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					                                                                         CHILD REARING PATTERNS
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The People’s Republic of China, which now includes the territory of Hong Kong, is a vast country
with the largest population in the world – approximately 1 billion, 330 million people (July 2008 est.).
It boasts a civilisation stretching back thousands of years.

China shares borders with 14 other countries and is only slightly smaller than the United States.
The climate is extremely diverse: tropical in the south to sub-arctic in north. The terrain largely
consists of mountains and high plateaus, with deserts in the west, and plains, deltas, and hills
in the east.

China has enormous natural resources including coal, iron ore, petroleum, natural gas, mercury,
tin, tungsten, antimony, manganese, molybdenum, vanadium, magnetite, aluminium, lead, zinc
and uranium; and has the world’s largest potential for hydro-electric power.

The country suffers frequent typhoons (about five per year along the southern and eastern coasts),
damaging floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, droughts and land subsidence.


For centuries China stood as a leading civilisation, outpacing the rest of the world in the arts
and sciences; but in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the country was beset by civil unrest, major
famines, military defeats, and foreign occupation.

After World War II, the Communists under Mao Zedong established an autocratic socialist system
that, while ensuring China’s sovereignty, imposed strict controls over everyday life and cost the
lives of tens of millions of people. After 1978, his successor Deng Xiaoping and other leaders
focused on market-oriented economic development; and by 2000 output had quadrupled.

For much of the population, living standards have improved dramatically since then, and the room
for personal choice has expanded; yet political controls remain tight.

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Peoples of mainland China

Over 90% of the people of mainland China are Han Chinese, with many other ethnic groups also
represented. China has a long history of sophisticated systems of government and education, and
high achievements in literature and the arts. During the 19th century increasing population, civil
unrest, poverty and natural disasters such as floods and earthquake led to large-scale emigration
from China, particularly from the southern provinces near the sea. The emigration was to places
of trade such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Indo-Chinese peninsula (now Cambodia,
Laos and Vietnam), and to the United States of America and Australia to follow the gold rushes.

Early Chinese settlers in Australia

To most Chinese arrivals in Australia before 1949, emigration from their own country was viewed
as a temporary departure of males to seek their fortunes abroad. Women remained at home.
The idea was that the men would send money back to China and make enough money to return
eventually to their homeland and support the family or clan that sent them. On the whole, they
were not interested in assimilation into the new cultures. The retention of the Chinese culture and
language was therefore of great importance.

Negative community attitudes hardened as the number of Chinese immigrants increased
in Australia, and restrictions against the influx of Chinese and other groups finally resulted in the
adoption of the White Australia policy in 1901. This policy excluded ‘non-whites’ from settling
or working in Australia. It was modified over the years but was not abolished as law until 1973.

The closing of China to the outside world in 1949 changed the attitude of many Chinese to their
adopted countries. They became more willing to see themselves as citizens of their new country,
as it became less realistic for them to think of returning to the homeland, China. Furthermore,
the overseas-born children of these families, even when they maintained the Chinese way of life
and desired to visit China and discover their roots, tended to have less incentive than their parents
to return to China to settle permanently.
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Ethnic Chinese in Australia now

Australian society includes many ethnic Chinese. Some are the descendants of people who came
directly from mainland China in the mid or late 19th or early 20th century. Others from mainland
China, mainly students studying in Australia at the time, settled here as a result of the Tiananmen
Square massacre in 1989. Many other ethnic Chinese have been born in other parts of Asia and
their migration to Australia has been mainly since the 1970s. Because these ethnic Chinese people
come from many different countries and cultures, the Chinese Australians may vary more than
other ethnic groups in their cultural traditions and present life-styles. Here we can give only a brief
overview of some aspects of the background of some Chinese Australians.

Language, more than any other single factor, has in the past identified the members of the different
Chinese communities in Australia. The learning of Chinese was therefore of great importance in the
rearing of children in Chinese families. In some families, children are sent to study at a language
school on Saturdays to maintain their family language. In other families, there is a rapid change
taking place and the young may now be unable to speak Chinese.

‘Overseas Chinese’ in Australia
As well as its established population of ethnic Chinese whose ancestors came from the Chinese
mainland, Australia has other groups of Chinese settlers who have come by a circuitous route
rather than a direct route from China to Australia. Just as some early Chinese immigrants came
to the Victorian goldfields in the 19th century via the gold fields of California, so, today, some
Chinese Australians have come from Hong Kong or from the other Chinese communities that
developed in South-East Asian countries. Countries of origin of ethnic Chinese include China,
Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Cambodia, Timor and Taiwan. With new arrivals
from overseas, and increases in the number of Australian-born Chinese, the Chinese community
in Australia is varied and changing.

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These people are sometimes referred to as ‘Overseas Chinese’. When they come to settle
in Australia, they bring a culture that is a blend of the culture from which they came and the
traditional Chinese culture. The overseas Chinese from different countries can therefore vary a lot
in their traditions, child rearing patterns, food traditions and so on; so a chief characteristic of the
Chinese communities in Australia is diversity. Language is said to be the main uniting factor yet,
even here, there are divisions into several main languages as well as many dialects.

Many Chinese Australians from Malaysia and Singapore came to Australia originally to study
for professional qualifications. A common pattern is that after returning home they applied again
to enter Australia, this time as permanent residents. Coming from places that were formerly British
colonies, these people tend to be proficient at English.

Hong Kong Chinese are also proficient English speakers, coming as they do from a British colony
and a society that has many Western influences. The Hong Kong Chinese are more likely to have
gained their professional qualifications in Britain, with Canada and the United States being the
next favoured places; but a few will have studied in Australia. The agreement with China to hand
back Hong Kong in 1997 has led to much independent migration to Australia by business people
as well as professionals.

Many Chinese Australians from Vietnam, Cambodia, Timor and Laos fled from their country due
to war and may have suffered much during war and on their journey to Australia. They too may have
professional qualifications or business experience from their homeland, but they are more likely to
be proficient French speakers than English speakers when they arrive in Australia. On the other hand,
the new arrivals in Australia may be younger people whose education and training has been completely
disrupted because of war and hardship.

In families from Taiwan, the men are likely to be businessmen and to speak some English, but their
wives and children are unlikely to be English speakers on arrival.

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Mandarin is China’s official language, with many regional variants and dialects, including Cantonese.
Most families from China come to Australia from the southern part of the Chinese mainland where
Cantonese is spoken, and these people may not speak Mandarin. On the other hand, some Chinese
Australians may speak Mandarin, Teochew, Hakka or other dialects.

Cantonese is the main street language in Chinese parts of Vietnam. Many Chinese coming to
Australia from South-East Asia also speak Lao, Khmer or Vietnamese. Due to the political closure
of Chinese schools in some of these places, some young Chinese may be less fluent in their own
Chinese dialect than in these other languages.

Chinese writing
Chinese writing consists of symbols which represent meanings or ideas, and can therefore
be understood equally by speakers of widely differing forms of the language – even where
the spoken word may be mutually incomprehensible to speakers of differing forms of the language.
Each symbol is built from ‘strokes’ – strokes of the pen. This is a different system from English
where the symbols (letters) represent the sound represented by the symbol.

There are over 6,000 Chinese characters in common daily use, with tens of thousands more that
are not so common. This represents a massive learning task for a person wishing to be literate
in the language.

To make language learning easier, the Chinese government in 1949 introduced a simplified system
of writing Chinese characters with fewer strokes. Many overseas Chinese prefer their children
to learn the traditional style of writing because it is then fairly easy to learn the modified style.

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Pinyin is a romanised form of Chinese – that is, a written form using a modified form of the Latin
alphabet – that makes the Chinese sounds (rather than the characters) into syllables. Pinyin was
introduced by the Chinese government in 1979 and is often used in Western countries. In Pinyin
the letter ‘x’ should be pronounced like English ‘s’; ‘q’ is like ‘ch’; and ‘zh’ is like the English ‘j’.
Some Chinese sounds do not have an English equivalent.

In the traditional writing style, Chinese characters are written in vertical columns from top
to bottom and from right to left. However, today Chinese characters are often written
so as to follow the Western horizontal pattern, going from left to right across the page.

Names and naming traditions

Chinese names are traditionally written with the surname or family name first, followed by the
given name. In Australia, there is now in some places a practice of putting the family name second,
as with English names. This new practice can lead to confusion about which name is the family
name. A handy clue is that the most common family names are usually of one syllable and common
given names usually have two syllables. There are exceptions, however. Families with surnames
of two syllables mainly come from northern China, whereas most Chinese Australians come from
southern China where the one-syllable surnames originated. Family names, of which there are
only about 100 common names, refer to the village from which the name originated.

A Chinese woman may keep her maiden name after marriage or she may adopt her husband’s
name – or she may couple both names.

Within a family, and outside, there is a complicated system of relationship names such as ‘Father’s
sister’, ‘Mother’s brother’, or ‘Mother’s mother’. It is impolite for children to drop prefixes such as
‘Aunty’ before a name and to call adults by their familiar names.

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Boys’ names often reflect a strength or a moral characteristic such as courage, while girls are given
names that reflect beauty such as flower names. ‘Keung’ is a Cantonese boy’s name meaning strong,
and ‘Kang’ is a Mandarin boy’s name meaning healthy. ‘Mei’ is a girl’s name meaning beauty in
Cantonese, and ‘Li’ in Mandarin also means beauty.

Chinese names vary in Pinyin spelling in different dialects. Furthermore, Chinese names in Vietnam
or Laos were often changed. Notwithstanding the difficulties, it is important to try to pronounce
names correctly.

In the Hong Kong tradition all of the boys will have a first name chosen by the grandfather
and the girls will have a first name chosen by the grandmother on the father’s side of the family.

Philosophy and religion

Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism are the main religious influences in traditional Chinese
families. Religion is often not a major concern to Chinese in everyday life even though there may
be a belief in the spirit world and in ancestor worship. In China, the cultural revolution in 1949
swept away traditional religion, and the young generation of mainland Chinese have little interest
in it. Some overseas Chinese, however, have kept up the traditional religious practices.

Confucianism is not strictly a religion since Confucius is not regarded as divine. Rather,
it is a philosophy. Many aspects of Chinese culture were influenced by the ancient teachings
of Confucius, which have strong social and moral implications. This Confucian tradition is one
which focuses on a person’s relationships with others. In contrast to the Western perspective of
extreme individualism – where the freedom and welfare of the individual is given very high value
– in the teachings of Confucius the welfare of the group takes precedence over the welfare of the

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From the Chinese perspective, individual disgrace is also group disgrace, and loss of face involves
more than the individual. The individual must work for the overall good of society; therefore,
status, role and rituals are important to the structuring of relationships and personal conduct.
Family relationships and duties are of extreme importance. Children are taught to respect
parents and elders.

Taoism is a philosophy which emphasises a way of life centred around harmony with nature and
peace with all.

Chinese Buddhism has many different sects with different beliefs and practices. There is a
general emphasis on respect for all life, tolerance and compassion for all persons, and simplicity
of life-style. Strict Buddhists are vegetarian.

Among Chinese Australians there are some Christians, both Catholic and Protestant.

Traditionally, birth and death were not regarded as the beginning and the end of an individual life
but rather as events in the continuing cycle of all life.

Ancestors are often regarded as special guardian spirits of the family – spirits whose blessing can
be sought. Ancestors may therefore be seen as a very real part of present life, and performing
the duty of ancestor worship was seen as contributing both to the welfare of the dead ancestors
and to the welfare of the living descendants. Some traditional Chinese families have a shrine or
altar where respect for ancestors is shown and their help elicited. Photographs of three or four
generations of ancestors may be shown. During festivals, simple or elaborate offerings may be
made of flowers, incense, fruit, tea or wine.

After a woman marries, she commemorates her husband’s ancestors rather than her own,
so part of the importance of sons is to keep up the commemoration of the ancestors.

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Children are taught when very young to respect all that the ancestors contributed to the family.

Not all Chinese observe the ancestor traditions. Many Chinese from Malaysia and Singapore, for
example, have not been exposed to this practice. Chinese Australians from Vietnam or Taiwan
may continue the practice, as may older Chinese from mainland China. By the second generation
in Australia, the ancient practices of ancestor worship have often disappeared.

The role of women

China was traditionally a male-dominated society. Women were regarded as morally and
intellectually inferior to men. Confucius taught that knowledge was not a good thing for women,
so education was rare for females in traditional Chinese society.

In the traditional hierarchy, females were always dependent on males and kept under the protection
of males. Women had to accept the authority of their fathers in childhood, their husbands in
marriage and their sons in old age.

The birth of a son was necessary before a woman was fully accepted into her husband’s family.
Female offspring could be killed at birth if unwanted, or sold as servants or child brides.

Women’s standing improved somewhat under communist rule in mainland China, although
changes were slower in rural areas than in the cities.

Women are now an important part of the labour force in China, so paid maternity leave is provided
by law and child care is seen as desirable and is increasingly available. Family size is strictly
regulated. Sexual equality and economic independence is guaranteed by law.
Outside mainland China, changes in the role of women and in the provision of child-care services
have not always been as accepted by the Chinese communities – the exceptions being Singapore,
Hong Kong and Malaysia.

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Chinese Taiwanese women whose husbands were high-ranking officials of the Nationalist
Chinese Government, and who left mainland China to avoid the communist takeover in 1949,
tend to emulate the more traditional upper-class values of the past. These women from prosperous
middle-class families, living in the cities, took pride in not working and in being traditional
home-makers. In rural areas of Taiwan the women lived a simpler life with more community-based
activities. In Taiwan now, many young women go out to work but they often use servants at home
to look after their children rather than use child care centres, partly because servants are very

Chinese women in Vietnam also seem to have kept up traditional values more than is the case
in mainland China. This was made easier by the fact that Chinese culture had remained a strong
influence in Vietnamese social structure, beliefs and values, reaching forward from a period
of Chinese domination which ended in the 6th century. Education for women was difficult because
of the war; and in any case it was not held to be of high value by the Chinese in that country.

In Cambodia, the traditional role of Chinese women was preserved just as strongly but for different
societal reasons. The prevailing culture of Cambodia was influenced by earlier Indian domination,
so it was alien to the Chinese immigrants. The Chinese people therefore formed a separate,
closed community and, in this way, preserved their traditional Chinese way of life. In both Vietnam
and Cambodia there was no pressure on middle-class Chinese women to work, and hired labour
was often available for the domestic and child-care chores. When these women arrived in Australia
they sometimes tended to be without educational qualifications, without work experience and
without familiarity with the use of child-care centres.

Chinese women who come to Australia from Malaysia, Singapore or Hong Kong tend to
be more Westernised already and probably have fewer difficulties settling into their new life.
They usually speak English and are used to a greater degree of freedom – socially, economically
and educationally – than was allowed in the traditional Chinese pattern. They are also familiar with
the use of child-care centres.

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The Chinese family

The family has traditionally been the centre of socialisation in Chinese society. In traditional
Chinese society, the emphasis is on family loyalty, the pre-eminence of the head male in the
family group, and the obedience and respect of younger members of the family shown to older
members. Traditionally, it was considered impolite for Chinese children to gaze directly into the face
of an older person – but this teaching may be considered not appropriate and may be dropped
for children raised in Australia.

Child care was traditionally the prime responsibility of the mother, but might be shared by the
extended family. Grandmothers are seen as having an important role to fulfil in the socialisation
of children. However, where women are now regarded as an important part of the work force,
child care outside the home has become accepted. People coming from some Chinese communities
abroad, where the old practices are adhered to more rigidly and women do not work outside the
home unless they must, may find it strange or even unacceptable to have strangers looking after
the family’s children.

On the whole, child-care arrangements are used less, proportionally, by the Chinese community
in Australia than by other ethnic groups.

Even when Chinese mothers in Australia were familiar with the concept of child-care centres
in their countries of origin, most of them were not familiar with the concept of family day care.
When there is no place for their children in a child-care centre in Australia, family day care
is an alternative which can free the women to work outside the home. If the unfamiliar concept
is not explained to them in a way that takes account of their natural apprehension about trying
something strange, they may have no choice about whether or not to use this service.

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If Chinese families in Australia want a mother to work, they may sponsor their parents as immigrants
so that the grandparents mind the grandchildren. This may mean that the young children get little
exposure to the Australian way of life. The grandmother may rear the children mostly indoors,
as is the traditional way, so there will be little contact for the children outside the home.
If the mother stays at home to rear the children, she then gets little exposure to the Australian
community and to the English language. However, the gains in family bonding may be valued
more highly.

Some variations in family structure occur among the Hong Kong Chinese. In Hong Kong now
a family will have one or two children – or up to four – and it doesn’t matter if a child is a boy
or a girl. The mother and father share the role of head of the family. The mother often pays more
attention to the children’s education than the father does, and sometimes the mother can spoil
the children while the father can be more of a disciplinarian figure for the children. The father is
characteristically the money-earner and the disciplinarian. Older siblings are sometimes asked to
care for younger ones if required. Household chores and duties begin at around 10 years of age.
Sometimes children struggle to communicate with their grandparents because of the age gap.

In Hong Kong, older children, after they have finished their daily tasks, often go out with friends for
dinner, shopping or karaoke, and often come home late. Children who don’t go out will often stay
home and surf the net or chat to friends on their computer. Hong Kong Chinese children are not
expected to work until they are at least 10 years old.

If a daughter has reached 27 years of age and is not yet married, the parents will get their friends
to look for a man 30 years of age or above. Parents believe that their children should not marry
too young. If children want to marry under the age of 21, children require their parents to sign
a legal document stating their approval.
Children in Hong Kong become adults at 21 years of age.

Usually every ten years from 30 is a celebrated birthday.

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Childbirth and child rearing in mainland China

Male children were highly valued in former times because they ensured several very important
family strengths: continuity of the family line and family property; continuity of ancestor worship;
and support for aged or ill parents in the future. Daughters were traditionally held in lower

To some extent daughters are now being given more value in Chinese communities. Women now
often work outside the home and are able to contribute economically to the family. However,
in communities such as in mainland China where population control severely limits the number
of children, ideally to one child per family, males are strongly preferred. In most Chinese families
in Australia, the pattern is developing that both sexes are given equal value.

In the first three months of pregnancy mothers are encouraged to be very careful. Pregnant
women in today’s China attend antenatal classes or, in the rural areas, visit a midwife.
Many expectant mothers read books about pregnancy prior to the birth. Cold food and drinks
are avoided by pregnant women. Warm food and drinks are encouraged. Spicy dishes are
avoided. Heavy lifting is definitely not encouraged. If there are difficulties with the pregnancy,
family, relatives and a doctor will be consulted. In recent times mothers are being given the choice
of natural or caesarean birth; and it is more common now in China for fathers to attend births,
and for fathers as well as grandmothers to offer the new mother the opportunity to separate from
the newborn when she needs a rest.

The new mother is encouraged to rest in the first month after birth. Care and support is given
by her mother or mother-in-law, who may come to stay in the house to offer support, and even
sleep with baby so mother can become rested. Grandfather may offer support also. The husband
will help if he is able to get maternity leave. He can now be expected, for example, to change
nappies and attend to other household chores. In rural areas, community members may also offer
some support to new mothers.

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Breastfeeding is traditional and common; but breastfeeding is not common in public in city areas
– although more acceptable in village areas. New mothers are encouraged to avoid spicy and very
oily foods.

Children in China are immunised and have regular visits to doctors.

The hour of a baby’s birth used to be recorded as well as the day, month and year. This extra
information was used for the calculation of decisions and fortunes.

Traditionally, age was not calculated in the Western fashion. Every child was deemed to be 1 year
old at the time of birth. On Chinese New Year, which is calculated according to the lunar calendar,
every person was one year older. Therefore, a child born just before New Year would still be 2
years old at New Year. Some adult Chinese in Australia may keep up this practice of counting their
age according to the lunar calendar. Others may celebrate their birthday twice a year, according
to both lunar and Western calendars. A common practice for children born in Australia is simply
to remember the Western calendar date of their birthday.

The Full Month Feast, 30 days after birth, was a traditional naming ceremony which may or may
not be kept up in Australia. It used to be just for boys, but this has changed in many families.
Red eggs may be eaten to welcome the child.

Babies are not praised. It is believed that a child may not live up to their parents’ expectations
if they are over-praised. Parents want their child to be humble and modest.

Daily routines for children in mainland China
Babies are cuddled and patted to sleep by mother or grandmother. Toddlers will sometimes sleep
with parents or in their own bed. Preschoolers are encouraged to sleep alone. Some children are
read to at bed time, or soft music is played.

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Children start eating solid food at 4 or 5 months. These will be soft foods such as rice, porridge
and egg yolk. From around 10-12 months, other foods are introduced such as vegetables, fish and
small portions of meat.

Children are encouraged to be independent eaters. The spoon is introduced at about 1 year old
and chopsticks at around 2 years of age.

Babies are toilet trained from birth. Parents note the regularity of bowel motions and urine
frequency and introduce the potty first, then the toilet.

Additional notes on child rearing of Hong Kong Chinese families
In Hong Kong, both parents attend special classes prior to the birth. Expectant mothers
are encouraged not to use a hammer and nail as it is believed that the new born could be born
with a cleft pallet.

The father, or another family member or friend, will attend the birth.

Following the birth, a health nurse, the wider family and the husband all play a part in the care of
the new mother and the child. New mothers are encouraged to rest. A hot bath with ginger is a
common way of helping the mother to relax. Fathers will do domestic duties leading up to and
after the birth.

In Hong Kong it is not common for new-born babies to be breastfed, but mothers are shown how to
breastfeed while in hospital. It is rare that a woman will breastfeed in a public place.

New mothers do not eat seafood, bananas or mangoes as they are believed to contain toxins.
Caffeine and alcohol are also limited. The new mother is not to leave the home until one month
after the birth, but is allowed to have outside visitors. She is not to visit friends as it is believed that
she will bring them bad luck.

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Games and toys

Babies and toddlers are provided with plenty of opportunities to play. Activities include games,
music and toys. Mothers sing to their children and fathers read stories. Traditional stories
are passed from the grandmother to mother to child.

Many Chinese parents believe that children do not learn through their play: rather, that early
learning is more about numbers, the alphabet and so on.

Chinese parents traditionally don’t like messy play or their children getting dirty. These attitudes
are changing in recent times as parents are becoming more aware of the importance of play.

Some of the most common types of play are games such as chicken and eagle (the eagle catches the
chicken), hide and seek, and ball games. Household pots and pans and other common household
objects are frequently employed by children as toys, although in recent times commercial toys are
used more. Some children are introduced at an early age to traditional musical instruments.

Boys and girls are generally expected to take on gender-specific play. Girls play in the home
corner, for example, and boys play with cars and trucks.

In Hong Kong in particular, babies and toddlers play with soft toys, Lego, dolls, cars and puzzles.
Young children are also taken to playgrounds where they can use their bikes and balls.

Also in Hong Kong, as in other modern Chinese communities, children as young as 4 are using
computers for their games.

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Chinese culture is rich in literature. There are folk tales, myths, fables, parables and many other
stories for both children and adults. The Chinese like to have a moral or a teachable point in their
stories, supporting the traditional values of hard work, cooperation, family harmony and education.
One ancient Chinese story has become well-known through the television series Monkey.


Mothers are traditionally responsible for disciplining young children; but fathers are becoming
more involved in recent times. Traditional forms of discipline included smacking, but this is now
less common. More often, children are talked to about frustrations. Boys are encouraged to express
their emotions through talking, but not crying. It is more acceptable for girls to cry.

If there is an issue with a child’s behaviour, either parent can be consulted by child-care staff.

From early childhood, Chinese children are taught to regard themselves as members of a group,
to understand the hierarchy of the group and their place in this hierarchy, and to practise the
behaviour and duties that will enhance this structure. This is very different from a Western
perspective on child development where the growth of a positive, individual self-concept
is emphasised.


The education of a child is taken very seriously: the more educated you are, the more
money-making opportunities will become available in future life.

There is much competition in education in Chinese cities. Children start academic learning earlier
than they do in Australia, and parents are very focused on their child’s intelligence. Better results
equate to acceptance into a better standard of school.
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If the family can’t afford to educate all of their children, priority will go to the boys.

Schools in China are mainly state-owned. The first 9 years of education are free, although the
better schools charge an entry fee. All schools are co-educational.

Some Chinese families in Australia are used to children working hard at school from an early
age, with much rote learning. For example, in Hong Kong serious learning begins in kindergarten
with the learning of the English alphabet, simple spelling, and numbers. By Year 3 in this system,
all children are expected to be able to recite the multiplication tables.

Chinese parents have remarked on the undue emphasis on individualism and competition in
some Australian classrooms, which seems to be in opposition to the traditional Chinese prizing of
cooperation, and of responsibility for the welfare of the group. Some are also disturbed by what
seem to them to be practices which lead to insufficient respect for teachers and their authority:
for example, letting students call teachers by their first names. Ethnic Chinese parents, wishing to
maintain traditional values, can nevertheless be flexible in response to their children’s schooling
needs in Australia. For example, many Chinese communities now consider that it is very important
for girls as well as boys to have access to higher education and wide career choices.

In Hong Kong, parents ‘always allow the children to think for themselves’. Parents will offer advice
and allow children to make choices for themselves.


Most Chinese in Australia dress in the Australian style. Special clothes may be worn on ceremonial
occasions. The traditional fitted dress for women, with a deep slit up the side and a mandarin
collar, is well-known in Western fashion. Children usually wear the same type of clothing as other
Australian children.

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Child-care staff sometimes remark that Chinese children in Australia often wear a lot of clothing
– perhaps two or three jumpers on a day that turns out to be quite hot. The parents may have
come from tropical regions in Asia and may find the climate here cold, particularly if they use
public transport to get to the child-care centre early in the morning. Parents may need time
to understand changeable weather in places like Melbourne. If it is cold in the morning they may
expect it to remain cold all day. Chinese children are not usually taken outside if there is any sign
of rain or if they have a cold. A Chinese girl, even a baby, should not be undressed or seen naked
in the presence of a male.

Festivals and traditions

Chinese New Year is the most important festival, and Chinese in Australia may like to take their
annual holidays to coincide with their New Year. New Year is calculated by lunar months and
fluctuates between early January and mid-February.

The old Chinese tradition was to count New Year as the day on which every Chinese person is
one year older. In preparation for New Year, new clothes are bought, debts are settled if possible,
and houses are cleaned. People try to visit their parents for New Year, and absent family members,
and perhaps ancestors, are remembered. In southern China, mandarines may be given as symbols
of good fortune because, in Cantonese, the mandarine fruit has the same pronunciation as ‘gold’.
Special steamed rice cakes or puddings may be eaten.

A lion dance or a dragon dance brings in the New Year. The lion or dragon is paraded in the
streets, accompanied by fire crackers, music and drums. He is teased by a character called Dai
Tao Fott, which is Cantonese for ‘Big Head Buddha’. (In Vietnam this character is called ‘Ong Dia’.)
Dai Tao Fott always carries a fan because he is fat and gets hot as he dances and teases. The lion
or dragon scares away evil spirits and brings good luck. He pretends to swallow red lucky envelopes
containing money. Lucky envelopes may also be given as presents to the children.

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Each Chinese year is named after one of the twelve animals in the Chinese horoscope: the year
of the pig, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, cock or dog; then the cycle
starts again.

The Moon Festival occurs around September. In China, which is in the northern hemisphere, this is
mid-autumn, when the moon is said to be at its most beautiful. It was originally a harvest festival.
It also commemorates a time when the Han Chinese rebelled against their Mongolian rulers and
passed secret messages about the rebellion, hidden in small cakes – hence the moon cakes that
are eaten at this time. The Moon Festival is also a lantern festival. Children parade with lanterns
shaped like goldfish or birds, and lanterns are hung from houses.

In Hong Kong people celebrate The Dragon Boat Mid-Autumn Festival.

In Hong Kong on 1 July there is a march to protest the 1997 hand over of the territory of Hong Kong
to China. It is led by the Civil Human Rights Front, and is a public holiday.
The 1st of October is a public holiday in Hong Kong, celebrating National Day.
(Special leaflets about festivals are available from FKA Children’s Services.)

Chinese social customs and taboos

Chinese men may put their arms over each other’s shoulders as a friendly gesture.

In Australia people can freely shake hands with both men and women of Chinese ethnicity – but
it is not polite to kiss Chinese women. It is important to remember names. Saying ‘No’ is not
considered polite in Chinese culture. So some Chinese will, for example, avoid denying that they
can do as you ask.

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Food and food traditions

In Chinese culture it is polite to talk about appreciation of food.

Rice is the staple food, and it can be eaten at any time, served hot or cold, and steamed, boiled or
fried. Noodles are another staple food, often used in soup or snacks. A variety of fresh vegetables
are extremely important and are usually cooked only until crisp. Soup is served at many meals.
It may contain meat or seafood, vegetables and perhaps noodles or dumplings.

Ethnic Chinese in Australia, coming as they do from any one of many places, may eat a mixture of
Chinese food, Australian food, and ethnic food from their country of origin such as Cambodian
food or Laotian food.

Chinese people are generally adaptable: they have few taboos about food, and their children are
likely to adjust easily to the usual diet of an Australian child-care centre or family.

Some children may have an intolerance to dairy products. Children from a strict Buddhist family
may be vegetarian.

China is widely renowned for its tremendous range of food, the variety of its cooking methods,
flavour, and attention to texture and colour. Traditional Chinese cooking varies according
to province. Many people consider Cantonese cooking to be the best in the world. Cantonese
cooking is well known in Australia because Canton is part of southern China, which was the
homeland of most of the early Chinese settlers in Australia. Hokkien and Teochew cooking are
the others best known in Australia. Each group has its own version of common dishes as well as
its own specialities. China has a long coastline and many rivers, so freshwater and saltwater fish,
plus shellfish such as crabs, lobsters and prawns, are abundant in Chinese cuisine.

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Much time is given to the careful preparation of ingredients in Chinese cooking: for example,
ingredients are often chopped to a regular small size so that they all cook together. A cleaver with
a sharp, flat blade is used to dice, shred, cut and chop. Popular cooking methods include: steaming,
which is used much more than in Western cooking; quick stir-frying over high temperatures; deep
frying; and boiling. For frying, a wok, with a rounded bottom, is the normal utensil. For steaming,
a traditional bamboo steamer or a stainless steel steamer is used. A Chinese steamer has several
tiers which makes it possible to cook several foods over the one heat.

Chopsticks are the perfect implements for eating Chinese food. Long chopsticks may be used to
stir food while cooking.

Soy beans are important in Chinese cooking and are extremely valuable as a source of nutrition.
They are used in many forms including fermented salted soy beans or black beans, soy sauce,
soy paste (savoury or sweet) and soy curd or purée. There are two main types of rice used:
long-grained rice, and glutinous or sticky rice.

Traditionally, tea is served with every meal. Again, there are many regional variations, both in the
varieties of tea used and in the ways to serve the tea. The Teochew are connoisseurs and drink
small amounts of high quality strong tea, in tiny cups. The Cantonese drink large cups of much
weaker tea.

Meal times are family times in Chinese homes. It is held to be important that the family gathers
together and eats in harmony. Dishes are placed on the table and people help themselves,
symbolising the idea that the food on the table is for sharing together. Rice or noodles, cooked
in a variety of ways and served with fresh vegetables and meat, are common main dishes.
A traditional family meal might consist of four or five such dishes and a soup. A special meal or a
banquet might have a dozen or more dishes.

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In Hong Kong, for birthdays children will generally eat noodles as they are long and represent a
long life. Modern generations will have a birthday cake with candles, but this was not so in the

Some food variations in Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, people of the older generations will eat porridge for breakfast. It is very common
now in Hong Kong for families to go out to restaurants for meals, including for breakfast. Yum Cha
is also a common meal for lunch, especially at weekends.

Chinese meal routines
For breakfast, the Teochew like moo’eh: a thin rice porridge with fried peanuts and dried salted
vegetables. The Cantonese have a preference for a softer rice porridge called jook, which may
contain meat. Noodle soup, or sandwiches made from bread, pork and cucumber, may be eaten.
People from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam may drink coffee rather than tea for breakfast. Chinese
children in Australia are likely to have an Australian breakfast of cereal and toast, and milk to

The traditional Chinese midday meal might be rice or noodles with two or three savoury dishes,
and soup. However, many ethnic Chinese in Australia would have sandwiches and fruit as many
Australians do.

The evening meal may be like the traditional Chinese midday meal, or again it might be just an
Australian meal or a mixture of types of cooking. One difference is that Chinese don’t usually have
a sweet dessert or pudding such as other Australians may eat as part of a main meal. Sweet foods
are more often reserved by the Chinese for snacks or to be eaten at parties.

Morning and afternoon tea breaks are not part of the traditional Chinese life-style.

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Chinese buns (char-sui-bao) are popular everywhere. They are a form of yeast bun and are filled
with a sweet pork mixture. There is a traditional Cantonese New Year cake, nian gow, which is
made of glutinous rice and is steamed for six hours.

Moon cakes are an important part of the Moon Festival and may be given as gifts. They contain
sweet mung bean filling and preserved egg yolk. The preserved egg yolk is contained inside the
moon cake to represent the beautiful moon. Other fillings include nuts, sesame seeds, sausage
and fruit. Moon cakes may be made in different shapes. Square cakes symbolise the earth. In Laos
they may be fish-shaped and in Vietnam some are pig-shaped.


Guo, Zining (Christy), Record of interview (China), FKA Children’s Services, 2008.
Christy is a bilingual worker with the FKA.

Chin, Esther Ngan, Record of interview (Hong Kong), FKA Children’s Services,
October 2008.
Esther is a bilingual worker with the FKA.

World factbook, ‘China’,
ch.html, last updated 23 October 2008.
Tham, G., ‘Child bearing practices of Chinese women’, In P.L. Rice, Asian mothers, Australian
birth, Ausmed Publications, Melbourne, 1994.
Zena Xian Ling, ‘China (Shanghai)’, In R. Dawson, Customs of childbirth, Multicultural Resource
Centre, Wellington N.Z., 1983.
China, child rearing and background information, FKA Multicultural Resource Centre, 1996.

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