- “Tiger mom” has been the term used in recent decades to describe Chinese mothers.
- Now the trend is “jiwa,” a style in which parents make their kids work hard to get the best grades.
- Parents want the best possible outcome for their children, even if that means no free time to play.
When my family first moved from China to the US, my mother threw me into dance, gymnastics, and piano lessons. I didn’t grow up with free time after school to play with my friends. My mom was what we would now call a “tiger mom,” an overly controlling mother who doesn’t allow her kids much freedom.
As children of the first generation of Chinese immigrants continued getting accepted into top universities, the term has become a badge of honor.
But gone are the days when ambitious Chinese parents are all lumped together as “tiger moms.”
These days, China’s animal-based ambitious parenting lingo includes “chicken babies,” or kids with lots of after-school classes and training (that means they’ve been injected with “chicken blood” — referring to an unproven and now outlawed decades-old practice). “Frog babies” refers to kids without any remarkable talent or kids who maintain average grades even after a period of “injection.” “Cow babies” are kids with good grades and perfect performance in competitions.
Some Chinese parents want “cow babies” who are naturally gifted and study hard. Those who aren’t “cow babies” are usually classified as “chicken babies,” or jiwa — kids who aren’t necessarily naturally talented but work extra hard either on their own or because their parents make them.
Some Chinese parents are interested in ‘chicken-blood’ parenting
I talked to parents in Beijing’s Haidian District, home to China’s top universities and tech companies, and famous for being a hub of self-sacrificing and education-focused parents. If there’s an education trend coming to China, it’s making a stop in Haidian.
Haidian is home to some of Beijing’s most expensive school-district housing, and the moms there were the ones who got the term “jiwa” trending on the Chinese social-media platform Weibo.
The Haidian college student Julia Wang, who declined to share the name of her school for privacy reasons, told Insider she learned the coding languages C++ and Python in high school and that she’d already been considered advanced, but in Haidian, preschool kids are already learning programming with iPads. Many of these Haidian preschool kids, growing up in what is essentially China’s Silicon Valley, are given a head start into the world of tech as early as possible.
The Haidian mom Lily Zhao, who has an 8-year-old named Alice Xi, told Insider, “there’s absolutely no shame in injecting our kids with chicken blood” which means putting children in after-school extracurricular and tutoring classes and pushing them to achieve high grades in school.
While there are international and private schools all over the city, most Haidian parents, like Zhao, still choose to send their children to the local public schools. If Chinese children want to attend a top Chinese university, they must attend a local school because the curriculum will be designed for them to take the gaokao (China’s national college entrance exam) whereas in international schools they’re preparing kids for the SATs and other international exams.
These public schools are notoriously difficult to get into because of their reputation for producing kids with extremely high gaokao scores who go on to China’s elite universities.
It’s all about the kids’ future
Alice Xi, while still barely in elementary school, is already an overachieving jiwa, according to her mother. “We allowed her to explore her interests when she was young, but now that she’s in school, every activity she participates in needs to account for something that’ll help her future,” Zhao said.
Jiwa parenting isn’t just about what other parents are doing. It’s also about calculating the educational route that will help a child stand out in the future, like computer programming, writing competitions, and “exotic” sports like horseback riding.
The 16-year-old Olivia Li attends one of the most prestigious private schools in Haidian and has been raised in a self-described jiwa lifestyle of after-school tutoring and a wide variety of academically focused extracurricular activities her entire life. She doesn’t have the highest grades in her class, but she does have a stellar GPA, she told Insider.
Outside of her normal school hours, she spends her time volunteering with a local special-needs training center, creating awareness campaigns in her school, taking part in internships, and entering design and art competitions.
“I’m the product of jiwa parenting, so I guess that makes me a full-grown chicken,” Li told Insider.
Many after-school activity spots have stopped accepting tuition from students because they’re not sure whether they’ll be able to continue offering services.
Others have removed the words “curriculum” and “students” in an attempt to comply with the ban while still doing business. Some have decided to teach parents instead of kids, so those parents can then teach their own children. Some wealthy families are even hiring live-in tutors disguised as nannies.
The tutoring ban throws a wrench into the daily schedules of jiwas, but as tutoring centers and parents adapt to the new regulations, it’s becoming clear that parents will do anything to make sure their kids stay ahead, like forming small groups of kids for private tutors to teach, as CNBC reported.