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Happy childhoods elude both rich and poor

(Shanghai Daily)

08:21, June 19, 2013

Three-grader Chen Mengxian at the Shaowu Primary School in Yunnan Province's poverty-stricken Jianshui County smells the fragrant eraser after she receives a new set of stationery brought by volunteer teachers from Shanghai.(Photo/Shanghai Daily)

Wei Yufan stays busy during the week and spends her weekends and holidays at cramming schools, taking math, English, piano and taekwondo classes.

The nine-year-old is chauffeured from one class to another every Saturday, with a short break for lunch at a nearby fast-food restaurant. She spends only Sunday afternoons at home, but schoolwork takes up most of the time.

Wei's parents want their only child to excel, or at least, keep up with her peers.

"All the other kids are taking many extracurricular classes and she will fall behind if she doesn't take any," says her mother Xie Jing, a government employee in Nanning, capital city of south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. "We hope she'll enter the best secondary school and eventually a top university."

But the third-grader is not enthusiastic. Though she never openly defies her parents, she struggles to hold back tears when asked whether she enjoys her weekend classes.

"I don't like any of them," she says. "They never ask how I feel before they sign me up."

Xie says she knows her daughter is too busy and "a little bit tired," but insists that "hard work always pays off."

"When she's older, she'll understand," her mother asserts.

Wei dreads Fridays, always followed by two lonely and exhausting days. "It's even worse than normal school days."

Wei would rather be at home, reading for fun, but her parents call her favorite books "rubbish" because they don't lead to higher grades.

The girl's frustration is typical of children raised in an age of material abundance in many cities. Parents are often college educated and expect them to excel in academics, speak at least one foreign language well and do well in art and sports.

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