four legs

A young boy plays around a bench while an older man looks on. Xuhui campus, Jiaotong University in Shanghai, 2007.

It’s safe to presume the older man in the photo is the young boy’s grandfather because grandparents are typically the main caretakers in China as parents work long hours. I had a number of my local, urban white-collar Han* colleagues candidly tell me that they’re too busy to raise their child**. It’s very normal to leave your child at your parents’ house and pick them up on weekends***.

It’s telling that one colleague in her early 30s matter-of-factly told me that she leaves her toddler with her parents in another province for months on end. Neither her nor her husband felt guilty, as westerners might imagine she would. While she would sometimes miss her son quite desperately and wished she could have more time with him, she had to earn money and couldn’t take care of  properly with her current work schedule. At times, she openly reveled in the freedom she had.

I found it a refreshingly different way to look at child-rearing.

*There are 56 official ethnic groups in China, with Han as the majority population at 900 million out of 1.3 billion. 

**Thanks to China’s famous one-child policy, it’s pretty much always one child for urban white-collar Han office workers. Exceptions apply to those wealthy enough to pay off the exorbitant fine for a second child, officially designated ethnic minorities, married single children and a few other instances. 

***Note that I’m only speaking on this particularly demographic as things are very difficult in rural China. Economic opportunity is much more scarce there, so the parent-age population often work as migrant workers in urban areas across the country. Typically, children only see their parents once a year, twice if lucky / living nearby. And if times are tough, they might even only see them every couple years.


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