China’s "Little Emperors/Empresses" may be a hackneyed topic, but it’s very much grounded in reality – you don’t need a degree in sociology to understand how news stories of spoiled rich kids behaving badly underscore the huge social dilemma posed by China’s single-child policy and skyrocketing prosperity.
The issue is painfully and obviously complex. Even if the one-child policy (which was instituted in 1978 and can be viewed as having been quite effective, depending on how you look at it) were to be revoked tomorrow, the long-term effects would take generations to undo – which is precisely why the recent announcement of a nationwide plan to "cultivate one million filial children over the next five years" by officials seems so ludicrous.
According to the China Daily:
The special committee of filial piety under the China National Association for Ethical Studies announced on Sunday that it aims to help 1 million children between the ages of 4 and 6 learn about filial piety, which is deeply rooted in China’s traditional culture.
"Our program will cultivate 1 million filial children and they will set a moral example for all the children in our country," said Wang Haibin, head of the committee.
The 100-day training program will teach the children filial piety through stories and games. Volunteers will check on the children’s performance in three years to ensure that "filial piety can be a way of life", said Sun Chunchen, secretary-general of the association for ethical studies.
Aside from the news that there is actually a "National Association for Ethical Studies" the article is short on details of what, exactly, constitutes "filial piety" (though it does mention "respect and caring for parents and other aged relatives"), much less how lessons reinforcing these notions would be taught (aside from "stories and games").
But let’s just play along and assume that yes, it would be possible to get 7% of the population to go through a 100-day crash-course on being a filial child – and yes, all one million kids will come out reprogrammed and ready to spread the gospel of obedience. How, then, will this behavioral message be spread to the greater population? Weekend courses? Weibo? Cartoons? Osmosis? Trickle-down Voodoo Economics?
I jest – of course – but once again am compelled to ask: Really?
We’re standing at the edge of what is probably the biggest sociological minefield of our times and this is what they come up with? Really?