“You have to be hated sometimes by someone you love and who hopefully loves you,” was the verdict of Amy Chua in her controversial book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
The parenting memoir caused a stir when it was published earlier this year, especially in the US where it was often taken to imply that Chinese mothers were raising more successful children.
In her book (see WiC92), Chua explains her tough love approach. Her children are banned from most forms of fun: from attending sleepovers to playing computer games. That gives them more time to perfect the piano.
But the Tiger Mom looks like a soft touch compared to Wolf Dad, or Xiao Baiyou, 47, who says that he subscribes to ‘extreme parenting’ methods.
In Xiao’s recently published book – That’s Why They Go To Peking University – the father of four tells how beating kids is a necessary part of their home education. (His wife – who says she is fully behind her husband’s approach – is a foreign national, allowing the family more than China’s customary one child).
Further, Xiao claims that his children gained places at the prestigious Peking University (known locally as Beida) because of his methods. The businessman told Sanlian Life Weekly that all four of his children have average IQ scores, so the fact that three of them were accepted to Beida must have more to do with his parenting techniques (the youngest child is in her second year of senior high school but is expected to attend the prestigious Central Conservatory of Music).
Like Chua, Xiao rules with absolute authority at home, controlling nearly every aspect of his children’s lives – the cartoons they watch, the snacks they eat, how they spend their pocket money and what they do in their spare time.
“As kids, they have no judgement about what’s right and wrong, so I teach them,” Xiao confides.
The Chinese public seems fascinated with his account and the book has topped the bestseller list since it was published in June. That says something about the parental obsession with academic achievement for their offspring, perhaps, as well as painting a rather revealing picture of Chinese attitudes to corporal punishment.
Xiao (who refers to himself as Wolf Dad happily enough) believes that all children have three natures: animality, humanity, and sociality. Before the age of 12, Xiao says, the animal nature plays a more important role so only physical punishment can teach children what’s right and what’s wrong.
After they get older, Xiao changes tactics.
“I mainly relied on beating in bringing up my kids before they turned 12, after that their humanity is basically in form, I stop beating them and instead adopt lecturing,” he says.
Like Tiger Mom, who forbids her kids from playing at the houses of friends, Wolf Dad doesn’t believe that socialising is important.
“Before they go to college kids don’t need friends. Other than studying together any other social interaction is not necessary,” he suggests.
Needless to say, Xiao’s parenting approach has not gone unchallenged, with many attacking him for physically and psychologically abusing his children. Others warn of the long term impact. Zhu Qiang, an associate professor from Nanjing Normal University, says that, by using violence to impose his own will, Xiao is raising children who will grow up to be yes-men, lacking in independent thought.
The Ministry of Education has also weighed in: “This despotism requires children‘s absolute obedience to parents. It will only lead to slavishness. It will not forge any creativity because there is no humanity in his [Xiao’s] heart.”
Xiao dismisses the criticism and rejects any notion that he has raised an unhappy family.
In fact, he queries whether children can even comprehend the meaning of happiness (and it looks that way at his house, for sure).
But fortunately the Wolf Man is confident that his offspring will be feeling a lot happier in retrospect: “Now that they have got into Peking University and achieved success as students, I believe when they reflect on their childhood they will think they were happy”.
Xiao also has plenty of supporters, including Wang Fan, the father of a middle school student, who told the Shanghai Daily that he agrees that parents must be strict with their children.
He also fully understands why Xiao opts to administer physical punishment.
“Parenting with sticks is Chinese tradition. Few people of our generation grew up without beatings and scoldings,” says Wang.
Certainly, Xiao’s parental style seems an antiquated one, in line with the old proverb that advises beating sons to make them more filial. (‘Spare the rod, and spoil the child’ is a similar treatise from English history – but considered outdated in contemporary Britain).
But no matter, the book has turned Xiao into an overnight celebrity. Wolf Dad says he plans to open a private school to teach students and promises that the academy will resemble one from the Qing Dynasty, with horse riding and archery on offer to its students.
One thing that won’t be lacking from the curriculum: physical discipline.
“So far I have taken care of over 30 children sent to me by their parents. I beat them no matter if they are boys or girls, and they won’t resist. Their parents agree to it too,” says Xiao.
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