Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What's wrong with these Chinese kids?

"Did you see many pregnant women [in China]?" - My eldest, who became a mother nearly a year ago, wanted to know. "And babies? Prams? Pushchairs? Baby-carriers?"

Even without her asking, I couldn't help noticing that pregnant women were indeed few and far between. I definitely saw one during our 20 days in China; perhaps two. You've all heard about China's one-child-per-family policy, so the scarcity of pregnant women sort of made sense. Our guides on this trip, incidentally, most of whom are parents, had quite a bit to say on the subject. And I shall report. But getting back to Daria's questions: Actually, we saw very few prams and pushchairs. And even fewer baby-carriers.  But we did see babies. Or rather, toddlers. And this is what got to me. See for yourselves, and tell me:

What's wrong with these pictures?

Mother & child on the Bund, Shanghai
Mother & child on the Bund, Shanghai

Father and child, Shanghai

Grandma (?) and baby, Shanghai

Mother (?) and child, China

Father and daughter, China

Mom and kid, the Bund, Shanghai

Mom (?) and kid, Shanghai
 There are more photos, but you get the idea.
At first I made allowances. I said to myself, Hey, you're a mom, you remember what it's like; you go out with the kid, and after walking for an hour or whatever, the kid gets tired and starts nagging, "Pick me up...".

But this was far beyond the natural "pick me up". This was the kids' usual mode of conveyance. Toddlers half the size of their petite mothers are being carried and coddled, all over the place.

I am told that this is part and parcel of the general trend of spoiling the kids rotten.
In 1949, at the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the country's population was around 400 million. During the 1950s-1960s Mao Zedong encouraged women to have children, calling them "hero mothers". Giving birth to 7 or 9 children became the norm. By the time of Mao's death in 1978 the population had more than doubled due to Mao's policy. And that's when the serious "cutback" policy was instituted. Severe punishments were meted out to families who dared have a second child. Many pregnant mothers were forced to have an abortion, even in advanced pregnancy. And since baby boys were favored, many baby girls were abandoned.
The laws were somewhat relaxed in the 1990s: Farmers were allowed a second child, once the first reached the age of four. Ethnic minorities (constituting 7% of the population) are allowed to procreate freely. And in the big cities, though in principle the one-child law still applies, if you can afford to pay the high fine, you can have another child. Or you can find ways of getting around the law, like traveling abroad and giving birth there. Provided, of course, that you have the wherewithal. Like  elsewhere in the world, if you have money, you can buy your way around the law.

I don't know at what age the doting parents and grandparents of only-children begin making huge demands on them, pushing them to achieve. Laura's (our guide) 8-year-old daughter gets up at six every morning, leaves the house by 6:30, and goes to sleep around eight thirty. In addition to school, she takes piano and dance lessons, English, Chinese and math. Many parents force their children to do homework until 11 pm. Every child belongs to the school in his/her district. If the parents want the child to attend a better school, they must "contribute" around 30,000 yuan (approx. 3,000 pounds or 5,000 dollars) just as an entrance fee; and the sum can reach 100,000 yuan.

Eventually, we heard more bits and pieces from our other guides about the difficulties of raising a child in China. But I'm not sure this is the place to spill the beans; we're just tourists, here today, gone tomorrow, whereas our hard-working guides are probably in China to stay.

- To be continued -

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