Coming from a Chinese background, but being raised in America, I have realized that child rearing practices differ between these two countries. Scholarly sources have made conclusions of child rearing practices in these two countries, but there may be more knowledge unknown about this topic. Therefore my research question is: What are Chinese child rearing practices in comparison to American child rearing practices? Since these cultures are complex, the focus is on disciplinary actions, education, politics, and the economy. In addition, one must know the importance of values, which help shape a culture and how parents choose to raise their children. Value is defined as the expression of the relationship between self and other.¹ This essay focuses on cultural research which can be defined as "methods drawn from the humanities and social science to analyze the relationships among individuals, groups, institutions, governments, economies, and environments."² Child rearing practices determine behaviors and expectations of a child within a specific culture, which effect childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.³ One can also compare factual literature with facts from field work. By examining this relationship, child rearing techniques can be analyzed through a running comparison that also includes contrasting points, which can reveal how cross cultural relationships can be similar. As a result, this discovery can provide Chinese Americans solutions on how to raise their children with the support of factual and practical evidence. It can be used as a tool to determine the more beneficial way of parenting from an objective view, ultimately clarifying the beauty of parenting and how it is affected by culture.
II. Cross Cultural Comparison of Child Rearing
This section consists of three sub sections. Section A talks about the key concepts and foundations of the question and is primarily a literature review. Section B presents data collected using ethnographic field work, including personal interviews. Section C analyzes the literature findings with comparisons to the field work by identifying the patterns between child rearing practices in American and Chinese cultures. This also synthesizes all of the information gathered and analytical processes. It draws connections from the research to global situations.
A. Literature Review
In factual based literature, the word methodology appears often when researching social and cultural anthropological studies. Felix Kaufmann, a philosopher associated with social sciences, defines methodology as "the theory of correct decisions in deciding the groups of action and further inference."4 Methodology helps determine the way of making "correct decisions" when inferring the child rearing values in Chinese and American cultures. Furthermore, ethnomethodology is "the study of methods people use for producing recognizable social orders."4 These concepts help discover what parents' child rearing practices are and how they are related across cultures. Harold Garfinkel argues that "people have shared methods for achieving social order...to construct order of social situations."4 Some cross cultural values may be similar, yet not all values will be exactly the same.
1. Self-Discipline and Focuses on Child Rearing Practices
In both American and Chinese cultures, disciplinary actions are used, but it is the underlying level of discipline that sets each culture apart and also has a relation to child rearing practices. In the Chinese culture a practice widely used when it comes to valued discipline is guan, which means to educate, care for, support, control, and love5 (p. 42), which parents teach their kids to live by. One of the great teachings that many Chinese parents follow in child rearing practices is Confucianism, which "encouraged criticism as a means towards cultivating learning and promoting social values...criticizing others does not carry as harsh a feel in China as it does in the U.S."5(p. 68) China's disciplinary system based on Confucius' teachings are a general learning process, and even though it is a demanding practice, Confucianism is the way China has strived for success during the years of childhood.
Director Guo of Sinanlu You'eryuan in 2007, believed that China highly values individuality and respectability of children to others. Also, he includes that "They (Chinese) taught us that the more you lose, the more you gain and that short-term interests should not interfere with a view to the future. These are very valuable ideas that have made China a stable society and have held us together as a huge nation over thousands of years."5 (p. 76) Guo's perspective confirms that China's stability as a society is due to their obedience to long-term commitments based on discipline practices developed during childhood.
Although these Chinese child rearing practices have been kept and handed down over generations, it is unfair to say that they never change, because "fusing Confucian and socialist values with the values of the Enlightenment will produce a new kind of citizen with a new kind of subjectivity, an individual, but one with Chinese characteristics."5 (pp. 227-228) Generally, Chinese child rearing practices have changed with the interaction of Confucian and socialist values, yet as a whole they have not changed drastically.
American society has a great foundation of competition and fairness, which calls for everyone to have some sort of a start on success.5 (p.205) Child discipline is framed by fairness in the sense that if parents' treat each one of their children fairly, then the child will have a better understanding of how important it is to not gain unfair advantages in life. In addition, freedom of choice is a main value that many American parents teach their children, for they believe in "free choice, self- expression, individual rights, and the pursuit of happiness."5(p.193) These are used in child rearing practices in America, where according to Alexis de Tocqueville, "Americans and English will give up some equality for greater individual freedom."6 In contrast individual freedom and choice are severely limited in China.
In the United States, working mothers are often limited from interacting with their children, yet those in higher classes who do not work can spend more time with their children if they choose.5(p.191) Mothers try to implement key values in their children when they are younger, so when they get older they can make decisions themselves. Drawing from this one can say that American mothers expect their children to be independent at a young age.7 In summary, the American culture seems very focused on developing individual children at an earlier age and letting the child make choices themselves; conversely, Chinese culture generally limits individual freedom of choice.
Childhood education in China has been swayed by Western cultures (America). Therefore the Chinese government has had to issue a document to keep education focused on their ways, yet leaving from their ways may be beneficial. "Chinese culture has a long history of many merits worth preserving...we need to learn from and complement each other (China and America)."5 (p.91) Today, China teaches education in a way to focus on the individual and their creativity, while keeping ancient practices of a rigorous academic coursework.5
There are rules in China on education that ensures their educational system to remain universally balanced. The PRC Law on Compulsory Education (People's Republic of China) state that children have the right to receive nine years of compulsory education, six years in primary school and three years in middle school. Also, to keep educational development balanced, local government and educational authorities are prohibited from dividing up schools into elites and non-elites.8
America’s compulsory education system differs depending on the state. Generally age requirements for attending school range from 5-8 years old starting age to 16-18 years old ending age, depending on each states' laws on education.9 This shows that America is dedicated to helping all children receive a primary and secondary education.
America has moved away from a hands-off approach and instead used more of an involved and engaged teaching style to create maturity in the children at a young age.5 (p.188) This shows that America values higher level learning in the classroom as well as meeting unique needs for diverse students. For example, American schools focus on meeting the needs of foreign students who attend their schools by offering a range of services to help any student who has a different background.5 (p.202)
3. Political Implications
Each country is restricted by certain political rules and limitations that they must follow when it comes to raising children. China tries to keep the political side of government involvement, including communism and socialism, out of the education system, yet this does not prevent politics from having an effect on family life. For example, one major limitation to raising children in China is the One Child Policy. The People's Republic of China (PRC) is the most populous country in the world with 27 percent of the total population of developing countries. Currently, PRC is the only country that attempts to control timing of pregnancy, number of years between births, and total number of births. Even though these limitations aren't completely enforceable in all of China, they are effective since they have a highly organized political system that affects people's daily lives and monitors women's birth control.10 This limitation affects the parents' decisions in China to the right to have a family, and how big it can be. Limiting Chinese parents' to only having one child, affects the behavior and relationship of parents and children. Many think this can result in "spoiling", but a study by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences disagrees finding single children are "active, energetic, willing to try new ideas, lighthearted, willing to demonstrate ability, not easily persuaded, and eager to implement their own plans."11
American education is affected politically by the Federal Department of Education like the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy. The Department of Education's mission is to "promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access,"12 and the No Child Left Behind Policy helps raise achievement and close achievement gaps in public education for Americans.13 Politics often set certain requirements and limitations on education, which raises the argument that American education is greatly affected by the Federal government and politics.
4. Economic Issues
Economically, China is becoming wealthier over time, which leads to increasing stability to support educational systems. The new capitalist economy is making parents anxious to find the best ways possible for their children to succeed.5 (p.36) One downfall to this new economy is that parents are now striving for financial success, investing in businesses, and focusing on their occupational future, making it harder for them to dedicate time and attention to their children and subsequent child rearing pracitces.5 (p. 227)
The American economy is based on class divisions including the higher, middle, and lower classes. When the middle class became more willing to work outside the home, more kids were put into public schooling, which increased focus on this area.5 (p.191) This stimulated the economy by women joining the work force and expanding the educational system. Consequently, this took away from individualized time for children and their families which affects child rearing styles and how parents discipline their children.
In summary both China and America have social and cultural values that affect self discipline, education, politics, and economics. Each of these areas affects child rearing practices in a different way. It is appropriate to say that there are many factors that go into understanding the complexity and issues of child rearing practices across cultures.
B. Field Work
People's actual experiences of child rearing practices may be factually incomplete in the literature. In order to gain deeper cultural knowledge on child rearing techniques, not recorded in any literature, field work was necessary. By conducting field work, experimental knowledge was gained by interviewing people of different cultural backgrounds. Although not always transferable, field research can give the literature review a more comprehensive, robust explanation of how child rearing practices actually differ across countries.
On how children are raised in America, one American interviewee was particularly worried about her intimate relationship with her children. She based her life and child rearing decisions on how children should keep an intimate and personal relationship with their parents because she did not have this close relationship with hers.14 Another American interviewee based her parenting techniques on creativity and imagination. She wanted her children "to express themselves freely" and "to be independent by figuring out their own path themselves." She believed in guiding children at a younger age, to institute in them the values of having "good moral character", but when they got older they could pursue their own interests. These interests would make the child "free to be whoever they want and to believe in what they think is morally right".15
As for children raised in China, a classical view came from a Chinese mother and she believed in teaching her kids the key values and importance of education and family life. She stressed the rigor in the schooling system in China and how children are expected to finish their homework before doing any extra-curricular activities. To motivate her kids, she was very disciplined with them in school, by checking on grades often and meeting with their teachers. The Chinese (in her perspective) believe that a "better education calls for a better opportunity to succeed in life." She emphasized that everything her kids did was for their future and that "the tasks they accomplished were not just for the parents' satisfaction." In addition to education, family ties were highly valued as she made sure her kids were "respectful to elders and others, especially their parents." Children are not allowed to argue, they must listen if advice is given, so it can be utilized. She said all these child rearing practices have been passed down from generation to generation, they rarely change over time, and most of the teachings and beliefs come from Confucius. 16
A modern view on Chinese child rearing techniques comes from two eighteen-year-old Chinese students who were studying in America for their Senior Year. Throughout both interviews, no matter what was said, the conversation always related back to academics, as school seemed to be the only worry on their mind. They said parents are only focused on one thing: college. They drive their children to study so much that they aren't even allowed to participate in extra-curricular activities, similar to the Chinese mother. The academic workload is very rigorous, since one test determines their collegiate fate. “It is similar to the SATs in America, except we only take it once and it is the only factor that determines college. While in America, you all have grades and extra-curricular activities that also play an important role in the acceptance decision.”17 After asked how they view those who don't go to college, one replied "I envy them for their hard work to defy society and to gain success the non-traditional way."18 Even though there are many who focus in on college in China, some praise the opposition, making the community even more diverse. Many students look to college in America, to receive more freedoms in not only education, but in life too. They both agreed that the Chinese are taught to focus on the individual more than the community. In America, they know education will be key, but they can also give attention to other personal activities, including sports, clubs, and hobbies.
C. Analyzing the Patterns between Chinese and American Cultures
There are many underlying patterns and connections with Chinese and American cultures. This section analyzes the relationships between disciplinary areas, education, political implications, and sustainability of the economy. The factual information is compared across these cultures, with references to the field work. By recognizing these patterns, we can understand the ways of child rearing practices in comparison with the Chinese and American culture.
Throughout the literature review and field work we can see the relationship between Chinese and American cultures and how they affect child rearing practices. China's disciplinary actions are based on older traditions than those of America. China's is based on the teachings of Confucius and guan, while America is a mixture of cultures with man different foundations of raising children. Revealing this information shows that China is more demanding when it comes to discipline because they can't change the teachings since they are based on ancient traditions. On the other hand, America is more individualized and freedom is recognized; Americans are more lenient on disciplinary actions. Both cultures focus on the future of their children though, just in different ways. America gives their children a foundation, but then the child makes their own path for the future, while China drills the foundation, so they can succeed in their chosen fields in the future. We can conclude from the findings that if a child was to go off the expected parental path in America, the parents would be less worried for that child than if the same was to happen to a child in China. The future of children in China is based on the foundation that the parents make for them, therefore they stress the importance of their fundamental teachings so their children succeed later in life. This isn’t saying that American children won’t be successful, but if they were to go against their parents’ wishes for them in the future, they would be more understanding and willing to encourage their decisions for life.
Educationally, the two cultures differ in the number of years required to go to school. China generally requires less time spent on education than in America. Yet, the findings in the field work challenge this statement. On the perspective of being raised in China, when conducting the interviews with the two Chinese boys, it was shocking to hear the amount of attention academics is given in there. The time they spend on school work is much higher than the minimum amount required by law. Chinese childhood seems geared mainly towards educational learning whereas America's is more geared towards the balance of individual freedoms and academics. Furthermore, America and China both focus on individual realization, but in different ways. American child rearing practices include the power of freedom and choice and when choice is present there is diversity. Parents want their children to pick their own path, in reference back to the American interviewee7, but they also want them to benefit their community. China has had a long success rate of education, so it is more knowledgeable for them to keep their educational practices authentic to their ancient teachings. This shows that China's parent rearing practices in education have been passed down from generation to generation, making it more common for their children to use the same techniques used by their parents on their own children. This is in accordance to the Chinese interviewee8 and how she talked about the importance of keeping the same practices since she believed they were the most successful.
The political implications have a huge effect on parent rearing practices in both cultures. China has a limitation on how many kids they can have in their families from the One Child Policy. Since they can only have one child, people may think that one child is spoiled and given more attention, but ultimately they are not since they become more aware of others around them instead of just their family. On the other hand, they do have more of family based understanding and respect since it is taught from Confucius and stressed in the Chinese culture. America is limited because they have many regulations on education with the Department of Education and the NCLB policy. These educational limitations effect how American parents mold their raising techniques to fit within their styles. This makes them focus on school, yet it can also make them repent against it since whenever something is forced upon people who don't have a strong disciplinary system, they can become rebellious. Overall, politics can make parents follow certain rules, which can lead their children to either be more rebellious or more attentive.
In both the Chinese and American cultures, they share the economical issues that affect child rearing practices. The economy is always changing, and today it is putting stress on parents, even mothers, to get jobs and go out into the workforce. This effects the time spent with their children leading to an effect on their relationships. Less time spent with one's children can result in more disobedience and lesser values learned, since there is only a small period of time in child development, certain concepts will stick with them for the rest of their life. This can be present in both the Chinese and American cultures, which can be a negative influence on child rearing techniques.
Through the information gathered from copious amounts of research, we can finally put in perspective what child rearing techniques are in China and America, and how they are related and compared to one another. Table 1: Comparisons and Contrasts between Chinese and American Cultures with Emphasis on their Effectiveness on Child Rearing Practices” shows 4 areas that research was gathered in on the far left column followed by the Chinese practices, American practices, and what both cultures do in respect to child rearing. The chart concludes the research in a way that is more understandable in a visual format. Following the chart, is a summary conclusion which goes into a further extent of what this information can provide us with in the future.
By seeking what are the Chinese child rearing practices in comparison to American child rearing practices we can conclude that they have similarities and differences in at least 4 areas of culture: disciplinary areas, education, political implications, and economic values. After collecting research and analyzing the comparisons and contrasts between each culture, the underlying patterns can help people see that these two cultures are connected in ways that are not usually apparent. This comparison of cultures can help our global society as a whole think about making advances in child rearing practices, so they are more beneficial and effective for child development. We can see the weaknesses in each culture and now we can use them to create an ethnical solution to the question on how to raise children in an effective and meaningful way. As a general statement of how to balance child rearing to make an ideal situation, we should combine the rigorous academic coursework of the Chinese culture with the individual freedoms of the American culture. This ethno-methodological way of creating new knowledge from already stated knowledge can lead way to advancing research on the implications of child rearing from a cross cultural point of view. In finding this balance, general child rearing techniques would not be biased based on culture, since it would be a mixture of cultures involved in the result. There are always ways to improve society across a global perspective, therefore by working together the world can find a general solution on how to raise children effectively, no matter what culture one is in. Take note, that each culture has limitations on the information presented, since this does not represent the entire community in each culture, but it is a general overview of the popular practices and techniques within them. Expanding man’s knowledge of Chinese and American child rearing techniques is just one way we will continue to further advancements in cultural studies.
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