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China: 1-Child Policy

Cast of characters: Only child Ken

Marketplace Staff Jun 21, 2010

The walking quote man

I’m always on the lookout for young, bilingual Chinese nationals willing to go on tape, for various stories. My friend and tennis foe Ken Yuan is a go-to guy, a utility infielder.

Ken’s watched every single episode of “Prison Break” — that’s why, he says, his English is so good. He’s cut class to watch the NBA Finals. And he frets about China’s exuberant housing market.

He’s also an only child.

“You are the lord”

“You grow up in an environment where you are the Little Emperor. I think the term still applies today. You’ve got your parents, your parents’ parents, six people in total. All focusing on you. You are the lord, you are the emperor. So your feelings are the dominating feelings in the family. Nobody will do anything against your feelings.”

Lord Ken says for his generation, parents tend not to be the uber-spoilers. Since mom and dad both work, grandma and grandpa are the offending parties. They raise 20-somethings often criticized as self-centered and moody.

“When I was a child I really liked pencil sharpeners. Funny thing is I couldn’t write. I didn’t grow up in a really rich family. So it was a big deal to buy a lot of stuff. I kept asking for pencil sharpeners from my grandpa. He didn’t want to spend that kind of money. But I would roll on the ground, and I would not get up, every time, until I got what I wanted. It worked every time.”

Reminds me of an (alleged) story from my own childhood: Age 2, lying in the middle of a Taipei street in full protest mode. Must have been a noble cause.

Mother-in-law expectations

Ken has a girlfriend, but talks openly of financial cold feet. It’s not her expectations that scare him off, but her parents’. They want financial security for their only child, in part so that child can take care of them down the road.

Ken on Shanghainese women and their parents’

“You have to have an apartment. You have to have a car. That’s the two things necessary for them to be willing to get married with you. Even if the woman is OK with the idea of renting, you have to consider they have parents. And their parents have friends. It’s this whole culture that thinks it is the right thing to do, for marriage.”

Perhaps this explains one apparent contradiction: Chinese parents crank out far more baby boys than girls — the latest ratio from the national census is 119-100 — culturally they prefer males, and often have access to sex-selective abortion. Yet in Shanghai, it’s the single men in demand.

What gives? Why can’t women find mates?

“They’re pickier. If you live in Shanghai, you are a single woman, you’re young, you have really high expectations for the man you want to be with, financially. And also you want him to have a good personality. You want him to be wealthy, you want him to have an apartment and a car.”

And a mansion and a yacht.

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