Wolf Fathers and Harvard Girls
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Wolf Fathers and Harvard Girls

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The Chinese-language website bbs.eduu.com is a popular platform for Beijing’s middle-class parents to discuss their one obsession: the education success of their only child. Most threads focus on securing a spot at a reputable junior high, a rite of passage of hosting guanxi (networking) dinners and customizing bribes so stressful that Chinese parents have likened it to their D-Day – the one battle that wins a war and defines a generation. Make no doubt about it: These Chinese parents, whose child is their full-time pre-occupation, are proud of their battle scars.

It’s common among Beijing’s middle-class for the mother to quit her job to focus on child-rearing full-time. These mothers rally around the flag not of Amy Chua, but of Lin Weihua who published the original battle hymn of the tiger mother, Harvard GirlHarvard Girl revolutionized parenting in China by bringing scientific management to child abuse: According to Lin Weihua, to increase your child’s patience and endurance, you should make her stand on one leg for half an hour, and clasp ice until her hand turns purple.

And now this scientific management of child abuse has reached another milestone with “Wolf Father,” a rationally-minded businessman named Xiao Baiyou who maximized the use of something akin to abuse to push three of his four children into Peking University. 

Like any proud Chinese parent, he’s written a book about his success, and started a school that arguably teaches parents the judicious use of physical abuse. Here’s some of Xiao Baiyou’s sage advice, as relayed by NBC News’s Bo Gu:

“Before the kids go to junior high school, spank them every time they make mistakes, but greatly reduce the frequency after junior high since the children form their own personalities by that age; The spanking tool is confined to the rattan cane only, which causes minor bruises; Only hands and calves are spanked, other body parts are spared; Mistakes are pointed out every time before the whack so children know why they are punished; Sisters and brothers must watch when one of them is smacked so they learn; The punished one has to count the number of spankings during each admonishment; The punished one cannot try to avoid the punishment, otherwise he/she gets more.”

While “Wolf Father” is generating a lot of media interest both inside and outside China, on the Chinese-language parenting website, the hottest topic of discussion remains the original Harvard Girl, Liu Yiting, who is now 30 years-old.  Spawning multiple threads and intense interest, the big discussion is on whether Liu Yiting is just a housewife. (Her own LinkedIn account “cn.linkedin.com/in/liuyiting” says she works for a hedge fund).

Because there are so many housewives on the website, many have posted a defense of Liu Yiting (“There’s nothing wrong with being a housewife!”) – but many a Chinese “tiger mother” and “wolf father” must be wondering if staying at home full-time to torture your child is a noble sacrifice if all that happens is that one day your child will stay at home full-time to torture her child.    

 

It could be worse for China’s tiger mothers and wolf fathers though. Imagine that you are a Chinese father who, in compensation for your own limitations, focuses on raising a son for greatness. Your son achieves all your wildest dreams, and is about to become the youngest Chinese ever to obtain a doctorate. 

You’re so proud you write a book. But then one day your son decides to hold your dreams hostage against you.

Here’s the amazing story from Shanghaiist:

“Zhang Xinyang, a 16-year-old getting his PhD in pure mathematics at Beihang University, earlier this year refused to defend his master’s thesis until his parents agreed to buy him his own apartment. Finally out of options, Zhang’s parents rented an apartment in Beijing, and lied to their son about buying it. He’s found out about the ruse, but his demands for an apartment haven’t wavered.

‘When I graduate with a PhD, I won’t even have my own place to live in,’ Zhang says. ‘Is there any use to graduating with a PhD? Is there any use?’

Zhang doesn’t consider his request to be extreme. Since it’s his parents who constantly want him to stay in Beijing long-term, Zhang argues, it’s actually his parents putting the pressure on themselves to buy him a house.”

And the lesson here for Chinese parents is obvious: You can get away with abusing your child – just don’t write a book about it.

Comments
9
Kaiwen
December 14, 2011 at 13:50

“And now this scientific management of child abuse has reached another milestone with “Wolf Father,” a rationally-minded businessman named Xiao Baiyou who maximized the use of something akin to abuse to push three of his four children into Peking University.”

“push three of his four children”

Somebody call the 计划生育 police, this guy must have been a sucessfull businessman to afford to have all those kids.

shen liang
December 1, 2011 at 23:59

@Just Say No

“Do you even know what “astroturfing” is? Just because I am saying something you disagree with doesn’t mean that I am doing work on behalf of other political organizations.”

You are supplying only innuendo and baseless accusations against Jiang’s judgement, and pretending that he is more “likely” to have contact with foreign mothers than mainland ones—oh, and that he doesn’t know the difference. This despite the obvious fact that he hold a position, “deputy principal”, which completely eradicates the “likeliness” of your claim. In other words, you have resorted to baseless character attacks on a subject you clearly know nothing about and against a someone whose work you don’t understand. Oh, and you’ve done it without supplying any data that supports your claims. That’s simply low. Whether you work on behalf of a political organization or not, your assumption of the “JUSTSAYNO” moniker, your constant polemic against any criticism directed toward a phenomenon in China, and the obvious correlation of your moniker to the resentful “China can say no” group is enough to recognized that your character attacks are political.

“I could just as easily accuse you of being Jiang’s sockpuppet.”

You could, but Jiang is clearly not a political group. He is a Chinese who works on behalf of Chinese students and struggles alongside of them. And though I don’t know the man, it seems he is working to remedy such problems every day. So, should you accuse me of such, I can live with that.

“Cheating in academics and preoccupation with getting into the best universities is clearly a Chinese issue?”

The clearly Chinese issue above is precisely the one Jiang reports on: the use of any and all tactics, no matter how severe and abusive, by Chinese parents to get them into the best schools. And the fact that happily publishing their abuse has now become a cottage industry. If you feel there is not enough attention being directed to how often this occurs in foreign countries, please provide more specific information. It won’t make the developments above any less Chinese, but it will add to the discussion.

“I blamed foreigners for problems?”

You do. I realize that the astroturfers consistently attempt to pretend other people just don’t understand their comments, and then only show they themselves don’t understand what they’ve said, but each time it amazes me. The first thing you did above was to suggest that the Chinese parents Jiang referred to were “foreign passport holders”. It’s obvious to everyone but you.

“I don’t recall arguing that the millions of poor in China are obsessed with these books. Jiang on the other hand is arguing that it’s common for middle class Beijing mothers to do so.”

Precisely. Which is why your reference to millions of poor in China is completely irrelevant. Now, do you have some relevant comments to add, or are you just going to continue to spin your wheels?

JUSTSAYNO
December 1, 2011 at 07:18

“You are doing the man a disservice and engaging in a bit of duplicitous astroturfing here”

Do you even know what “astroturfing” is? Just because I am saying something you disagree with doesn’t mean that I am doing work on behalf of other political organizations. I could just as easily accuse you of being Jiang’s sockpuppet.

“I’m sure he’s competent enough to distinguish between foreigners and Chinese before he addresses what is clearly a Chinese issue.”

Cheating in academics and preoccupation with getting into the best universities is clearly a Chinese issue? Do you honestly think people outside of China don’t cheat on tests, or strive for academic pedigrees?

“I guess blaming foreigners for problems ”

I blamed foreigners for problems? Shen Liang do you always project this much?

“By referencing the “hundreds of millions of poor in China”, you don’t realize that these are not primarily the people carrying out the “Wolf Dad” and “Harvard Girl” phenonmenon. The people who are carrying it out already have class mobility, and are already relatively privileged”

I don’t recall arguing that the millions of poor in China are obsessed with these books. Jiang on the other hand is arguing that it’s common for middle class Beijing mothers to do so.

shen liang
November 30, 2011 at 21:24

Jiang is an Chinese administrator in a top school in China and he is hired to write on Chinese articles. Furthermore, he’s had substantial experience outside of the Chinese system. The notion that he should always preface any comment on the Chinese school system with an equal number of examples from other countries in the world–and this simply because you claim “there are probably a lot of cheating in the US than that of China”–is, quite simply, absurd. As is the one uttering such a notion.

2) How many of them embrace physical abuse in child-rearing? How many of them publish well-received books on the subject, shamelessly extolling physical abuse. In this, no country in the world compares to China. Let’s face it, these idiots are bringing negative attention from the rest of the world on themselves, but they are still viewed as potentially good models in China.

Chris Cawley
November 30, 2011 at 19:53

The tiger mom needs to tell the kid to do something.
The grizzly dad needs to tell the kid to STOP DOING something.
Case in point, my clone. I got his kindle bill one day and
asked him about it.
Dad: “What were you doing at 9am?”
Kid: “ELA”
Dad: “And 11:30?”
Kid: “Lunch”
Dad: “And 4:30?”
Kid: “That one does not count, I did not finish it yet”
Dad: “So let me get this straight, 3 books a day?”
Kid: “No, sometimes it is only 2.”

Last time, I clocked him at 125+ pages an hour.
If you figure out the math for 2-3 books a day @ 30 days
in a month, it adds up to a lot of money @ $5-$9 a book.
I could have worse problems.

jim1980
November 30, 2011 at 14:00

Here is my own criticism to Jiang in general.

He saw an issue/problem in China. Then he likes to think that’s something that’s unique to China and something wrong with China. In fact, his problem in general is not isolated in China at all. His general lack of knowledge of world is what I disturb about many of his articles.

Example 1), he blame Chinese student cheating on lack of morality or lack of Christian value. Yet there are probably a lot cheating in US than that of China.

Example 2), he blame “Wolf Dad” or “Harvard Girl” on Chinese society on achievement. Guess what. In US, there is a term called “helicopter parent”. In Manhattan, parents fight to get their 5 year kid into top private elementary schools. In Korea, there are parents whose father worked alone in Seoul but put their kids in US to study English with their mother. There are a lot of those examples like that.

shen liang
November 30, 2011 at 09:26

You are doing the man a disservice and engaging in a bit of duplicitous astroturfing here, nosayer.

Jiang’s job description states that he is “deputy principle at Peking University High School” AND director of its international division. In other words, his experience extends beyond the international division. I’m sure he’s competent enough to distinguish between foreigners and Chinese before he addresses what is clearly a Chinese issue. But, if you are so ashamed at the Harvard Girl and Wolf Dad phenonmenon, I guess blaming foreigners for problems that are clearly indigenous (and pretending that Jiang, proof of China’s educational emphasis, doesn’t know that the people he’s referring to aren’t Chinese) is the best approach for you to take.

Even if most middle class mothers don’t quit their jobs (what Jiang said implies nothing of the sort), it is true that the vast majority of them focus their anxiety on the scholastic performance–grades, really–and overall “impressive talents” of their children, and the phenomenon reported above adds further pressure upon those parents to make their children do something really “special”. They are living vicariously through the nominal “success” of their children, though they would never really want to live that life and absorb all the abuse they dish out.

Actually, it’s clear you don’t understand anything about the context, not even Jiang’s allusion middle class nature of this development. By referencing the “hundreds of millions of poor in China”, you don’t realize that these are not primarily the people carrying out the “Wolf Dad” and “Harvard Girl” phenonmenon. The people who are carrying it out already have class mobility, and are already relatively privileged. That’s how the parents have the time to obsess (though it helps they don’t develop real interests of their own). The parents are obsessing over the prestige of the university, not it’s ability to educate their children. In fact, it is crass functionalism and cruelty, dressed up as a concern for education. And it’s not parenting at all, but all middle class parents in China are influenced by it.

JUSTSAYNO
November 30, 2011 at 03:34

“It’s common among Beijing’s middle-class for the mother to quit her job to focus on child-rearing full-time. ”

Overzealous parenting is a problem in China, but Jiang’s exaggeration of the problem doesn’t help. For one, Jiang’s concept of “middle class” must be a bit different than the average Chinese, because there is no way a “middle class” mother can afford to quit her job in an expensive city like Beijing. Of course, since the “beijing mothers” which Jiang is familiar are likely to be a foreign passport holders (Peking University high school International division only accepts students with foreign passports), I guess in such a world “middle class” women can still afford to quit their jobs while keeping their million US dollar beijing apartments.

Of course, what Jiang overlooked is the fact that Chinese puts lots of weight on education because they see education as the key to escape poverty. Jiang who went to Yale himself is a testament that educational pedigree opens amazing opportunities for people who would otherwise be unqualified. As an “elite educator” of non-Chinese students in China, Jiang should understand how education is directly correlated with class mobility. There are hundreds of millions of poor in China, many if not most of them see worthwhile college education as the only way to lead better lives. Jiang manages to overlook this factor which applies to most of the Chinese society, and instead focusing his attention on the few rare extreme cases of overparenting.

If I could sum up Jiang’s approach to writing about China, it would be:

1) Take some extreme examples of Chinese culture
2) Convince his readers that these extreme are the norm
3) Complain about it for a bit but end the article without providing any remedy for the situation

shen liang
November 29, 2011 at 10:30

These people are all sick. They can only receive respect and adulation in a society which views the world through the screen of functionalism, where there are no values, only patterns. Where even child abuse can be justified.

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