Wolf dad and his four kids.
By raising four stereotypically successful children, Xiao Baiyou, a 47-year-old businessman from Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, believes he has proved himself a "successful" father. The chubby-faced dad can’t hide his pride when talking about his outstanding children, two of whom were born in the US and the other two in Hong Kong, his eyes crinkled as he smiles.
Three of Xiao’s children have all been admitted to Peking University, one of China’s top schools, and his youngest daughter Xiao Bing is now in the second year of high school, and hopes to enter the entering Central Conservatory of Music in two years.
Behind the academic success of Xiao’s four children, however, is his secret weapon: a cane.
"The cane is a good thing. It doesn’t lead to a fracture, but definitely hurts. The kids could only remember not repeating the same mistake after feeling pain," wrote Xiao in his new book entitled So, Brothers and Sisters in Beida (Peking University), which caused controversy as soon as it was published in June. The original book title, suggested by Xiao himself ,was called Beat to Beida.
The book outlines a series of practices that would see Xiao imprisoned for child abuse in many countries.
Inspired by Amy Chua, a Chinese-American professor at Yale University, who stirred up heated debate about educational differences between the East and the West with her best seller The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother last year, Xiao calls himself the Chinese "Wolf Dad."
A finance major at Ji’nan University in the 1980s, Xiao is now an executive with Outlet (China) Ltd. Though his daily business is all about real-estate investment and the sales of luxury products, Xiao firmly believes the best education lies in China’s traditional culture. And this belief found its expression in Xiao’s daily routine of beating his children as they grew up.
When other kids were enjoying their carefree childhood, the "wolf dad" began educating his children at 3 at home. Instead of playing with toy cars and Barbie dolls, reciting Chinese classic texts, such as the Three Word Chant, Hundred Family Surnames and Four Books and Five Classics, became a daily routine of Xiao’s kids. And every evening, Xiao sat down with them at the sofa in their dining room to check the kids’ progress in reciting words that, at that age, meant nothing to them. Anyone who failed to recite correctly faced a beating.
"It’s my rule for being a strict father: supervision, scolding and punishment," Xiao told the Global Times during an exclusive interview. "Making a mistake is just like getting sick. The function of a beating is just like giving an injection to a sick person. If we only rely on mild ways, the sickness can’t be fully cured," Xiao reasoned.
"I was caned by my dad ever since I can remember. It hurt a lot. When we were wearing shorts in the summer, the red weals on our legs always made us embarrassed," said Xiao Bing, enjoying an ice cream her dad had just bought for her as a treat after four hours’ practice of the guzheng, a traditional Chinese musical instrument.
Xiao has his own rules and lengthy self-justifications. He summarized several principles of his punishments: He only beat hands and legs, a lengthy lesson always preceded the physical punishment to justify his beating, and whenever one child is punished, the other three were required to stand besides to witness their siblings’ pain. Any yelling out or tentative move away from the falling cane would only result in more punishment.
He stopped beating his children when they turned 12, as he believes that above that age, the kids’ personality and habits are pretty much formed, and further beating would only bring more harm than good.
Xiao had a price tag for each error a child made. A mistake in an exam meant five blows, and a stop-over at a classmate’s house after school 10 blows, as did talking back to your parents or telling a lie.
"I never felt soft-hearted when I was beating them. Just like the national law, the family rules can’t be easily broken by any kinds of excuse. But on top of that, I will make sure that they know I do this only for their own good," said Xiao.
In Xiao’s mind-set, it’s crucial to override all children’s own desires and preferences to make sure they are 100 percent focused on their studies.
Xiao’s children’s life before college was an endless round trip between school and home. No extracurricular activities, playdates, or sleepovers were allowed. At home, TV, soft drinks, free access to the Internet, snacks and air conditioning were all banned. Even visiting a classmate’s house involved a complicated application procedure, including getting the signature of the kids’ headmaster.
Many times, the kids tried to fight back, calling their dad’s parenting a dictatorship and asking for a democracy at home. But their resistance always ended in vain. Their father’s world of work, study, and punishment was all they knew. Xiao blocked his children from experiencing any reality but his own rule.
"I once thought about running away… but without a single penny in my pocket, no friends, where could I go?" Xiao’s eldest son, Xiao Yao, once wrote in his diary. The boy’s strong interest in plants was easily killed by his dad’s cane when he was in elementary school.
Despite the complaints, the four kids all profess that they are grateful for their strict father’s efforts.
"He always uses a most rigorous and aching way to make me feel scared and angry about the mistakes I made. This is my most respected father," wrote Xiao Xiao, the third daughter.
But it wasn’t all beatings and rules. On special occasions, Xiao tried to let his children forget their beatings by special events, such as a family trip to sea side or throwing a big party for his own 20th wedding anniversary. "I want to tell my kids that they are brought up in a family full of love," he said.
Huang Tianshu, Xiao’s wife, was against her husbands’ methods at the start, but says she finally understood him. "He likes to communicate with the kids whenever he has time," she said, "Beating was just a supplement."