TOP > Papers & Essays > Parenting > Basic Survey on Young Children's Daily Lives and Parents' Childrearing in Five East Asian Cities: Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei - 3. Children and Their Mothers in Beijing and Shanghai

Papers & Essays

Basic Survey on Young Children's Daily Lives and Parents' Childrearing in Five East Asian Cities: Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei - 3. Children and Their Mothers in Beijing and Shanghai

*This article is a perspective of an external researcher for CRN based on the evidences found in "Questionnaire on Daily Life of Children in Five East Asian Cities: Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei."
With the rise of China on the global scene, developments and phenomena in Chinese have been much discussed, including the one-child policy that has produced children called "little emperors and little empresses" and high parental aspirations for children's academic success.

In this article, I attempt to provide a glimpse of the realities of early childhood and motherhood in Beijing and Shanghai by studying the survey results relevant to young children's daily lives, and mothers' childrearing attitudes and behaviors in these two cities.

I begin the paper with a brief socio-economic background of the People's Republic of China. Next, I excerpt the respective survey results, followed by a discussion of these results and future implications.

There are a number of landmark events to keep in mind when considering the modalities of young children and their families in the People's Republic of China: the government's encouragement of women's participation in the labor force during the 1950's and onwards, the one-child policy instituted in 1979, the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the introduction of the market economy during 1990s, and on-going globalization.

Amid the profound socio-economic transition together with the rapid urbanization, the realities of young children and their families in Shanghai and Beijing are shaped by a hybrid factors induced by the aforementioned events along with the longstanding Confucian cultural tradition.

Survey Findings
About the sample
Though the one-child family is predominant(Beijing 68.8%, Shanghai 71.9%), about 15% of the families have two children, and 9.2% of the families in Beijing and 4.7% in Shanghai have three children or more. About half the families are still three-generation-families, and the other half are nuclear families. Most mothers work, but not all; 10% of the mothers in Shanghai and 5% of the mothers in Beijing are full-time mothers. By monthly family income, Shanghai respondents' are clustered in income groups comprising the middle and upper economic class, while the majority of Beijing residents fall in the middle-class economic range: 11.4% in Beijing and 36.0% in Shanghai earn over 12,001 yuan (affluent); 4.4% in Beijing and 7.7% in Shanghai earn 10,001 - 12,000 yuan; 44.5 % in Beijing and 31.4% in Shanghai earn 4001 -10,000 (middle class); 20.2% in Beijing and 5% in Shanghai earn 2001-4000 yuan; 3.5% in Beijing and 0.6% in Shanghai earn less than 2000 yuan, and 16.0 % in Beijing and 19.2% in Shanghai did not respond.

Children's Daily Lives
Children in Beijing and Shanghai spend about 9 to 10 hours a day at their early childhood institutions. The wakeup time peaks around 7am in Beijing (59.2%) and between 7:00 and 7:30 am in Shanghai (75.4%). The bedtime peaks around 9:30 pm in both cities (Beijing 38.3%, Shanghai 37.1%). Together with their nap time (1-2 hours) at the institutions, most children sleep between 10 and 12 hours a day.

In addition to regular activities at early childhood institutions, 64.6 % of the children in Beijing and 78.4% of those in Shanghai engage in extracurricular classes, many of which are offered as optional activities at their respective institutions. Some others are offered over the weekend or during week nights at other locations (Figure1-2-1). In both cities, the most popular classes are as follows; painting and drawing (Beijing 29.9%, Shanghai 49.6%), foreign languages classes (mostly English classes) (Beijing 22.9%, Shanghai 37.0%), and music/music instruments classes (Beijing 20.5%, Shanghai 30.2%). The enrollment rate for writing and arithmetic classes ranks fourth in both cities (Beijing 14.9%, Shanghai 19.7%). The average amount of money spent on children's education, including fees for extracurricular activities, is 405 yuan in Shanghai (about 4.9% of the family income) and 290 yuan in Beijing (about 5.1% of the family income).

At home, children in both cities watch TV (including DVDs, VCDs) about an hour and 45 minutes per day on average. About half the children read picture books every day. Over half the children use educational drills/educational toys more than once a week. The use of computer and TV games is very limited, rare, or they do not have them at home.

Mothers' View on Childrearing and Expectations for Children's Future
The discussion of mothers' childrearing perspectives in the previous article indicated the following (See Summary Overview): Approximately 65% of the mothers think that the constant presence of the mother is better for children in the first three years. As for child discipline, over 90% of the mothers opt for talking gently to children rather than traditional scolding. Finally, regarding the type of person mothers want their child to become, the most popular responses are (Figure 2-2-1): "a person who cares about family (Beijing 71.8%, Shanghai 75.7%)" "a person who can fully exercise one's competency and aptitude at work (Beijing 46.9% , Shanghai 39.0%)" and "a person who is respected by others (Beijing 45.5%, Shanghai 43.0%)."

When asked about their priority in childrearing, over 90% of the mothers place great/ relative importance on the following (Table 2-3-1): children follow the basic daily habits (Beijing 92.9%, Shanghai 91.2%); children have empathy for others (Beijing 92.9%, Shanghai 90.5%); parents have a lot of contact with children(Beijing 90.6%, Shanghai 91.4%); children play outside (Beijing 93.0%); and children have contact with nature (Beijing 90.7%). Looking closely, over 60% of the mothers in Shanghai and Beijing also value all the other listed items.

Mothers' Beliefs in Education and Expectations for Children's Academic Attainment
Beijing and Shanghai mothers' perceptions of education/early childhood education are as follows; over 85 % of the mothers believe children can acquire any type of competency/ability depending on their environment; 65% to 70% of the mothers think "it is better that children learn letters and numbers once they get interested in them," as well as "parents should give priority to children's own initiative in educational pursuits".

On another front, their academic expectations are extremely high: about 75-80% of the mothers in Shanghai and Beijing want their children to go to a prestigious university; 71.5 % of mothers in Beijing and 56.3 % of those in Shanghai expect children to proceed to graduate level (Figure 2-4-1).

In fact, other survey results also corroborate mothers' aspirations for children's academic readiness. As for priority in childrearing, over 70% of the mothers put great or relative emphasis on "learning letters and numbers" as well as "developing artistic aptitude in their children (Beijing 71.9%, Shanghai 77.2%)", and over 60% of the mothers also place great or relative importance on "learning a foreign language (Beijing 60%, Shanghai 69.5%)." Also, looking at what mothers want from early childhood institutions, 65% to 70% of the mothers seek more extracurricular activities, and over 90% of the mothers seek an expanded intellectual/educational curriculum. (See section "What mothers seek from early childhood institutions.")

Mothers Feelings on Childrearing and Parenting
About 80% to 95% of mothers in Shanghai as well as Beijing have positive feelings about their childrearing experiences (e.g., my child is adorable/irresistible, I feel joy and blessed to raise a child, it is fun to play with a child, I am also growing through childrearing, and I am doing a good job in childrearing).

Furthermore, the majority of mothers do not exhibit much frustration in childrearing. The percentage of mothers who often or sometimes feel the following are as follows: "I take my frustration out on my child (Beijing 11.7%, Shanghai 7.0%)," "I get irritated because of children (Beijing 36.3%, Shanghai 35.2%)." Also, only about 20% to 25% of mothers often or sometimes feel that they are sacrificing themselves for the sake of their children (Beijing 20.2%, Shanghai 26%), which coincides with mothers' convictions regarding childrearing; about 70% of the mothers perceive their own life pursuits to be as equally important as childrearing.

However, there are signs of uncertainty in mothers with respect to their childrearing practices: I am often/sometimes worried that my child will continue to grow in this way (Beijing 53.8%, Shanghai 50.5%); I often/sometimes don't know what to do with my child (Beijing 73.5%, Shanghai 64.4%).

Childcare Support for Mothers
Approximately 85% of the mothers in both cities answer that they have someone to count on when they seek childcare outside working hours. Among those who have someone to count on, about three-quarters of mothers rely on children's grandparents or relatives, followed by fathers (22.8%) in the case of Beijing, and by babysitters (21.8%) in the case of Shanghai. (Note that mothers could choose multiple people/institutional services for their answers.)

What Mothers Seek from Childcare Institutions
Mothers in Shanghai and Beijing have a wide range of expectations of early childhood institutions. Among 10 items, over 90% of mothers want the following: expanded intellectual/educational curriculum (Beijing 94.1%, Shanghai 91.4%); teaching rules for communal living or group activities (Beijing 96.0%, Shanghai 95.9%); helping children to get along better with other children(Beijing 97.7%, Shanghai 96.0%); providing parents with childrearing consultation (Beijing 93.1%, Shanghai 92.1%); creating opportunities for parents to get to know other parents (Beijing 92.7%, Shanghai 94.2%) (Figure 4-2-1).

One Quarter of Sampled Families Have More Than One Child
Surprisingly, in spite of the well-known stringent "one-child policy," about 20-25% of the families in the sample have two children or more. These people are, presumably, those who are exempted from the obligation (e.g., a designated minority, families from rural areas where 2nd child is allowed should the first one is a girl), or who were willing to bear the fine/fee imposed on them. With respect to the economic background of the families, Professor Yan Zhang, the Beijing counterpart of the survey research, cautions that the sample population obviously does not reflect those nationwide.

High Stimulation and Expectations for Children
First, young children in Beijing and Shanghai have too much to live up to. With respect to their daily schedule, the simple arithmetic tells us that they have a little time for the spontaneous play interactions (about 9-9.5 hours at the institutions, 9.5-10 hours in bed, 1.45 hours in front of TV/DVD, and some time for picture books, educational drills or extra curricular activities).

Furthermore, we see mothers' high expectations for children's development in all aspects, both academic and non-academic. These opposing expectations are, presumably, two sides of the same coin. As parents are very much aware of the adverse effects of having only child, they attempt to pay a great deal of attention to children's social skills, emotional development, and other fundamentals of early childhood development; yet, being aware of educational achievement as a key to upward mobility, they cannot help making early investment in their only-child.

However, children cannot easily manage to excel in both areas. If children spend time acquiring knowledge and specific skills, they forgo other valuable opportunities that they deserve during their early childhood (e.g., learning through spontaneous play).

Ambivalent Mothers
On the positive side, the majority of mothers feel fulfillment as a parent, and are content with their parenting experiences as well as children's growth. In spite of all the aspirations and expectations that mothers have regarding their children, they do not feel bitter about motherhood or that it is a burden (e.g., feelings of jeopardizing one's own life for the sake of children), and they value their own life pursuits as much as those of their children.

However, the findings reveal that mothers are confused about childrearing practices, which is reflected in their contradictory answers throughout the survey. On one hand, the mothers say that they value the fundamentals of child development and the child's own initiative in educational pursuits. On the other hand, they end up enrolling children in extracurricular activities, and ask early childhood institutions to increase activities for intellectual stimulus.

Professor Yan Zhang partially accuses the market economy and mass media of exacerbating mothers' anxiety by transmitting messages such as "don't let your child be a loser at the starting line" or "cultivate your child's personality/potential." These commercial messages often coincide with mothers' own educational beliefs derived from Confucian teaching (i.e., education is to acquire knowledge and skills), or for some, with their personal experiences (i.e., only if I could have had more opportunities for higher educational qualifications). Subsequently, mothers are induced to act in a corresponding manner (i.e., providing children with all the possible opportunities for learning from the early stage).

In fact, situated in a family setting quite different from their own when they grew up, mothers are filled with childrearing concerns. Their bewilderment is clearly voiced in the demands that they have of early childhood institutions; they are in need of childrearing advice as well as bonds with other mothers who are in the same boat.

Limitation of The Study and Future Implications
The survey provided us with opportunities to have a better understanding of the modalities of young children and their mothers in Shanghai and Beijing. It is important to keep in mind, however, that this survey is limited in its ability to reveal the whole picture of children's realities in Beijing and in Shanghai. For instance, the sample in both cities was taken from designated childcare institutions (8 institutions in Beijing and 7 institutions in Shanghai) rather than randomly. Furthermore, the survey did not look into the detailed function of respective early childhood institutions. Also, there are unknowns in the way children and parents spend their weekends. In turn, the availability of such studies would complement the survey results.

All in all, children of People's Republic of China will lead the future of its nation, whose GDP is said to top the world by 2050*. It would be intriguing to keep track of these children, in forms of longitudinal studies, together with their nation's growth.

*Reference: "Dreaming with BRICs: The Path to 2050" by Goldman Sachs (2003)
Write a comment

*CRN reserves the right to post only those comments that abide by the terms of use of the website.


Japan Today

CRN Child Science Exchange Program in Asia

About CRN

About Child Science


Honorary Director's Blog