Parent-Child Communication Problems and the Perceived Inadequacies of Chinese Only Children


  • Vanessa L. Fong


In this article I analyze longitudinal case studies of five Chinese families to account for the tensions underlying widespread Chinese discourses about the unsatisfactory personalities and behaviors of children born under China's one-child policy. I argue that these tensions result from a mismatch between the simple values of excellence, independence, obedience, caring/sociableness that Chinese parents tell their children to abide by and the more complex, difficult-to-conceive, and difficult-to-articulate cultural models Chinese parents actually want their children to develop. This dissonance arises for a number of reasons: (1) The values at stake are often mutually contradictory; (2) Parents have difficulty identifying and articulating the situated cultural models they want their children to use to match values to contexts; (3) Children fail to understand and internalize the complex cultural models their parents want them to develop; and (4) Parents' desires to transmit their own cultural models to their children conflict with their desires for children to develop superior cultural models that would enable them to attain upward mobility. Chinese singletons' inability to meet their parents' expectations should thus be seen not merely as a result of the singleton status popular Chinese discourses often blamed for the younger generation's failings but also as a result of their status (shared with many other children worldwide) as rapidly developing children in a rapidly changing world. My findings suggest that studies of cultural models should pay more attention to discrepancies between verbal glosses and the conceptual complexity of the cultural models underlying them, and to the transformations that occur in the process of internalizing and integrating diverse sources of social information.