The one-child policy has been blamed for everything from a shortage of brides to an epidemic of childhood obesity – but, to judge from Chinese television, the bigger worry is that it has created a generation of wimps.
Dad, Where Are We Going? is a reality television show that shot to mainland fame recently because it taps into middle-class angst about whether China is raising its children right. The kids on the show are hardly more than toddlers, and they are sent off with Dad to – among other things – live in a tent in the deserts of central China and forage for food in a peasant village.
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Is a generation raised on iPads and junk food up to the rigours of the camp stove and the camp potty? And more to the point, is Dad up to it?
Ni Qin | E+ | Getty Images
Many would argue that the last thing to expect from reality TV is a dose of social reality, but this show seems more authentic than most – perhaps because the main characters are children so young that they do not know enough to hide it when they want to act like spoiled brats.
The dads, all of whom are Chinese celebrities and some of whom are television actors in "real" life, are inevitably less candid than their kids. After one little girl whines for nearly an entire show, her Olympic gold medallist father alludes to how he might be tempted to just whack her if they were in the privacy of their own home – but, with the whole country watching, he thinks the wiser course is a quick cuddle.
Like much on Chinese television, this is a copy of a foreign show – a South Korean series about celebrity dads and their offspring. But in China, besides merely testing whether famous dads can boil water and tie shoelaces (they can't), it also has a deeper resonance.
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The country is now raising its second generation of "little emperors" – only children, often born to parents who are themselves only children – and everybody wants to know if they are going to end up even more spoiled, immature and selfish than their overindulged parents.
A recent survey by China Youth Daily found most viewers watch the show for what they can learn about balancing the pressures of work and child-rearing – and only a quarter for a peek at celebrity family life.
Last month the show even became the subject of an academic seminar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, which urged parents of "little emperors" to give them more independence – and get Dad more involved in child-rearing.