Mainland parents are just not ready to spare the rod

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 December, 2004, 12:00am

Li Huifang is a self-assured 28-year-old accountant in a foreign-invested company in Shanghai. Much of her inner strength comes from surviving a childhood ruled by a father she describes as having the cruelty of a fascist.

From the time she was born until the moment she married, Ms Li was subject to the beatings and verbal abuse of her father. Her sin was to be born a girl.

'My father didn't like me right from my birth,' she said.

'He wanted a boy so I was predestined to suffer all forms of corporal punishment which stayed with me until I married and moved out.'

Her childhood, she recalls, was dark and cold. 'My father frequently cursed and beat me,' she said.

'Sometimes it was because I didn't listen to him, sometimes it was just because of his bad temper. The punishment made me cry at first but later I got used to it and fought back. I hurled bad words at him and slammed doors in front of him. But all the memories are painful.'

For Ms Li, her marriage at the age of 23 was an escape.

'As soon as I found a man suitable to marry, I decided to get married immediately. I desperately needed to escape my father's control,' she said.

Ms Li is now a top accountant in the company and maintains her resolve has been an asset in the workplace. 'My boss is also an ill-tempered man. All my colleagues here are afraid of him, but not me. My experience of domestic violence has left me with a strong will.

'I will challenge anyone. Maybe my boss likes the feeling of being challenged. He seems to like me and has given me several promotions.'

Ms Li says that as her father has aged, she has stopped hating him. She has also begun to see things from his perspective.

'Now my son is three years old,' she said. 'Sometimes I beat him because he's naughty and I can't think of any other method to educate him. I have begun to understand my father. I used to be a naughty child, too.'

Ms Li's attitude echoes those expressed by many university students surveyed two years ago by researchers from the China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL).

The research team recently released the results of a 2002 survey of 498 third-year university students in a northern mainland city.

More than half - 54 per cent of those interviewed - said they were subjected to corporal punishment during childhood.

But more than 12 per cent said they would inflict similar punishment on their own children if they were disobedient. Twenty per cent said they might also do so.

CUPL professor He Junping conducted the survey and said the extent of the entrenched attitude was greater than expected.

'We had expected it would be prevalent on the mainland for parents to beat children,' Professor He said. 'But we did not expect so many students would accept the violent conduct. It's likely that the tradition will be passed on from one generation to the next.'

The students, all born in the 1980s, attributed the parental violence to their waywardness, disobedience and poor academic performance. Professor He said the students did not like the violent approach but their attitude remained ambivalent.

'They don't like the education method, but the dislike was mixed with love for their parents,' she said. 'Thousands of years of Confucianism have ingrained Chinese society with absolute respect for the father and the belief that a child is a family's private asset'.

But Chen Mingxia , a professor with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Law Institute, said violence against children is not always committed in the name of love. 'In many cases it's a way of embodying the parents' will and reflects a desire for control.'

Professor Chen is chairman of the Network for Combating Domestic Violence, a Beijing-based non-government organisation initiated by the China Law Society. The organisation conducted a survey of nine counties in Gansu , Inner Mongolia and Zhejiang in 2002 and found that nearly two-thirds of the 4,000 interviewees experienced domestic violence in their childhood.