Peter Principle, Chinese Style

The Chinese government did their best to see that we had as little contact as possible with the people of the People's Republic. Our tours were tightly guided by the government's own travel service. The guides were limited on how candid they could be about their own opinions on government policies, such as the one-child-per-family rule and the resulting fixation on baby boys, but they could at least talk about their own lives.

Our guide in Gaungzhou (Canton) was well-educated, fluent in English, in her 20s, and lovely by Eastern and Western beauty standards. Was she an only child? "No, I was born before the one child rule," Kate (a pseudonym) said. Kate had an older sister so she, Kate, was "supposed" to be a boy. Deeply disappointed, her parents named her a boy's name to try to make up for her inadequate gender.

The boys are called "little emperors," Kate said. "They are given the best of everything, food, clothes, all advantages, doting by family, and spontaneous public adoration. My goodness, such a bonus, this accidental genital!"

The peter obsession is so intense that many of the tourist shops had ceramic figures of little boys pulling their drawers open to display the jewels of honor. I was told by one woman, a Chinese, that some families are so proud of their little schmuck that they have a split in the front of the boy's trousers to enable the parents to more easily open his clothes to show off Mr. Peter. Most Chinese toddlers have slits in their pants on their tail ends for squatty potty reasons but the slit in the front is an innovation since the one child rule. It gives a whole new meaning to the "Peter principle."

Practically speaking, the Chinese have been raising a generation of brats; boys who know without any doubt that they are "better" than girls. This is frightening, not only to China but to the rest of the globe. What kinds of laws will these boys make when they are leaders? What kinds of laws will they break when they grow older? How will the minority of "inferior" women fare in a culture hand-picked to lord over them?

One of the Chinese symbols for emperor is the dragon. Ironically, and appropriately, we learned that the symbol for empress is the phoenix. And no, the Chinese as a whole do not refer to their daughters as "little empress" as an endearment to balance blatant boy-worship. Male worship is part and parcel of the ash that women must rise up out of all over the world, not just in China.

-- Ellen Snortland

Go to Beijing '95: Special Report.

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