Thursday, September 21, 2006

The gilded age in China

The Times reports on nouveau riche parents in China and the special classes and activities lavished on their kids, such as private golf lessons and a "junior MBA" course. This is in a country where rural kids often cannot complete their schooling due to lack of funds. More evidence of the overpowering march of globalization.

...Now the race starts early, with an emphasis not on ideology but on the skills and experiences the children will need in the elite life they are expected to lead. In addition to early golf training, which has become wildly popular, affluent parents are enrolling their children in everything from ballet and private music lessons, to classes in horse riding, ice-skating, skiing and even polo.

The intense interest in lifestyle training speaks not just to parents’ concern for their children’s futures but also to a general sense of social insecurity among China’s newly rich.

...FasTracKids [the "junior MBA" program], which started in Shanghai in 2004, has since opened two more outlets here and another in Guangzhou, and it is planning a fifth in Hangzhou.

The private program’s after-school sessions are held in brightly decorated classrooms, where fewer than a dozen children, typically 4 or 5 years old, are taught by as many as three teachers. The program emphasizes scientific learning, problem solving and, most attractively for many parents, assertiveness.

“Parents like myself are worrying about China becoming a steadily more competitive society,” said Zhong Yu, 36, a manufacturing supervisor whose wife is a senior accountant with an international firm and whose son 7-year-old son has been enrolled in the junior M.B.A. classes. “Every day we see stories in the newspapers about graduates unable to find good jobs. Education in China is already good in the core subjects, but I want my son to have more creative thinking, because basic knowledge isn’t sufficient anymore.”

Mr. Zhong said that for all of their high salaries, he and his wife had very demanding jobs with little leisure time, and the bottom line for them was “wanting our son to have a better life than we have had.”

To some extent, the trend is driven by a collision of rising affluence and China’s one-child policy, which forces parents to focus all their energy and resources on a single child. But experts say there is more at work, that it reflects fear of a new kind of rat race, in which the entire society is hustling for advancement.

“At the top of the pyramid will be exceptionally strong graduates from top American or European universities who become a sort of ‘international freemen,’ ” said Qiu Huadong, an author and editor who has written about the new elite. “They work several years in China, and then they go abroad for a while, shifting locations every few years. At the bottom of the pyramid will be those who didn’t get such an outstanding education, and they’ll be sweating and bleeding for China and globalization.”

Other experts say that for many others, the grooming schools, study abroad and lessons in elite sports like golf and polo are as much about a gnawing sense of social insecurity as they are about getting ahead.

“Americans respect people who came from nothing and made something of themselves, and they also respect rich people,” Mr. Wang added. “In China, people generally don’t respect rich people, because there is a strong feeling that they are lacking in ethics. These new rich not only want money, they want people to respect them in the future.”

1 comment:

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