Chinese City ‘Grades’ Parents on Child-Rearing Skills

After Xi Jinping vowed to turn China’s schools into “strongholds of party leadership,” translations of Western classics are facing new restrictions.
FRED DUFOUR / AFP / GETTY

A school district in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou has created a system for “grading” parents on their child-rearing skills, using a point system that gives credit for attending “parenting school.”

The Shangcheng district of Hangzhou launched its “digital parenting school” in 2020, offering “free classes on how to care for and communicate with children up to 15 years old, with specific topics designed for each age group,” the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported

“For children in preschool, there’s a class on how to handle an angry child. For elementary school parents a class on cultivating empathy. High school parents can learn about how to communicate with their children during puberty,” the SCMP observed.

The program added classes on “exercising at home, epidemic prevention, and psychological counselling” during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, and now it is gearing up to rate parents on a point scale, with points awarded for attending each parenting class. 100 points earn a “star,” so 500 points would be needed to become a “five-star parent.”

While the SCMP found some Chinese social media users who claimed to appreciate state assistance with parenting, others braved China’s massive Internet censorship apparatus to express their unease with a parent-scoring system administered by the officials of a brutal authoritarian government.

“There’s no family education theory or specific methodology that can help you cope with your children throughout their lives. Even a professional educator or counsellor cannot master everything. What’s the meaning of a parent taking classes that scratch the surface?” one education blogger asked.

The school system insisted the parent training program is “voluntary” and no one can “fail” under the parent grading system, but it is easy to see how the “star” rating of parents could be folded into China’s Orwellian “social credit system,” which combines pervasive electronic surveillance with point scores for “good citizenship” – and very real consequences for those who notch “poor” citizenship ratings.

As the SCMP observed, for all the talk of “voluntary” participation and zero consequences for failure, the school district already passed out 220,000 “parenting certificates” before implementing its point-scoring system, and it hopes to expand the system across the entire province. The system is already growing larger and becoming more bureaucratized.

Even if the social credit system does not start slamming the boarding doors to trains in their faces, Chinese parents would feel a great deal of social pressure not to be “one-star” or “unrated” stewards of their children. 

Some Chinese parents lean toward obsession with their children, to the point where even the American notion of “helicopter parenting” didn’t cover it, so a new term was created: “Chicken parenting.”

The phrase is derived from an old fad among Chinese to inject themselves with chicken blood as a remedy for various illnesses; now it refers to parents as hyper-anxious about the success of their kids as their grandparents were about warding off diseases with chicken plasma infusions. Chicken parents would be absolutely mortified to receive anything less than a five-star grade from government officials for their efforts.

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