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Home  /  Inside China  /  Wolf Dad accompanies Tiger Mom, though most Chinese are trying to escape the parenting 'zoo'
Wolf Dad accompanies Tiger Mom, though most Chinese are trying to escape the parenting 'zoo' print version
The Chinese 'Wolf Dad' is a new figure in the 'parenting world', promoting strict and violent discipline. Although he is trying to represent traditional Chinese culture, the Wolf Dad is mostly corresponding to modern values, while the Chinese society is overall regarding this Wolf as a hinder to its positive development.  

The strict education guidelines of Tiger Mom (hu ma 虎妈) have stirred up parents worldwide almost a year ago. The Harvard professor now has a companion, Xiao Baiyou (萧百佑), who published this summer his book 'Therefore, Beijing University Siblings' ('所以北大兄妹'), promoting his violent educating techniques. In recent weeks, Xiao has been interviewed in the Chinese media, stirring up new debates and angering millions of Chinese netizens.

Wolf Dad (狼爸 lang ba) believes that up to age 12 children are expressing an animal side, and thus cannot be educated gently through a reward system. Spanking is the solution. If a child is late to come home, opens the refrigerator without permission or fails an exam, a long lecture, combined with corporal punishment (only on wrists or legs) is necessary. A detailed menu of the conversion ratio between the 'sin title' and 'number of spanks' is provided beforehand, seen by Wolf Dad as one of his greatest works. The weapon, by the way, is a feather duster, which Xiao has proudly presented during his latest interviews.

While Amy Chua emphasizes the guidelines she has developed, Wolf Dad expounds on the importance of physical discipline. Both express a nostalgic voice, reviving a traditional Chinese format of education. In a world where permissive parenting results in pampered, unsuccessful, and in worse cases, drug using and sexual active children, the Tiger and the Wolf are showing how order can be maintained. The longing for traditional Chinese culture has been expressed in both books, making readers believe that such parenting is indeed bringing old values back to life.

A more attentive look discovers that Tiger Mom and Wolf Dad are working deep within a modern capitalist framework, and using its vocabulary to stir up and tempt readers. The concept of 'success' is paramount throughout the books, elevated as an objective of child raising, as well as a stamp that the Tiger's ten commandments and the Wolf's 'stick parenting' (棍棒教育gunbang jiaoyu) were proven productive. Amy Chua's has produced gifted girls, while Xiao is bragging about the fact that three of his children enrolled in Beida (Beijing University), a word that immediately makes Chinese sense jealousy and admiration. The emphasis of 'successful' children corresponds here to 'successful' parenting. While the stick beating was indeed more common in the pasat, through Wolf Dad's manifesto, it is conducted in a 'scientific' manner with an eye towards the contemporary meanings of success.

Americans (who are much more acquainted with the Tiger than they are with the Wolf) are outraged, yet also seduced by Chua's book. Besides the theme of 'success production', some readers even exaggerate by associating the contemporary growth of the Chinese State's power with such strict education, as if all Chinese are robots, who do nothing but study and play the piano.

In reality, attitudes of readers in US and China aren't so different. In an age of a capitalist society, comprised of 80hou and 90hou (post 1980s, 1990s generations) singletons, over-indulged, maladjusted, Chinese children are the prevalent negative 'species' that Wolf Dad is condemning. However, the Chinese society doesn't welcome him with open hands.

A Chinese internet impression of Wolf Dad, the feather duster, and the road to Beida 北大

China has put great efforts in promoting 'quality education' (素质教育 suzhi jiaoyu) in the last two decades. While this concept corresponds to 'success', it also signifies the incorporation of Western psychological liberal theories concerning the improvement of child education. The Ministry of Education, teachers and parents, mainly in developed urbanities, are all influenced by China's economic and demographic transformation, trying to 'produce' happy children with a growing sense of individual creativity. China is trying to implement education reforms that will reduce the emphasis of exams (hence reduce exam-pressure) and will show greater attention to the emotional world of children. This is not only an outcome of a society dominated by singletons, but also of the importation of Western scientific theories, bringing China in-line with a vision of global 'modernity'.

Therefore, while some Chinese are welcoming discipline as a revival of good old values, in an age of confusion, most mainland residents want the shake the Tiger and the Wolf, who are seen as backward obstacles of a developing society, off their back. Journalists, scholars, and experts are expressing their discontent of the Wolf Dad's doctrine. They argue that he is a result of beating parents, who wished to continue the 'beating cycle', or that it is easier to enroll in Beida from Hong Kong (where the Xiao family resides), than from mainland China, were mentioned in order to undermine Xiao Baiyou's insights.

Furthermore, some voices wonder whether a superficial outcome, such as enrolling one's children in a prestigious university, is, in fact, a synonym of success. Some also consider the emotional outcomes of a beaten child and suggest aht 'different children have different emotional needs and therefore should be disciplined differently'. A column addressed the issue of Wolf Dad's backwardness more directly, claiming that in Europe and America he would be looked down upon, and that overall, there is a big difference between 'strict' and 'violent'.

Perhaps political correctness will prevent Wolf Dad from becoming a big discussion precursor in the West, like Tiger Mom was, though both of them will continue to represent East-West education difference to non-Chinese readers. Meanwhile, in modern China, both of them are mostly condemned, while liberal education theories are highlighted.

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