A father’s anger over losing his only child to the United States has caused web users to question the value of sending students overseas for their education.
In an interview with local Party newspaper Guangzhou Daily on Tuesday, Zhang Yong described how his daughter had married an American and intends to stay in the U.S., 10 years after she left home to pursue her degree.
The 61-year-old retiree, who used to work in an electronic parts factory, said he sold his 110-square-meter house and moved into a smaller apartment to save money for his daughter’s 300,000 yuan ($43,500) yearly tuition, according to the report.
The family was initially proud that their daughter won a place at an unnamed American university, but Zhang is now worried there will be no one to care for him or his wife, who turns 60 this year, in their old age. He described his choice to let his daughter go abroad as “the worst decision of [his] life.”
In China, children from wealthier families are regularly sent abroad from as early as high school age to receive an overseas education. Parents believe that spending on international private schools during their children’s formative years will give their offspring greater access to the global elite.
However, sending children abroad is not without its costs. Students can find the separation from their family and friends, combined with the demands of a new educational style, an alienating and disconcerting experience.
Many net users reacted to Zhang’s story with debates over the value of leaving China to study. By Thursday, hashtagged posts on the topic had been read nearly 20 million times on microblog platform Weibo.
“If you’re talented enough, you should first pay back the money your parents spent on you before you pursue your own dreams,” read one comment on Weibo that received more than 8,000 likes. “Making your parents responsible for paying for you to be happy is just selfish.”
In response, another Weibo user wrote: “Did the parents even consult the daughter about how she wanted it to be paid for? What’s the problem now that she has found her own happiness and doesn’t want to come back? If the parents just wanted some money-earning machine to take care of them in their old age, then that’s just too bloody disgusting.”
Zhang’s wife, Zhu Jing, described to the Guangzhou Daily how she gave her daughter Zhang Li a set of strict rules when they parted at the airport: Zhu warned her daughter against finding a foreign boyfriend, becoming a single mother, or becoming romantically involved with any of her teachers. Both parents said they struggled to adapt to life without their daughter, and Zhu said she used to call her daughter three times a day. But the frequent calls are a thing of the past. “We haven’t been in contact with her for two weeks,” Zhang lamented.
Data from the Chinese Ministry of Education last year indicated that 523,700 Chinese students went abroad to study in 2015. Although this represented a new record, it was also the second consecutive year during which year-over-year growth fell short of long-term averages. And of the students who went abroad, around 80 percent returned home.
One Weibo user pointed out that Zhang and Zhu’s regret points to larger social issues: Chinese retirees cannot rely on the country’s inadequate senior care facilities, and many have just one child they can turn to for support. “No mother or father wants to stop their children from doing well,” the user wrote.
Contributions: Matthew Walsh; editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: An elderly couple walks past a high-rise building under construction in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, Oct. 16, 2013. VCG)