These days ‘China-bashing’ is something of a relaxing past time.

Some Dim Sum Bad For Some Sons … we’ll get back to that later. First the China bashing

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is run by military/economic dictators masquerading as social democrats. They trample true democratic principle with tank treads on Tiananmen. They have more spies than citizens. They rival the U.S. economically and militarily, we can’t have that. They undermine foreign multinational capitalist monopolies, or that. They allow their neighbours to harbour nuclear programs. Like spoiled children dividing a sand pit, they draw international maritime borders all over the south China sea. They use too much spice in their food. They cheat at the Olympics. Their favourite ‘sport’ is ping pong. And their language is utterly incomprehensible.

One child policy - the ideal family!

Beware the Brat

Any western 6pm media source can tell you so.

But now thanks to a recent article published in the esteemed journal Science, we can ditch Fox news and refer to peer reviewed high impact factor academic research to China bash.

The research documents social consequences of China’s ‘One child policy’. First introduced in 1978 the policy was designed to restrict all new families to just one child so as to minimise the explosion of Chinese population, thus preventing various symptoms of crowding such as crime, traffic, pollution, resource depletion, and hand-me-down toys.

The researchers tested a cohort of more than 400 people who were born close to either side of the introduction of the one child policy. They argue that they thereby isolate the direct impact of the restriction loosely within an equivalent generation, escaping age related differences. Whether they achieve this remains a matter for debate.

In contrast to other European and American studies that have psychologically compared only-children to brothers or sisters, this study specifically identifies a series of personality traits that emerged in Chinese society because, the researchers say, parents were forced to have only-children, as opposed to us lucky westerners who decided to have only children so that we could spend more time drinking, riding ponies and blogging.

In other words, restricting parents who want many to just one kid makes those parents dotes and spoilers. This in turn is now scientifically described to be responsible for the emergence of the Chinese ‘little emperor’ phenomenon, a generation of Chinese only-children thought to be selfish spoiled little brats …

Jean-Baptiste Greuze [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Spoiled Child by Jean-Baptiste Greuze 1725-1805

But one factor not accounted for in the study is unintentionally implicit within it … It might not simply be the restrictive one-child policy that causes little emperors, but rather the result of timing and juxtaposition of the ‘haves’ with the ‘have-nots’.

You might imagine there to be a significant difference between parenting in those few years after implementation of the policy compared to now, when the policy is entrenched and parents forced to have only-children no longer  feel ‘different’ or that an injustice has been committed against them relative to their slightly older peers.

Thereby it is conceivable that future generations of only children will not be little emperors, or that the little emperor phenomenon is caused by something unrelated to the one child policy, something more integral to the development of modern society perhaps …

Supporting this idea is the surprising estimate that today almost 4 in 5 Chinese citizens are in favour of the controversial one child policy. Of course this statistic may be influenced by the fact that we only-children see no fault in ourselves.

Despite this popularity within China, and despite the estimated 100-200 million prevented children (phew!), the policy has always been the subject of severe criticism from certain corners both inside and outside the country. This is hardly surprising given the current general understanding that is sadly summed up by Wikipedia:

“In most rural areas, families are allowed to apply to have a second child if their first-born is a daughter or suffers from physical disability, mental illness or mental retardation”

How dare they insinuate that the disabled are as useless as daughters! And the mentally ill, they can be treated with anti-depressants and exercise these days. Femininity on the other hand …

The Chinese themselves comment that China is now the little sugar-deprived screaming brat in the supermarket aisle. All the other countries glide their trolleys on by, tut tutting, “oh my … the way they raise their children.” as they simultaneously load their trolley with cheap Chinese made goods.

Until now this ‘Little Emperor’ stereotype has not been scientifically documented within the Chinese population.

Concluding on a series of economics-based personality games (tests), the Australian researchers state that the Chinese one-child experiment has produced a generation of “significantly less trusting, less trustworthy, more risk-averse, less competitive, more pessimistic, and less conscientious individuals.”

All I can say is thank God for that. Lucky thing for the rest of us that China is less competitive … Huh?

Are we talking about the same country here? Each year China becomes more prevalent in the three immovable pillars of world dominance: economics, military power, and the Olympics.

Chinese social policy has made a generation of less conscientious individuals who are less trustworthy and less trusting. Que?

Is that not exactly how we describe the jaded youth of today, everywhere, especially here in the West?


In Australia we have a multi-child policy and kids happy to steal the pants off an old blind man. The emergence of the character flaws described by the researchers could easily have as much to do with modern city based life and the prevalence of gaming consoles in every bedroom as much as how many siblings s/he is allowed to have.

Yes, the researchers did attempt to normalise for age and generation, but a lot can change in 5 years, especially in a rapidly developing and modernising China. Think 2007 iPhone compared to the 2012 iPhone 5 … nuff said!

So the true conclusion of this research is that your kid will only become a little brat if you are forcibly restricted to that one child, and you are Chinese, and you live in an over-crowded polluted country, with a lot of corruption, social upheaval, the demise of communism, and copious dim sum.

Is dim sum responsible for the little emperors?

While the relative consumption rates of dim sum by different Western family dynamics has never been studied, it is believed that there is no difference in personality traits between only children and siblings in U.S.A, Europe and Australia.

Dim Sum

Some Dim Sum Bad For Some Sons

So where does this dim sum-less only-kid stereotype come from?

I blame Jesus. He was an only child. And Mary was pretty much forced into that arrangement. Plus the Jews were free of Dim Sum. Jesus then spent his whole life cruising around without shoes, moving from job to job and telling everybody how his Dad was better than all the other Dads. Dad gimme a miracle, now! He always had to be centre of attention. Just look at the Last Supper. Archetypal only-child. He even got his mates to write a book about him.

Maybe it’s just our integrated common sense. We are all taught not to put all our dim sum in one basket. Diversify your investment portfolio. But that is an economic argument to prevent loss.

There is no suggestion that a single stock pick cannot outperform a portfolio. It’s just a risk. We only children are risky investments. Granted there can only be one Emperor …

… but there’s nothing wrong with us, honest!

So don’t listen to Science. Next time you engage in a good bit of China-bashing for relaxation and laughs, please stick to Dim Sum jokes and leave us only-children out of it.

mmh … pork rolls. Gimme!

For other Science Satire Serpentry go HOME.

photo credits: Chapendra via photopin cc

Benreis at wikivoyage shared [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Panoramix (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons


One thought on “Science bashes Chinese only-children

  1. Complex material this, Science Satire Serpent, as you point out very well. What a range of factors influence personality, abilities and behaviour. It’s good to see, therefore, you introducing some of them here. The one-child policy has to be seen within a shifting social-cultural situation. Very interesting material! Keep on with the analyses.

    A bloke with a sibling.

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