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  • Dec 22, 2014
  • Updated: 10:10pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 November, 2013, 4:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 November, 2013, 4:20am

Astronauts leave children in a vacuum

It seems many Chinese children are fated to either be over-dependent on their parents, even after they leave school and find work, or face premature independence when they are sent to study alone overseas at a tender age.

I realise this is an overstatement but there is no denying substantial groups of children and teenagers from Hong Kong, the mainland and Taiwan fall into these categories. The latter are called children of "astronauts", the subject of a new study by Justin Tse and Johanna Waters, two scholars in the emerging field of "human geography" titled Transnational youth transitions: Becoming adults between Vancouver and Hong Kong, and published in the peer-reviewed journal Global Networks. What took them so long?

The two academics examine the frustrations of children left behind by parents who "simultaneously isolate them in Canada and function as occasional drop-in parental supervisors". I don't need to read the study. I know all about the subject. I was a child of astronauts in the early 1980s in Toronto. Well-off parents often send their children overseas because of better education opportunities, but also, in Hong Kong, because many during my time were afraid of the Chinese communist takeover. My mother was simply too terrified by what happened to one of our aunts during the Cultural Revolution. Vancouver and Toronto were shaped by waves of Chinese migration: in the 80s and 90s, it was Hong Kong people; now, it's mostly mainlanders.

It's definitely good to let children live overseas and experience the world. I believe a good deal of problems and social tensions facing Hong Kong today can be attributed to our parochialism, especially among our youths. On the other hand, it could be an intensely frightening and lonely experience to put a child or teenager in a strange place that speaks a different language. They are left to fend for themselves. To ease their guilt, parents often lavish money and gifts on them. By materially spoiling them, it just makes it worse.

When should a fledgling leave the nest? My own take is that independence is good, but by doing it too early, it just feels too much like abandonment.


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I agree with John too that many of these childeren will do just fine in their career due to their privileged background. However, the parental bondage is almost certainly weak.
There is another substantial risk in sending teenagers to boarding schools....the exposure to drugs. Drugs come easy when you have money. Every kid in boarding schools have money and they are remarkably smart in shielding their taste from their parents. Parents often wishfully refused to believe drug was part of their children's life.
I have many examples, from my buddies, former bosses to my relatives. These children are into their 30s and today they are not afraid to reveal their previous experience if you know how to ask them.
AL, one of two free radicals at SCMP (the other being Peter Kramerer) picks a topic today about parents parking their children away from Hong Kong. He is timely but probably a bit ahead. History will repeat. The 80s, 90s and why not the 20s of this century. Parents who push their kids abroad may have the right as parents but to do so without some fulltime supervision as a boarding school would provide is reckless in parental care. Their fear for the future of Hong Kong only can be justified for their own well-being concern only.
Of all complains, AL seems to be doing OK? He offers more than the type that our Chief Secretary is looking for in attracting the overseas to return to Hong Kong.
"...a good deal of problems and social tensions facing Hong Kong today can be attributed to our parochialism, "
Not necessarily. Some well-heeled Hong Kong returnees with Ph.D. in titles only -- 流口水博士, who are enjoying the fruits from past and present sinecures of our academies and foreign firms, have learned nothing but McCarthyism. Any attempt to discuss the dogmas of Democracy will be countered with "true democracy" or "why don't you leave and live in the mainland?"
Hate-China folks are much more malicious than local young hotheads who haven't been to any place. Their problem is likely only an inferiority complex. Maybe if they take occasional trips to the mainland and see why other Chinese are struggling for a better life like each and everyone of us, they will acquire some generosity of spirit. Mainlanders are often exploited by similar crony capitalism and uneven wealth distribution just like here in Hong Kong.
Guess where China learned its crony capitalism from? The West. Give China credit for not allowing a democrat like Yeltsin to give Russia away to a few obligarchs.
Will Xi Jinping succeed in purging corruption just like we did under Governor McLehose? I hope so. With 1.3 billion people spread over 3.8 million square miles, don't hold your breath just yet.
The British instituted corruption here. They had to eradicate it, or the place would be ungovernable.
Is Chinese corruption in our DNA, or is it nurture - something we learn from the West?


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