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CHINA: Youngsters Rebel Against ‘Authoritarian’ Parenting

BEIJING, Jul 26 2010 (IPS) - Fourteen years ago, Fang Xin declared war on her parents. Whatever they wanted of her, Fang, now 28, did the opposite. She refused to watch news broadcasts by the state’s China Central Television, or the annual Spring Festival Gala, with her father and mother. She would not eat meals with her family. When it came time for university, she ignored her parents’ wishes and attended a school far from her hometown. The latest battle was fought last year, when her parents wanted Fang to become a mother.

Fang’s story, chronicled in the Guangzhou-based newspaper ‘Southern Weekly’, is increasingly common in China: Young people born into the one- child policy are beginning to reject what for them are their overbearing parents and, by extension, the deep-seated notions of family values in China.

Many, like Fang, are participating in “anti-parent” online discussion groups. One such group on Douban.com, one of the most popular online communities in China, operates under the slogan ‘Parents are Poison’ and has over 12,000 members.

“It has been growing rapidly. I’m really surprised. At the beginning, it had about 20 people,” Zhang Kun, the forum’s organiser, told China Radio International in an interview.

Topics include advice on how members can avoid duplicating their parents’ “failed lives,” and tips on how to “fight against your parents.”

The group was established in January 2008, with the stated goal of operating “under the premise of being filial, to protest pedantry, ignorance, restriction and persecution from parents,” according to the state newspaper ‘People’s Daily’.


Education experts see the forum as a rejection of one of the unintended consequences of China’s one-child policy designed to limit population growth in the world’s most populous country: authoritarian parenting. Many parents place their hopes and dreams squarely on the shoulders of their lone offspring, creating a pressure that many children increasingly find suffocating in a society different from that their parents grew up in.

That, coupled with a cultural tradition of strong parental control, has become too much to bear for many among the increasingly independent- minded millennial generation in this country of 1.3 billion people, education experts say.

“The traditional parent-child relationship in China is that parents have absolute power over their children,” Tao Hongkai, an education expert at Huazhong Normal University, told IPS. “Chinese parents always think ‘I gave birth to them,’ so children have to do whatever the parents say.”

Tao said he sees a shift in values among younger Chinese, evidence of which has popped up elsewhere in Chinese society, most notably in a string of protests at factories belonging to foreign companies operating in China.

“Young people don’t want to lead the life their parents have already assigned to them, the one their parents will force them to accept,” he said.

At the same time, however, children born into the one-child policy are heavily dependent on their parents, Tao said. That causes them to lash out. “They are far from independent financially and mentally. Because of the one- child policy, they were spoiled. Most of them don’t earn any money until they graduate, and some of them even live with their parents after graduating.”

Bai Cai is a member of the popular Internet forum. At 22, Bai felt as though he was a “pathetic victim of his parents,” who forced him to practise calligraphy, which he felt was “useless” in the computer age. He wanted to major in English; his parents forced him to major in Chinese. When he wanted to start his own software company, his parents accused him of having an Internet addiction and forced him to become a teacher in Beijing.

Finally, Bai had had enough. Ignoring his parents, he moved to the eastern city of Hangzhou to work at an information technology company.

“Parents don’t know anything,” Bai wrote on the forum. “They hold sceptical, even negative, attitudes about our decisions. If these parents aren’t a disaster for their children, who is?”

Improving the parent-child relationship in China would require a massive change to the Chinese social dynamic, namely better communication between parent and child, and a greater degree of autonomy for the child, said Yang Yang, vice director of the School of Politics and Public Management at China University of Political Science and Law.

“Because of the one-child policy, parents put all their attention on the sole child, which puts huge amounts of pressure on the child,” Yang said. “Parents can’t regard children as their private property.”

 
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