China Candid: The Prodigy & The Orphanage

The two stories I read in China Candid were about children. I picked them because I wanted to know how children were dealt with in a Modern China. Children are often considered the future of a culture or nation – so, I wondered, what is the future of China like?

The main thing I gathered from the text was that life was just as difficult for children in China as it is for everyone else, if not more so. China idealizes it children (much like the USA), but life is no less demanding for them. Moreover, children are without voice. As the child in the story Shine said, “if you don’t work hard, you’ll be a complete failure,” (121). Moreover, in Looking Ahead, the head of the orphanage, Xu Yongfu, talks about how the government refuses to give heath insurance to the kids he takes care of. This is because, even though several important officials approve of his orphanage, local officials refuse to put the paperwork through (99). Due to biases towards Yongfu, a large group of orphans are left without insurance or healthcare by the government. Yongfu is forced to pay out of pocket for any doctors appointment or hospitalization for any of the kids he takes care of, something he shouldn’t have to do (and wouldn’t, if the paperwork got processed). The child in Shining, on the other hand, has no problems with the government. His problems stem entirely from his family. His father (and, presumably, also his mother) demand absolute excellence for him. This is at the sacrifice of play, fun, and freedom.

The theme that both stories share is that hard work – extreme hard work – is the only way to be successful in Modern China. Yongfu runs several businesses (a tea house, a game lending business, and a garbage disposal company) just to keep the orphanage open (102). The child in Shine, similarly, works exceedingly hard to appease his parents and meet the expectations of being a child prodigy. He has no free time – “every day is the same. And they still say I’m not working hard enough. ” (122). The difference, though, is that the child in Shine has no say in his occupation, whereas Yongfu does. Yongfu is annoyed by, but simultaneously at peace with, the difficulties of being successful in Modern China. “There is no reasonable explanation for the way things are done, it’s just the way it is, and somehow, for better or for worse, it works,” (105). The child prodigy, however, is not so at peace with his situation. He is clearly angry with his situation, but can do nothing about it. When asked about why he studies piano, he said, “don’t ask me. Ask my dad” (122). He does not enjoy his life, but he has been told all of his nine years that living this way is the only way he can survive.  When talking about his life, he says, “If I mess things up now, I won’t achieve anything,” (122). He is trapped in an endless routine of practice to achieve his parents dreams, forced to jump through hoops he sees as meaningless to appease them.

The stories were remarkably similar, but depressingly so. Both stories tell of hard work, and a general dislike of the status quo. But both storytellers seem to feel that, while they dislike what is happening, there is nothing they can do about it. The child progeny says, “But what can I do?”(122). Yongfu has more say in the world around him, but still thinks that the governmental organization, and their treatment of him, is senseless. All you can do, it seems, is work as hard as you can, and keep your fingers crossed.

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