Meet China’s ‘chicken parents,’ a new cult of tiger moms on steroids

chicken parents are the new tiger moms

A new parenting culture in China that draws its name from a pseudo-medical treatment in the 1960s, in which people were injected with fresh chicken blood to stimulate energy, has taken “tiger parenting” to a whole new level.

“Jīwá” (“chicken baby”) parents, who start their day thinking about the advancement of their children, are fueling the country’s $120 billion private after-school tutoring industry, which some experts project to hit $155 billion by 2025, according to Reuters.

In June, China’s Ministry of Education created a new department to regulate the industry, hoping to ease students’ academic burden. This new agency, known as the Department of Off-Campus Education Administration, is responsible for enforcing policies on content, hours, teaching qualifications and the fees of tutoring schools, which run their programs in-person, online or both.

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This unprecedented crackdown on cram schools follows China’s announcement of its new three-child policy, a response to the nation’s falling birth rates. In 2020, Chinese mothers gave birth to just 12 million babies, an 18% decline from 14.65 million in 2019. This is the fourth consecutive drop in annual birth rates, according to the South China Morning Post.

Authorities fear that jīwá culture discourages couples from having more children. Since raising one child can already be costly, having a third could be financially crippling. Additionally, parents must take into account the physical, mental and emotional stresses that come with having larger families.

Despite these struggles, jīwá parents — who mostly live in larger cities where most elite schools and universities are based — soldier through. And with the government intervening with regulatory policies, they have only become more rigorous in finding ways to ensure that their kids can keep up.

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“Because of these policies, parents are even more convinced of the potential [risk] for social immobility,” Rainy Li, a jīwá parent to two daughters in Beijing, told NPR. “They are more eager than ever to propel their kids into elite circles and more willing than ever to cut back on their own spending in order to invest in their children.”

In 2017, families in urban areas like Beijing spent up to 42.2% of their income on private after-school tutoring, according to Xinhua. There is no available data showing just how wealthy jīwá parents are, but it’s safe to say that some spend more than others. There are parents who purchase second homes in certain school districts just to get their children closer to a top education. Still, many come from humble backgrounds and only want to give their kids a good head start in life, NPR noted.

Whether Chinese kids appreciate their parents’ sacrifices or not is an entirely different story. With so much work to do, many are simply exhausted starting from their preschool days. Kelly Zhou, who heads a private international kindergarten in Shanghai, once called a 4-year-old student’s mother after the child said she had “forgotten how to smile.”

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“I’m able to offer my kid everything,” the mother told Kelly Zhou, according to RADII. “And she’s able to manage all that.”

The 4-year-old girl reportedly met a private English tutor every Friday, on top of “other academic-related sessions.” Over the weekend, she attended ballet, piano, painting, math and sports lessons. When Kelly Zhou asked what made her life the happiest, she replied: “I’m never happy. I’m tired every day.”

Another jīwá mother shared her fifth-grade son’s schedule (via SupChina):

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8:30 – 9:50 a.m.: Reading

9:50 – 10:30: Gaming (for socializing with peers)

10:30: Eye exercise

11:00: Lunch while listening to audiobooks

1:00 – 4:00 p.m.: Math Olympiad practice

4:00 – 5:30: Biking outdoors

5:30: Dinner

5:50 – 8:30: English lessons online

8:30 – 9:00: Snack break

9:00 – 10:00: Homework

10:00: Bedtime

At first glance, the schedule may look “light” to other jīwá parents, but it is actually the child’s timetable for Saturdays.

What sets jīwá culture apart from the more universal “tiger parenting” is its uniquely Chinese origin. While some may individually claim to be “tiger moms” or “tiger dads,” jīwá parents identify with each others’ frenzy in dedicated online community groups.

“The term ‘jīwá’ is common on online parenting chat groups, from kindergarten to high school,” Zhou Ying, whose son entered primary school last year, told Shanghai Daily’s SHINE. “To some parents, it’s never too early to cultivate jīwá.”

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Zhou Ying said he first learned the term from colleagues. He then looked it up on WeChat and found hundreds of accounts dedicated to the culture.

The process was eye-opening. He recalled one mother who shared her 5-year-old’s daily schedule. “It felt like some kind of simulation game…you know, where you could cultivate a baby into a strong character,” Zhou Ying told SHINE.

Featured Image via CCTV / South China Morning Post (left), Getty (right)

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