The following is a guest post by C.C. Huang entitled: The Children’s Palace: Where nature decides nurture.
The movie Gattaca left a deep impression on me as a 1984-esque portrayal of a world where genes mean too much. According to this CNN article, in Chongqing, a “Children’s Palace” was established to help parents decide how to raise their child based on genetic testing.
Previously, DNA testing has more often been used to detect genetic diseases, but now genetic testing is being used to discover what each child is genetically-geared to accomplish. With the One-Child policy, each only child bears an enormous amount of pressure to please the parentals, and this test is just another way to make their child-raising blueprint that much more successful.
The camp itself seems harmless, but what implications might this genetic testing carry with it? A statement from the director of the camp to CNN about a child’s results:
This child is very thoughtful and focused, so I suggest she go into management.
It seems that there is a strong pseudo-science aspect to this whole affair – “thoughtful and focused” are rather vague traits that could be seen in any profession – so why management? If anyone walks into a Chinese bookstore, they can see the massive amount of self-help books on the shelves that many people are poring through, especially about management. With Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People selling very well in China, and other books about people-management filling the shelves, management-type jobs are quite 火 (literally – fire), or popular. So is this “test result” really a scientific result? My first reaction is no, it is purely what a parent would want to hear – an arbitrary construction at worst, an acceptable answer at best.
Other events are probably creating the economic conditions where a camp like this eventually could be in high demand. A primary reason would be the recent crisis where college grads could not find jobs, even if they graduated from the top universities in China. If a parent can pick a major or a profession for a child so that they are the best of that field, this problem could be avoided. The idea of a specialized child-rearing process is no doubt becoming increasingly attractive to parents.
I wonder how Chinese parents feel about the whole “nature vs. nurture” debate. Should genetic nature fully determine the method of nurturing?
Chinese parenting techniques have lead to a paradox in child development literature. Chinese parenting techniques have been characterized as “controlling” and “restrictive.” These styles of parenting have been associated with poor academic achievement in European-American family samples, but Chinese students perform well, if not better than European-American students.
Ruth K. Chao, a Professor of Psychology at UCLA, argues that this way of describing Chinese parenting is ethnocentric and suggests an alternative depiction of “training.” Chao argues that this “training” concept is much more fitting to describe the Chinese parenting model; her studies also show that Chinese mothers were better at employing this technique than European-American mothers.
Now, back to the CNN article. CNN quotes Dr. Blinn as a critic of program saying:
Kids, especially at younger ages, they need to have fun, they need to enjoy themselves, they need to find meaning in life,” Dr. Blinn said. “They need to have rich deep emotional interchange with their families and parents.
“Whether it’s really good for a two- or three-year-old to be sent off to a camp to be genetically tested, you know, and put in this track so early in life, I have some real doubts about whether that’s in the child’s best interest,” Blinn added. “It seems to be more in the parents’ best interest.”
What is this “need” that Dr. Blinn talks about? Is it possible that this genetic testing is not necessarily “bad” for children, but just a modern extension of Chinese parenting techniques? Of course, Chao’s study only measured academic success, not exactly the degree to which a child is “happy.” For Chao, the important concepts emphasized in Chinese parenting are xiaoshun and guan, which imply care and concern for the child that “authoritarian” fails to capture.
On one hand, I would be curious to see what Chinese psychologists say about the genetic testing camp and how it would fit into an explanation of Chinese parenting techniques. On the other hand, I’m not quite sure the conclusions that this camp provides for parents are reliable to construct a “training” course.