Professor Maureen O’Donnel
Writing for College L125
4 October, 2018
On Education and the “Emperors”
The anthology Patterns Across Cultures by Hirschberg and Hirschberg is a compilation of many stories from across the world pertaining to many different cultures. It should be no surprise that any one of these stories should resonate with one of its readers, perhaps based on subject matter or, through the aspects of the reader’s culture present in its work. In the case of myself, Taylor Clark’s “Plight of the Little Emperors” has spoken greatly to me. The story of the one-child generation of China and their complex upbringing has seen many parallels to my own upbringing. However, while similarities do exist, the extremes undergone by the Little Emperors, aided by many factors has shown that there are stark differences between them and me. Differences aside, I can say with clarity however, that the main cultural theme that links the Little Emperors and I is our shared, and sometimes extreme, value in education.
The xiao huangdi, or the Little Emperors, as the term translates were a generation of urban Chinese children born in the era following the enactment of the one-child policy in China. While the initial goal of the one-child policy was to try and contain China’s mushrooming population in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Clark in “Plight of the Little Emperors” on page 354 of Patterns Across Cultures argues that, “the greater purpose was to turn out a group of young elites who would enjoy the full and undivided resources of their whole family,” hence the name Little Emperors. These young children would be bred and rigidly educated to pass the national college entrance exam, called the gao kao, or “tall test” by the Chinese. The future of the Little Emperors would hinge on this exam, leading them to rigorously study for the majority of their childhood lives, all while being given the complete attention of their family. This has created extremely high expectations in the minds of the Little Emperors when entering the Chinese labor force, but the policy of bringing up an ultracompetitive generation of intellectuals in a still-developing country with few positions to meet up to the expectations of the Little Emperors has led to many falling into depression due to failing to meet these expectations, with 25% of university students in China having reported suicidal thoughts (Clark 356). In recent decades however, China has begun to address some of these issues, such as establishing a suicide-prevention hotline in 2003 (Clark 357) and even abandoning the one-child policy altogether in 2015.
After having read “Plight of the Little Emperors,” I have noticed there have been numerous connections to my life on the subject of education. Like the Little Emperors, I too have placed a great, sometimes unnecessarily high value on education. Throughout my academic career, I have always tried my best when trying to...