Training Chinese Boys To Be Real Men

From the New York Times:

Tang Haiyan runs his school with a clear mission in mind: He will train boys to be men.

There are many ways to be a man, of course, but the broad-shouldered Tang has a particular kind of man in mind. This man plays sports. This man conquers challenges.

“We will teach the children to play golf, go sailing and be equestrians,” said Tang, 39, “but we will never cultivate sissies.”

I don’t want to rain on their parade, but many American boys would consider sailing, golf, and equestrian as sports for sissies.

Tang founded the Real Boys Club, which stands at the forefront of a deep conversation in China about what it means to be a man. It is a debate that has been stirred by worries about military effectiveness, an embrace of traditional culture and roles, disappointing academic performance among boys and echoes of the defunct one-child policy.

To the club’s thinking, the alternative for the boys, ages 7 to 12, is life in a society where androgynous pop idols, overprotective mothers and mostly female teachers would turn them into effeminate crybabies.

On one recent Sunday afternoon, 17 boys from the Real Boys Club blocked, sprinted and tackled one another as they learned about American football. Wearing a red hooded sweatshirt, Tang led the boys in a call-and-response chant.

“Who’s the best?” he shouted.

“I’m the best!” they shouted back.

“Who’s the strongest?”

“I’m the strongest!”

“Who are you?”

“Real men!”

Some might observe that American football is on the decline…in America.

…State media has said video games, masturbation and a lack of exercise have made many young men ill-suited for the military.

“Erasing the gender characteristics of a man who is not afraid of death and hardship,” Peng Xiaohui, a sexology professor at Central China Normal University, said, is tantamount to “a country’s suicide.”

“It is still necessary for a boy to be raised as a boy and a girl to be raised as a girl,” Peng said in a telephone interview. “They should not be raised based on the opposite gender.”

Tang, a former football coach and teacher, said the idea for starting his club came from his discussions with parents who were worried about their sons falling behind in school.

According to a 2014 survey of 20,000 Chinese primary school students and their parents in four provinces, almost two-thirds of the boys surveyed performed poorly academically, compared with less than one-third of girls.

Boys in every developed country, I believe, perform worse than girls in school. That’s not a Chinese problem.

Tang was also inspired by a 2006 trip to Oakland, California, where he saw American parents teach their boys “to overcome challenges and dangers” through physical training.

In China, by contrast, many parents try to protect their sons, a cultural bias that has been magnified by the one-child policy.

The survey by the China Academy of Educational Sciences found that “whether it was in life or in school, parents had a tendency to spoil boys.”

Yes, that is what I heard from many Chinese during my visits.

More than 2,000 boys have enrolled in the Real Boys Club, according to Tang.

One mother, Sun Yi, decided to enroll her 8-year-old son — her only child — because she believed it would teach him teamwork. She paid about $2,000 for a semester’s worth of classes.

“He used to like to cry, but now I think he has a much sunnier disposition,” she said. “I feel his tolerance ability has improved, and he now knows how to deal with failure and frustration.”

…At the start of the program, several of the boys spoke only in a whisper or cried for half an hour, said Guo Suiyun, one of the teachers.

“When one of them cries, we will definitely not comfort him,” said Guo, 30. “We will only encourage him to be strong.”

…Some in China blame boys’ lacking behavior on a lack of male role models.

Fathers are rarely involved in their sons’ upbringing, according to government research.

Many American boys face that issue, too. Though I think the Chinese version is more commonly dads who work most of the time, while the American version is absentee fathers.

I wonder: do American dads play more outdoor sports and do more yardwork, and involve their kids that way? Perhaps Chinese fathers are less likely to play sports and have fewer lawns to mow like we do here.

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