Chinese hit TV drama highlights anxieties behind middle-classes sending kids abroad

The senior high school entrance examination is around the corner. Fang Duoduo, a 15-year-old Chinese girl performs poorly in the mock exam, which worries her middle-class parents. Learning that many Chinese parents are sending their young kids to study abroad, the Fang’s consider that for Duoduo studying abroad is a better way out. However, the intense relationship between Duoduo and her parents, the mounting pressure to prepare the study-abroad application and SAT exam afflict Duoduo with great anxiety. On the other hand, the Fang’s are also faced with an unanticipated financial crisis and family conflicts that put the family on the verge of falling apart.

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TV drama “A Love for Separation” poster

This is the story of the recent smash hit in China, “A Love for Separation”, a TV drama that recounts a prevalent phenomena where middle-class Chinese parents send their children to study abroad at a middle-school age, which has stirred up a wave of debates on a series of issues on the “premature” overseas education, such as border-crossing identity, family values, puberty, diaspora, pros and cons of different education systems. The show has been on air since mid-August. It topped the TV rating in a 35-city survey, dominating the hot-topic list on Chinese microblog, Weibo. It has also been watched nearly 4.7 billion times on video-streaming sites. Many audience commented that they love the show because it is so “relatable”, as the show tackles middle-class anxiety on education and future in the country with its growing middle class.

Lu Yingong, the screenwriter for the show told China Daily that the idea sprang from his trip to the U.S. ten years ago, in which he observed that an increasing number of Chinese parents are eager to send their kids to high schools abroad so that they can be admitted to prestigious US universities more easily. These parents, usually well-educated, favour the Western education over the exam-oriented education in China. As studying overseas gains ground as the domestic college fees have surged in recent years. “Students studying abroad are getting younger, and it is a new tendency,” Lu said, and its presumed advantages are yet to be verified.

Government statistics indicate that the number of Chinese outbound students surpassed 500,000 last year, making China the top source of international students in major host countries such as the US, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. Reports from several overseas study agencies show that nearly 50% of inquiries are about middle schools in those countries. A recent survey among 2000 Chinese parents shows that more than half of them have plans to send their children to study overseas.

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Some Chinese parents even send their kids as young as two to three years old to the elite boarding schools in the UK while the parents stay in China. Alexander Nikitich, founder of Carfax Education, observes that “more Chinese parents are prepared to send children abroad at a younger age”, it is because “Britain was the only society where a boarding education became so popular and the model was developed over many centuries to near-perfection”.

While some think it is a good family investment, some experts have expressed their concerns. These children are not yet mentally prepared for the cross-cultural encounters, said Ministry of Education spokesman Xu Mei at a press briefing earlier this year. Renmin University professor Cheng Fangping believes that it is better for students to go abroad after they have received their basic education in China, otherwise they will be confused about their “cultural roots”.

The young students abroad face challenges such as cultural shock and a language barrier.

As a matter of fact, it is not an easy decision to make for the parents. They feel anxious separated from their kids, and in the meantime they believe that their kids can have the best possible start in life having overseas study experience and expanding their horizons.

The article is originally published on China Info 24 on September 28, 2016.

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