I am still learning A LOT about life in China, so this is by no means comprehensive or accurate universally, only as gleaned from my limited experience and conversations with parents and grandparents, observations in settings involving children, and reading.
China is much more a community-oriented culture, where the preferences and needs of the family outweigh that of the individual.
There is often only one child being raised by two sets of grandparents (and the parents, who are often both working full time 6-7 days a week, sometimes in separate cities from each other and even from their child).
One child means one is loved, one is doted on, and one is protected from any risk of harm.
If that child is injured, it could be catastrophic.
And for many in Sichuan and Yushu after the earthquakes, it was very tragic.
The child’s health must be maximized and enhanced at all costs from the very beginning.
You get advertisements for things like human or bovine colostrum to take as a supplement when you’re pregnant.
The pregnant mother is much more treated with gentleness and care than in the US, in my anecdotal experience!
Ultrasounds are done to screen for any possible birth defects, and if any are noted, or the mom has a virus, or some other condition posing real or imagined risk, abortions may be recommended and then try again for a healthy child.
Mom pretty much doesn’t leave the house by herself after 6 months, she must go arm in arm with a friend or relative to watch over her.
Babies are oohed and aahed over and coddled to the max.
Nobody leaves the house for the first 30 days, and the mother is fed all sorts of concoctions to enhance milk production.
How dare you take that baby out with less than 4 layers of clothing? Winter or summer!
Formulas for children up to age 10 or 12 are sold in the children’s aisle at the store, with ARA and DHA added for extra brain enhancement.
There is a lot of competition for entrance into the best middle schools, so the child can then go to the best high schools, so that they can score well enough on the college entrance exam to qualify for the best university.
The pressure starts in kindergarten.
Our language school offers children’s English classes for 4-5 year olds, and attendance has grown astronomically in only a few months.
After a long day at kindergarten, from around 800 till 445, the child goes to English class.
Dinner was at school, so that’s taken care of.
My friend who teaches one of these classes, says some days it is very obvious that both the moms and the kids are exhausted by learning past 6 pm.
Yet in talking to my Chinese mother friends, they feel an obligation to give their child every advantage that the other kids have, otherwise they will get behind quickly.
There is no doubt that schoolchildren work very hard.
Elementary and middle school children often go to extra tutoring classes evenings and all weekend.
High schoolers attend class 6 or even 7 days a week, come home around 9 pm at night.
Parents will do their child a disservice if they don’t push them and themselves to help their child succeed in life.
In a country of 1.3 billion, getting a spot in school or in the workplace is often a matter of survival of the fittest.
Every activity is weighed for the possible benefit it will have for the child’s education.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to tutor somebody’s child (my friend was even offered pay to tutor a 1 year old) in English.
And on the other end of the spectrum, Chinese culture traditionally says that the younger support the elderly.
There is no government sponsored social security. Your child is your retirement plan.
Parents put a lot of effort and money into educating their children, taking care of their financial needs, and often buy the young newlywed couple their home and furnish it.
In return, later in life, the children return the favor.
It is still considered very shameful for a senior to end up in a nursing home.
Children often take care of their elderly ailing parents at home until their death.
Adult children often make enormous sacrifices for their older relatives (parent, uncle, great aunt), sometimes encouraged by other family members to give up a lucrative job to make sure the person is well cared for.
So loosely translated, loving your child means watching over them incessantly, giving them all they need and pushing them when they’re little so they can achieve educational and material success in a highly competitive environment, and also love you in return as you enter your harvest years.
I might argue that the Western-American way of showing love is on the extreme individual choice and feel-good side of the spectrum.
“It’s ok, major in basket-weaving because you enjoy it, even if it won’t get you a paying job in life. We’ll gladly pay your tuition.”
The Eastern-Chinese way may be more on the pragmatic end of the spectrum.
“You will study __ at __ University because it will bring you the best job and your life will be better in the long run because your family is supporting this decision and thinks it is best for all of us.”
I think that in every culture mothers, and families, love their children with equal intensity.
And are equally self-critical, in some respects.
As an American friend just said, American parenting is criticized for bringing up media-dazed, spoiled, overweight and selfish children.
I have asked some of my Chinese friends about how Chinese parents love their children, and they often say–surprise–they’re too spoiled, selfish and overweight.
The expression of love varies, and the types of sacrifices and indulgences made vary among cultures.
And we tend to criticize what is not consistent with our own opinions of what is best (which is why we are all raising our kids a certain way and not that other way).
As I live here, I hope I am becoming less arrogant about my own child-rearing philosophy, and more open to learning from those wonderful mothers I am befriending here in our host country.
And maybe I can share with them some of my opinions, small successes and mistakes as well.
We are all on this journey together and it is foolish to think that one culture has the overhand on the rest of the world.
After all, God’s character and nature is reflected in every branch of human culture and ethnicity in different ways.
By learning from Him and each other, we can hopefully grown in wisdom as we care for these precious treasures He has entrusted to each of us.