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In China, Where An 11-Year-Old Understands The Power Of Nepotism

Op Ed: What happened in Chinese society for nepotism and corruption to become so entrenched that children already have it in mind as they make plans for the future.

Children playing, Hunan province, China (Joan Vila)
Children playing, Hunan province, China (Joan Vila)

BEIJING - On the eve of the recent International Children's Day, the Beijing News service published a series of special reports. One in particular concerned the 11-year-old son of a cleaning woman.

When asked for his vision of the future, the boy replied that he dreams of becoming an actor and making huge sums of money. He'll buy his mother a large house, and she won't need to work any longer. He also said he'd arrange the best job for his sister, and then promote her so she can make big money along with him.

Such answers from a child are honest. The boy lost his father at a very young age and struggles to survive, with his mother and sister, at the very bottom rung of society. And in some sense his dream is both natural and plausible.

We have to be grateful for the progress of our time, where such a realistic representation of a boy's dream is presented in his original words, rather than being cut to the size that fits the powers-that-be. During our own childhood, everybody's ideal was to "grow up to serve our motherland." Nobody dared to be unique.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to make big money. In a healthy society, everybody can dream of becoming rich. If the driving force of wealth creation is killed, there would be no Bill Gates and his Microsoft kingdom, no Ingvar Kamprad and IKEA, no Apple, no iPhone, or the many other colorful innovations around us.

Nothing is wrong with a boy wanting to make money to enable his family to live a comfortable life; it shows filial piety and compassion for his sister.

What is disturbing, however, is the concept expressed by the phrase "arranging the best work for his sister and then promote her so she can make big money along with him." It epitomizes the logic that money leads to power. And when one has the power, one is entitled to bring benefits to one's own.

Nepotism is child's play

In these words we realize how the hidden concept of nepotism in Chinese society has taken root in our children's minds. It is through an innocent child's mouth that we are truly awakened to this reality. Something has become universal knowledge in Chinese society without us realizing that it is - in fact - wrong.

"What has gone wrong with our education and values?" we must ask ourselves.

"Society is the book. Reality is the teaching material…" Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the 18th-century French philosopher, believed that man is born innately good, but is corrupted by society.

We must reflect on the real world we have exposed our children to, here in China.

It is common practice that when one's child goes into kindergarten, every parent will give a present to the teacher in return for better care. In primary school, influential parents are able to get their children elected as class leaders. There was a report of a child who had changed school from his rural birthplace to an urban area and didn't want to go to school anymore after one semester. When asked why, she said her seat had twice been turned backwards to the class. The first time was because her classmate's parents had given the teacher a box of ham. The second time because the same girl's parents had lent their car to the teacher.

The innocence of a child is like a drop of water, reflecting the society it fills. Apart from the corruption in the high-ranking political sphere, all sorts of "hidden rules' exist in Chinese society that today are taken as simply a form of common sense.

How can one expect a child who, since a very early age, has a familiar sense of these "hidden rules' to grow up to be an official with clean hands? How often, as we educate our child one way does reality teach him or her the other way.

Do as I say (not as I do)

In 2010, a drunken young man crashed his car into two female students on a campus, killing one and injuring the other. When security guards arrested him he thought he could evade responsibility by invoking the name of his powerful father, a high-ranking police chief. We tell our child that he must be fair and just, but the real world tells him "My father is Li Gang."

We tell our kids that they have to behave with morality, but the teacher hints to their pupils that they should go to the expensive tutoring class he runs after school.

We tell children that they have to respect lives, but we ignore the value of human life and rush in embarrassment to bury the crushed carriages of a train accident without fully inspecting whether there are still people aboard.

We tell our children to be honest, but the milk we buy for them contains melamine.

We teach our children to be responsible, but our officials talk with equivocation.

Chang Hsiao-Feng, the well-known Taiwanese essayist, once wrote an article called I hand you my child - when her son entered the school the first day. She asked the school and the society in her article: Today, I hand over to you my child who is cheerful, honest and bright. What sort of youth will you give me back in a few years?

What society moulds into our next generation will be the future we can expect for our country. If we wish to have a future that has justice, trust and love, then we have to give our children such an environment today. Only if parents, educators and all adults are willing to build a moral society can we possibly offer the best care to our minors. And the best hope for our nation's future.

Read this editorial in Chinese.

Photo-Joan Vila

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