I'm trying to heal my son, says 'Eagle Dad'
He Liesheng spoke with Mandy Zuo
He Liesheng, a 44-year-old father and businessman in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, aroused heated online debate over what some people say are inhumane child-rearing tactics that he uses on his four-year-old son, He Yide , who he forced to run half-naked in the snow during a holiday in New York in February. A video clip of the incident went viral online and the man was dubbed 'Eagle Dad', as his methods were compared to an eagle teaching its young - by pushing them off a clifftop to teach them to fly.
Your microblog says your four-year-old boy has already started Primary One. Which school does he go to? And did he say anything about school in his first days?
The Yushuiwan International School [in Nanjing]. He attends classes as an observer instead of being officially admitted, because the country's regulations prohibit [children at this age from starting primary education]. He's doing well at school. I asked him the other day whether he likes kindergarten or primary school - he said he likes the latter. But children always change their minds. When I asked the same question again, he said he likes kindergarten. I asked why, and he said there are a lot of toys at the kindergarten.
Did you start using extreme methods, as shown in the controversial video clip, to train him when he was very little? And what was your intention?
Yes. But I'd rather call them 'healing training' rather than extreme methods. He was born prematurely and weighed only 1.9kg. The doctor was too nice to hurt his mother's feelings and wrote 2.1kg, but I saw [the scale] very clearly. These two numbers sounded like a big difference. He had very serious problems - a left brain haemorrhage, haemangioma, hydrocephalus, he was low in cerebroprotein and had pneumonia and jaundice. When he left hospital, his hydrocephalus and pneumonia were cured, but the doctor simply wrote 'in better condition' for the other illnesses. He said we should be prepared that the child might have cerebral palsy or a mental retardation.
Did you seek medical consultation before you used your own methods to train the boy?
Actually there are quite a lot of public statistics in this regard. I consulted specialists too. You can't just hope and tell yourself that [a child with his medical problems] might get better and survive in time. Even if he survives, he might be mentally retarded. I have met a lot of parents who came to me in tears and begged me to share my methods. One mother from the south said her child suffered exactly the same illnesses as my boy. They didn't intervene medically when he was seven months old, and now he's one year old and has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. In recent programmes I was invited to, all medical experts agreed with what I did to my son.
It's right to intervene as early as possible, and you need a good plan as to which methods you will use. I believe that what I am doing is mild. Many have said that I want to make this child a genius through such cruel methods, but as a parent, I did what I did only so he could live healthily with normal intelligence, not to create a genius.
After some research, I learned that such exercises [conducted in the cold] have not been adopted in China, but they are very common in South Korea and Japan. The Chinese are no worse off than the Japanese or the South Koreans.
Let's not say that what I am doing is winning honour for the country, but at least it's filling a void.
Have all the illnesses you mentioned before been cured?
It's too early to say. Last time the doctor told me we couldn't be sure until he reaches adolescence. If no syndromes appear as he grows up, it means the possibility of him being cured is higher.
Some say I am trying to turn him into a genius by cruel methods. I say I am training him to race with the devil on the track of time.
Is he happy with your methods? He looked in pain when he cried in the video.
What happened in the video was after thorough communication [between us]. It was hard for me [to watch him crying and begging], but I stuck to it. I am so used to such cries. The first time he swam, got into cold water, went to kindergarten, climbed a mountain, skated, learned tae kwon do - there have been so many occasions in which he cried. For certain activities, he cried even though it was the second or third time he had done them. He cried for the first week he took tae kwon do because he was scared of the sound of fighting. But I knew it was good for him. They call me Eagle Dad, but I'm not trying to train him into being an eagle - rather a healthy chick. This is my primary goal. People have overestimated my intentions.
You told other media that your wife disagrees with you. How do you handle the disagreement?
My wife said my methods are too cruel. I told her you either research on the internet or visit a mental hospital and you will see that Duoduo [the boy's nickname] will face much more painful challenges if he is mentally retarded. Shock treatment, for example. Compared with that, swimming and climbing mountains are nothing. By only watching that video clip, one can't understand the systematic training I have given him, the theories supporting them, or my love as a parent. One only sees a little boy running in winter.
What do you think of the typical Chinese way of raising children today: spoil them when they are young and send them overseas for higher education when they get older, as long as the family can afford this?
All parents, whether from the East or West, share the same love for their children. But there are differences in the ideas of how to raise children. Eastern and Western parents reacted very differently to what happened in the video. In Eastern countries, which tend to be strict with children, 60 to 70 per cent of the comments were negative, while in Western countries known as being more democratic, 70 per cent of people who saw this expressed understanding or agreement, according to a foreign journalist. I was quite surprised by this. I thought itthe result should be the opposite.
Under the precondition that he stays healthy, what kind of person do you want your son to be? Is there an example in your mind?
Through physical training, he has a strong will and good perceptiveness. He's doing well in his studies and is quite intelligent. This leads me to be more hopeful [for things beyond just good health].
I hope he can be someone like Bill Gates, who is very capable, has broad vision, makes a lot of money and donates it to society. I have established a charity fund in his name [to help others], and we've made three donations to it so far.
You're very capable if you can make a lot of money, but what's most important is how to spend it.
Did you upload the video clip online after you came back from holiday in the US last month?
No, it was not me. I sent it to my friend, and I guess he did it. The quality of the video wouldn't be this poor if I had planned to hype up anything. I used a very common camera to record it, because as a father, I wanted to remember it. The friend is Chinese, not from the media. He went crazy upon seeing it and scolded me. But there are also friends who support me. For example, they encouraged me to write a book about my experiences in raising my boy. By publishing the book I offer something for people to contemplate, even if it's bad and isn't worth learning. I have spent almost a year on the book and will finish in one to two months.