Being an expecting parent makes you take notice to very obscure things, well from the standpoint of a single person anyway. It is akin to the phenomenon of overlooking the obvious until someone points out something and then you begin to see it everywhere. We all have this happen to us either directly or indirectly. Women feel depressed around St. Valentine’s Day because they see couples being romantic everywhere they look. The truth is there are no more couples out and about on this day then any other its just women tend to be looking for them indirectly. We buy a new Toyota car and on the way home notice everyone else is driving a Toyota, how fortuitous we were in following such a popular trend. Again this is an indirect result of us being more aware of our surroundings because of something we did. How about getting a traffic ticket or warning for a missing front license plate… or cracked windshield? On the way home it seems nearly 20% or more of the vehicles you see on the road also deserve a ticket so why were you singled out!
Well, being a prospective parent, 4 months away this coming week, you begin to see children everywhere. You also begin to notice potential hazards in the environment, problems around the home lurking for the new baby to get ensnarled in, etc. As I have been honing my observation skills for many years now I try to always be on the lookout for new or hidden things. Living in Shanghai has only increased my senses as I am constantly seeing or hearing new things. One thing that is relevant to today’s topic I have noticed before, but never really paid too much attention to until recently obvious reasons. That is Chinese early child rearing practices.
Chinese parents love their children, yes they prefer boys over girls and this leads to obvious gender bias but they learn to cherish their little girls too, the one child policies to control population growth are mostly to credit for this. Given this statement what are the differences between Chinese and Western child rearing? Well, this would be too long of a topic to cover in one discussion, so I think I will incorporate that into a series that will take years to complete. For starters I will have to go over what I have seen of infants and their treatment here in Shanghai. Now remember Shanghai is different then the rest of China in that it is more modern and populated then any other mainland city.
Newborns and infants are paraded around with pride here in Shanghai. Parents will dress them in bright and contrasting clothes from head to toe. Proud parents love taking the children out in strollers and socializing with them in toe everywhere they go. Chinese are very competitive and with 1/3 of the world’s population the pressure to succeed and stand out is more then just for selfish pride, but social survival and wellbeing. In the US babies are coddled and protected and parents do make a fuss over them, but not to the degree Chinese parents do. Every accomplishment is met with praise and excitement, making the child believe they are the center of the universe. Very good for self esteem and vital future confidence. In the US one of the first rights of passage is the step from diapers to that of being potty trained. This is a process children begin to feel confidence in their abilities and capabilities. Watch daytime TV during programs women watch and the toddler diaper ads will astound with smiling and confident kids shedding the bulky diaper to ‘training pants’. So why am I bringing this up?
One thing you notice in China is the grocery store isles are smaller, shorter, and not so well stocked. Baby isles are no different. Instead of 50 feet of 5 shelves packed with every diaper imaginable you have a choice of only 5 or 6 brands here and sizes ranging from newborn to large toddler. It is more like the US stores were in the early 1970’s when I was a toddler and before choice became the monster it is now. I can remember when the gum selection was limited to 5 kinds and 6 flavors, and Fruit Stripe was my favorite. You can find Huggies, Pampers, and Luvs here along with much cheaper Chinese brands, but the selection will only take a few minutes to sort through instead of hours. Same with baby formula, baby food, everything but baby clothes, here the Chinese are on par with us.
One thing to note on the clothing that is at the heart of this post, the pants. In the US the pants are all fitted with rear access that is used to check the diaper for wetness and to see if it is time for a changing. The Chinese version is the same, well sort of. The access is much larger and usually not snapped, so the baby’s rear end is always visible. Walk down any street in Shanghai and you sill find newborns to toddlers with their fannies peaking through the backs of these pants. Notice what I just mentioned, it comes into play really soon. I have yet to see more then 4 children of diaper wearing age in Shanghai in a diaper, and one of those was a western baby. One thing I have seen on a daily basis, from going to work in the taxi to walking to the restaurant at lunch to strolling with my wife after dinner is the Chinese solution is to utilize the large rear opening and any available receptacle, from public waste receptacle, sewer grate, tree grate, to sidewalk or street drainage ditch for the child’s bathroom needs.
Now Coco does not like this, often she tries to ignore or otherwise denounce its practice, however it is very prevalent in Shanghai and I would conclude the rest of China, in rural areas more then urban. One thing I am wondering with this practice is this. People learn what is socially tolerated and acceptable from their parents and observing their environment. Many parents probably have their children use the street as a latrine because they did as a child and all their friends, family, and neighbors do so too. I do not know at what point it becomes socially unacceptable for this public relieving of ones self, as I seldom see sober and ‘normal’ Chinese doing this practice, and less so in daytime then in the evening. As a Westerner I know what many Americans would say if their friend went with them to downtown Chicago and when the baby had to go, just position the rear end out of the flap and hold the child while nature took its course and then do a minor cleanup when done and resume activities as if nothing happened. Actually I would love to see that is some uptight areas of Chicago, but this is beside the point. What morels or values to the surrounding environment are the Chinese parents consciously or unconsciously teaching their children by doing this? I have also noticed no one says anything to the parents, one is that many people here usually mind their own business unless others put their business on grand display and the other is most Chinese people are very anti-confrontational to a very high degree.
Diapers are readily available and the Chinese ones are not too terribly out of a person’s budget, unlike the western ones that are nearly twice the American prices. So why is it that so many people here do this? Maybe the better question is why is this even an issue or topic? Well, this is being brought up because as an American I see this as strange and unusual and to my American abidance I know they will see this as curious and strange as well. By understanding people’s practices and daily life routines we better understand people and what makes them unique and similar to us at the same time. Maybe the Chinese believe it is cruel and barbaric to have a human being sit and be wrapped up in their own waste as the practice is in the West, until the parents realize there is a problem and then correct it. Maybe Chinese parents do not like taking the time and money to clean up the mess after the business has been done as the case is with Western children, cleaning up after a diaper is not a nice affair. Did our ancestors believe it was necessary to invent diapers and use them? What survival benefit comes from wrapping a child in animal skins or cloth to collect their waste? These are the more important questions. It is easy to point out the differences and make snap judgments, but harder to understand the whys and how comes that go along with the actions.
So as fatherhood creeps up on me day by day I see more and more in the world around me that I was oblivious to before. There are cultural practices that have to be addressed when rearing our child; however we both agree the child will wear diapers and never do their business in a public place like sidewalk, alley entrance, parking structure, public park, trash can in the mall, cigarette ash can in the bus station, etc. I can understand poverty and the plight of the poor, but some of the people I have seen doing this are well off and in places with facilities for such events. I know when children have to go they have to go, and when young they haven’t learned to hold it yet, but some of this is just downright unsanitary! From newborns to children walking it adds a new dimension to watching where you step in the housing areas of Shanghai. Granted the parents do their best to steer or place the children over drainage grates, trash cans, or places that will not cause general public discomfort, but in a modern city it is still a practice that needs to be addressed by someone. I am sure if I were to do so the police would give me a fine at the least and knowing China place me under psychiatric observation overnight or jail for a day or two. So when it comes to East/West relations, one big difference is the diaper and drainage ditch issue.