Hey teacher, leave those kids alone

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 November, 2011, 12:00am


Whether by design or coincidence, the nanny state has been busy in the wake of national soul-searching over a decline in traditional standards of social morality. The relevant mainland authorities have given notice that television entertainment shows will be limited next year in favour of moral education programmes and that educational video games will be promoted to combat online violence and pornography. Such moves serve to reinforce the Communist Party's role as a moral arbiter ahead of a leadership transition next autumn. More surprising is a morality campaign by the state-sanctioned China National Association for Ethical Studies to cultivate 'dutiful children'.

Up to 60 children aged four to six will be selected in each county for 100 days of etiquette and morality lessons. Those who pass will study filial piety - respect for parents and ancestors - and the teachings of ancient Chinese philosophers including Confucius and Mencius for three years before being deemed 'dutiful Chinese children'.

This does beg the question: what about the parents? Fortunately, the institution of parenting is not amenable to state intervention. Culturally it evolves from generations of social interaction.

Perhaps the idea says something about the stress that China's urbanisation has placed on traditional family values and ties that have their roots in the countryside. It has, predictably, attracted scepticism and ridicule, with one ethics academic saying the younger generation would benefit more from the teachings of universal humanity. Another critic said the government could no more cultivate a dutiful son than deliver graft-free government with an anti-corruption campaign. Expecting young graduates practising filial piety to help fill a moral vacuum left by the past rejection of traditional teachings by the country's rulers is asking too much.