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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 Arts & Entertainment

“Not Just a Style, But a Mission” – China’s Online Hanfu Movement

What started with a 2003 internet sensation grew into a massive movement – Hanfu is booming on Weibo and beyond.

Things That Talk

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It’s been nearly two decades since the Chinese traditional clothing trend named Hanfu 汉服 first became noticeable as a popular social phenomenon in mainland China. Throughout the years, Hanfu has gone from a fashion style to a full-fledged movement that is flourishing on Chinese social media. Koen van der Lijn reports.

 
When objects meet social media, two websites meet as well. This is a collaboration between What’s on Weibo and Things That Talk (follow on Insta @thingsthattalk).
 

This last Christmas, Hanfu was once again a trending topic on Weibo. Enthusiasts of the traditional Chinese clothing trend posed online in their Christmas inspired Chinese clothing.

It was yet another development in the Hanfu Movement, which has been a hot topic with hundreds of hashtags and thousands of pictures, videos, and stories on Weibo, with the official Weibo Hanfu @微博汉服 account boasting a whopping 1.8 million followers and a Weibo ‘supertopic’ on Hanfu being joined by nearly half a million fans.

“You can also wear Hanfu during Christmas,” post and images by @弥秋君 on Weibo.

One example of the manifold of Hanfu content on Weibo is a video recently posted by Chinese actress Xu Jiao (徐娇). In the short video, which is an advertisement by the e-commerce platform RED (小红书), the actress wears Hanfu in various settings while talking about the meaning behind the fashion. Xu Jiao, being 23 years of age, is part of Generation Z (mid-1990s – early 2010s), who are adept users of social media and make up the mass of Hanfu enthusiasts.

Screenshot of video posted by Xu Jiao 徐娇

Though Hanfu enthusiasts seldomly go out on the streets whilst wearing the clothing style,1 Hanfu sales have been increasing a lot over the past few years.2 Possibly linked to the popularity of Chinese costume dramas, many Chinese youth have started to wear Hanfu in the past two decades. However, it is not just a form of cosplay or a new clothing style. As Xu Jiao says herself in the video: “It’s not just a style, it’s a mission.”

 

Background of the Hanfu Movement


 

It was November 2003 when Wang Letian walked the streets of Zhengzhou in Hanfu. News of his action rapidly spread over the internet through websites such as hanminzu.net.3

Besides online discussions, an article was also written about Wang Letian’s bold move in the Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, helping spread word about the young man’s actions. This moment was seen as the start of the Hanfu Movement.

Wang Letian in the Lianhe Zaobao of November 29, 2003.

Now, roughly twenty years later, the wearing of Hanfu has developed into a true movement, with many young Chinese participating in the wearing of the traditional Chinese dress. Especially on college campuses, the trend is very much alive.

In its most basic idea, the Hanfu Movement can be described as a social movement that supports the wearing of Han Chinese ethnic clothing. The emphasis on the Han ethnicity is of importance here. Han Chinese make up the vast majority of the population in China, accounting for more than 90% of China’s total population. However, aspects famous outside China for being typically Chinese, such as the queue, are actually of Manchu origin.

The Manchus are an ethnic group from Northeastern China, showing cultural similarities to the Mongols, who ruled China’s last dynasty, the Qing dynasty (1644-1912). Their clothing style has influenced foreign perceptions of China, due to the fact that the Manchus were the ruling class in the last Chinese imperial dynasty.

Image via https://shop60421556.taobao.com/.

Hence the emphasis on the Han ethnicity. Central to the Hanfu Movement is the idea that ethnic Han clothing, as worn during Han Chinese ruled dynasties, such as the Han dynasty (202BC-220AD), the Tang dynasty (618-907), and the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), has much value in its own and should be worn and appreciated by contemporary Han Chinese, just as the ethnic clothing of China’s minorities is appreciated in contemporary China.4

 

The Mission


 

On 4 December 2020, blogger Mi Qiujun posted a video with the hashtag #How to make the world understand Hanfu?#, (#如何让世界了解汉服#), gaining many likes and comments. Showing clips of herself wearing Hanfu in Egypt, the United States, France, and Japan, she tells how she became determined to make people around the globe understand China’s traditional culture after her clothing being wrongly identified as a Japanese kimono at her first stop in Nepal.

Mi Qiujun discusses an important aspect of the Hanfu movement. Hanfu enthusiasts feel that their ethnic clothing is not understood well enough by others, and showing the rest of the world their clothing is a true mission.

Hanfu enthusiasts have found themselves in online quarrellings about what can be defined as Hanfu, and what cannot be defined as Hanfu. It is worth noting that some scholars have disputed the existence of a uniform Hanfu throughout Chinese history.5 Instead, Hanfu is seen to have been popularised by students through the internet, without strong knowledge of Han Chinese clothing traditions.6 This makes it difficult to assess what does and what does not count as Hanfu.

Online quarrelings have therefore become part of the Hanfu Movement. In November 2020, for instance, Chinese netizens found themselves in an online discussion with their Korean neighbours. That month, Chinese actor Xu Kai (许凯) posted a photo of himself in traditional costume from the set of the Chinese drama titled Royal Feast (尚食), which is set in the Ming Dynasty.

A controversial selfie.

After South Korean web users pointed out that the traditional costume worn by Xu resembled Korean traditional clothing named Hanbok, the drama’s producer Yu Zheng (于正) posted a response on social media in which he firmly stated that this clothing was not Hanbok but Hanfu, adding that Korea was a vassal state of China at the time and that only “uncivilized people” would call it ‘Hanbok.’

 

A Nationalist Movement?


 

These kinds of discussions also show another side of the Hanfu Movement. For some Hanfu enthusiasts, Hanfu is more than a mission to let others understand Han ethnic culture; instead, it is a way to construct a purified Han Chinese identity, free from foreign influence.7

Girl dressed in Hanfu while visiting the Forbidden City. Photo by Manya Koetse.

This foreign influence is often linked back to the Manchus once again. ‘Uncivilised practices’ in contemporary Chinese society are attributed to the Manchus. This rhetoric reinforces the belief of Han supremacy, which has existed long before the invention of the internet, where the ‘civilized’ Han Chinese believe themselves to be superior to the ‘uncivilized’ barbarians, such as the Manchus.

This rise in Han Chinese nationalism started in the past few decades.8 The Hanfu Movement thus has followers who are a part of this new turn, where Han Chinese want to restore the glory of their past and turn away from Western and Manchu influences.9

These hardcore Han nationalists are but a small part of the movement. The Hanfu Movement encompasses a large and diverse group of people, who all share a certain belief that Hanfu should gain more appreciation in China and abroad. These are, for instance, some of the comments under Xu Jiao’s video:

– “(…) Xu Jiao speaks for Hanfu!!” (@怪物与约翰)

– “Do not be afraid to doubt, never forget the original intention, Hanfu is a style, it’s a mission, it’s culture, and it’s an attitude.” (@打翻废纸篓)

– “I am so thankful we have you! I really like your work and your attitude towards Hanfu!” (@小瓦肯Shail)

What connects most Hanfu enthusiasts then? Hanfu enthusiasts take pride in wearing Hanfu, and they wear Hanfu simply because they like wearing it. Moreover, they believe it to be important to make others, both in and outside China, gain a deeper understanding of Han Chinese ethnic culture. Hanfu is more than a fad. It is a subculture, it is a style, and for Xu Jiao and many others, it is their mission.

 
By Koen van der Lijn

Koen van der Lijn (China Studies, BA) is a ResMa student Asian Studies at Leiden University focused on Chinese history and its international relations. He is a student ambassador at Things That Talk.

This story was made in collaboration with ThingsThatTalk.net – exploring humanities through the life of objects. Things That Talk is an educational digital project where staff and students produce narratives and metadata about objects in Leiden collections and beyond. A story focused on the background of the Hanfu Movement and objects associated with this movement has previously been published on Things that Talk, go check it out!
 

Notes (other sources hyperlinked within the article)

1 Buckley, Chris, and Katrina Northrop. 2018. “A Retro Fashion Statement in 1,000-Year-Old Gowns, With Nationalist Fringe.” New York Times, Nov 22 https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/22/world/asia/china-hanfu-gowns-clothing.html [Jan 16 2021].
2 Zhou Xing 周兴. 2020. “Report: Hanfu turnover on Taobao platform exceeded 2 billion yuan in 2019 [报告:2019年淘宝平台上汉服成交金额突破20亿元].” Dianshangbao, August 2 2020 https://www.dsb.cn/124836.html [Jan 16 2021].
3 Cui Chentao 崔晨涛. 2016. “Han Costume Movement and National Culture Rejuvenation [汉服运动“与民族文化复兴的诉求].” Journal of Yunyang Teachers College 36(5): 19-24.
4 Cui Chentao 崔晨涛. 2016. “Han Costume Movement and National Culture Rejuvenation [汉服运动“与民族文化复兴的诉求].” Journal of Yunyang Teachers College 36(5): 19-24.
5 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
6 Zhang Xian 张跣. 2009. “‘Hanfu Movement’: Ethnic Nationalism in the Internet Age [“汉服运动”:互联网时代的种族性民族主义].” Journal of China Youth University for Political Sciences (4): 65-71.
7 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. “Imaginary Communities: Fantasy and Failure in Nationalist Identification,” in The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today, chapter 1. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
8 Dikötter, Frank. 2001. “Nationalist Myth-making: The Construction of the Chinese Race.” Human Rights in China, 27 April https://www.hrichina.org/en/content/4573 [16 Jan 2021].
9 Carrico, Kevin. 2017. “Imaginary Communities: Fantasy and Failure in Nationalist Identification,” in The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today, chapter 1. Oakland, California: University of California Press.

Featured image: Photo by zhang kaiyv on Unsplash

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China Celebs

Angelababy, Huang Xiaoming, Li Fei’er: Love Triangle Rumors From Decade Ago Revisited

Weibo explodes after Angelababy addresses rumors that have been going on for over ten years.

Manya Koetse

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On Wednesday afternoon, Beijing time, Weibo exploded when Chinese celebrity couple Huang Xiaoming and Angelababy addressed some strong rumors about the start of their relationship.

Their posts resulted in various hashtags and search terms going viral, including the phrases “When Angelababy Met Huang Xiaoming, He Said He Was Single” and “Angelababy Was Not My Mistress.” At least three out of today’s top trending Weibo topics are related to Angelababy and Huang Xiaoming.

Angelababy (nickname for Yang Ying 杨颖) is practically a household name in China. The famous actress and model married actor Huang Xiaoming (黄晓明) in 2015, and ever since, their marriage and relationship status is a popular gossip topic on social media. The two have a son together.

With Angelababy having over 100 million fans on her Weibo page (@angelababy) and Huang Xiaoming having over 61 million followers on his (@黄晓明), the two are practically Weibo’s most followed couple. Their $31 million wedding is probably the most-discussed Chinese weddings of the past decade.

Chinese actress Li Fei’er (李菲儿) previously dated Huang Xiaoming after working with him in the 2008 television series Royal Tramp (鹿鼎记). The two are said to have started a relationship in 2007, and to have broken up in 2010 – the same year when Huang got together with Angelababy. The ending of the relationship with Li and the start of the new love affair with Angelababy has been a source of gossip for over a decade.

In a 2011 interview with a Hong Kong magazine, Li had hinted that Angelababy was previously ‘the other woman’ during her relationship with Huang.

The rumors surrounding that alleged love triangle between Angelababy, Li, and Huang reached a new peak this week when Huang Xiaoming and Li Fei’er shared a stage on the super popular reality series Sisters Who Make Waves 2, which features 30 female celebrities over the age of 30. Huang hosts the show.

Apparently, Angelababy felt that the waves of rumors became too strong for her not to speak out. In the late afternoon of January 6, she posted a Weibo post in which she stated that Huang Xiaoming told her he was single when they first met. When Li made ‘groundless’ comments about Angelababy in a magazine interview, she asked Huang about it, and “he told me they had broken up.”

“A decade has passed by. Today, I’ve chosen to stand up for myself and to explain the entire thing clearly. I don’t want to take the blame anymore,” Angelababy writes.

She also added that she felt this is “a matter between Mister Huang and Li Fei’er,” suggesting that Huang is the person who needs to clarify the matter to the public.

Angelababy’s post was followed up by a post by Huang just an hour later, in which he stated the success of the Sister Who Make Waves tv show lies in the values it conveys to respect women, suggesting that the recent flood of rumors is harmful to the show’s central theme, the women participating in it, as well as to his own family.

He further clarifies that Angelababy “was not a mistress,” refuting ongoing rumors about the start of their relationship.

The huge attention for this matter seemed to temporarily put a strain on Weibo’s servers, with the site momentarily showing a notification that its servers were too busy. In 2017, Weibo servers could no longer handle the peak in traffic after Chinese singer ad actor Lu Han announced his new relationship.

Weibo servers were busy after Angelababy posted about the decade-old ‘love triangle’ rumors.

For now, the statements by Angelababy and Huang have only brought about more speculation. The fact that Angelababy refers to her husband as “Mr. Huang” in her post intensifies ongoing rumors that Huang and Angelababy might already be separated.

Meanwhile, Li Fei’er, who has over 11 million followers on her Weibo page (@李菲儿love) has not posted anything about the recent developments. In her last post on January 1st, she wished her followers a happy new year.

By Wednesday night, Beijing time, Angelababy’s post had received over 1,3 million likes and 100,000 comments; Huang’s post got over 850,000 likes, already making this celebrity news one of the most talked-about topics this week.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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