Should you welcome China’s dictator Xi Jinping to co-parent your children? In an essay in The New York Times, Heather Kaye, an American who spent 16 years in China, says, “Yes.” But for someone born and raised in China like I was, her essay revealed much misunderstanding about Chinese culture and people, and what it means to be a parent.
Kaye is a fashion designer, and she and her husband raised two girls in China. Kaye didn’t seek out the Chinese government to co-parent, but she had little choice. She wrote, “In China, government co-parenting begins in the womb.” Although Beijing relaxed its population control from a “one-child” policy to a “three-child” policy, make no mistake that Xi still wants to control how many children a Chinese couple is allowed to have.
But according to Kaye, she saw three main benefits of having an intrusive authoritarian government as a co-parent to her girls.
Actually, Parents Play a Role
She thought the Chinese government had relieved her and her husband of the burden of instilling good values in their girls. For instance: “our girls came home discussing self-discipline, integrity and respect for elders. With school instilling a solid work ethic and a total drive for academic excellence, my husband and I didn’t need to push the girls to complete homework; the shame of letting their teachers and classmates down was enough to light their fires.”
The truth is we Chinese learned these cultural values, such as respect for elders, hard work, and self-discipline, from our parents before going to school. Teachers reinforce these cultural values with a political twist — equating respecting the authorities with obeying the Communist Party and loving the party as patriotism.
Chinese parents don’t get to relax as Kaye did after sending their kids to school because schools hold parents accountable for their kids’ behavior and academic performances. If a Chinese kid disrespected his teacher on the first school day, the school would call his parents and blame them for bad parenting.
Chinese schools are highly competitive. No matter how hard one studies, less than 30 percent of high-school graduates score high enough on the annual national college entrance exam to go to college. Such competitiveness is a source of pressure for teachers, students, and parents. Chinese teachers use frequent tests to identify students’ weaknesses in each subject. Parents must sign off on each test result to acknowledge that they understand what their children need to work on. Teachers often encourage or even nag parents to send their kids to outside academies in the evenings and on the weekends to get their kids to study more. At parent-teacher conferences, parents of kids who haven’t improved their grades will be shamed for not caring enough for their kids’ future.
For many Chinese parents, having the Chinese government as a co-parent doesn’t offer relief, it only adds more stress. Financial pressure and the emotional anxiety of raising a child in China are some of the main reasons why the government’s relaxed population policy has failed to create the baby boom Beijing had hoped for.
Indoctrination with Propaganda
Kaye acknowledged that the Chinese government indoctrinates kids at school with propaganda, i.e., “Constantly served up moral, history and culture lessons on pulling together for the sake of the Chinese nation.” Still, she thinks the benefits of the Chinese education model outweigh its flaws. I wonder if Kaye truly understands what propaganda her daughters were exposed to and how it might have affected their young minds.
The goal of Chinese schools is to churn out obedient heirs to communism. China’s dictator Xi prolongs the influence of his cult of personality by demanding kids as young as first graders learn “Xi Jinping Thought,” which includes principles such as accepting “absolute party leadership.” Elementary school teachers are required to “plant the seeds of loving the party, the country and socialism in young hearts.”
Chinese textbooks omit historical truths such as the Chinese Famine, the Cultural Revolution, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, so students grow up with no knowledge of the evils the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committed. The party further stunts free thinking by relentlessly suppressing alternative ideas, such as religious beliefs, democratic values, and universal human rights.
The CCP’s indoctrination of Chinese youths has been so successful that some Chinese students have brought their distorted beliefs and blind faith in the CCP to foreign campuses. Rather than taking advantage of the political freedom to discover the truth, they have defended the CCP by protesting against speeches and viewpoints that contradict the party’s propaganda. For instance, in 2017, Chinese students at the University of California San Diego protested the school’s decision to invite the Dalai Lama to deliver the keynote commencement address.
For minority students in China, political indoctrination is essentially cultural genocide. Freedom House reported that after incarcerating millions of Uyghur Muslim adults in internment camps in Xinjiang, the CCP placed Uyghur children in government-run orphanages. These Muslim kids are “required to speak Chinese, eat pork, and read slogans like ‘I’m Chinese; I love my country.’” They will grow up not knowing their culture, language, and religion.
The cultural genocide alone should disqualify the CCP from parenting anyone’s children. Kaye may not mind having Xi as a co-parent, but Chinese parents with means are increasingly sending their children to study abroad and escape China’s education system and the CCP’s control.
Surveillance for Control, not Safety
Kaye’s essay shows that even an adult like her isn’t immune to the CCP’s propaganda. For instance, she repeated the CCP’s talking point that a surveillance state is good for public safety, writing: “The tight control of the Communist Party surveillance state results in its own kind of freedom: With crime and personal safety concerns virtually eliminated, our daughters were riding the subway unsupervised in a city of around 26 million people from the age of 11.”
I wonder if Kaye ever realized that as an expat and a fashion designer living in Shanghai, the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city in China, she and her family lived a very privileged life. They were essentially in a bubble that isn’t the reality for 90 percent of the Chinese. I am glad her daughters were safe because sex trafficking is a massive problem in China, where men outnumber women by 32 million due to China’s cruel “one child” policy from 1979 to 2015.
Last year, the news of a young woman locked up in a doorless animal hut in freezing temperatures in rural China sparked a national uproar. She was one of thousands of sex trafficking victims. Many are furious that the government’s omnipresent surveillance tools have failed to stop crimes and protect the most vulnerable. Clearly, Xi is more interested in controlling people for political stability rather than holding criminals and corrupt government officials accountable.
At the end of 2022, Chinese people, especially youth, courageously protested against the Chinese government’s brutal Covid-19 policies and control of their lives through the “white paper revolution.” It is disheartening to see Kaye, now enjoying freedom in the U.S., lending credibility to a ruthless regime that many Chinese reject, yet don’t have the option to leave like Kaye and her family did.
Being a parent is the most challenging job in the world but also the most rewarding one. If you consider raising children a burden and can’t wait to outsource parental responsibility to a third party such as the government, you probably should not become a parent. My friend Joy Pullmann told me children “are a gift we don’t deserve and we are supposed to do our best to honor them and God’s gift of them. Letting the CCP raise your child is squandering that gift.” I couldn’t agree more.