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Breathless Under Heavy Burden
The young generation in China are suffering at the hands of well-intentioned parents, who confine them to small indoor spaces to study endlessly.

Schedules of the primary and middle school students are as tightly packed as those of any corporate general manger. Students are crying: "Please mama, I want to sleep; I want to play."

Although schools have lessened pressure on students under the instruction of regulatory bodies, parents dare not relax the burden for a minute.

"We began to lighten study burdens in the mid-1990s, however, parents became more intense in training their kids," said Zhang Bei, a primary school teacher.

"The competition is so fierce, what can my girl do without a college diploma?" said Qiu Yanping, the mother of a 10-year-old.

In spite of extensive public education, parents push children to learn more; they are sent to study extra courses like playing musical instruments and dancing.

Yuan Zhou, 11, a student of Chao Kuangpiu Primary School, is a symbol of this mania. Every day of the week, Yuan attends classes. Monday to Friday nights, she takes courses in piano, Olympic math and sketching.

Every night of the week, Yuan's time is divided between these extra classes, homework, lesson reviews and piano practice with barely a moment to rest or play.

He has no time to rest on weekends either, as he must attend classes for ancient prose, Cambridge English, Olympic math and calligraphy.

"I feel very tired. Weekends and holidays are more torturing than school days, as my parents push me to study every minute. I would rather have no so-called rest days," Yuan said.

All the children in Yuan's class complained of the same experiences.

"I asked my parents to bring me out to play but they refused. One day when my father took me to school by bicycle, he rode around trees along the street for several circles and told me that he was giving me time to play," said Li Tingjie, a 10-year-old girl.

The children showed understanding for their parents.

"My mother often says I must become outstanding because I am her only child, not like past generations when couples had two or more children. It's not so serious if one of them was good for nothing," said Yuan, whose mother is president of a large company. "She said I must surpass her in the future."

With most of the after-school courses indoors, children are facing increased health problems.

"In a recent survey on health conditions of primary and middle school students throughout the country, Shanghai was at the bottom," said Yao Peikuan, professor of the Institute of Social Survey of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Yao recommends that schools lighten the study load, so that children have more after-school time, however where can the children find space for recreation?

"The city provides too few facilities for children."

With rapid development, the city government has moved to maximize the commercial use of land, which leaves little space for children's recreational areas.

Yao recalled her childhood when kids could play hide-and-seek, jump rope and play many other games along lanes.

However, today children living in highrises have no chance to make neighbourhood friends; they have no place to play together.

Each district of the city has had a "children's palace" - a centre offering activities for the youth - however, the number of the "palaces," compared with the total number of children is too small.

When asked what she wanted most, 11-year-old Li Yijie said she hoped to watch TV and play with classmates.

A survey started by the institute showed that about 80 per cent of students perceived Internet cafes as unique public places for entertainment.

(Shanghai Star April 25, 2002)

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