Page last updated at 15:27 GMT, Thursday, 20 September 2007 16:27 UK

China's 'perfect child' generation

In the second of a series of pieces on China's one-child policy, the BBC's Michael Bristow looks at the effect the regulations are having on the country's children.

A grandparent looking after her grandchild
Children often have pressure from their whole extended family
Childhood in China is often not as easy and carefree as in other countries.

Many youngsters rise early and go to bed late in order to cram in school work, extra classes and music lessons - even on weekends.

China's family planning policy may have successfully limited most homes to just one child, but it has also increased the pressure on the child each family has.

Parents are now keener than ever to make sure their offspring grow up to be educated, successful and wealthy.

Inevitably, these high expectations often lead to conflict between parents and their children, who sometimes fail to fulfil these hopes.

Twenty-four-year-old Cheng Jin is just one of those who had difficulty persuading her parents to accept her chosen career.

Cheng Jin
Cheng Jin's family did not like her career choice

After graduating from Beijing University of Technology this year, she landed a job with a fast-food chain, which did not go down well at home.

"Of course they didn't like it when I told them I had got a job... earning just 2,200 yuan ($291, £145) a month," she says.

Although she is training to be a manager, Miss Cheng's parents do not think the job is stable, and say it has few benefits other than the salary.

Before China's economic reforms got under way in the 1980s, almost everyone who was not a farmer worked for a state-run company.

These provided workers with cradle-to-grave benefits such as housing and health care, and even holidays.

Most of these jobs have now disappeared.

"My parents think that working for a [private] company is too risky," says Miss Cheng.

Despite parental objection, she did not give in and is now enjoying her new job.

'Too much pressure'

Parents face a difficult task balancing their hopes for their children with a desire to let them choose their own futures.

Chen Zheng, who buys fur pelts for an Italian clothing company, says he tries not to push his daughter, Chen Wei, too hard.


"Some parents give their children too much pressure, but I'm not like that. I let her study anything she's interested in," says the 50-year-old Beijing resident.

"Study should be a happy experience. If you give children too much pressure, they won't want to do it."

But Mr Chen does not hide the fact that he hopes his 21-year-old daughter will go abroad to study English next year when she graduates from Beijing Institute of Graphic Communication, where she is taking classes in multimedia studies.

And in order to send their daughter abroad, Mr Chen and his wife, who also works, have been saving hard for several years.

He admits he has had to learn to be a more relaxed father. Fearing Chen Wei would not have as many skills as her peers, the Chens pushed their daughter into taking music lessons when she was just five.

Government hopes

Anthropologist Susan Greenhalgh, a leading expert on China's family planning policy, says parents' rising expectations are not solely to blame for increased pressure on children - government policy also plays a part.

The family planning policy was never just about reducing the number of Chinese people, it was also about increasing the quality of those remaining, she says.

"What the government tried to do is ensure that this next generation of children is superior in education and health care," says Ms Greenhalgh, of the University of California, Irvine.

China's family planning policy, launched in 1978, was supposed to create a generation of fewer children with better prospects than the last.

"This was the generation that was supposed to be the perfect children," writes anthropologist Vanessa Fong, of Harvard Graduate School of Education.

"With only one child to raise, parents could provide the food, clothing and education to make each child a winner," adds Ms Fong, who has conducted extensive researched into this issue.

Many of this generation of "perfect children" have now reached early adulthood, and are indeed benefiting from China's economic boom.

But this policy has also created a generation of youngsters who often disappoint their parents, and sometimes themselves, when they fail to meet their goals.

Has China's one-child policy worked?
19 Sep 07 |  Asia-Pacific
China's elderly care conundrum
23 Aug 07 |  Asia-Pacific


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