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Why Chinese Parents Spend Huge Amounts of Money on Children’s Summer Programs

An essay titled “A Monthly Salary of 30,000 RMB [±4490$] Is Not Enough for a Child’s Summer Holiday” has recently gone viral on Chinese social media, triggering hot debates on how more and more Chinese parents spend huge amounts of money to educate their children during school holidays. Are they simply showing off their money, or is there more behind this trend?

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An essay titled “A Monthly Salary of 30,000 RMB Is Not Enough for a Child’s Summer Holiday” has recently gone viral on Chinese social media, triggering hot debates on how more and more Chinese parents spend huge amounts of money to educate their children during school holidays. Are they simply concerned about their child’s education, or is there more behind this trend?

An article titled “A Monthly Salary of 30,000 RMB [±4490$] Is Not Enough for a Child’s Summer Vacation” (“月薪三万,还是撑不起孩子的一个暑假”), which recently went viral on WeChat, describes how a woman with a well-paid job hardly earns enough money to pay for her daughter’s summer schedule during her school vacation.

The mother, who works as a senior executive in Guangzhou, earns nearly $4500 per month. Although this is 13 times higher than the minimum monthly wage in China, the woman still said she was afraid to buy new clothes due to the costs of the busy summer program of her daughter, a 5th grader at a well-known Guangzhou school.

 

“If you spend this money, it makes you feel bad. But if you don’t spend this money, it makes you feel bad for your child.”

 

The extravagant summer program highlighted in the article includes a ten-day study tour through the USA, a daytime nanny, piano lessons, swimming classes, and summer classes in English language, Olympic maths, and Writing. In total, the mother spent at least 35,000 RMB (±5240$) on her daughter’s summer ‘vacation.’

“The most torturous is that if you spend this money, it makes you feel bad. But if you don’t spend this money, it makes you feel bad for your child,” the mother said.

It’s not uncommon to see competition between Chinese parents over who are investing the most in their child’s education. The idea of never letting children “lose at the starting line” has become a common belief.

During school holidays, China’s wealthy families often send their children abroad for high-profile education. Middle-class parents struggle to compete with them, filling up their children’s holidays with English classes and overseas summer camps. Also at the lower-class levels, parents aim to educate their children during summer to become the next top scorers at the Gaokao (the national college entrance examination).

In the online essay, the daughter’s study trip to America is the most expensive activity of her summer program. Besides special classes and language training, the popularity of these types of expensive overseas summer camps is growing. According to a survey conducted by China Daily on these summer camps abroad, its participants are mainly middle-school and high-school students.

The most popular destinations are mainly English-speaking countries such as the USA, Canada, Australia or the UK, but Germany and Japan also have a high ranking. Although the prices vary, these trips never come cheap. Most of these programs cost around 20,000 to 30,000 RMB (3000$-4500$).

 

“They compare it like they compare luxury clothes or cars.”

 

Through overseas summer programs, parents hope that their children will practice their English, learn to be more independent, and experience “Western education” – and they are more than willing to pay for it, even if it costs them thousands of dollars.

But there is more to this than the mere hope that busy summer programs will contribute to a child’s personal development. As recently reported by Chinese newspaper Global Times, Chinese parents in the urban middle class are increasingly suffering from peer pressure when it comes to investing in their child’s education.

Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, told Global Times: “(..) if a monthly salary of 30,000 yuan could not support a holiday, there must be irrational comparisons going on,” adding: “They compare it [overseas study trips] like they compare luxury clothes or cars.”

 

“If a monthly salary of 30,000 RMB is not enough for a kid’s summer holiday, parents should do some self-reflection.”

 

Meanwhile, many educational companies and institutions smell the business opportunities and are out to make a quick buck. Some of them charge huge amounts of money for low-quality accommodations or cheap food – sometimes even causing a safety hazard for children. This trendy summer activity has become a lucrative but under-regulated phenomenon, forming a potential risk to children.

After the aforementioned article went viral, several state-run Chinese media such as the People’s Daily and Beijing Youth Daily immediately posted articles denouncing parents’ decisions to enroll their children in overseas study trips. They mentioned another reason for the extravagant study trips, saying it is a way for parents to “show off their money” through their children’s education.

The Beijing Youth Daily wrote: “If a monthly salary of 30,000 RMB is not enough for a kid’s summer holiday, parents should do some self-reflection to ask themselves if this is reasonable.”

The People’s Daily also criticized the current pressure on children in their education, appealing to “lighten the burden on children” and to “diminish the tendency of comparison among parents.”

 

“Only ridiculous people will object to this mother’s decisions. She merely wants to create better education opportunities for her daughter.”

 

The debate on children’s expensive summer program also unfolded among Chinese Weibo users, who are mainly divided into three groups.

One group firmly supports the mother’s decision on investing in her child’s education. They think it’s important and worthwhile. As one commenter wrote:

“Only ridiculous people will object to this mother’s decisions. She merely wants to create better education opportunities for her daughter to expand her horizons and make her more knowledge. Is this called ‘showing off money'(..)? Now that we have these bettered conditions for our younger generations, there’s nothing wrong with using them to help them become all-round individuals. Do you want them to be like you in the future, so poor and useless?”

The second group of people firmly rejects how parents are overspending on education: “What do you want me to say if you earn 30,000 RMB per month but live the life of someone who makes 50,000 RMB?” They also condemn how the mother burdens her child with a busy schedule, ruining her holiday.

The third group of commenters blames China’s education system for the extravagant summer study trips. The Chinese school system heavily relies on comparing children through their grades.

“No amount of money is when it comes to comparison and vanity. It is this comparison that makes children and parents feel inferior and unsatisfied. What if we cancel the system of Gaokao and encourage a system that celebrates diversity?”

Besides all this critique on children’s summer trips, there are also people who bring the discussion to a next level and question China’s class division and unbalanced education resources.

As reported by China Daily, Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou are the top three cities where students participate in overseas summer programs.

Uncoincidentally, these are also cities that are top-ranking when it comes to the highest salaries in China. For parents from less developed cities with less income, the chances of being able to afford a proper education for their children are much smaller. For them, it is simply impossible to send their children on extravagant study trips to America or Europe.

– By Yue Xin
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Additional editing by Manya Koetse
©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Yue Xin is a bilingual freelance journalist currently based in the Netherlands with a focus on gender issues and literature in China. As a long-time frequent Weibo user, she is specialized in the buzzwords and hot topics on Chinese social media.

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China Memes & Viral

Chengdu Disney: The Quirkiest Hotspot in China

How a senior activity park in Chengdu was ‘Disneyfied’ and became a viral hotspot.

Manya Koetse

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How did a common park turn into a buzzing hotspot? By mixing online trends with real-life fun, blending foreign styles with local charm, and adding a dash of humor and absurdity, Chengdu now boasts its very own ‘Chengdu Disney’. We explain the trend.

By Manya Koetse, co-authored by Ruixin Zhang

Have you heard about Chengdu Disney yet? If not, it’s probably unlike anything you’d imagine. It’s not actually a Disney theme park opening up in Chengdu, but it’s one of the city’s most viral hotspots these days.

What is now known as ‘Chengdu Disney’ all over the Chinese internet is actually a small outdoor park in a residential area in Chengdu’s Yulin area, which also serves as the local senior fitness activity center.

Crowds of young people are coming to this area to take photos and videos, hang out, sing songs, cosplay, and be part of China’s internet culture in an offline setting.

 
Once Upon a Rap Talent Show
 

The roots of ‘Chengdu Disney’ can be traced back to the Chinese hip-hop talent show The Rap of China (中国新说唱), where a performer named Nuomi (诺米), also known as Lodmemo, was eliminated by Chinese rapper Boss Shady (谢帝 Xièdì), one of the judges on the show.

Nuomi felt upset about the elimination and a comment made by his idol mentor, who mistakenly referred to a song Nuomi made for his ‘grandma’ instead of his grandfather. His frustration led to a viral livestream where he expressed his anger towards his participation in The Rap of China and Boss Shady.

However, it wasn’t only his anger that caught attention; it was his exaggerated way of speaking and mannerisms. Nuomi, with his Sichuan accent, repeatedly inserted English phrases like “y’know what I’m saying” and gestured as if throwing punches.

His oversized silver chain, sagging pants, and urban streetwear only reinforce the idea that Nuomi is trying a bit too hard to emulate the fashion style of American rappers from the early 2000s, complete with swagger and street credibility.

Lodmemo emulates the style of American rappers in the early 2000s, and he has made it his brand.

Although people mocked him for his wannabe ‘gangsta’ style, Nuomi embraced the teasing and turned it into an opportunity for fame.

He decided to create a diss track titled Xiè Tiān Xièdì 谢天谢帝, “Thank Heaven, Thank Emperor,” a word joke on Boss Shady’s name, which sounds like “Shady” but literally means ‘Thank the Emperor’ in Chinese. A diss track is a hip hop or rap song intended to mock someone else, usually a fellow musician.

In the song, when Nuomi disses Boss Shady (谢帝 Xièdì), he raps in Sichuan accent: “Xièdì Xièdì wǒ yào diss nǐ [谢帝谢帝我要diss你].” The last two words, namely “diss nǐ” actually means “to diss you” but sounds exactly like the Chinese word for ‘Disney’: Díshìní (迪士尼). This was soon picked up by netizens, who found humor in the similarity; it sounded as if the ‘tough’ rapper Nuomi was singing about wanting to go to Disney.

Nuomi and his diss track, from the music video.

Nuomi filmed the music video for this diss track at a senior activity park in Chengdu’s Yulin subdistrict. The music video went viral in late March, and led to the park being nicknamed the ‘Chengdu Disney.’

The particular exercise machine on which Nuomi performed his rap quickly became an iconic landmark on Douyin, as everyone eagerly sought to visit, sit on the same see-saw-style exercise machine, and repeat the phrase, mimicking the viral video.

What began as a homonym led to people ‘Disneyfying’ the park itself, with crowds of visitors flocking to the park, some dressed in Disney-related costumes.

This further developed the concept of a Chengdu ‘Disney’ destination, turning the park playground into the happiest place in Yulin.

 
Chengdu: China’s Most Relaxed Hip Hop Hotspot
 

Chengdu holds a special place in China’s underground hip-hop scene, thanks to its vibrant music culture and the presence of many renowned Chinese hip-hop artists who incorporate the Sichuan dialect into their songs and raps.

This is one reason why this ‘Disney’ meme happened in Chengdu and not in any other Chinese city. But beyond its musical significance, the playful spirit of the meme also aligns with Chengdu’s reputation for being an incredibly laid-back city.

In recent years, the pursuit of a certain “relaxed feeling” (sōngchígǎn 松弛感) has gained popularity across the Chinese internet. Sōngchígǎn is a combination of the word for “relaxed,” “loose” or “lax” (松弛) and the word for “feeling” (感). Initially used to describe a particular female aesthetic, the term evolved to represent a lifestyle where individuals strive to maintain a relaxed demeanor, especially in the face of stressful situations.

 

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The concept gained traction online in mid-2022 when a Weibo user shared a story of a family remaining composed when their travel plans were unexpectedly disrupted due to passport issues. Their calm and collected response inspired the adoption of the “relaxed feeling” term (also read here).

Central to embodying this sense of relaxation is being unfazed by others’ opinions and avoiding unnecessary stress or haste out of fear of judgment.

Nowadays, Chinese cities aim to foster this sense of sōngchígǎn. Not too long ago, there were many hot topics suggesting that Chengdu is the most sōngchí 松弛, the most relaxed city in China.

This sentiment is reflected in the ‘Chengdu Disney’ trend, which both pokes fun at a certain hip-hop aesthetic deemed overly relaxed—like the guys who showed up with sagging pants—and embraces a carefree, childlike silliness that resonates with the city’s character and its people.

Mocking sagging pants at ‘Chengdu Disney.’

Despite the influx of visitors to the Chengdu Disney area, authorities have not yet significantly intervened. Community notices urging respect for nearby residents and the presence of police officers to maintain order indicate a relatively hands-off approach. For now, it seems most people are simply enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.

 
Being Part of the Meme
 

An important aspect that contributes to the appeal of Chengdu Disney is its nature as an online meme, allowing people to actively participate in it.

Scenes from Chengdu Disney, images via Weibo.

China has a very strong meme culture. Although there are all kinds of memes, from visual to verbal, many Chinese memes incorporate wordplay. In part, this has to do with the nature of Chinese language, as it offers various opportunities for puns, homophones, and linguistic creativity thanks to its tones and characters.

The use of homophones on Chinese social media is as old as Chinese social media itself. One of the most famous examples is the phrase ‘cǎo ní mǎ’ (草泥马), which literally means ‘grass mud horse’, but is pronounced in the same way as the vulgar “f*ck your mother” (which is written with three different characters).

In the case of the Chengdu Disney trend, it combines a verbal meme—stemming from the ‘diss nǐ’ / Díshìní homophone—and a visual meme, where people gather to pose for videos/photos in the same location, repeating the same phrase.

Moreover, the trend bridges the gap between the online and offline worlds, as people come together at the Chengdu playground, forming a tangible community through digital culture.

The fact that this is happening at a residential exercise park for the elderly adds to the humor: it’s a Chengdu take on what “urban” truly means. These colorful exercise machines are a common sight in Chinese parks nationwide and are actually very mundane. Transforming something so normal into something extraordinary is part of the meme.

A 3D-printed model version of the exercise equipment featured in Nuomi’s music video.

Lastly, the incorporation of the Disney element adds a touch of whimsy to the trend. By introducing characters like Snow White and Mickey Mouse, the trend blends American influences (hip-hop, Disney) with local Chengdu culture, creating a captivating and absurd backdrop for a viral phenomenon.

For some people, the pace in which these trends develop is just too quick. On Weibo, one popular tourism blogger (@吴必虎) wrote: “The viral hotspots are truly unpredictable these days. We’re still seeing buzz around the spicy hot pot in Gansu’s Tianshui, meanwhile, a small seesaw originally meant for the elderly in a residential community suddenly turns into “Chengdu Disneyland,” catching the cultural and tourism authorities of Sichuan and even Shanghai Disneyland off guard. Netizens are truly powerful, even making it difficult for me, as a professional cultural tourism researcher, to keep up with them.”

By Manya Koetse, co-authored by Ruixin Zhang

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Food & Drinks

Where to Eat and Drink in Beijing: Yellen’s Picks

From Yunnan classics to fusion cuisine, these are Janet Yellen’s picks for dining and drinking in Beijing.

Manya Koetse

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Janet Yellen, the United States Secretary of the Treasury, seems to have some excellent advisors, at least when it comes to choosing spots for food and drinks in Beijing.

Yellen just concluded her second trip to Beijing within a year, and once again, it’s not her official talks but rather her choices in food and drink venues that are sparking discussion on social media.

Her initial visit to Beijing was in July 2023, during which she held meetings with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and other officials.

This time, from April 4th to 9th, Yellen’s agenda included engagements with top Chinese officials in both Guangzhou and Beijing. The primary focus was on addressing ongoing bilateral tensions and managing trade relations between the US and China. In addition to official meetings, Yellen also met up with students and business leaders.

Yellen’s selection of bars and restaurants drew interest online. Yellen is known to be a food enthusiast, and likes to visit local restaurants wherever she goes.

In Guangzhou, Yellen dined at Taotaoju (陶陶居), a renowned Cantonese restaurant where she had roast goose and shrimp dumplings.

If you’re curious about the places she visited in Beijing during her first and second trip, check out our short ‘Yellen’s Beijing’ list below.

 

‘In & Out’ Yunnan Restaurant


Yellen at Yizuo Yiwang, photos via Weibo.

● Name: ‘In and Out’ in English, Chinese name: Yī Zuò Yī Wàng 一坐一忘

● Specialty: Yunnan cuisine

● Notable: Yellen visited this local favorite near Beijing’s embassy area in the summer of 2023. Among other things, Yellen was served spicy potatoes with mint and stir-fried mushrooms, leading to online jokes about how the food would affect her. The mushroom dish that she had is called jiànshǒuqīng (见手青), which literally means “see hand blue”, in reference to turning blue when handled. It is the lanmaoa asiatica mushroom species that grows in China’s Yunnan region known for its hallucinogenic properties (when treated and cooked properly, they don’t cause hallucinations read more here). After Yellen’s visit, ‘In & Out’ used it as part of their marketing strategy and the restaurant released a special ‘Treasury Menu’ (or ‘God of Wealth’ Menu 财神菜单), promoting themselves as the first place where Yellen had dinner during her Beijing visit.

● Price: Dishes range from 38 yuan ($5) to 298 yuan ($41)

● Address: Chaoyang, Sanlitun Beixiaojie 1 / 朝阳区三里屯北小街1号

 

Grand Hyatt’s ‘Made in China’


Yellen’s lunch at the Grand Hatt, image via Weibo.

● Name: ‘Made in China’ in English, Chinese name: Cháng’ān Yī Hào 长安壹号餐厅

● Specialty: Northern Chinese cuisine, including Peking duck / Fusion

● Notable: This is the venue where Yellen had lunch with a group of female economists and entrepreneurs in July of 2023 (you can see the speech she gave during lunch here). She apparently likes this restaurant a lot, since she visited it again for dinner on April 8 of this year. For her 2023 lunch, we know that Yellen ordered steamed fish head with chopped pepper (剁椒鱼头). The famous Hunan dish was among the most expensive dishes on a special menu (850 yuan/$117) for Yellen’s visit at the time. This time around, she also had Peking Duck. The award-winning Made in China restaurant, which is simply called “Chang’an no 1” in Chinese (after its address, 长安壹号餐厅), has been around for two decades, and the Beijing head chef Jin Qiang has been there from the start – he has since welcomed numerous heads of state and government leaders from around the world.

● Price: Appetizers start from 58 yuan ($8), seafood dishes around 500 yuan (69 yuan), Peking Duck 388 yuan ($53)

● Address: Grand Hyatt, Dongcheng, 1 East Chang’An Avenue / 东长安街1号东方广场

 

Lao Chuan Ban


Yellen at Chuan Ban, image via Dianping.

● Name: Chuan Ban, Chinese name: 川办餐厅 aka ‘Lao Chuan Ban’ (Old Chuan Ban 老川办)

● Specialty: Sichuan food

● Notable: Chuan Ban, established as part of the Sichuan provincial government office and open to the public since 1995, is renowned for its authentic Sichuan cuisine. During her visit to Beijing, Yellen and her group dined at this famous restaurant on April 6 this year. They enjoyed a variety of dishes including Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐), Sichuan-style cold noodles (四川凉面), clear noodles in chili sauce (川北凉粉), smashed cucumber salad (拍黃瓜), and Zhong dumpings in spicy sauce (钟水饺).

● Price:Dumplings for 18 yuan ($2.5), beef noodles for 16 yuan ($2.2), salt and pepper shrimp for 46 yuan ($6.3), fried lamb chops for 188 yuan ($26) – there’s something for everyone in different price ranges.

● Address: Dongcheng, 5 Gongyuan Toutiao, Jianguomennei Dajie / 东城区建国门内贡院头条5号

 

Jing-A Brewery


Yellen having a beer, image via Weibo.

● Name: Jing-A Brewery, Chinese name: 京A

● Specialty: Craft beer

● Notable: After five days of meetings during her 2024 China visit, Janet Yellen enjoyed a beer together with US ambassador Nicholas Burns at Jing-A, a brewery founded by wo Beijing-based American friends in 2012. In one of her tweets, Yellen explained that the microbrewery imports American hops for their beers — “a small representation of how the U.S.-China bilateral economic relationship can benefit both sides” (link).

● Price:Beers starting at 35 yuan ($4.8), snack dishes starting at 58 yuan ($8)

● Address: Jing-A Brewpub Xingfucun, Chaoyang, 57 Xingfucun Zhong Lu, Chaoyang, Beijing / 朝阳区幸福村中路57号

By Manya Koetse

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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