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China: 1-Child Policy

Cast of characters: Only child Cecilia

Marketplace Staff Jun 21, 2010

“I’ll never have the chance”

I recently talked to a girlfriend of mine, who is not an only child. She’s worried her 24-year-old sister has no boyfriend. I had no sympathy for my friend. I replied enviously, “At least you have someone to worry about. I’ll never have the chance.”

That’s life as an only child. We have nobody of a similar age to worry about, or to share things with. All we have are parents and possibly grandparents.

When I was small, I played by myself, or with my grandfather. He seemed to realize I was lonely, so he made me a lot of homemade toys.

The monkey show

In elementary school, I had two favorite activities: one was going to see a monkey show in Labor Park, where I was surrounded by other young kids. We laughed at the same silly monkey acts and ate the same 0.02 RMB (a fifth of a penny) Chinese caramel that had a smoky flavor. The other activity was playing in the acting school where my grandmother worked. I loved to walk through huge rooms filled with young kids learning acrobatics and dancing. Those places were fascinating to me, because I could see a lot of kids and laugh with somebody together.

The doting, yet bossy, parent

I learned Chinese poems at the age of 3, and started English at 5. I also learned dancing and a Chinese version of stand-up comedy called crosstalk. But my mom didn’t like either dancing or crosstalk. She made me learn electronic keyboard when I was 9. We had no electric fan those days, so when I practiced on hot days, my mom would sit beside me and fan me.
Years later, she chose the accordion for me. My mom put a lot of effort in turning me into something, but she never bothered asking me what my interests were. If she asked, I would have said, “Mom, I don’t like any of those! I want to play.”

No dinner for New Year’s

As the only child in the family, I got all the attention, and all the tension, as far as school.

My parents worried all the way through my school years. They monitored changes in my class rank. Any slip caused panic. On Chinese New Year of fifth grade, I ranked 10th out of 53 students, 7 places lower than my previous ranking.

My mom scolded me the entire day, and I didn’t eat the most important meal of the year, New Year’s Eve dinner. When I was about to take high school entrance examinations, my mom threatened me that if I couldn’t get into high school, I’d end up becoming a kindergarten teacher — as if that were the worst job in the world.

I got into high school no problem.

But then, my mom mentioned model children with great exam scores, kids who’d entered top universities. I wished for a sibling, one with bad grades, so my mom could criticize someone else. I knew I wouldn’t have the chance.

Free fashion advice

If you’re an only child, you should be fully aware: no personal choice is actually personal. All family members get into your business: job hunting, job quitting, getting a boyfriend or staying single. They’ll arrange blind dates for you, convince you to invest in certain funds, change your fashion look and hairstyle.

Looking back, I think it’s fair to say it wasn’t so much they cared a lot about me. I was simply the only one they could put their energy and spare time into.

And a baby brother for sale

When I was born, it was still before China’s one-child policy. So I could have had a sibling. In fact, right after I was delivered, my mom considered having a second child, in the very non-conventional way. Another parent in the maternity ward had given birth to a son, and for some reason had offered him up for sale. The asking price: 40 kilograms’ worth of grain ration coupons.

My mom went home and thought hard about it. But when she returned the next day, the baby boy was no longer available; he’d been sold.

How I wished I could have had a sibling: to share my love, my happiness, my pressure, my parents’ scolding. Instead, I sit alone at the computer, and explain it all in cyberspace.

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