Spare a thought for China’s adolescents. In the Middle Kingdom, run as it is by a coterie of communists, post-pubescent “acting out” will no longer be considered a step in young people’s journeys towards finding themselves. Their acts of rebellion — often manifested in “bad behaviour” — are to be seen as a failure on the part of parents, who will be punished for the misdemeanours of their offspring, according to the draft Family Education Promotion law. In essence, the state is telling young people that their individuality and agency is a myth.
There is a charitable explanation for this paternalism. China, after all, is still ostensibly communist and Karl Marx did say “social being determines consciousness”. Perhaps, in a conservative, authoritarian society, punishing parents for their children’s misdeeds is the only way for an all-powerful state to force its way into the familial dialectic. It is more likely, though, that a task as important as raising future acolytes for the party-state is too important to be left to parents. It may take a village to raise a child, but in Xi’s China, it takes the state to make a citizen.
The proposed law is just the latest in a series of interventions that have seen the state countering what it appears to view as the cultural and political (which are, historically, dangerously synonymous in China) degradation of young people. In the last few months, the education ministry has limited the number of hours children can play computer and online games and the government has been urging young men to “be less feminine”. Last year, it issued the “Proposal to Prevent the Feminisation of Male Adolescents” to schools, seemingly to counter the influence of South Korean music and television in the country. Being an adolescent is hard enough. But in China, it looks like young men and women have a harder time of it than most.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on October 20, 2021 under the title ‘It takes a party-state’.