A photo published by the People's Daily newspaper last Friday touched me greatly. A school boy of about 8 or 9 pulling two large sacks - almost the size of himself - of empty cans he had collected to his school as part of his "summer vacation homework".
The Dongfeng Primary School of Yuyao city, Zhejiang Province, had asked the students to collect empty pop-top cans and plastic bottles during their vacation. They would be sold to raise money to help students from impoverished families continue their education.
The school's move is commendable. It was obviously designed to help the kids develop a compassion for the poor and a love for manual labor. More significantly, I think, the "homework" will teach them how hard it is to earn money.
Nowadays, children in urban areas are mostly pampered and spoiled. Their parents will satisfy whatever wish they have. They never worry about food and clothing and are never short of pocket money.
A survey of school children in China, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam conducted in 2004 indicated that Chinese children of urban families had the largest pocket money allowance, about twice or three times that of their Japanese and Korean counterparts. During Chinese lunar New Year holidays, a child can receive thousands of yuan from grandparents, uncles and aunties in addition to their parents' gifts. But they never bother to think how the money has been earned.
When the children in Dongfeng Primary School counted the money they got from selling the empty cans and bottles, they must have realized how valuable each jiao (1.4 cents) was. A pop-top can is priced at two jiao at salvage stations. Supposing a large sack can contain 150 cans, then the boy could have earned 60 yuan. That is about - to say the least - the weekly allowance he may get from his parents.
By recalling how much effort and time he had spent to collect the scraps, he will acquire a new understanding of wealth. He probably will develop a habit of thinking twice before spending every yuan he gets from his parents. And he will develop a deeper gratitude for his parents' love. This kind of appreciation seems to be weakening among children.
A story posted online not long ago set many people lamenting about some of our children's lethargy toward their parents' loving care. A junior middle school boy in Wuchang, Hubei Province, sent a cell phone message to his father asking for money. The message contained only three Chinese characters: Dad, money, son. Though cell phone messages tend to be short, nobody would believe the boy would be so terse when exchanging messages with his friends.
A local teenager study society in Wuchang surveyed 5,586 primary and middle school students and found that 65 percent "often vented their anger" on their parents and 70 percent "never helped with household chores".
Our country ranks only 112th in the world in terms of per capita GDP. We are genuinely a developing country. We need several more generations' hard work to catch up with the developed countries. While resources on this globe are diminishing with each passing day, competition among nations for development is intensifying. Can our next generations shoulder so heavy a responsibility?
We have no reason to be pessimistic for there is no evidence that our kids have become that incapable. But we do need to be alert to the unhealthy tendencies that have been found in some children and do something to address the problem. For example, frequently placing them in moderate ordeals to steel their wills.
(China Daily 09/05/2007 page10)