Providing for the Next Generation
Although Chinese families continue to be marked by respect for parents and a substantial degree of filial subordination, parents have weighty obligations toward their children as well. Children are obliged to support parents in their old age, and parents are obliged to give their children as favorable a place in the world as they can. In the past this meant leaving them property and providing the best education or training possible. For most rural parents today the choice of a career for their children is not a major issue. Most children of peasants will be peasants like their parents, and the highest realistic ambition is a position as a lowlevel cadre or teacher or perhaps a technician. The primary determinant of a rural child's status and well-being remains his or her family, which is one reason for the intense concern with the marriage choices of sons and daughters and for the greater degree of parental involvement in those decisions.
Urban parents are less concerned with whom their children marry but are more concerned with their education and eventual careers. Urban parents can expect to leave their children very little in the way of property, but they do their best to prepare them for secure and desirable jobs in the state sector. The difficulty is that such jobs are limited, competition is intense, and the criteria for entry have changed radically several times since the early 1950s. Many of the dynamics of urban society revolve around the issue of job allocation and the attempts of parents in the better-off segments of society to transmit their favored position to their children. The allocation of scarce and desirable goods, in this case jobs, is a political issue and one that has been endemic since the late 1950s. These questions lie behind the changes in educational policy, the attempts in the 1960s and 1970s to settle urban youth in the countryside, the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, and the post-1980 encouragement of small-scale private and collective commerce and service occupations in the cities. All are attempts to solve the problem, and each attempt has its own costs and drawbacks.
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