Imagine living in poverty, real poverty – not that picturesque poverty where a man and wife struggle to support their children with a holiday every 2 years and still manage to keep a car on the road. The kind of poverty that left you watching millions of your countrymen starve to death, and millions more grow up stunted thanks to poor nutrition.
Now imagine that there’s a single way to avoid returning to that situation. It really doesn’t matter what that is – you’d take it if it was offered. That’s how China’s parents feel about having sons.
In a country with no social welfare worth speaking of, an expensive (in local terms) healthcare system, and inadequate (to say the least) pension provision – your one hope for a decent life in your old age is a son.
Frustratingly for you, you’re only allowed one child. It’s a 50/50 chance of a good life, or a bad one – not just for your child, but for you too.
You may at this point be starting to understand why the Chinese so often load the dice in favour of this outcome if they can.
So when that son arrives, what do you do? Well, it turns out that you firstly spoil him rotten. You give him everything he demands (that’s within your power to give). You rarely (if ever) scold him for bad or selfish behaviour. You publicly praise him and denigrate other children to inflate his sense of entitlement.
That’s the cause of “Little Emperor Syndrome”. A phrase coined to highlight the behaviour of spoilt Chinese boys. It’s something they carry with them throughout their lives, and it shows constantly. Everything must revolve around them or they throw tantrums and fits, and even become violently abusive.
However, it’s not the whole story. There’s a flip side to this treatment that many Westerners don’t really get to see.
Because secondly parents in China will load their poor child with all their expectations and hopes and dreams. They will push their child constantly to excel academically (because an education is the only hope of a decent job). For those unfamiliar with Tiger parenting, you might want to check out this book – it’s been one of the most talked about publications in recent years. Many Westerners see this lady as an extreme example of parenting in action, it isn’t. In China it’s the norm.
Now think about how that might affect you, everyday you’re told you’re the most amazing, most important person on earth but also that you have responsibility to provide and feed your family – at a time when you’re probably more interested in eating worms in the garden.
It’s liable to leave you a little messed up in the head isn’t it? Little Emperor Syndrome, to me, seems like the tip of the iceberg. Research in this area is pretty inadequate – most of the papers so far have come out of low tier Chinese Universities, and have been desperate to prove there is no problem. I’d like to put forward the argument that there is a problem as we move through this theme. And I’ll start with that tomorrow.