Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Picture of Obstinacy

As I stood in line waiting for the bus that would take me back to town from The Gardens, I first heard and then saw this little girl. Maybe she was tired and overwrought. Maybe she didn’t want to walk anymore, or maybe she didn’t want to wait in line for a bus. For all I know, she didn’t like what her mother was proposing serving for dinner. Whatever was plaguing her, she was definitely letting her mother and the world know she was displeased.

It started with a long shout. I didn’t exactly time her but it seems that she took a deep breath and maintained her one note shout for as long as she had air in her lungs. And then, she stopped dead in her tracks and refused to move another step. Her mother, not much taller than she is, did her best to persuade her to get going again.

As we were all lined up single file to wait for the bus and this little drama played out in the open area where the bus would eventually pull up, all of us were witnesses to this spectacle. We probably would not have noticed had the girl not shouted but because of that long cry, our attention was riveted.

Her mother stroked her shoulders and talked with her, and then grabbed her arm and tried to pull her along. No dice, Daughter pulled her arm away and planted her feet. Then, Mother put her arm around her and talked some more, and then pulled again. Again Daughter planted herself. Over and over again Mother tried to convince Daughter to get moving; repeatedly Daughter refused to move. At one point it seems mother was close to losing her temper. She grabbed her daughter’s hand and pulled mightily. The child wrangled herself free and planted her feet again.

This went on long enough for me to decide that this would be an interesting blog entry and to vaguely formulate it, and for me to grab my camera and shoot this picture. This was the upteenth time that the mother tried to coerce her child to move and the girl refused to go.

Children resisting parents has been going on for as long as parents have been raising children. There is nothing surprising about that. And, children defying parents in public is also nothing new. Anyone who has been to a grocery store or to a Walmart has seen such spectacles. Maybe you even threw a fit yourself when you were a child, or your children have displayed their temper in public. Remember how embarrassed you felt? How did you deal with it?

In China, such public displays of childhood obstinacy are unusual and rare. ‘Face’ – respect and decorum, are so important in this society that, even if you are in pain, a grimace is all that is socially tolerable. Our little pig-tailed shouter did not give her mother face, nor did she maintain face. That is what was so surprising about this little display.

How is it that this girl totally flouted culturally acceptable behavior rules? Has she never been taught about face, or has her mother been overly permissive with her enough times that the girl dominates the parent? How is it that she doesn’t care about her public persona when, in China, such a persona is generally very carefully cultivated? If she doesn’t give her mother face in public, how is their private relationship?

Other children waiting in line with their parents were well behaved and respectful, even if they did run around and play a bit. I daresay that they might have been as shocked as we adults were while beholding this little show. It seems to me that maybe, they could have surrounded our little Drama Queen and shamed her into acting right. Peer pressure is one way to get kids to fly right and behave in this society.

I am scared to think that newfangled child rearing methods in China allow more permissiveness and indulgence toward children that previous generations have experienced. As parents all over the world have discovered, indulging your child has disastrous consequences. Not setting boundaries for your child has long lasting consequences on their behavior, not just as children but as adults. Considering the attitude of the ‘Jiu Ling Hou’ generation that I talked about in the Bah Ling Hou entry, you can imagine that, if Chinese parents become even more permissive than the parents of jiu ling hou children, Chinese society is headed for…

I’ll leave that to your imagination. Living in America and seeing the effects of an overly permissive parenting style, you can pretty much tell that there is going to be a culture clash between tradition and modern attitudes in this society.

I am surprised that someone did not go talk to the girl, especially one of the bus monitors or some other official. Here, it is not uncommon for total strangers to berate other people’s children for public displays of misbehavior or mischief. I think we might have been too shocked to do anything but watch. Or perhaps that is another manifestation of the changes in Chinese society. I felt terrible for the mother. She was withering by the minute.

Finally our little shouter got moving. I don’t know what motivated her to do so. Maybe she got tired of being a spectacle or maybe her mother told her that if she kept standing there she would get hit by a bus. Whatever it was that got her moving did not seem to be a compromise between what she wanted and what her mother wanted. She crossed her arms and stomped off, well ahead of her mother. And she refused to stand close to her mother while in line, either. I lost sight of her eventually, as she darted among the passengers in an effort to stay away from Mom. Soon enough the bus pulled up and the boarding of passengers took front stage.

I’m glad this little girl was not on the bus I got on. I didn’t want to watch her not give her mother face anymore.

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