In China: pity ALL the children

BEIJING – The British Economist magazine published a peculiar piece, Pity the children, on the “70m reasons to ease China’s curbs on internal migration.” The authors erroneously believe that easing bureaucracy would suddenly make 70 million rural children return to the side of their busy parents in the cities. The article omits (and thus probably underestimates) deep-rooted cultural norms and social custom of the Confucian Civilization and the Communist Society: Many Chinese would manage for their children to be somewhere else anyway.

China’s left-behind generation - Pity the children; Economist, Oct 17th 2015
China’s left-behind generation –
Pity the children; Economist, Oct 17th 2015

Child rearing is a problem in China, no matter money and status. The rich do not behave much differently from the poor: Chinese parents, as a general rule, just don’t lovingly care for the children as we do in the Christian west, and if they care for the emotional well-being at all, they do so only with authoritarian spoon.

It does not matter much if the parents are illiterate; the culture is universally tilted toward Confucian love for learning. Even the deprived and unfortunate in China wish for the best education their child can possible get. (And will pay any price, if they can).

To be sure, in Chinese society there is little hugging, love, or privacy. Children are considered property, not independent human beings. ‘Human rights’, ‘individualism’, and ‘freedom’ are largely Western inventions –and somewhat obsolete in communist China. Especially the young have little say or personal choice. Also, they enjoy no dignity. If they are slow-witted, they are called slow-witted. If ugly, they are called ugly. Parents compare their kids shockingly, and in front of everybody else.

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Slapping children is the norm – “How else does one discipline the little emperors” – and it is unrelated to the educational level of their parents. Children are often sent off to their grandparents, uncles and aunties, or even overseas relatives. Get yourself a Chinese wife, and her parents will want to stay in your apartment and oversee their grandchild.

It is common for young couples (most Chinese marry in their 20s) to leave their only-child behind and seek work and career in the megacities. ‘Stay at home moms’, this concept, is very capitalistic and democratic. In Communist China, women were considered “holding up half the sky”, and worked just as much as men did, even served in the military, while their kids’ education and social activities were taken care of by the state – in boarding schools for example.

Wherever the kids have a better life, Chinese parents will send them. In the West, low-class parents often drag their children down by telling them they are clever and beautiful, and that they can achieve anything in life if only they believe in themselves. In China, however, 99% of the child’s success is believed to be design of the parents. In America, mothers don’t part with their young kids easily; in China, mothers gratefully accept any opportunity that will leave their kids with more affluent friends or relatives abroad. Penniless mothers sell their toddlers to monasteries or the circus; much less for the money than for the conviction that the child will be better off, and learn some skills.

Everything is better than staying with poor parents, is it not? All the same, it’s the parents that make all the life-changing decision for their young –right into young adulthood, if necessary.

Even if those “70m reasons” were realized, it wouldn’t change the universal (Confucian) philosophy toward child-rearing: filial piety, learned helplessness, and being a jerk. On the contrary, if they all had money in the world, the Chinese would still leave their children behind, or hire nannies, and private tutors, or send their children abroad to relatives, affluent friends, or intl schools. They don’t know what else to do with kids, personally. Before recently, they didn’t even have toys, fairy tales, or play dates, let alone religion and clean air. In China: pity ALL the children.

Thor Tukoll is a pen name of Thorsten J. Pattberg, a German writer and cultural critic. He is the author of The East-West Dichotomy,  Shengren, and Inside Peking University.

2015 (c) Thor Tukoll

Image credits: Air pollution in Beijing/evolife.cn