Cover page

Series page

China Today series

  1. Greg Austin, Cyber Policy in China
  2. Steven M. Goldstein, China and Taiwan
  3. David S. G. Goodman, Class in Contemporary China
  4. Stuart Harris, China's Foreign Policy
  5. Elaine Jeffreys with Haiqing Yu, Sex in China
  6. You Ji, China's Military Transformation
  7. Michael Keane, Creative Industries in China
  8. Joe C. B. Leung and Yuebin Xu, China's Social Welfare
  9. Orna Naftali, Children in China
  10. Pitman B. Potter, China's Legal System
  11. Pun Ngai, Migrant Labor in China
  12. Xuefei Ren, Urban China
  13. Judith Shapiro, China's Environmental Challenges 2nd edition
  14. Alvin Y. So and Yin-wah Chu, The Global Rise of China
  15. Teresa Wright, Party and State in Post-Mao China
  16. LiAnne Yu, Consumption in China
  17. Xiaowei Zang, Ethnicity in China
Title page

Copyright page



1894–1895First Sino-Japanese War
1911Fall of the Qing dynasty
1912Republic of China established under Sun Yat-sen
1927Split between Nationalists (KMT) and Communists (CCP); civil war begins
1934–1935CCP under Mao Zedong evades KMT in Long March
December 1937Nanjing Massacre
1937–1945Second Sino-Japanese War
1945–1949Civil war between KMT and CCP resumes
October 1949KMT retreats to Taiwan; Mao founds People's Republic of China (PRC)
1950–1953Korean War
1953–1957First Five-Year Plan; PRC adopts Soviet-style economic planning
1954First constitution of the PRC and first meeting of the National People's Congress
1956–1957Hundred Flowers Movement, a brief period of open political debate
1957Anti-Rightist Movement
1958–1960Great Leap Forward, an effort to transform China through rapid industrialization and collectivization
March 1959Tibetan Uprising in Lhasa; Dalai Lama flees to India
1959–1961Three Hard Years, widespread famine with tens of millions of deaths
1960Sino-Soviet split
1962Sino-Indian War
October 1964First PRC atomic bomb detonation
1966–1976Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution; Mao reasserts power
February 1972President Richard Nixon visits China; “Shanghai Communiqué” pledges to normalize US–China relations
September 1976Death of Mao Zedong
October 1976Ultra-Leftist Gang of Four arrested and sentenced
December 1978Deng Xiaoping assumes power; launches Four Modernizations and economic reforms
1978One-Child family planning policy introduced
1979United States and China establish formal diplomatic ties; Deng Xiaoping visits Washington
1979PRC invades Vietnam
1982Census reports PRC population at more than one billion
December 1984Margaret Thatcher co-signs Sino-British Joint Declaration agreeing to return Hong Kong to China in 1997
1986Compulsory Education Law of the People's Republic of China introduced
1989Tiananmen Square protests culminate in June 4 military crackdown
1991Law of the People's Republic of China on Protection of Minors introduced
1992Deng Xiaoping's Southern Inspection Tour re-energizes economic reforms
1993–2002Jiang Zemin is president of PRC, continues economic growth agenda
1994“Outline on the Implementation of Patriotic Education” published
1999“Education for Quality” reform plan introduced nationwide
November 2001WTO accepts China as member
2002–2012Hu Jintao, General-Secretary CCP (and President of PRC from 2003)
2002–2003SARS outbreak concentrated in PRC and Hong Kong
2006PRC supplants US as largest CO2 emitter
August 2008Summer Olympic Games in Beijing
2010Shanghai World Exposition
2012Xi Jinping appointed General-Secretary of the CCP (and President of PRC from 2013)


My research and writing of this book would not have been possible without the generous support of many individuals. Primarily, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the editors at Polity Press. Emma Longstaff first approached me with the idea for the book, and I am extremely grateful for the faith she has placed in me, as well as for her enthusiasm and helpful guidance throughout the early phases of the project. My deep appreciation also goes to Jonathan Skerrett at Polity for suggesting many concrete improvements, and to two anonymous reviewers who provided encouraging feedback and thoughtful comments on the draft manuscript.

Many people, colleagues, and friends, have given me ideas and opportunities to explore the themes that appear in the book through personal conversations, seminars, and symposia. At various stages, I benefited greatly from conversations and discussions with Vanessa Fong, Andrew Kipnis, Terry Woronov, Esther C.L. Goh, Sabine Frühstück, and Dafna Zur. Special thanks go to my research collaborator in China, Yang Junhong, whose enduring friendship, help, and advice have been a source of encouragement throughout the years.

I would like to acknowledge the sustained support of my colleagues at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Yuri Pines, Gideon Shelach, Michal Biran, Lihi Yariv-Laor, Jooyeon Rhee, and Nissim Otmazgin. I am also deeply indebted to my students, Shachar Kessler and Hagar Iron, both of whom provided enthusiastic and unstinting help as my research assistants on this project.

Most of all, I want to thank my father, Gideon, who has always been an inspiration, as well as my husband, Dean, and my daughters, Eleanor and Tamara, for putting up with the long hours of writing. Without their love, patience, and understanding, I would not have completed this book, and I dedicate this book to them.


The period of life prior to adulthood is always a time of dramatic change. It is during childhood that social and gender roles are learned and personal identity is formed. But the perception of these changes in different historical and cultural contexts and the way these perceptions are felt in the lives of children of different social backgrounds is far from uniform. This book explores how recent processes of social and economic change are re-shaping the experience of childhood and the subjectivities of children in the People's of Republic of China, a country that has undergone a period of exceptionally rapid transformations, reversals, and innovations over the past decades.

Due to rapid economic development and demographic transitions, especially since the implementation of the One-Child Policy in the late 1970s, the size of China's child population has declined in recent decades and particularly over the past ten years or so. Yet China still has the largest population of children in the world. According to data from the country's Sixth National Census conducted in 2010, people under the age of 18 make up 21 percent of the nation's population and number 279 million (National Bureau of Statistics of China 2013). The massive size of the country and of its child population render any attempt to generalize about the nature of Chinese childhood or the experiences of individual children difficult.

Recognizing this limitation, this book nonetheless seeks to identify some of the major transformations that have occurred in the lives of children and in the meanings of childhood in post-1978 China. These transformations include the rising importance of global, scientific models of childrearing and education, and the growing attention to children's personal rights and psychological needs – developments that in turn contribute to Chinese children's increasing empowerment and individualization at home and at school.

These developments are similar in many respects to those that took place in liberal, capitalist societies from the beginning of the eighteenth century onwards (see Ariès 1962; Zelizer 1985; Stephens 1995; James et al. 1998; Heywood 2001; Archard 2004; Walkerdine 2005). What makes the Chinese case unique is not just the distinct political and socioeconomic conditions under which these processes have occurred, but also the exceptional pace and scale of the changes. As this book will show, a modern notion of children as autonomous individuals separate from the family and the kinship group had already begun to form in China during the republican and socialist periods. This idea became much more salient, however, following the introduction of market reforms, the One-Child Policy, and the Open Door Policy in the late 1970s. Due to the country's rapid demographic shift to an aging society, contemporary Chinese children have in a relatively short period been provided with an increased “scarcity value” and have been viewed as more deserving of precious attention. The emergence of a globalized consumer culture in post-socialist China, particularly since the 1990s, has further contributed to children's empowerment and individualization. New products, media, and services geared specifically towards the needs and interests of the young have reached the market, and children have won a new role as independent consumers and as key agents of cultural interpretation and social change.

These developments do not necessarily imply that contemporary Chinese children are “freer” or “happier” compared to their predecessors. The introduction of market reforms and the country's increasing integration within the global market economy may have provided many children, especially those in urban areas, with better life conditions, but these processes have also contributed to a growing commercialization and standardization of Chinese childhood. As elsewhere in the post-industrial world, the lives of many children in China are also becoming more regimented to suit the demands of a neoliberal market economy while children's subjectivities are increasingly embedded in the normalizing regimes of modern psychological science.

Further, like adults, contemporary Chinese children do not escape structural constraints (see Bluebond-Langner and Korbin 2007: 242). Their ability to exercise their personal agency in the spheres of education, consumption, and family relations is crucially shaped by their socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as by their gender and ethnic identities. One of the central arguments I wish to make in this book is that the recent transformation in the nature of Chinese childhood and the increasing empowerment and individualization of Chinese children have been most evident among the ranks of urban, middle-class families of Han descent. Among these relatively affluent city families, a majority of children are now singletons whose lack of siblings has given them more power vis-à-vis their teachers, parents, and grandparents. Furthermore, urban caregivers who belong to – or wish to become members of – China's newly formed middle classes also tend to encourage their only-son or only-daughter to assert their individuality while viewing children's empowerment as a sign of their own “civility” and “progressivity”.

In contrast, with the decline of social security and the widening gap between rich and poor in China, many rural families have to scramble to ensure their basic economic survival. Unlike urban boys and girls of middle-class backgrounds, China's migrant children living with their parents in the city, and rural children or ethnic minority children residing in the country's poorer areas, have also been much less able to assert their personal interests and desires at home or at school. These children must struggle for the attainment of a full course of basic education and a physically and emotionally sound environment in which to develop.

Recent transformations in the nature of Chinese childhood are marked by additional contradictions and dilemmas. Even in the country's urban, more affluent areas, children's growing independence and consumer power have given rise to much apprehension among adults who fear that these developments might lead to moral chaos, social instability, or the loss of a distinctive cultural and national identity among China's young. As government institutions, teachers, and care­givers attempt to grapple with these perceived threats, they draw on – and negotiate with – divergent cultural models of childrearing and education.

These models are informed not only by global, neoliberal prescriptions for producing “high-quality”, individualized citizens and workers for the new market economy, but also by a deep sense of nostalgia for the collectivist, egalitarian ethos of the Maoist period. Contemporary educators and caregivers further draw on the indigenous precepts of filial piety. Though this long-held ethos has undergone considerable mutations and modifications in the modern and contemporary period, it nonetheless continues to offer people in China a meaningful framework for raising a child who would become not only a successful laborer and consumer but also – and no less importantly – a moral, caring person.

The Study of Childhood as a Social Construction

Unlike biological immaturity, “childhood” is neither a natural nor a universal feature of human groups but a specific structural and cultural component of societies (James and Prout 1997 [1990]: 8). Now a common theoretical premise for researchers working in the field of childhood studies, the idea of childhood as a social construction is in fact a relatively recent theoretical development. Until the late 1970s, the anthropological study of childhood largely concentrated on how childrearing practices accounted for a particular “cultural personality”; on how socialization practices allowed a person to learn the ways of a given society or social group; or on linguistic and cognitive development in children (Hardman 1973; Bluebond-Langner and Korbin 2007). This body of work has supplied rich evidence for the variety of childrearing practices across different cultures. It has nonetheless overlooked the fact that childhood is a social category that is historically constructed and has also failed to consider that children may themselves contribute to the production of their own social lives (James and Prout 1997 [1990]; Schwartzman 2001; James 2007).

Recognizing these weaknesses and informed by developments in history, sociology, gender studies, and cultural studies, scholars have in recent decades begun to formulate a new conceptual framework for the study of childhood worldwide. This new framework posits that every society must recognize children as distinguishable from adults since such a recognition plays a crucial role in assuring physical care and socialization for vulnerable, immature human beings (Stephens 1995; Corsaro 1997: 53). However, different societies may at different times hold unique notions concerning the duration of childhood. Societies may also differ in the perceived features that distinguish “children” from “adults,” and in the significance these features acquire in particular social and political contexts (Caputo 1995; Archard 2004: 31).

The study of childhood as a social construction therefore aims to analyze how different discursive practices produce different childhoods, “each and all of which are ‘real’ within their own regime of truth” (James and Prout 1997 [1990]: 27). When asking which set of attributes are accorded to children in a given time and place, scholars recognize that in all societies, notions of childhood are shaped in relation to structural variables, such as rates of fertility and life expectancy, organization of family life and kinship patterns, and different ideologies of care and philosophies of need and dependency. They further consider how children's assigned attributes are intertwined with issues of gender, ethnicity, and class (Scheper-Hughes 1992; Jenks 1996).

Building on these theoretical insights, this book regards Chinese childhood not as a singular, uniform social construct, but rather as composed of distinct multiple categories that are products of ideational, demographic, and socioeconomics processes. These in turn shape the lives of boys and girls, Han and ethnic minority, and rural, urban, and migrant children in potentially different ways. Moreover, the category of childhood in China and elsewhere has important political, ideological, and social uses. Within the home, childhood plays a central role in the organization of production and consumption and in the transmission not only of genes, but also of ideas, identities, and property. Outside the home, childhood constitutes the primary site of pedagogy and cultural learning (Scheper-Hughes and Sargent 1998). State protection of children and the extension of this protection to the home can appear as a sign of humanity, benevolence and enlightenment of the modern nation-state. In fact, it also marks the extension of state surveillance and control to the private sphere and to the individual “souls” of children and their caregivers (Rose 1989: 122). This book therefore examines childhood in China as a primary nexus of mediation between the state and the family, between public norms and private life, and between “consumption and production, objective need and subjective desire,” distinctions on which the post-socialist party-state and the new market economy now depend (see Stephens 1995: 6; Scheper-Hughes and Sargent 1998: 1).

To understand fully the roles Chinese children play within the moral and political economy of the nation-state, we must also recognize that these roles are intimately linked to global forces and structures. Particularly since the 1970s, globalization processes, defined as the acceleration and intensification of social, cultural, political, and economic links across frontiers, have led to “a heightened entanglement of the global and the local” (Inda and Rosaldo 2002: 9). In recent decades, childhood scholars have begun to ask how this local–global entanglement shapes the experiences of childhood in different national and cultural contexts. Does the extensive borrowing of pedagogical theories and childrearing practices across national borders means that we can speak of “a globalization and standardization of childhood”? Or is it more useful to examine how global models interact with indigenous notions of education and care to open “a third space,” characterized by “heterogenization and mutual imbrication” (Bhabha 1994: 218; Inda and Rosaldo 2002: 22)? Alternatively, should we discard the dichotomy of the “global–local” altogether? After all, the argument that the global entails homogenization whereas the local preserves heterogeneity and difference includes an implicit, false assumption that the differences in local childcare notions and practices are in some sense natural, or at least that their origin remains beyond question. Such a view can easily devolve into a kind of “primordialism that fixes and romanticizes social relations and identities” (Hardt and Negri 2001: 44; see also Appadurai 1990; Featherstone 1990). The dichotomy of the global and the local in the field of childhood studies is further complicated by the fact that a relationship of coexistence as well as creative interaction between the transnational and the indigenous may actually match the everyday experiences and desires of many local populations (Hannerz 2002 [1989]: 42).

These broader theoretical concerns have also informed the burgeoning field of childhood studies in China, a country that, over the past three-and-a-half decades, has undergone a major transformation in almost all areas of life. Economic reforms initiated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1978 have entailed de-collectivization in agriculture and relaxation of state controls in urban productive sectors. These changes in turn have given rise to entrepreneurial experimentation and a renewed emphasis on profit and prosperity. Since the late 1970s, the country has also witnessed an increased openness to the outside world. China's reintegration within the global economy has brought not only capital investments, renewed trade links and technology exchanges, but also increased flows of people, ideas, and cultural products across its borders.

Beginning in the 1990s, China's economy has experienced sustained growth and rising per capita income. The combined forces of market reforms, the ensuing relaxation of internal migration restrictions by the Chinese government, and the sweeping trend of globalization have also led to an unprecedented growth of economically driven rural-to-urban migration. Compared with the results of the 2000 population census, in 2010, the proportion of urban residents in the country rose by 13.46 percent while the size of the rural population – which in the early 1980s was estimated at 80 percent of the total population – shrank to 50.32 percent (National Bureau of Statistics of China 2011).

These developments have reduced the poverty level in China and have brought prosperity to many Chinese citizens. However, they have also been accompanied by acute problems, such as a growing regional and class inequality, the explosive growth of a migrant labor underclass, wide-scale environmental destruction, ethnic unrest, and a loss of security and jobs for many state sector urban employees. Partly to alleviate these uncertainties and conflicts, the Chinese government has, since the 1990s, initiated sweeping legal reforms which have expanded the scope and exercise of the rights of citizens. Over the past decade or so, the CCP leadership has also asserted its intent to build a sustainable “harmonious society” (hexie shehui) by focusing on the needs and interests of regular citizens rather than on rapid economic growth alone. Indeed, in the reform era (1978–present) the party-state has gradually withdrawn from many areas of social and economic life. In pursuit of what the CCP has termed a “socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics,” mechanisms of state control, such as the household registration and work-unit systems have weakened; power has been decentralized in favor of more regional autonomy; and a majority of the rural population is now practicing “village democracy.”

Nonetheless, these developments have not precipitated large-scale political reform; China is still governed by a one-party system, and organized opposition to the party remains banned. Further, while reform-era leaders have gradually moved to disengage the government from control over land, labor, and markets, they have also devised new ways of insinuating the state into the private lives of Chinese citizens. The launch of the One-Child Policy in the late 1970s, which aimed to turn China into a powerful and modern country and to “raise the quality (suzhi)” of the nation, signifies perhaps more than anything else the intent of the post-socialist party-state to continue to play a prominent role in the lives of individuals and families in China.

Children in Contemporary China: Key Themes and Theoretical Considerations

In recent decades, scholars have begun to explore the implications of these broader transformations for the nature of Chinese childhood, and the political deployment of children by the nation-state in the age of market reforms, economic globalization, and the One-Child Policy. Some have argued that Chinese state policies towards children and their education reflect the ascendancy of global, neoliberal paradigms of care which aim to foster children as self-governing, individualistic flexible laborers and consumers (see, e.g., Greenhalgh and Winckler 2005; Greenhalgh 2011).

Others posit that contemporary Chinese childrearing and pedagogical paradigms may reflect the construction of an increasingly influential “ethic of autonomy” (Zhang 2008; Yan 2011). But they also cohere with alternative models of childcare and education, which may be informed by Confucian, authoritarian, and/or (neo)socialist goals and techniques (see, in particular, Anagnost 1997; Fong 2004b, 2007a; Kipnis 2006, 2008, 2011b; Woronov 2007b, 2009a; Hansen 2015; Kuan 2015).

Building on these important insights, this book explores the interaction between current discussions about children's care and education, and the shifting nature of power, morality, and governance in post-socialist China. It recognizes that contemporary ideas about raising and educating the young in China draw much of their inspiration and legitimation from global models that in recent decades have been dominated by a neoliberal ideology. Children everywhere are being prepared for participation in a rapidly changing adult world by fostering their ability for self-governance, their autonomy, and their creativity to ensure that society has a sufficiently flexible body of “human capital” (Stephens 1995: 20).

Contemporary public thinking and child-related policies in China are crucially informed by this ideology. However, Chinese understandings of global neoliberal models also reflect historical and cultural-specific notions of social order and disorder, citizenship and personhood. As these notions are themselves undergoing change in the post-socialist era, a new concept of children as autonomous, entrepreneurial individuals is increasingly evident in educational publications, government policies, and media articulations. However, this concept co-exists with a nationalistic ethos that subsumes individual children to state projects of “national rejuvenation”. It is also partially deflected by a nostalgic harkening back to the socialist, more frugal morality of the Maoist period, and by long-held folk beliefs concerning the proper way to care for and educate the young.

In exploring the tensions and contradictions that characterize contemporary Chinese thinking about children and childhood, the book further considers how idealized visions of the child and the person are applied to children of both genders, and how Chinese caregivers from diverse social backgrounds respond to new official and media discourses of childhood. Do parents and grandparents of different locales and age cohorts perceive the upbringing of children in a similar way? If not, how can we account for the differences and how do these differences affect the experiences of boys and girls of different backgrounds? No less importantly, how do children themselves perceive their lives and negotiate “worlds that they create for themselves (such as peer groups), worlds others create for them (e.g., schools), and worlds in concert with others, such as families, marketplaces, and neighborhoods” (Bluebond-Langner and Korbin 2007: 245)?

To address these questions, I draw on empirical data presented by a growing number of studies published since the 1980s in the fields of sociology and anthropology, education, social history, cultural studies, and social work, while seeking to identify and analyze some of the emergent themes and theoretical currents within the burgeoning body of work on contemporary Chinese childhood. The discussion further relies on the results of my own ethnographic work conducted among Chinese children, schools, and families since the mid-2000s, and on the analysis of Chinese-language primary sources, including government, media, and academic publications which have appeared in the PRC in the past several decades.

Some caveats are in order. Due to practical limitations, this volume focuses on childhoods in the Chinese mainland, where the social, political, and economic conditions of the socialist revolution have shaped the lives of caregivers and children in distinct ways and where notions of childhood in many respects differ from those found in Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Chinese diaspora communities. That said, the book does on occasion refer to scholarship on children in Taiwan or Hong Kong, when such work can provide a useful conceptual framework for a discussion of mainland notions and practices. The book also reflects the Han-centered nature of most contemporary scholarship on Chinese childhood but does consider the unique experiences of ethnic minority children residing in the countryside, especially regarding schooling and education.

The insistence that children be regarded as social actors in their own right, and that they be given voice in studies of and about them has become a staple in recent sociological and anthropological literature worldwide (see, e.g., Stephens 1995; James and Prout 1997 [1990]; James et al. 1998; Scheper-Hughes and Sargent 1998; Schwartzman 2001). Some of the contemporary scholarship on Chinese childhood has also started to reflect this crucial recognition and to incorporate children's views rather than focusing on adult notions and practices. Continuing this important shift, the discussion in this book attempts to document children's experiences in their own words and from their own perspectives wherever these are available, to reveal what James (2007: 264) describes as the “the hidden hurts and humiliations that many children experience and which adults often dismiss as unimportant or regard simply as playground rough-and-tumble.”

Structure of the Book

To recognize the meaning and magnitude of the changes that have occurred in post-1978 Chinese ideas and practices of childhood, it is crucial that we view these changes within their historical context. Chapters therefore focus on the momentous changes that have occurred in the experiences and conceptualizations of Chinese childhood since the late 1970s, but they also seek to highlight differences and continuities with earlier trends in the lives of children and in notions of childhood.

The book begins with a brief historical overview of the conditions that have led to the emergence of new concepts of new patterns of childrearing and education in twentieth-century China. Chapter 1 presents some of the main tenets of the pre-modern Chinese concepts of childhood, including the prominence of the Confucian ethos of filial piety, of ancestor worship, and of patrilineage; and the notion of hierarchy, which determined an authoritarian nature of the parent/child relationship and depressed the status of girls in imperial China. The main part of the chapter will then address the crucial changes that have occurred in these ideas from the turn of the twentieth century until the late 1970s.

The discussion will show that modernization processes and the socio-political transformations of the last century created by the republican and socialist revolutions of 1911 and 1949 respectively, have changed the perception of children, leading to the rise of a decidedly “modern” yet unmistakably “Chinese” concept of childhood. Beginning in the early decades of the twentieth century, Chinese reformers and political leaders have sought to eradicate time-honored notions of childrearing and education in favor of modern, scientific ideas about children and their capabilities introduced mainly from Europe, the United States, and Japan. These endeavors, which received their impetus from the national crisis China experienced during this period, have contributed to the emergence of new ideas concerning the temporal boundaries of childhood; the perceived qualities of children; and the social and political roles of the young within the family and society.

The implementation of child-related policies and initiatives after the socialist revolution of 1949 led to a considerable improvement in children's welfare and to a relative elevation in the social and familial status of both boys and girls. Through the expansion of schooling and the employment of mass propaganda campaigns, the Maoist regime sought to destroy the old kinship hierarchy and to transform children from loyal family members into dutiful citizens of the new socialist state. These attempts undermined the principles of age and gender hierarchy that had determined children's subordinate status within the family. In the process, they also produced children as increasingly atomized individuals. However, long-held ideas about the proper way of raising the young and former practices of childrearing and education did not disappear in post-1949 China. Public discussions about children and their upbringing continued to draw on the “tradition/modernity” dyad, while reflecting broader debates about questions of personhood, state and society, and national and cultural identities.

As chapter 2 shows, these debates preoccupy Chinese government officials, educators, and caregivers to this day. Recent decades have witnessed the introduction of global, neoliberal notions of childrearing and education to China, manifested in school reform plans and in a new and increasingly popular genre of psychological advice literature. Striving to improve the lives of individual children and raise the “quality” (suzhi) of the nation, official, media, and academic discourses in China have promoted an idealized notion of childhood as a time of innocence and play rather than political activity or manual labor. They have also sought to encourage Chinese children to exercise independent thinking and free choice. Chapter 2 considers the circumstances that have led to the introduction of these new notions, their modes of circulation among urban and rural populations, and their effects on family and school life in China. The chapter argues that the growing importance of global, neoliberal models of childrearing and education has contributed to children's increasing empowerment and individualization, particularly among the ranks of urban, middle-class populations in China. However, this process has also produced new conflicts and dilemmas, as adults and children attempt to negotiate new ideals of the child and the person with pragmatic concerns and pre-existing beliefs and practices regarding the proper way of governing the young.

A key factor that has contributed to children's increasing empowerment in contemporary China is the demographic shift caused by the One-Child Policy. Chapter 3 examines the components of this crucial policy and considers its implications for the lives of Chinese girls and boys of different social backgrounds. The present generation of Chinese singletons has often been described as willful “little emperors,” who are insufferably spoiled, showered with attention, toys, and treats by anxiously overindulgent parents and grandparents. As chapter 3 shows however, this is far too simplistic a picture. The Chinese government's population policy has undoubtedly contributed to the production of a new generation of individualized singletons in some parts of the country but has also introduced new concerns and anxieties to the lives of caregivers, and new constraints and pressures into the lives of children.

Some children, notably those residing in the city – where a majority of couples have until recently been allowed only one child – are spoiled by parents and two sets of grandparents. But they are also made to bear the weight of their caregivers' hopes and expectations. Many of these children experience heavy psychological pressure to perform well at school so that they can build a successful career and support their parents in old age. Meanwhile, the One-Child Policy has also influenced Chinese girls in complex, non-uniform ways. Following the decision of the Chinese government to allow rural families to have a second child if the first is a girl, many families have resorted to the use of sex selection methods during pregnancy or have avoided registration of their second female child with the authorities. In some parts of the country, unwanted girls have been given up for adoption, while others have suffered neglect and maltreatment. In this respect, the One-Child Policy has contributed to growing gender discrimination and to a severe gender imbalance. At the same time, there are also indications that the demographic shifts brought on by the policy have resulted in a relative empowerment of increasing numbers of girls, particularly those born and raised in urban, single-child families.

These contradictions notwithstanding, the One-Child Policy and its accompanying demographic shifts have contributed to a significant transformation of the family institution in contemporary China, including the nuclearization of the household and the rediscovery of the emotional “value” of children. Together with the launching of market reforms and the country's increasing integration within the global economy, these developments have also led to the emergence of Chinese children as independent consumers and to a dramatic growth in familial consumption of children's products and services. Chapter 4

Their choices have given rise to much public concern in China. Like parents everywhere, Chinese caregivers worry about excessive snack consumption, television viewing, Internet surfing, and computer gaming, which they regard as harmful to children's health and education. The Chinese mass media has also published alarmist reports on the magnitude and extravagance of children's consumption practices, expressing anxiety about children's (perceived) materialism and its implications for their moral integrity and for the wellbeing of Chinese society as a whole. Joining these concerns, government officials worry about the possible effects of extensive foreign media consumption on Chinese children's cultural and national identities as well as their loyalty to the nation-state. These fears translate into an ambiguous attitude toward children's consumption on the part of the state, the school, and caregivers.

chapter 5

chapter 5

Chapter 6