Sunday, March 1, 2009

One Child Right Upfront

I just couldn't resist: seeing this kid making his way down the sidewalk with his mother's shopping bag, wanting to carry it for her. Why wouldn't he? He's number one, the only one she will be mother to. Out of pragmatism, the Chinese adopted the one-child policy in 1979, to curb the population explosion. The west would argue that it is a violation of rights, limiting how many children a citizen can decide to have. But once you are dizzy from the volume of people that inhabit a city like Shanghai, it is mindboggling to imagine what it would be like if all Chinese could choose how many kids they wanted to have. 
It is no wonder the 'octomom' story of Nadya Suleman, having delivered 8 babies in one egg-planting pregnancy and now a single mother of 14 children all iwwackily conceived, a human puppy pile if you will, was not widely reported here in China. When I told my students, they were in a way more astonished, more uncomprehending than the Zhuhaiyang Virgina Tech guillotiner story. (Yes, I am their tabloid.)
The Chinese are accepting of their one child fate--it really is difficult enough with one, financially and psychically, just as it has come to be everywhere else in the world. Every kid I see on the subway, the bus, looks secure and feels super-loved. Granted this is my projection, having seen so many a kid surrounded by parents and grandparents, particularly at the bundled up infant and toddler stage, everyone aglow, strangers happily interacting. It takes a mega-village...
There's lots of distractions, yes lots of this shocking pink for the girls, whole sections of malls just for kids, a wonderland of goods and shopping distinctly for the kids.
A friend of mine, Chen, who is an only child having lived in China til she was 6 and then grown up in Texas, told me that her only-child cousins don't seem as down to earth, as natural as her sibling'd aunts and uncles. There must be the bubble effect of the emperor, one in each household, where social skills are eclipsed or excused when you are the apple of so many people's eyes. But, as always, it depends on the parent's teaching, and there are as many kinds of kids as there are parents. Also, with all of the modernizing, (busy schedules, the new materialism) stuff can replace love when everyone is so busy.
As much love and adoration that are poured onto the single kids, the same amount of pressure and expectation is demanded in return. The guarantor of the parent's legacy and keeper of their lives in old age. Schoolwise, I hear that kids are so loaded with books at such a young age that they can't even lift their own backpacks. No need--lots of adult hands can carry it as they accompany their singular hope, their one investment to school.
The society and family are so watchful and regarding of the future generation that there is, for example, no law for legal drinking age. Not 21 or nor 18, none (yet).
There are still those families in the countryside that have more than one, and still privilege the son over the daughter, as they uphold feudalistic ideas. And there are those rich enough to live abroad, if they certainly insist on more than one (they can afford it too.)
But all in all, I see well-mannered kids. Schools play a huge part of disciplining students. The downside is that kids aren't given the freedom to play--studying is their first priority, coming from teachers and parents alike. Where play is not privileged, creativity and new ideas are spurned as well.  (But without discipline, no matter how original you are, the ideas cannot fruit).
And in a society where adults are adults and are not constantly chasing youth, dreams or a second career, the kids understand how important they are for the future of their country.
They are taught uniformly, by rote, through obedience, and sheltered from information and works that they government deems inappropriate or too burdensome for them to hear, to know. In this was, the government is the third parent, the fifth grandparent.

And so the social molecule shifts-- The nuclear family is China is 3. Future generations have no aunts or uncles or cousins--not bio ones at least. In that sense, family also shifts in that closer more bonded friendships, of choice, instead of assignment, can flourish where the sibling slots, where uncle and auntie spaces are not genetically determined.  The pragmatism of the Chinese character is reflected in policy and so this social tinkering, like that of any scientific willfullness shifts the natural course of the human species into extraordinary dimensions.
Any way you slice it, marching first, marching forward, never alone.

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Blogger Leon said...

i think i mentioned before we had problems with some of the workers being part of the "bai-ling hou" generation (after 1980). our driver, Mr. Lin felt after lunch that the women in the office should pick up his tray; part of never having to do anything yourself when you have 2 parents and 4 grand-parents to dote after you.

i think china is going to have problems with this as wells as the fixation with carrying on the family name. Conan O'Brien had a great line in his monologue that i will try to paraphrase: "MTV discontinued there TRL(total request live) in China because people kept calling in and requesting a male baby boy".

i don't think these kids will have the same sort of conflict resolution experience that having annoying brothers and sisters give you.

March 3, 2009 at 8:07 PM  
Blogger Alina said...

SNOW DAY,a special and interesting party for us to get together,that is really very interesting,but Alice you know my sweet-talk is not so reluctant,just because I paid attention to the other passengers while ANNA was doing that,all of them were tittering.
U know my face got flushed at that time(I am a little shy girl,hoho^^)anyway,that is really an unforgetable party,we all enjoyed it very much.Thanks !!^^

April 6, 2009 at 4:11 AM  

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