LITTLE EMPERORS AND MIDDLE CLASS KIDS IN CHINA

MIDDLE CLASS KIDS IN CHINA

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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’s 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.

There is money to be made from Chinese kids. In 2013, “Danish toymaker Lego's profits rose 9 percent to US$1.12 billion in part because of a sales boost in China. The BBC reported: “Rising sales were helped by increasing demand from China, which Lego highlighted as a future "core market"." [Source: BBC, February 27, 2014]

Good Websites and Sources: Busy Kids chinadaily.com. ; Precious Children PBS piece pbs.org Young People ; Sheyla’s News blog /sheylawu.blogspot.com ; Human Trafficking Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in China gvnet.com International Labor Organization ilo.org/public

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.”

"One child is enough," a 29-year-old woman working for a media organization in Shenzhen, told the Yomiuri Shimbun. "The environment in China today is unsuitable for bringing up children." Her 29-year-old husband, who works at the same media organization, nods in agreement beside her. The couple married two years ago and had their first child, a boy, last year. The financial burdens that await already loom large in their minds. [Source: Kenichi Yoshida and Takahiro Suzuki, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 31, 2013]

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun: To start with, they must pay for kindergarten. Suburban kindergarten expenses are about US$15,000 a year, a figure that jumps to about US$35,000 for kindergartens in the center of the city. Sending their son to university will cost more than $300,000 in total. Soaring real estate prices also have hit household budgets hard. In such large cities as Shenzhen, buying a house costs the equivalent of up to 25 years of salary, according to estimates. "We'd rather do the best we can for one child than cut our living expenses to afford two children," the couple said. The wife heaved a deep sigh. She also expressed anxiety over environmental pollution, lack of medical services and ongoing concerns about food safety. "I keep asking my son why he had to be born in this country in this age," she said.

Little Emperors

The one child policy produced over 100 million single children without any brothers or sisters. 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

Last Little Empress Poem

The following is poem written by a child translated by Ming Zhi [Source: Ming Zhi’s blog banianerguotoukeyihe.com, October 30, 2015]
“I am so beautiful, noble and tall.
I have so much money.
I am so clever,
lovely and cute,
naive and adorable.

“I am so innocent.
My emotional competence is so high,
just like my IQ.
I am 100 percent natural Liu Mingzhi.

Producers are Liu Tengyun, Huang Danzhe.
Raw ingredients semen and egg.
I’m a limited edition.
They don’t produce them anymore.

China's Little Emperors: Pessimistic and Risk-Adverse

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In a study published in Science, researchers found that China's so-called “little emperors” were more pessimistic, neurotic and selfish than their peers who have siblings. Carrie Arnold wrote in Scientific American: “Psychologist Xin Meng of the Australian National University in Canberra and her colleagues recruited 421 Chinese young adults born between 1975 and 1983 from around Beijing for a series of surveys and tests that evaluated a variety of psychological traits, such as trustworthiness and optimism. Almost all the participants born after 1979 were only children compared with about one fifth of those born before 1979. The study participants born after the policy went into effect were found to be both less trusting and less trustworthy, less inclined to take risks, less conscientious and optimistic, and less competitive than those born a few years earlier. [Source: Carrie Arnold, Scientific American, May 20, 2013 ^^]

“Because of the one-child policy, parents are less likely to teach their child to be imaginative, trusting and unselfish,” Meng says. Without siblings, she notes, the need to share may not be emphasized, which could help explain these findings. Only children in other parts of the world, however, do not show such striking differences from their peers. Toni Falbo, a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved in the study, suggests that larger social forces in China also probably contributed to these results. “There's a lot of pressure being placed on [Chinese] parents to make their kid the best possible because they only had one,” Falbo says. These types of pressures could harm anyone, even if they had siblings, she says. Whatever its cause, the personality profile of China's little emperors may be troubling to a nation hoping to continue its ascent in economic prosperity. The traits marred by the one-child policy, the study authors point out, are exactly those needed in leaders and entrepreneurs.” ^^

AFP reported: “China's controversial "One Child" policy produces grownups who lack entrepreneurial drive and the willingness to take risks, a study released in January 2013 concluded. "Our data show that people born under the one child policy were less likely to be in more risky occupations like self-employment," said Lisa Cameron, one of the lead researchers on the study published in the journal "Science." "There may be implications for China in terms of a decline in entrepreneurial ability," the Australian scientist added. [Source: AFP, January 11, 2013 ~]

“The study compared adults born just before and after the one child policy was put in place in 1979. It aimed to measure social skills such as trust and risk-taking. Researchers conducted a series of economic games with more than 400 subjects. They found that those who were only children as a result of China's one child policy grew up to be adults who were "significantly less trusting, less trustworthy, more risk-averse, less competitive, more pessimistic, and less conscientious," a press release announcing the findings said. ~

“Cameron said researchers observed the negative effects of being an only child in China even if there was significant social contact with other children while growing up. "We found that greater exposure to other children in childhood — for example, frequent interactions with cousins and/or attending childcare — was not a substitute for having siblings," she said. And they said the results could not be explained by other factors, such as participants' age and whether they might have become more capitalistic over time. The research was gathered by Cameron, along with her colleague Lata Gangadharan — both from Monash University — along with Xin Meng of the Australian National University (ANU) and Nisvan Erkal from the University of Melbourne. ~

Five-Year-Old Chinese Boy’s Resume Causes a Stir

Jiayun Feng wrote in SupChina: An extensive résumé (in Chinese) by an anonymous kindergarten kid became the hottest topic on Chinese social media. Coming in the form of a 15-page PDF document, the résumé gives an incredibly comprehensive overview of the child’s awe-inspiring history. “I was born in a family where both parents are graduates from Fudan University,” the kid proudly states of his family background in the first part. He even makes a pun out of the name of the university, calling himself a “typical fuerdai,” where the fu of the phrase for “second-generation rich” fù’èrdài) is replaced with the fu of Fudan University fù). “I hope I can outperform my parents,” he adds. [Source: Jiayun Feng, SupChina, October 31, 2018]

“The kid moves on to describe himself as “confident,” “considerate,” and “strong.” To give examples, he relates that he never cried over vaccine shots and that one and a half years after his birth, he managed to stand up without help from others if he fell to the ground. “Everyone said praises about how I was so brave,” the kid says. He also explains how he excelled in four things — literature and history, science and math, arts, and sports. “I write three English essays per week to express my feelings,” he says, adding that he has a variety of hobbies outside school, such as piano, hip-hop dance, soccer, and Go.

“In addition, the document includes the kid’s daily schedule, comments from his teachers, and a map that indicates every place he has traveled to. One admirable quality of the kid’s that really stands out is that the boy is a big reader. He says that he read over 500 English books in the past year. At the end of the résumé, there are five pages listing all the English books he has read so far. On a related note, it’s worth mentioning that a recent study suggests that nearly two-thirds of all Chinese over the age of 18 read no books in their leisure time in 2017.

“According to Weibo user kāi bā, who shared the résumé but didn’t disclose how he obtained it, the document appears to be part of some application materials for an international primary school. “Both parents are high achievers working in high-profile positions at international firms,” the user wrote. The résumé is undoubtedly remarkable. But let’s be real. The amount of effort and skill needed to put it together is far beyond the capability of a five-year-old. So it’s safe to say that the kid’s parents are the ones who deserve all the credit. Or as some internet users speculated, since the parents are executives with busy schedules, the résumé was possibly written by their subordinates.

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 who attended 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.

High Rates of Nearsightedness in China Linked to Studying All the Time

David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The children at the Bayi Xiwang elementary and middle school are doing something revolutionary by current Chinese standards: They're playing outside. Singing and skipping in the dizzying southern Chinese humidity, these students have been given 45 minutes a day to frolic under the sun while peers across the nation remain indoors, hunched over books or squinting at blackboards. By forcing youngsters to put down their pencils and expose their eyes to natural light, researchers think they can stem an explosion of nearsightedness in China. [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2012]

“By the time they complete high school, as many as 90 percent of urban Chinese youth are afflicted by the condition known as myopia, in which close objects can be seen clearly but things just a few feet or inches away start to blur. That's about three times the rate among U.S. children. Even more troubling is the severity of the Chinese cases. Between 10 percent and 20 percent of nearsighted Chinese children are expected to develop "high myopia," which is largely untreatable and may lead to blindness.

“The problem for China is really quite massive," said Ian Morgan, a visiting professor at the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center at Sun Yat-sen University who helped organize the three-year clinical trial in Guangzhou. "Their best-educated kids — kids who are going to be the intellectuals or political leaders — are going to be progressively losing vision as they get older." Even China's authoritarian leaders have had to ask schools to ease off. In 2010, several provinces banned public preschools from instructing 3-year-olds to memorize 10 Chinese characters a day.

“Myopia has steadily increased in concert with China's urbanization and intensified academic competition. It's not uncommon for children in China to study four hours a day at home on top of a full day of school as well as attend several hours of tutoring on weekends. "Parents want their kids to get into the best primary school so they can have a better chance at the best high school that can help them get into Beida, Tsinghua and Fudan," Morgan said, referring to China's three elite universities. "Educational pressure and the disappearance of a strong preventive agent — time outdoors — is driving kids to myopia.”

China’s Solution to It Myopia Problem: Study Outside

David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Beijing restaurateur Wang Jiali said she's convinced that too much studying ruined her eyesight. Growing up in Jianyang in western Sichuan province, she studied in a classroom from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., followed by four hours of homework under poor home lighting. [Source: David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2012]

“By age 11, Wang strained to read the blackboard. By age 12, she was wearing her first pair of glasses — a pair of cheap red frames whose lenses cracked twice in the first three months. She hated the glasses instantly and feared they would make her eyes bulge. "I worried I was going to get goldfish eyes," said Wang, now 32 and part-owner of an American-style grill in Beijing. She recently paid $2,134 to receive laser corrective surgery. "The first thing I did was watch 'American Idol,'" Wang said. "I was so excited I could see properly.”

“Despite a 2007 order by Chinese authorities to boost physical education in schools to combat obesity and deteriorating eyesight, many educators — and parents — have resisted. Morgan and fellow researchers at the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center had to negotiate hard to persuade six schools to allow students a daily recess break. (Another six signed on as "control" groups, making no changes to their routines.)

Morgan wanted more than an hour of outdoor exercise a day. The schools agreed to 45 minutes and structured lessons in the open air, sometimes with singing, dancing and the occasional hula hoop. "We roll out a blackboard onto the playground and create situations where the students can practice English with each other or draw outside," said Wang Xiaojia, Bayi Xiwang's principal.

“The researchers acknowledge this may be as close as they get to giving young Chinese eyes a break. "If your prescription at the end of the day is making Chinese care less about education, then it's not going to happen," said Nathan Congdon, a professor at the Zhongshan Ophthalmic Center. "That's like telling Americans to like basketball or football less.”

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. 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."

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 tie their shoes.

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

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. 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.

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!”

Camp and Summer Activities for Middle Class Chinese Kids

Emily Rauhala wrote in the Washington Post: “Not long ago, most children here spent their school break playing outside or helping their parents. With incomes rising and tighter academic competition, the summer months have become a front in China’s educational arms race. For the vast middle class, it’s less about summer camp than supplemental classes. Even families that are struggling — and there are many — feel the pressure to keep up, often pooling the extended family’s savings to pay for whatever private tutoring they can afford. [Source: Emily Rauhala, Washington Post, September 8, 2016]

““At all ends of the market, that means one thing: money. “The sector is booming,” said Luo Moming, an assistant vice president at New Oriental, a private- education firm that’s listed on the New York Stock Exchange. When Luo was a child, summer camp, at least as Americans picture it, was an abstraction. Born in 1975, he spent his summers running through the streets of Wuhan, a city in central China, while his parents worked. Thanks to the one-child policy, those raised in the boom years of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s did not, for the most part, have siblings. Parents and grandparents wanting to improve their lot put all their time and energy into that one child, ferrying “little emperors” to English lessons and math camp. The current boom is an intensification of that trend. Chinese families are generally wealthier, healthier and better educated than ever before, but growth is slowing and there’s a fear of being left behind.

“At New Oriental, the private―education firm, revenue for a project that offers extra classes for the K-to-12 set was up more than 35 percent in the past fiscal year.Although a growing number of parents are interested in extra-curricular subjects such as painting or sports, the most popular programs are geared toward classwork and tests. A perennial favorite is a 20-hour preview of a textbook called “New Concept English.” Middle-class parents don’t want camp, per se, but courses that are “intensive and ahead of schedule,” Luo said. That way their children can test into a good middle school, get a head start on high school, ace the university entrance exam, known as the gaokao, and be on their way.

“Although English lessons are always popular, summer camps signal the parental imperatives of the day. Some parents and grandparents complain that children today are coddled. It makes sense, then, that they send them to military or weight-loss camp. Weary city-slickers can send their child to nature camp, an adventure that may include a chance to meet a real-life farmer or feel dirt on their fingers for the first time. Those inspired by President Xi Jinping’s push to promote traditional culture can send their little one to learn calligraphy and proper temple etiquette. (And what child doesn’t love temple etiquette?)

“Kaixin Mama’s “Double Win Life” camp (6,980 renminbi, or about $1,000 per week) is for both parent and child. The focus is improving communication and developing better life skills — oh, and getting better grades. The woman who runs the program, Cao Kaixin, says that more and more middle-class parents want to help their children become happy and well rounded. Most parents, however, can’t abandon academics altogether just because it’s summer and the child is young.

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.

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]

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.

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.

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.

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.

Image Sources: 1) Posters, Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/ ; 2) Baby, Growing up, Beifan.com 3) 100 children painting, University of Washington; 4) Rural children, Bucklin archives ; 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.

Last updated October 2021


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