CHILDREN AND CHILD REARING CUSTOMS IN CHINA

CHILDREN IN CHINA

rightIn 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]

A jade ring has traditionally been given as a gift to newborns.

Young Children in China

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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]

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

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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.”

Raising Kids in China

left 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.”

See Education

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.

Busy Chinese Infants and Kids

Leo Lewis wrote in The Times, “Zuming receives a series of one-on-one tutorial sessions every day in a rich variety of brain-expanding disciplines. The boy's parents, grandparents and nanny have all received training to enhance their powers as his auxiliary teachers. About one million renminbi ($150,000) has already been invested in Zuming's education and the next five years of intensive learning have been meticulously planned. He is from Guangzhou and he is almost 12 months old. If Zuming were ever to wonder what the next few years have in store for him, he could seek guidance from his big sister Maiwen's schedule - a packed agenda comprising a normal day of kindergarten followed by extra classes in maths, English, Mandarin, piano and handicrafts. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, January 26, 2013 +++]

“Only 90 minutes in every 24 hours are not spent sleeping, eating or in some form of education. Her weekends are spent at museums and exhibitions. Having reached the dizzying age of five, Maiwen is about to undergo a private educational assessment that will inform her parents, among other things, what career might ultimately suit her. "I think we will definitely push my son harder than we push the five-year-old," says Amanda Zheng, a highly successful entrepreneur in the clothing industry and the mother of Zuming and Maiwen. "In the end, the boy will have more responsibility to shoulder. We may only let him have 60 minutes' free time every day." Digital Pass $1 for first 28 Days. +++

“The combination of wealth and aspiration has made some Chinese parents easy targets of scams.” In August 2012, “parents in Shanghai were offered a $15,000 course to give children superpowers, such as remembering a whole page of text in a second and knowing the answers to an exam paper by touching it. More than 200 were enrolled before the parents realised they had been conned. Zheng has no such doubts that her money is well spent: "Whether my children want to be an entrepreneur or a flower arranger, they have to be the best possible version of that. Happiness is most important, but that comes later. Now it is important they play the piano perfectly." +++

Social and Economic Forces Behind the Obsessive Studying for Chinese Kids

Leo Lewis wrote in The Times, At the moment, Amanda Zheng, the mother mentioned above, “is primarily investing money and effort to ensure her children are competitive in the domestic context. "But when they are older they will be competing with children everywhere in the world," she says, adding that Western parents should feel concern at the single-mindedness of their Chinese counterparts. "For me, and for a lot of Chinese parents, we think in 20-30-year terms from before they are born - looking at what the world might be like and preparing our children with the qualities they will need," she says. A British education, she believes, offers probably the best "future-proofing" for a Chinese child. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, January 26, 2013 +++]

“Where does the impetus for this educational pressure come from? Zheng unhesitatingly confirms it is definitely her, and not her husband, driving the process. On the face of it, it would be easy to write Zheng and her hothousing tactics off as another education-obsessed Asian matriarch - the implacable, mildly terrifying exemplar of Chinese parenthood introduced to the world in Amy Chua's bestseller, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom. But to dismiss what she is doing with her children as a whim of the super-rich or the cruel imposition of an obsessive would be to miss the more fundamental message about what is happening in China. +++

“Zheng is certainly wealthy, and the educational experience of her children is still rare. But her choices are merely a more extreme symptom of a nation undergoing seismic social change on a scale that means there are no comparable experiences anywhere in the world. China's new money is feeling its way just as nervously and ignorantly as it might anywhere else and is - unsurprisingly - susceptible to the idea that more (and the more expensive version) of anything is better. +++

“Among China's swelling middle classes - a stratum of society with a population the size of America that may double by the end of the decade - education for their children is the overwhelming investment priority. They are, supposedly, the great consumers the Chinese and global economy have been waiting for, but by far their strongest impulse has been to spend on anything that sets their offspring apart from the other 20 million Chinese children of the same age. +++

“Already, the reputation of certain good schools in China is creating a bubble market in parental ambitions and vast under-the-table expenditure. Schools with connections to good universities have unofficial price lists of "sponsorship fees" that may help prospective parents get their children in. The system closely resembles bribery. Some schools just name a price in the order of $100,000, say parents; others will ask for donations of facilities such as an entire air-conditioning system. +++

“Overlaid on all that angst is a growing belief among their ranks that the rigid Chinese education system is not nurturing or emphasising the sort of qualities that will ultimately be valuable. "Parents are just as concerned as they used to be, but the thinking has changed a lot in the last two years," Zheng says. "The idea used to be that the answer was to be really strict. Now, more Chinese parents have awoken to different theories, less choices and a type of education that can adapt and react to each child's characteristics." +++

“It is into this cocktail of ambition and doubt that programs of the sort being endured by Zuming and Maiwen have emerged. In their earnest search for the best for their children, parents such as Zheng are particularly attracted to the idea that developed countries have evolved a more scientific approach to education of the very young. Lions, the Chinese company that sells the schemes, is also careful to associate itself with old seats of learning in Britain.” +++

One-Stop Intensive Education for Chinese Kids

Cambridge Malting House China Customised Early Childhood Education program offers an intensive education experience for kids with their private tutors and demanding regimen. Leo Lewis wrote in The Times, “Presenting its product as a "one-stop solution incorporating professional training home education and tool improvement to comprehensively optimise the early development of babes between zero and 36 months", the big, glossy brochure offers potential converts a seductive mixture of scientific charts, cutaway images of a human brain, subtle warnings about the shortcomings of ordinary parenting approaches and emotive language about children being "brilliant trees". "Adults cannot foresee what challenges our children will confront in the future. Therefore, the best approach we can do is to help our children to build diverse and balanced capabilities to support and develop their interests," begins the brochure. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, January 26, 2013 +++]

“People such as Zheng, and the 200 other parents in Guangzhou who have signed their children into the program since June, are convinced. Organising trained tutors for babies, she wholeheartedly believes, is simply more scientific than leaving critical formative years in the hands of parents. Lions believes that the $45,000 annual cost of the tutoring will rapidly evaporate as a deterrent. The company is confident that it will have more than 15,000 tutors working with Chinese children from birth by 2015. +++

“Underlying the appeal of the program, says Danny Tian, the chief executive of Lions Education, is the parents' raw competitiveness. "The people that come through this door are all high-end, successful people who know that their children are going to be different from the rest of the pack. "They come in and they tell us that all they want is for their children to be happy, but they don't actually mean that. They want their children to have an edge. "The words they say are very different from their true thoughts. Some talk about happiness but as a long-term goal - they want their children to be happy eventually, but have no idea how to guarantee that. Only a few people are frank enough to talk about competitiveness when their children are so young. But they all believe their children are born to be dragons," he adds.

Marketing Behind the One-Stop Intensive Education for Chinese Kids

Leo Lewis wrote in The Times, “Tian, whose career includes a period in retail before setting up a service dispatching high-end maid-housekeepers to the wealthy, talks to me on the 33rd floor of Guangzhou's newest, most prestigious office tower. His experience with the maids has clearly been useful to the set-up of the tutoring program: in both cases, he hires university graduates. For the tutors, his company provides three to six months of training before they are ready to teach. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, January 26, 2013 +++]

“The meeting room, which is used to discuss the tutoring program with prospective parents, is filled with heavily ornate wooden furniture, and chandeliers - a concoction seemingly designed to provide a dollop of olde England with all those cutting-edge theories of 21st-century pedagogy. The corridor leading to the room is lined with carefully themed pictures that include the quadrangle at Eton College, sepia 1950s photographs of rowers from some unnamed but expensive-looking public school, Winston Churchill and Christine Gilbert, the former head of education standards body Ofsted who assisted in the four-year, $3.7 million development of the course. +++

“The British imprimatur is an overt part of the set-up. Lions Education shares its offices in Guangzhou with Gabbitas Education, the scholastic agency set up in the late 19th century - a background that is not allowed to escape unnoticed. The partnership introduces clients of the tutoring program to the idea that, to really bring out the best in their children, they could consider sending them to a British public school, with Gabbitas acting as the seasoned matchmaker. Gabbitas has established three offices in China since 2009, charging Chinese parents as much as $10,000 for a VIP service that includes testing children before placing them in schools. The quality guarantee of the tutoring program, says Ian Hunt, its managing director, is critical.” +++

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.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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