The Problem With China's Parents-Know-Best Mentality

Adults have a lot of leeway when it comes to raising kids. But that doesn't mean their power should be absolute — parents don't, after all, have ownership of their children.

Kid in Kunshan, Suzhou, China
Kid in Kunshan, Suzhou, China
Yan Yong


BEIJING — Much has been said in recent days about an incident in the Bund, Shanghai"s trendy waterfront district, where on a particularly hot day, several minors were seen wearing heavy coats for an ad shoot.

Critics questioned why the parents of these pint-sized models would agree to let their kids roast in the heat like that. But parents said the public should mind its own business: What parents decide to do with their kids is their concern, it's "a private affair."

There's also a commonly held belief that children essentially belong to their parents, and that parents are therefore entitled to do as they choose. But is that really true?

A lot of Chinese people certainly think so. They believe that since parents give birth to and raise their children, they thus have full control over them, even in matters such as the child's career and marriage choices. But that doesn't mean that their offspring belong to the parents. Children aren't possessions. They aren't private property.

From a biological point of view, parents are providers of their children's genes. Legally speaking, they have the custody and guardianship during a child's minor stage. And emotionally, they are the protectors of children, especially young children. Even so, children are independent individuals and by no means the possession of anyone, including their parents.

Children aren't possessions. They aren't private property.

This is consistent with the spirit of the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child, which advocates the human rights of the child as an independent and complete individual entitled to the rights and obligations appropriate to his or her age and development stage.

Looked at from this basis, how parents treat children isn't, therefore, just a personal matter. That's not so say every decision a parent makes should be open to public scrutiny. Parents should, of course, have full discretion to decide what kind of parenting style they want to adopt, or how their children should dress, for example. But when it comes to the child's basic rights, there are public-sphere standards to which parents must adhere.

Children in Haikou, Hunan Province — Photo: iamsheep

In the case of the Bund controversy, if the children volunteered to shoot the ads and therefore wear the heavy coats, despite the heat, the public indeed has nothing to say about it. But what the parents in question should have said, therefore, is that, "My child wanted to do this." Instead they used the "it's a private affair" argument, which is an extension of the idea that, "The child is mine; I do as I wish."

That same mentality is at play in countless cases where children's rights are infringed or the child is even physically abused. Not too long ago a video surfaced of a mother kicking her daughter (also a child model) during a photo shoot. Naturally, this outraged the public and provoked discussion about professional norms for junior models.

There have also been cases where a child was confined to a cage, or a boy was supposedly missing but was instead being used as a kind of pawn in a power struggle between his parents. All of these stories stem, in part, from this subconscious idea in Chinese culture that children are the property of their parents.

All parents love their children, but their approaches aren't always proper.

In reality, no member of a family is the private possession of any other person in that group. This applies to the relationships between parents and children as well as to spouses. And yet, there are still too many people in our society who don't fully grasp this concept.

It is essential, therefore, to raise awareness, because in too many cases, parents aren't even conscious of the ways in which they might be violating their children's rights. All parents love their children, but their approaches aren't always proper. Proper love means accompanying their children's growth until they leave home. This requires the realization that parents and children are independent and equal respectively.

As Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese-American poet who wrote The Prophet, wrote: "You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you."

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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