this early age, practices should be set up to the best result in the child developing a very close interdependent bond-servant with the parents.” Chinese kids are so secure that negative remarks often mean little.
Chinese put great emphasis on feeding a child. Panza said, “The focus here is not on teaching the child to autonomously feed, but rather to develop an eating ritual that cultivates close ties between the mother (or father) and child.” Spolied kids can often help themselves to cookies, snack food and instant noodles whenever they like.
Babies and young children have traditionally been doted upon. Chinese babies as rule seem happy and well behaved and you rarely see them crying. In Shanghai young children are taken to "baby palaces" such as the one next to Jing'an park where children play video games, make paper airplanes, sing Patriotic songs, and color in coloring books.
When children become older their socialization becomes stricter. The Chinese have traditionally had few compunctions about beating their children. Parents often send their children to their grandparents while they are growing up.
Chinese parents have traditionally been reluctant to praise their children out of modesty and the fear that pride attracts bad luck. If a Western person tells a Chinese child that he is handsome and smart, it is not unusual for his mother to reply that the child is ugly and stupid, even if he is not.
Children are taught that success is the most important thing. The writer Zhou Changyo told the New York Times, “In America, making your kids happy is the priority and conventional success is secondary. This idea is not acceptable in China. If your child isn’t the best, then he is considered mediocre...It’s not easy for a person to be mediocre in this kind of society.”
Difficulty Getting Kindergartens for Kids Born in the Year of the Pig
Mei Jia wrote in the China Daily: Getting a place in a kindergarten that is affordable and conveniently located is posing a major headache for parents with children born in and after 2007. Two popular sayings doing the rounds this summer are that, "Entering kindergartens is harder than being recruited as a public servant" and, "Attending kindergartens is costlier than going to university." The existing capacity in public kindergartens is unable to cope with the sudden increase in births in 2007, the year of the golden pig, considered auspicious for having babies by the Chinese. The baby-boomers have now entered the kindergarten-going age of 3 this summer. [Source: Mei Jia, China Daily, September 7, 2010]
Xinhua News Agency reports that only 73,000 out of Shenzhen's 135,000 kids born in 2007 will find a kindergarten spot. A Southern Daily report says Beijing saw 415,750 births between 2007 and 2009, but has only 248,000 spots in the registered kindergartens. Gao Yuexia, 96, her son and grandson, took turns to line up for nine days and nights to enroll Gao's 2-year-old great-granddaughter in a public kindergarten in northeastern Beijing's Changping district. "While waiting for days is no 100 percent guarantee of a spot, not joining the queues could mean very little chance of finding a proper kindergarten for our child," father surnamed Chen told the China Daily. [Ibid]
Song Lihong, 34, a full-time mother of a 3-year-old in Beijing, began her hunt for a kindergarten last April. The public ones, known for their lower fees and more reliable quality, were Song's preferred choice. Some 200 parents vied to get their kids into the kindergarten whose modest monthly charges of 400 yuan ($59) made it a popular choice with many young couples. She went to almost all of those near her home, and found they charged 600-900 yuan per month, but would accept only children who meet the strict requirements of hukou (registered household certification). "Parents with no Beijing hukou, like us, have to pay a so-called voluntary amount of at least 50,000 yuan ($7,300) over three years, which is beyond us," she says. "But even so, we tried to find some way to give this extra money." [Ibid]
When she couldn't, she finally turned to a private kindergarten and got her kid in after waiting for three months. "It's more expensive, but we have no choice," she says. Song says her family is under intense financial pressure. "Our threshold for kindergarten fees was 1,000 yuan, but now I pay 1,700 yuan. And then there is the rent to take care of," she says.
Like Song, Liu Jingjia, 32, a vocational school teacher in Kunming, Yunnan province, is also considering a kindergarten although her daughter is not yet 2. "The public kindergartens are cheaper but hard to get in; the private ones are easier but far more expensive," Liu says. She says she hopes starting her search early will bring her better luck than Song.
Zhang Yan, a pre-primary education expert with Beijing Normal University told The Beijing News: "The real problem is not getting into a kindergarten, but into an affordable and reputable one." Feng Xiaoxia, with China National Society of Early Childhood Education, told Xinhua recently that "the imbalance in public and private kindergartens, and limited governmental input in pre-primary education, are the reasons" for the difficulties facing parents.
In growing recognition of the problem, the National Education Conference held this July made "advancing the equality in education" a major emphasis. The final draft of the National Plan for Long-Term Educational Reform and Development (2010-2020) released recently also pays particular attention to the "kindergarten puzzle". It hints at increasing official input to promote the development of both public and private kindergartens.
Shanghai is already taking the lead by extending the number of kindergartens to keep pace with the construction of new residential buildings. Beijing is also planning to build 118 new kindergartens and renovate 300 old ones in the coming years. "If we're lucky enough, I'd like to get my daughter registered by September next year," says Liu, expressing a hope that is on the minds of many young parents.
Childhood Under Mao
Ni Ching Ching wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Class struggle permeated every aspect of our supposedly egalitarian n society. Even as a child I was branded a capitalist because of my grandparents educations... I envied my classmate who lived a floor below me. She was the daughter of factory workers...She was always better than I because she worked harder and never complained or tried to quit. I thought she was a trur patriot. Instead she told me later she stayed so she could make it the next level and win a new jumpsuit...That was a great motivator. Children got new clothes only once a year.”
Ni wrote: “I was in the first grade when the teacher asked us one day to tell the class the names of people they knew who visited Tiananmen Square during a counterrevolutionary gathering. It was a spontaneous people’s movement to commemorate the death of Premier Chou En-lai...I was only 8 and I had no idea that my teachers were trying to trick me. So I raised my hand and volunteered my mother’s name...When I told my parents, they panicked. My mother went into hiding and I had to live with the guilt of betraying her.”
Rural Children in China
Rural kids in the 1930s Village children take on responsibility at an early age, often tending animals such as buffalo, cows, goats and sheep. Boys have traditionally taken care of animals and worked in the fields. Girls have traditionally collected water and grinded and threshed grain. Older siblings (especially girls) often help take care of the younger children. In poor families, children are often forced to work and earn money rather than attend school.
When they are five or six rural kids begin helping their sibling tend goats and other animals. When they are seven or eight they have enough skill to take care of 20 or so goats by themselves.
Many parents leave their villlages to search for work, leaving their children behind to be brought up by grandparents or other relatives. The only time the children see their parents is when they return home over Chinese New Year holiday and even then often they don’t make it home because they are required to work at their factory or construction site.
These so called “left-behind” children number in the tens of millions and even hundreds of million because there are that many migrant workers in the cities. One 14-year-old who lived alone for a year after her father left for a construction job told the Los Angeles Times, “My parents are away making money so I can have a better life. But I don’t care about living a better life. I just want them to be home at my side.”
One school principal told the Los Angeles Times, “Most of these students tend to become antisocial and introverted. But in times of conflict, they tend to explode and react in violent extremes.” A school counselor said, “These children are so sad. They have to learn early to fend for themselves. There’s one family where the grandparents are taking care of four children from three of their sons. All of them are away at work. At best they can make sure the kids are clothed and fed. But they can’t fill the emotional emptiness.”
Middle Class Kids in China
According to a survey by marketing researchers Ogilvy and Mather, 70 percent of urban Chinese children attend at least one extracurricular program, mostly English classes, and ten million are learning to play violin.
Leslie T. Chang wrote in National Geographic:“At the age of four, Zhou Jiaying was enrolled in two classes—Spoken American English and English Conversation—and given the English name Bella. Her parents hoped she might go abroad for college. The next year they signed her up for acting class. When she turned eight she started piano, which taught discipline and developed the cerebrum. In the summer she went to the pool for lessons; swimming, her parents said would make her taller. Bella wanted to be a lawyer, and to be a lawyer you had to tall.” [Source: Leslie T. Chang, National Geographic, May 2008]
“By the time she was ten, Bela lived a life that was rich with possibility and as regimented as a drill sergeant’s. After school she did homework unsupervised until her parents got home. Then came dinner, bath, piano practice. Sometimes she was permitted to watch television, but only the news. On Saturdays she took a private essay class followed by Math Olympics, and on Sunday a piano lesson and a prep class for her entrance exam to a Shanghai middle school. The best moment of her week was Friday afternoon, when school let out early. Bella might take a deep breath and look around, like a man who discovers a glimpse of blue sky from the confines of the prison yard.”
In her fifth grade class “Bell ranked in the middle—12th or 13th in a class of 25, lower if she lost focus...She spoke a fair amount of English...her favorite restaurant was Pizza Hut, and she liked the spicy wings at KFC...She owned 30 erasers—stored in a cookie tin at home—that were shaped like flip-flops and hamburgers and cartoon characters...If Bella scored well on a test, her parents bought her presents; a bad grade brought a clampdown at home...Her best subject was Chinese...She did poorly in math. Extra math tutoring was a constant and would remain so until the college entrance exams.”
On her heavy workload, Bella’ parents told Chang, “We don’t want to be brutal to her. But in China, the environment doesn’t let you do anything else.” In any case Bella began to rebel and talk about how much she hated school and loved Hollywood movies and Japanese manga. Her parents viewed themselves as failures according to Chang.
High Cost of Raising Just One Child
Ben Blanchard and Sally Huang of Reuters wrote: With ever-rising costs in cities such as Beijing, the question for many is not whether they want another child but whether they can bear the cost. "I can't even get this one into kindergarten," complained Beijing housewife Li Tong, 29."Education is a real concern for us. I have many friends who don't want children at all. One is enough for me."[Source: Ben Blanchard and Sally Huang, Reuters, April 28, 2011]
Like the residents of Hong Kong and Singapore, which have among the world's lowest birthrates, China's urbanites are starting to believe that the expense of maintaining larger families outweighs the benefits. Wang Gui, 35 and father of a four-year-old boy, told Reuters: "We actually would like another, and according to current rules we can. But I think the cost would be prohibitive. It's too much pressure to expect us to cope with.” [Ibid]
The one child policy produced 90 million single children.
Children, particularly boys, brought up in China's single child families are called "Little Emperors" because of the way they are spoiled. In many cases these children are given the run of the house, are allowed to do whatever they want without risk of discipline or punishment, and are lavished with attention not only by their parents, but also by their aunts, uncles and grandparents. Many Chinese feel that “Little Emperor” is too kind and a better name for them is "Little Spoiled Brats."
The Little Emperor situation has changed family dynamics in China, with children rather than parents becoming the focal point of families. Some children are said to be so spoiled they don’t do what their teachers say or care what anybody thinks. A headmistress at a school in Shanghai, whose students came mostly from one-child families, told the Los Angeles Times, “Every student thinks she’s in the middle of the circle. They consider little of others. I thinks it a great harm to our nation.”
The traditional strict upbringing has been undermined by the Little Emperor phenomena. Little emperors have been blamed for everything from juvenile crime to increased materialism. One American scholar told Newsweek, “Young people are less family-oriented, less collective-oriented and more self-oriented...As young people get more self-centered, you will see more serious crimes.” The demographics expert Cai Feng told Newsweek The one-child generation are “more likely to be spoiled and self-centered. As adults, children of this generation lack the inclination to support their parents.”
The Little Emperor situation has existed for a couple of decades now and many children who were Young Emperors in the 1980s and 90s have now grown up, some with Little Emperor's of their own. .See Young Adults
Boot Camps for Little Emperors
There are special military-school-like academies where parents of spoiled “Little Emperors” send their children to get straightened out. Students at one such school in Hangzhou are whipped with their shorts off, even in the middle of winter, in front of the other kids if they step way out of line. Minor offenses are dealt with with a spoonful of hot chili sauce or a bitter herb that turns the tongue yellow for hours. One 12-year-old kid at the school told the Los Angeles Times, “I saw a kid spit it out and throw up. The teacher made him eat twice as much!”
Wan Guoyin, the founder of the Hangzhou school, Wan Guoyin’s West Point, told the Los Angeles Times, “We do it more for the humiliation than the pain. The goal is to give them a memorable lesson.” On the kids he sees in school, he said, “As only children, their parents give them everything they want and they don’t have to do anything for themselves. The kids still say they are unhappy and misbehave. That’s because they don’t know what happiness is. Here we provide bitterness, so they have a point of reference.”
Most students at Wan Guoyin’s West Point enroll in a two month summer program in which they live in dormitories, rise at 6:00am and spend most of their day studying or training. The training involves sit ups, push ups, headstands, running laps and the “horse stance”—an awkward martial art pose hat combine a squat with the arms extended out in front that the kids have to hold for 10 minutes. Most of the kids are not permitted to watch television. One mother of one kid wh attned the summer program, told the Los Angeles Times, “My son has improved so much his teacher says he is a changed boy.” The cost of the school is about $300 a month.
Overweight Children in China
In August 2010, a 10-month-old boy was found in Changsa in Hunan Province that weighed 20 kilograms—as much as an average six-year-old.
In the old days, overweight children were a rarity. That is no longer the case. In a study of 80,000 children in 11 cities one in five children under seven is overweight and more than 7 percent are obese, higher numbers than in Europe. Only the United States has higher rates. Rates of obesity among children increased 156 percent between 1996 and 2006 while the number of overweight children rose 52 percent in the same period, with the 22 percent of boys and 17 percent of girls being overweight. Obesity is defined as 20 percent above normal weight for a certain height,
A study in 2004, found that 15.2 percent of the primary school children in Shanghai were obese, up from 13.5 percent the year before. The study found that 4 percent fo children under 6 were already obese and that 11.1 percent of middle school students were overweight.
About 10 percent of urban children are overweight or obese compared to 37 percent in the United States. The number of obese 7-year-old boy tripled between in 1986 and 1996 and doubled among girls in the same time period.
A study of obese children found that 30 percent have high blood pressure, and more than 40 percent have fatty livers and high cholesterol. Some children are so fat they can’t even reach down and te their shoes.
Some parents feed their children five meals of day. Others feed them breakfast with six eggs and full suppers after they have been fed three meals at school. Yet others let their children order whatever they want at McDonald’s while they eat nothing.
Fat children are often harassed and hazed at school and called “little fatty.” A 75-kilogram, 13-year-old told Newsweek he was often made fun at school. "Sometimes they say I'm a pig," he said. "In my heart I feel very uneasy."
Reasons for Overweight Children in China
The problem is blamed on the booming economy, introduction of Western-style foods, a lack of discipline, and the spoiled Little Emperor phenomena. The schools and education system are also blamed by emphasizing preparation for tests and ignoring physical education. Many kids are so swamped with homework they have no time for sports. In many school sports take up less than two hours a week.
The leader of the study in 11 cities, Ding Zongyo, blames much of the increase on economic prosperity, “When a poor person get rich, the first thing he does is gets better food. That’s a big driver of obesity,” he said.
Many parents who suffered through hard times such as the Cultural Revolution and have become relatively affluent have overfed their children as a way of express their wealth and love. One mother of an obese daughter told the Los Angeles Time, “I spoil her because I remember the bitterness I suffered when I was a child. I had two sisters. We were grateful if there was plain rice in the pot. I could never allow my daughter to eat bitterness like I did. “ Sometimes grandparents—many who survived periods of famine during the Great Leap Forward—are just as responsible as the parents.
Ding said, “The one-child policy led parents to overprotect their children. The behavior of grandparents are of special concern because they ten to overfeed their grandchildren because they think that being fat is a sign of the family’s wealth.”The director of a clinic for overweight children told the Los Angeles Times, “Parents have a false notion that more food equals more happiness. The interesting thing is, in the West, children get fat because there is too much freedom. Parents don’t stop them from eating too much. In China, children have no choice. They are practically force-fed by parents and grandparents, who ambush them with food, urging them to eat more, eat more!”
Parents, Camps and Overweight Children
The problem of overweight children has lead to the establishment of camps for obese children. At these camps children are disciplined under boot camp like conditions. They are given vegetable-laden meals and forced to endure rigorous workouts involving long distance running, calisthenics and kung-fu-style exercises. There are also a number of fat clinics and diet formulas oriented specifically for obese children. Many parents also resort tofad diets and elixirs that promise miracle cures.
One camp held at a park in Shanghai required children to dress in military fatigues and go through obstacle courses and do exercises. One 13-year-old told the Los Angeles Times, “Losing weight is harder than going on the Long March.”
Ding thinks the answer to child obesity is found less in diets and camps and more in lifestyle changes such as getting children to do daily chores
Young Pioneers in China
The Young Pioneers is the youth branch of the Communist Party. Nearly all students between the second and sixth grades are required to join and wear a red kerchief to school everyday, except when the weather is exceptionally hot and they wear a red pin instead. Eric Eckholm wrote in the New York Times, "Combining elements of the Scouts, the Safety Patrol and the Hall Monitor, larded with thick, simple doses of patriotism and Communism, the Young Pioneers remains a shared experience of China's children.”
Every year, nearly every second grader in China goes through a solemn rite of initiation and becomes a Young Pioneer. Describing the ritual, Eckholm wrote: "Lined up before an audience of classmates, teachers, and perhaps some beaming parents, the school band playing at the side, they stand at attention as sixth-graders march up and place red kerchiefs around their necks." Older students lead them in the pledge that goes: "I am a Young Pioneer. I pledge under the Young Pioneer flag that I am determined to follow the guidance of the Chinese Communist Party, to study hard, work hard and be ready to devote all my strength to the Communist cause."
Under the supervision of their teachers, the students are organized into teams with the most strait arrow student acting as leaders. One young girl told the New York Times, "As a leader, I have to be a good student, get good grades and be willing to serve the other students. I feel that we have to study hard to build our country stronger."
The students read about good deeds performed by model Pioneers and are taught the proper ways to raise the flag, salute their superiors and dress. The organization also sponsors summer camps and hobby clubs. Many Chinese look back on their Young Pioneers with a chuckle or with nostalgia. Even so many of things that were drilled into them—such as the belief that Tibet and Taiwan are parts of China— remain lodged in their brain.
The Communist Youth League is the equivalent of the Young Pioneers for high school students. Most high school students join for social reasons or because they are required to. In universities and work places, promising members of the Youth League are chosen to be members of the Communist Party.
Urban Chinese Kids Out of Touch with Nature
Children in China's urban jungle have few chances to interact with nature.Liu Xinyan wrote in The Guardian: “China's rapid economic development has changed much of the country's appearance. Childhoods of climbing trees, picking dates and grapes, catching fish, shrimp and tadpoles (or cicadas and crickets), making whistles from willow twigs, and spending all day outside until you were deeply tanned are gone. What have today's children, growing up with TVs and computers, lost? [Source: Liu Xinyan for ChinaDialogue, part of the Guardian Environment Network The Guardian, January 11, 2012]
City kids in China became cave-dwellers in an urban jungle long ago. Children lose the ability to experience nature. They can talk at length about whales or cheetahs, but not describe a flower at their feet. Parents know that if their youngsters eat too much processed food, they will not have a balanced diet; yet they are less likely to know that too much processed information will also hamper children's development.
In Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods, the phrase "nature deficit disorder" is used to describe the broken connection between children and nature. And in a rapidly modernising and urbanising China, this phenomenon is spreading quickly.
Even an ant can cause both children and adults to panic, says Wu Yue, children's nature tutor at the Lovingnature Education and Consulting Centre. The ants, worms and lizards we often caught and played with as kids have become terrifying beasts. Similarly, an experiment once found that Japanese university students preferred to play in a concrete gully, believing that two tree-lined mountain rivers nearby were dangerous. Long-term separation from the natural environment causes estrangement, fear and the loss of the ability to appreciate nature's beauty.
Urban Kids Reconnect with Nature in China
Efforts are afoot to reconnect urban kids with nature. Liu Xinyan wrote in The Guardian: “We all met by the roadside before setting off for the nature camp. It was a clear, early-spring morning and several of the children played on a dusty patch of ground next to a run-down factory. We grabbed one of the girls as she ran past. "Do you like it here?" we asked. "Yes," she shot back. "Really?" "Yes!" And off she ran. We watched curiously as the girls piled earth, stones, sticks and leaves together. "What are you doing?" "Making a cake!" [Source: Liu Xinyan for ChinaDialogue, part of the Guardian Environment Network The Guardian, January 11, 2012]
The child who answered didn't even look up, being too busy adding leaves to the "cake". We laughed, but also felt a little sad. It was good to see the children at ease and happy and feeling close to nature. But it was also obvious that it had been a long time since they'd seen any real nature and that they rarely got to play outside; otherwise, they wouldn't have been so excited about this scrap of land. And — sure enough — when we got to our destination and saw the orchards, grass, ponds and hills, they whizzed off like escaped rabbits. I still feel the same mix of happiness and sadness every time children get out of the car and run off shouting, ignoring any calls to return.
Environmental Groups Involved with Reconnecting Urban Kids with Nature in China
Friends of Nature, formed in 1993, is one of China's oldest NGOs and has provided links between the urban public and nature through bird-watching and gardening groups. Liu Xinyan wrote in The Guardian: “ Nature education aimed at children started in 2000, with Green Hope Action and the Antelope Bus. Green Hope Action sees volunteers from the city visit poor villages to provide environmental education. The Antelope Bus is a mobile nature-education project that Friends of Nature adopted from Germany; in its early years, it also visited rural schools. Similar projects include the Beijing Brooks Education Centre's programme to educate children who live near nature reserves about wetlands. These projects all started in cities and are aimed at rural areas. China's early NGOs aimed to help vulnerable groups, rather than urban populations that tended to have access to more resources. [Source: Liu Xinyan for ChinaDialogue, part of the Guardian Environment Network The Guardian, January 11, 2012]
Over time, however, some of those involved started to question this long-distance approach and to look towards city residents. They found that children in cities had fewer chances to get close to nature than did their rural counterparts — that urban children suffered more of a nature deficit — and so they began to experiment with environmental education in cities. City children (and even some parents), it emerged, didn't need more knowledge — they just needed to rebuild their links with the natural world.
As the NGOs worked, they came to understand that while it's good for a child to be able to name a plant, more is gained if he or she can appreciate its beauty; understand its structure and evolution, its links with other animals and plants; and experience the connection between people and nature.
Bringing the Wonders of Nature Close to the Cities
Liu Xinyan wrote in The Guardian: Within two or three years, these ideas gave birth to a range of educational activities based around the observation and experience of nature. These activities include Friends of Nature's Nature Camps, run by members and volunteers; Beijing Brooks's nature and art experiences at Waterdrops Camp at its Nature Study Centre in the hills outside of Beijing; Hanhaisha's community gardens project; and Nature Heart's classes combining observation, explanation and photography of nature. [Source: Liu Xinyan for ChinaDialogue, part of the Guardian Environment Network The Guardian, January 11, 2012]
And we were delighted to see how the children behaved during the activities, breaking down the barriers between themselves and nature; it was like a miraculous journey. Song Xi works on Friends of Nature's nature experience project. She asked a group of lively children to close their eyes and lie beneath the branches of a large tree. When they opened their eyes and saw the sun shining through the green canopy, they fell silent —as if the whole world had stopped.
At first, city kids are unruly and uninterested, but they become curious, excited and focused over time. Initially they don't want to get dirty and they scream at the sight of a bug — but soon they get closer to nature than their parents do. If they have the opportunity to observe and experience nature, they discover new things, things we may never have noticed, and they become imaginative about things that look ordinary.
Expatriate Children in China
Peter Foster wrote in The Telegraph, ‘One afternoon a few days ago when I came home from work early to surprise him off the school bus. He emerged with a huge smile, the only British child in a polyglot of preschoolers Chinese, French, Thai, German, Vietnamese all prattling away in the common language of their playground: Mandarin Chinese. [Source: Peter Foster, The Telegraph, August 16, 2010]
As it happened, his ayi (our wonderful Chinese nanny, who speaks not a word of English) had also come to pick him up and, after a cursory Hi, Dad, he proceeded to recount his school day in rapid-fire Chinese. I caught something about bean seeds and how they grow, and then a snatched phrase about jet planes and how they fly, but for the most part my own language skills (not too bad, I thought, after more than a year of early morning classes) were utterly unequal to the task. “ [Ibid]
It is an exhilarating, if faintly unnerving, sensation not to be able to follow your own child as he speaks a foreign language. It was only 15 months since we had arrived in China from rural New Zealand, the children dazed and culture shocked, unable even to ask for a cup of milk. “ [Ibid]
Everyone will tell you how quickly children adapt to their new environment...but the truth is that there have been moments of serious doubt. Just how many days is it fair to leave your usually bubbly three year-old silent and bewildered at the school gates as she contemplates another morning unable to follow a word? But such are the calculations that all expatriates must make. Listening to my children forming friendships with Chinese children, I take heart in the belief that we are preparing them for the world in which they must live, not the one we once enjoyed. It is a world in which China, and all things Chinese, will play an ever-growing role and which they will approach with an assurance born of friendship and familiarity. “ [Ibid]
Back home, friends often say my children’s grasp of Chinese will give them an enviable edge over their peers in Britain. At this juncture, I cannot tell, but if there is an advantage it will be primarily cultural, not commercial. Even if the younger ones don’t remember a single word of their Chinese (these things can fade quickly), there’s plenty of research that shows it is good for brain development to have grappled with two such different languages. “ [Ibid]
Adoptions in China
In China, adoptions are considered the same as having second children. According to China's adoption laws only childless couples can adopt children and they must be over 35. Couples are only allowed to adopt a second child if their first child (natural or adopted) is handicapped.
Chinese are not very keen on the idea of adoption. One Chinese woman told the Los Angeles Times, “It would be very hard for me to accept adoption. Even if I could, I wouldn’t know what to do.”
According to one survey 75 percent of the children adopted from China suffer from delays in physical and mental development.
Most of the children left at the orphanages are abandoned girls not orphans. Most of the boys are handicapped. It is not unusual to find children abandoned in train stations. Many are disabled or mentally handicapped.
Girls account for the vast majority of adoptions. Many are babies abandoned at birth by families that wanted a boy. A mother who gave up her daughter to adoption told the Washington Post, "She was a mistake; we were worried about fines. So we gave her away. Many people do that. They just bundle the child up and leave it with the government. Perhaps she made it to America."
Overseas Adoptions in China
China is popular for adoptions because the system is well organized and efficient and because Chinese orphans are generally well looked after and are healthy when adopted. Orphanages generally receive about $3,000 per child for children that are adopted abroad.
China introduced new rules in 2006 that restrict the number of foreigners adopting Chinese babies. The new rules ban the obese, disabled, unmarried and people who take anti-depressants from adopting. According to the rules applicants must have a body mass index of less than 40, no criminal records, a high school diploma and be free of certain health problems like AIDS and cancer.
According to the new rules couples must have been married at least two years and have no more than two divorces between them. If either spouse has been previously divorced the couple can not apply for adoption until they have been married for at least five years. The couple must also have a net worth of at least $80,000 and have an income of at least $10,000 per person in the household a year. The new adoptions rules were enacted in part to deal with the fact that people who want to adopt babies far exceed the number of babies that are available.
Adoptions in China by Americans
Child adopted by
China has been the largest source of adopted children to the United States 1999. Between 1991 and 2006, American families adopted more than 55,000 Chinese children, almost all of them girls. The number of adoptions by Americans fell from 7,906 in 2005 to 6,493 in 2006. In 2010, China was still the largest source of adopted children in the United States, accounting for 3,401 of them.
In 1995, China became the main source of babies adopted by American parents from abroad. The top five sources of adopted children in the United States in 2000 were: 1) China (about 5,000 children); 2) Russia (about 4,200 children); 3) South Korea (about 1,800 children); 4) Guatemala (about 1,500 children); and 5) Romania (about 1,100 children). [Source: U.S. State Department]
Adoption fees start at about $15,000 of U.S. parents. Most if the money goes to U.S.-based organization that locate children. Orphanages receive about $3,000 for a child. Parents can't refuse a baby or pick out one they like.
Typically parents get news of their child in the mail after working for months, if not a year with an adoption agency. If they decide to accept the child, they get on a plane and travel to an orphanage in one of China’s provinces to get the child. In many cases there are special hotels where the parents can spend some time with the child before making a final decision.
Many American parents with adopted Chinese children make a trip to China when their kids are pre-teens or teens so they can get aquatinted with their homeland. Local Chinese are often shocked by the sight of Chinese kids dressed like Americans and gawk and stare at them.
Image Sources: 1) Posters, Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/ ; 2) Baby, Growing up, Beifan.com http://www.beifan.com/; 3) 100 children painting, University of Washington; 4) Rural children, Bucklin archives http://www.bucklinchinaarchive.com/ ; 5) Adoption, Scafiido Family website ; 6) Baby for sale, Agnes Smedly
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated December 2012