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The Resurgence of the Tiger Dad: Fathers Pushing Their Daughters – for Whose Good?

With the recent success of the 5-year-old Chinese piano prodigy Chen Anke (陈安可) and the popularity of Indian movie Dangal in the PRC, the phenomenon of dads raising their daughters with strict discipline has become a topic of conversation on Chinese social media. Is the tiger dad making a comeback?

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With the recent success of the 5-year-old Chinese piano prodigy Chen Anke (陈安可) and the popularity of Indian movie Dangal in the PRC, the phenomenon of ‘tiger dads’ raising their daughters with strict discipline has become a topic of conversation on Chinese social media.

On a recent episode of NBC’s Little Big Shots, the 5-year-old Chinese piano prodigy Chen Anke (陈安可) stunned American audiences with her piano skills. On May 30, Pear Video released a detailed interview with Chen’s father, who claimed that “playing the piano is the only way to realize her [Anke’s] life values.”

On the big screen, meanwhile, the Bollywood blockbuster Dangal is a record success at China’s box offices. The movie is based on the true family story of an authoritative father who trains his daughters to become world wrestling champions. The film recently turned into China’s the biggest winner of the box office (1 billion yuan, equals $150 million).

The phenomenon of the ‘tiger mother’, a strict mom who pushes her children to be successful, became popular through the 2011 book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. Recent trends seem to signal a reevaluation of the stern, disciplinary father. On social media, many wonder why these fathers are pushing their daughters, and for whose good they actually do it.

 

A TOUGH CHILDHOOD

“It’s very possible that she will hate me in the future.”

 

The hashtag “Chinese piano girl stuns American audiences” has occupied the top searching lists on Sina Weibo, with many users praising Anke’s talents and hard efforts.

“Having just learned to play the piano for two years and four months, Anke now is able to play the pieces of grade 10 [the highest level before the ARCT],” Chen’s father Dongzhi Chen proudly told a reporter. He determinedly expressed his goals to train Anke to be a piano master and “the second Lang Lang” to China.

Little Anke playing Bach and Mozart.

This is also what Anke told NBC’s host Steve Harvey when he asked the 5-year-old about her future dreams. But later, when he asked her the question “How did you start to play?”, she replied: “Dad wanted me to.”

Since her American television adventure, Anke has returned to her tightly scheduled life that revolves around the piano. She practices 4 hours a day, takes master’s classes at the Central Conservatory of Music, goes to concerts, and has dinner with fellow piano players. In the evenings when she has dinner with her dad, he makes her watch piano concerts on the computer.

In the Pear video (see video below), Anke initially almost seems to be a carefree girl- running around her dad like a butterfly. But the video report also shows how her father continuously sternly warns and commends his daughter to “listen to your father”, stop “fiddling around,” “stop wasting time and play the piano,” or to “show a happy face.”


5-year-old Chinese piano star Chen Anke

The video also includes a short scene where Anke goes downstairs hoping to play with some friends, only to find herself alone: “My friends have probably all forgotten about me,” she says as she silently watches other children play on the basketball field.

Subtitle: “Don’t give me a bitter face.” (Screenshot of Pearvideo.)

“It’s very possible that she will hate me in the future. But I think it is the only way to realize her life values,” Dongzhi Chen says in the video: “I know this is the hardest route for her and I’ve expected the worst. But I believe if she can play the piano well, she will be smart and successful in doing other things too.”

 

UNFULFILLED DREAMS

“I want my daughter to explore the ultimate beauty of music for me.”

 

Being a student of conservatory of music was a dream of Chen himself, but it did not happen because Chen’s family did not have the money for it. He explains: “Therefore, I want my daughter to continue to explore the ultimate beauty of music for me.”

Chen’s story resonates with that of China’s highest-grossing Indian film Dangal (摔跤吧爸爸). In this true story, a former wrestler has the unfulfilled dream to win a gold medal for India. He swears to train his future son to achieve this dream for him. But when he only has daughters, he decides to train them instead to become India’s first female champion wrestlers.

Chinese film poster of Dangal.

The film has received much praise from Chinese audiences. The movie received the high score of 9.2 out of 10 on Douban.com, a popular Chinese reviewing website for films or books.

The great popularity of Dangal in China is not coincidental. China and India share some common cultural characteristics. Both countries attach importance to filial piety, emphasize patriotism in sports, and promote “painful education” (苦难教育). The latter is especially visible in Dangal, where the father makes his daughters get up at 5 AM every day for training and makes them cut off their long hair.

State-owned news media Xinhua recently published an article about family values that can be learned from this film. The article says: “These Indian girls had no choice of life at all. It was their father who forced them and offered them new possibilities. In the perspective of gaining skills and obtaining knowledge, education is painful and is against one’s own instinct […] Parents need to lead their children and show them the way, as they don’t have the ability to judge for themselves.”

On Sohu, a recent article that received nearly 20 million views called on Chinese parents to “form a community” with their children. It said: “The medal is a joint achievement shared by father and daughter. Studying is a process of co-operation.”

 

STRICT FATHERS, KIND MOTHERS

“If she would end up with a nine-to-five job, I would consider it a failure.”

 

In the Pear Video interview, the reporter asks Anke’s father if he will provide his daughter with more choices in the future. He answers: “She can have many choices, but this road [that I chose for her] will be doomed to fail if that happens.”

Anke’s ‘tiger dad’: “I hope she will pursue music all her life.”

Chinese parents have a long-standing reputation for being strict, and for making huge sacrifices for their children’s education. Anke’s father is no exception; he is so determined to train a child music prodigy that he seems to be ready to deal with any hardships that might come. But why are these ‘tiger dads’ so desperate to push their daughters to become superstars?

Socio-economic reasons play a major role. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, 76% of China’s urban population will be considered middle class by 2022. With this explosive growth of the emerging middle class, many Chinese parents see education as a crucial factor to improve the social mobility of their children.

For girls, this is especially important. The traditional patriarchal culture in China has negatively affected the social status of women throughout history. In contemporary society, their roles as wives and mothers are still often prioritized once they have babies. But as an indirect consequence of China’s one child policy, daughters have come to play a more important role in the family, generally receiving more parental attention and a better education than in the decades preceding the policy.

The role of the father in being the one who makes the most important decisions on children’s education comes from a long-standing tradition. An old Chinese saying “strict father, kind mother” (严父慈母) describes parenting in traditional Chinese society, where fathers are the stern disciplinarians who have more to say about their children’s education and than the mother. The mother’s role, traditionally, was defined by the persisting idea of “men rule outside, women rule inside” (“男主外,女主内”); meaning that women should be confined to the ‘inside’ sphere of family and home, occupying themselves with the household, while men deal with the ‘outside’ world of work, finances, community, etc.

The Chinese cultural concept of ‘mianzi‘ or ‘face’ also plays an important role. Representing a person’s reputation and prestige, parents gain ‘face’ when their children succeed. An ‘unsuccessful’ child would be a father’s shame.

As Anke’s father tells Pear Video: “If she would end up with a nine-to-five job, such as working in a musical instruments store, I would consider it a failure.”

 

FOR WHOSE GOOD?

“He just sits there and acts like he’s the kid’s almighty God.”

 

Debates on whether or not children with so-called ‘tiger parents’ are more successful in life than children with a more relaxed upbringing have been around for a long time. On the Weibo page of Pear Video, commenters also express opposite viewpoints, triggering heated discussions.

One comment, receiving the most likes, said: “If this little girl is truly happy to play the piano, and she sure seems to be very gifted and willing to do so, I don’t think there’s any reason to criticize her father.”

Others also praised Dongzhi Chen, writing: “This dad is really awesome. Anyone who has kids will know that you can never force a child to do something. The media always wants to point out [these stories about] fathers who will force their own dreams upon their children, but the fact is that if the kid doesn’t want to do it, it won’t happen – no matter how she is pushed by her dad. The reason why this girl is so good now is because of her father’s guidance and education.”

But there are also those who oppose to the father’s parenting style: “I really hate this kind of parent. It’s fine to lead or guide your kid if she excels in some areas, but I feel disgusted that he just sits there and acts like he’s the kid’s almighty God.”

Some disapprovingly say: “He already has himself, why does he need a second person like him?”

There are also commenters who say that watching Dangal has changed their outlook: “After I watched this film, my attitude towards these kind of parents has changed completely.”

Others agreed, saying: “This movie truly is an inspiration – it is an encouragement for the tiger dad (虎父).”

– 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 Comic & Games

KFC China’s Psyduck Toy is a Viral Hit

As Psyduck goes viral, KFC Children’s Day toys are deemed “too childish for children but just perfect for us adults.”

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American fast-food chain KFC recently introduced three new Pokémon toys to go with its kids’ meals in various regions across China, with one of the toys, in particular, becoming a viral hit: Psyduck (可达鸭).

The new Pokémon toys were introduced on May 21st to celebrate Children’s Day (June 1). As reported by Shanghai Daily, the toys are randomly distributed in Children’s Day meals and will be released in different regions at different times.

Psyduck is a yellow duck-like Pokémon that is known to be confused because it’s bothered by headaches. One of the reasons why the Psyduck toy might be more popular than its fellow (Pikachu) toys, is because it dances, with its arms going up and down, and because of the catchy tune that starts once it starts moving. Psyduck is also a bit more dopey and ‘uncool’ than Pikachu, which makes him all the cooler (remember the Peppa Pig craze?)

Since its release, many people have been going crazy over the KFC toy. Psyduck fans have been hunting for the KFC treasure, and some have even turned it into a side business: they offer their services in getting as many KFC meals as necessary before grabbing the Psyduck toy – you’ll have to pay for their meal – and they’ll send the toy to their ‘customers’ later on.

The #Psyduck hashtag saw the first spike on Weibo on May 21st, the day of its release, when it received nearly 135 million views.

Although the toys were released for Children’s Day, most of these Psyduck fans are not kids at all. In one interview moment that went viral, an older man was asked about the Psyduck while he was standing in line at KFC. “I’m only here because my son wants it,” the man says. When he is asked how old his boy is, he answers: “He’s over thirty years old.”

A popular comment about the craze over the kids’ meal toys said: “This toy is perhaps too childish for children, but it’s just perfect for us adults.” The comment received nearly 20,000 likes.

If you buy a set meal including the toy, you will spend in between 59-109 yuan ($9-$16), but the reselling price of Psyduck has reportedly been as high as US$200 for just the Pokémon figure alone. KFC China has stated that it does not support this kind of reselling.

Illustration about the Psyduck crazy by New Weekly (@新周刊).

Especially among students, it has become popular to stick messages to the arms of the dancing Psyduck with motivational or humorous messages. Some students say the Psyduck keeps them company while they are studying.

Since short funny videos featuring Psyduck are going viral on Weibo and Douyin, a lot of Psyduck’s appeal relates to its social media success and joining in on the hype. People post videos of themselves unboxing their Psyduck, introducing it to their cat, imitating it, or they use the Psyduck in various creative ways.

This is not the first time for KFC toys to become a national craze. Earlier this year, KFC came out with limited edition blind boxes in a collaboration with Chinese toymaker Pop Mart. To get one of the dolls, customers needed to buy a 99 yuan (US$15.5) family set meal.

But the blind box sales also sparked criticism from China’s Consumer Association for promoting over-purchasing of its food and causing food waste. In order to get all of the six collectible dolls, including the rarest ones, customers would start buying many meals just for the dolls. As reported by SCMP at the time, one customer went as far as to spend US$1,650 on a total of 106 meals to collect all six dolls.

KFC is the most popular fast-food chain in China. People outside of China are sometimes surprised to find that KFC is so hugely popular in the mainland.

As explained in the book written about KFC China’s popularity (“Secret Recipe for Success“), its success story goes back to 1987, when the restaurant opened its first doors near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Some reasons that contributed to KFC’s success in China are the popularity of chicken in China, the chain’s management system, the restaurant’s adaptation to local taste, and its successful marketing campaigns.

Now, Psyduck can be added as one of the ingredients in KFC China’s perhaps not-so-secret recipe for success.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Featured image via @Baaaaaaaaal, Weibo.com

Image via Weibo

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Elementary School Textbook Triggers Controversy for Being “Tragically Ugly”

This elementary schoolbook by the People’s Education Press went viral for being ugly.

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The illustrations in a Chinese schoolbook series for children have triggered controversy on social media platform Weibo, where the hashtag “People’s Education Press Math Teaching Material” (#人教版数学教材#) attracted over 860 million views by Thursday afternoon, with the “People’s Education Press Mathbook Illustration Controversy” (#人教版数学教材插图引争议#) garnering over 190 million views.

The illustrations went viral after some netizens spotted that the quality of the design in one math textbook series stood out from other books in how ‘aesthetically displeasing’ it is.

The children depicted in the teaching material have small, droopy eyes and big foreheads. Some commenters think their clothing also looks weird and that the overall design is just strange and “tragically ugly.”

Some images depicting little boys also drew controversy for allegedly showing a bulge in the pants. Adding girls sticking out their tongues, boys grabbing girls, a reversed Chinese flag, and some depictions of children’s clothing in the American flag colors, many people think the books are not just ugly but also have “evil intentions.”

Besides the people who think the design of the textbook series is so ugly that it must have been purposely drawn like this, there are also those who are angry, suggesting China has thousands of talented art students who would welcome a project like this and do it much better.

Some parents are also concerned that such poor quality design will negatively influence the aesthetic appreciation of the children using the books.

Fueling the controversy is the fact that the textbook in question has been published and designed by a team of relatively influential and experienced designers and publishers.

The design was done by, among others, Lu Min (吕旻) and Zheng Wenjuan (郑文娟) of the Beijing Wuyong Design Studio (北京吴勇设计工作室). The book is published by the People’s Education Press.

The People’s Education Press (PEP) is a major publishing house directly under the leadership of the Ministry of Education. Founded in 1950, it is responsible for compiling and publishing all kinds of teaching material for elementary education.

The textbook already caught the attention of some parents in early May. One parent shared photos of the textbook illustration on Q&A site Zhihu.com, writing: “This textbook is so ugly! How did it ever pass the review?”

The ugly textbook design has made many netizens look back on their own childhood textbooks, suggesting that more traditional Chinese design is much better than what is being produced nowadays.

Old textbook design shared online for comparison.

On May 26, the People’s Education Press responded to the controversy on Weibo. In its statement, the publishing house said it would reevaluate its elementary school mathematics textbooks illustrations and improve the quality of the design. In doing so, the publishing house said it would welcome feedback from the public. The statement soon received over 600,000 likes.

Professional graphic design artist Wuheqilin also weighed in on the discussion (read more about Wuheqilin here). In a lengthy Weibo post, Wuheqilin argues it is too easy for people to share their old textbook covers and images to show how much better they used to be, blaming poor design on the quality of illustrators in modern times.

According to Wuheqilin, it is not so much a matter of illustrators who have become worse, but of publishing houses saving more money on illustrations. Publishers do not prioritize design and are still offering the same prices to illustrators as they did a decade ago.

“The market has expanded, illustrators’ prices have gone up, but the philosophy of publishing houses hasn’t kept up with the times. This has led to them not really raising their budgets. When I entered the industry some 12 years ago, publishers could still a good artist for 500-800 RMB [$75-$120] to do a fine cover illustration, but now it would be difficult to find an artist to do it for 8000 RMB [$1188]. Around 2015 I was asked by a publishing house to do the cover of a sci-fi novel series they produced, and the process of our talks all went smoothly, but when I quoted my price they looked displeased and told me that even if they would do their best to give me the highest budget possible, it would still only be one-tenth of my quoted price. The price I quoted was just the normal price for a game poster illustration at the time. I never spoke to that publisher again afterward. And this was 2015, let alone how the situation is nowadays.”

This is not the first time Chinese school textbooks trigger controversy online. In 2017, an elementary school sexual education textbook caused a stir for being “too explicit” (read here).

UPDATE TO THIS STORY HERE.

Read more about (controversial) Chinese children’s books here.

By Manya Koetse

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