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Raising children in Communist China with strict censorship laws can provide “benefits” such as “kid-friendly internet,” while mass surveillance offers “its own kind of freedom,” according to a recent New York Times piece that boasts of children being “co-parented” by the authoritarian Chinese government.

The Wednesday essay, titled “China Helped Raise My American Kids, and They Turned Out Fine” and penned by author Heather Kaye, begins by describing her history of “co-parenting” with the Chinese government. 

“When Covid was raging across the world a couple of years ago, I came across a picture online of an American woman wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed, ‘I refuse to co-parent with the government’ — a response to perceived government overreach regarding school mask mandates,” she writes. 

“I laughed out loud: My own kids were, in a way, co-parented by the Chinese government,” she added.

Kaye, whose work in the fashion industry brought her to Shanghai for 16 years, explains how “government co-parenting begins in the womb” in China.

“Chinese citizens have faced limits on how many children they were allowed under birth control policies that have since been relaxed,” she writes. “People in China are still legally barred from determining the gender of their unborn babies unless medically necessary, because of a history of sex-selective abortions.”

Though, as a foreigner, Kaye was exempt from such rules, she describes having had to “accept that my growing belly had become community property, subject to unsolicited rubbing and sidewalk commentary (‘It’s a boy. I can tell!’), and that restaurants would refuse to serve me cold beverages.” 

When the time arrived, the author states she “faced the choice of all expatriate parents in China: between pricey international schools and enrollment in local schools, overseen by the government and with an immersion in Chinese culture and values.”

Having “weighed the pros of the Chinese route (our girls would learn fluent Mandarin and, hopefully, a broadened worldview) and the cons (exposure to Communist Party propaganda and potential social isolation of being foreigners in a group of Chinese students),” Kaye opted for a local school, stating, “We took the plunge.”

According to Kaye, “our stringent government co-parent” made its presence felt immediately:

The girls’ Chinese kindergarten lectured us on everything, including how many hours our daughters should sleep, what they should eat and their optimal weight. Each morning all of the students performed calisthenics in straight rows and raised China’s red flag while singing the national anthem. Classroom windows were usually kept open to increase air circulation and prevent contamination by airborne illnesses, even during winter, when the kids would attend class wearing their coats.

“We sometimes felt as if our children were on loan to us for evenings and weekends, to be delivered back to school each weekday,” she added.

Despite the strict regimen and feelings of a loss of control over her children’s education, Kaye claims that “the benefits” of a Chinese school eventually “kicked in.”

“Constantly served up moral, history and culture lessons on pulling together for the sake of the Chinese nation, our girls came home discussing self-discipline, integrity and respect for elders,” she writes.

“With school instilling a solid work ethic and a total drive for academic excellence, my husband and I didn’t need to push the girls to complete homework,” she added, noting “the shame of letting their teachers and classmates down was enough to light their fires.”

Kaye then contrasts the “prevailing student-centered American approach to education” which “emphasizes the needs of the children and what engages them and promotes independent thought,” with China’s — which “stresses that you can succeed — as long as you obey your teachers and work hard.”

She also noted that to “celebrate Chinese culture and offer an alternative to Western influences, government-funded events were always on offer, like traditional musical performances, operas and plays.”

And while her daughters would, at times, “repeat propaganda” at home, the author is hardly concerned, given that her “less demanding American family culture helped keep the balance.”

Other “pluses” of raising a family in China, according to Kaye, include the totalitarian state’s strict censorship laws and surveillance of its citizens.

“Raising kids in China was a plus in other ways — such as the heavy censorship, which results in a kid-friendly internet, and national limits on how many hours young people can spend playing online video games,” she writes.

“Ironically, the tight control of the Communist Party surveillance state results in its own kind of freedom: With crime and personal safety concerns virtually eliminated, our daughters were riding the subway unsupervised in a city of around 26 million people from the age of 11,” she added, claiming that a “constant but benign (and mostly unarmed) police presence kept order; streets and the green spaces around every corner were kept immaculate, and the sense of civic pride was palpable.”

However, she argues, the coronavirus pandemic would eventually reveal “cracks in the system.”

“The punishing Covid lockdown of Shanghai that began in late March last year kept us confined at home for two months, dependent at times on government food rations,” she writes. 

“We had already made the difficult decision to leave China after nearly three years of being unable to see our families, largely because of Chinese pandemic restrictions, and moved to Washington, D.C., last June,” she added.

After her return to the U.S., the author describes experiencing a “culture shock” stronger than the one she had undergone when she first arrived in China. 

“We’ve returned to a divided America where many feel government has no place in our lives,” she writes. 

For her daughters, who are “navigating their middle and high school years” as “open-minded and independent” individuals, the move has “been an adjustment,” she claims.

“They had their first live-shooter drill at school recently, and we’ve adjusted our senses to be on alert in a way we never needed to in Shanghai,” she writes, adding that she now finds herself “missing my Chinese co-parent.”

And though American critics have reserved much condemnation for China’s Communist Party — “much of it justified” — Kaye explains that her family’s personal experience in China “taught us that immersion in a culture with different answers to everyday questions alters how one sees the world.”

“Practices that used to seem clearly right or wrong took on complexity and dimension,” she alleges.

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