Monday, 10 January 2011

Will parenting decide the ascent of China and the decline of the West?

Back in October 2009, I posted some speculative concerns about the decline of the West and the corresponding ascent of Eastern cultures in general and China in particular. Amongst other things, I wrote,
My real worry is that the Western world will be surpassed by the East not only economically but culturally. And the danger here, I believe, would come from an intellectual decline of the West, manifesting itself through a decline in cultural vitality and scientific endeavour.
I was therefore interested to come across a provocative article in the Wall Street Journal, titled, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.
Here is a sample (though you need to read the whole if you are to get the true picture):
Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)
Now I’m certainly not saying I agree with every word. Indeed, I think many children know what it is to be forced to study or practice something not only that they dislike but which never results in any sense of achievement — just of relief when they’re allowed to stop!
It is also reasonable to ask whether achieving top grades or practical excellence is worth the angst the article admits that this involves. Nevertheless, the underlying premise is that this is not about what the child wants, but rather what the adults know is best:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.
And I cannot help thinking that a culture which approaches the nurture of its young on that basis will rapidly overtake one where what the child wants, and the limits the child sets, are key determinants of what the child is able to achieve.
In short, those who give up when things get difficult are surely liable to be overtaken at every level by those who persevere despite the desire to give up. It is, of course, much more pleasant to take things easy. The question, though, is whether we can afford to.
John Richardson
10 January 2011
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  1. Hi John,

    Currently in Sydney, the majority of students at Sydney's selective high schools come from East Asian (Chinese, Vietnamese & Korean) migrant backgrounds (95.2% at James Ruse, the top selective high school in NSW for the last decade). But instead of being seen as a great victory for multiculturalism, the intelligensia don't like this, if the spate of articles in the Sydney Morning Herald (our equivalent of the Guardian) on this subject is anything to go by. The academic coaching favoured by Asian parents comes in for particular criticism, and calls for reforming the system allows critics to tiptoe on the edge of racism whilst promoting political correctness (all kids should go to a comprehensive high school, unless they're really good at the arts).

    Roger Gallagher

  2. Couldn't agree more. In our society we pay our teenagers to have fatherless children and we charge them to go to university. You get what you pay for. In the end the West is in thrall to hedonism, the East isn't. Thank God there are now more Chinese Christians than worldwide Anglicans. The Lord will bless them.

    West Sussex

  3. Funny view of life, as always. If you subscribe to the 'children should be seen and not heard' view of life please be honest about your opinions. The stricter parenting prevalent in the east does not convert into great scientific thinkers as they are not encouraged to question or answer back. Please let me know where the LHC is situated, funded, designed by etc, or where the next-generation DNA sequencers are designed or produced - within spitting distance of Ugley as it happens. As ever, long on rhetoric, short on evidence.

  4. Donald, I am not disputing the present but asking about the future.

  5. Last I heard, though I may not be up to date, Chinese couples are not allowed to have more than 1 child, although of course some of them have more if they live in remote places. This policy will (in theory!) more than decimate the Chinese population; it should cut it by 3/4 in two generations - one of which has already reached adulthood.

    Forget Chinese culture; it's Islamic culture going to swamp us all in 30 years, barring the unforeseen. Muslims do not believe in artificial contraception. Western countries with dwindling native populations import millions of Muslims to man the workforce to keep their economies afloat.