China Power

Wolf Fathers and Harvard Girls

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China Power

Wolf Fathers and Harvard Girls

Why China’s Wolf Father and Harvard Girl have sparked an intense debate about approaches to parenting.

The Chinese-language website 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 “” 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.