China's 'left behind children': It's not what you think

The Western media has recently been reporting on the children left behind by their parents in China. The truth is, it's not out of choice, but necessity.

Share

Lately there have been stories in the press about China’s ‘left behind children’; the issue most recently being covered by the BBC and released to coincide with China’s Mid-Autumn festival and national holiday.

Unfortunately, this seems to me to be another way for the Western media to criticise and discredit Chinese society based on the West’s principals, understanding and social norms when they really have very little knowledge or comprehension of Chinese culture and practices.

It seems to me that the Western media tends to twist any story related to China, in this case, a statistic from 2010 published by the All China Women’s Federation estimating that there are 58 million children, almost all in the countryside, growing up without one, or both of their parents.

This figure has been used to support a story not about hard working parents leaving home to support their family, thus creating a better future for their children, but instead a piece about Chinese parents abandoning their children; making China seem like a crass, insensitive, uncaring society of emotionless machines.

Many parents are forced to make the heart-breaking decision to leave their children in their countryside hometowns in order to find better paid work in the industrial and booming cities.

There is a vast urban/rural divide and in many poorer provinces there just isn’t the industry to support the large population, where increasingly, farm labourer jobs are being replaced by modern technology.

These parents work around the clock, in the cities, without holidays. It is rarely possible for most migrant workers to take their children with them due to the residency, or hukuo, policy in place. Once the migrant workers’ children leave their place of birth they lose their rights to subsidised education, health care, and other basic services, thus rendering the option of taking migrant children to the cities unaffordable and for many, impossible.

Parents may only have the time and money to return home to their children once a year, if that. This fast development from an agricultural based society to an industrial one was naturally going to cause social problems and transitions.

I’m not denying that China’s left behind children is a social problem, but we need to take a closer look at our own society before we throw stones and judge others. There are plenty of children left behind by their parents in the UK.

Just this week David Lammy MP made clear the link between knife crime and single parent families. Even suggesting that most young people involved in the London Riots last year were from single parent households, many with absent fathers. David Lammy said “The moral factors and the values of this country have completely changed significantly.”

In the case of a lot of China’s “left behind children”, many of them have parents who sacrifice their family life to provide for their children’s future. They actually want the best for their children – that is why they leave their backwater towns in search of financial gains. The study by the All China Women’s Federation reports that nearly 80 per cent of these children are cared for by their grandparents. Now I cannot account for the other 20 per cent but in general, far from being unloved, the majority of these children are brought up around their family in a stable, loving home. Obviously children are going to say that they miss their parents if they are directly asked by a reporter, it would be cruel not to, but this does not mean they are deprived.

When it comes to Chinese social issues, the Western media seems to go in cycles, for a while the emphasis was on the social problems caused by the single child families and how this would affect the spoilt children, or ‘little emperors’. Especially since reports that many young Chinese criminals now are themselves ‘left behind children’. However, is the media blaming child delinquency unnecessarily on this ‘new’ social phenomenon without considering other environmental factors such as the increase and accessibility of technology? Arguably, this ultimately exposes them to modern messages, opportunities, material possessions and teenage angst.

Furthermore, in Chinese culture it has been long acceptable, if not common practise in society, for grandparents to look after young children while parents are working. Chinese families are very tight knit, with parents relying on their children to support them in their later years; especially the older generations who had no formal pensions. Therefore grandparents tended to live in the family home, supported by their children, watching over young grandchildren.

The iron rice bowl of China, a guarantee of lifetime employment in state-run enterprises, is long gone and as a result a different emphasis is placed on money in China, a country with no social safety net, compared to that of the UK.

China Daily covered this story in May of this year, they reported that “Noted sociologist Wang Kaiyu said the remedy to these children’s plight is to narrow the urban-rural gap and create more jobs in the countryside to keep parents at home.” It added that Beijing University professor Lu Jiehua suggests “cities grant migrant children equal access to public schools, medication and other social security services.”

China’s left behind children is not an ideal solution for any family, rather a decision borne out of necessity. Chinese culture now places a heavy emphasis on money; no money equals no happiness.

The younger generation have a new meme, one that will have previous generations rolling in their graves: “no car, no house, no wife”.

Migrant workers have helped to build the Chinese dream, but it will be a little while longer until they get to reap the benefits and improve their standard of emotional and physical living.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Dom Joly owns a pig. That thinks it's a dog.  

I'll bow out. Let Wilbur, the pig that thinks it's a dog, bring home the bacon

Dom Joly
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'