China is not an ideal place for children. Even for adults, the rigours of independent travel test their stamina and patience. Organised tours are easier, but they may prove boring to most children. Some parents clearly decide that, since they want to see China, the children will have to as well, but most leave them at home.
More and more Western-style amusement parks are appearing in larger cities -aquarium parks with dolphin shows, and pools with flumes and wave machines, interactive learning areas, and play parks with slides, mazes, and ball pits. Most parks have at least one such place for parents to deal with temple-sated children.
Chinese opera, of interest to lovers of the art form, may also interest older children, and certainly the excellent Chinese circus should attract them all. Colourful dances and re-enactments of traditional festivals may hold their attention for a while, but on organised tours they may see too many of such things for the novelty to last.
These are a bone of contention for many foreign tourists who have seen rose-tinted TV images of pandas in Chinese zoos, and are then shocked by the reality of the grim concrete-and-iron animal prisons. Children are natural zoo fans, but many children are also aware of animal rights and feelings, and they may not find the zoos appealing (nor the Chinese habit of throwing sticks and stones at the animals to make them ‘perform’).
In the rush for economic growth, safety standards taken for granted in the West are often neglected -until it is too late. China is no stranger to disastrous accidents, whether in discotheques gutted by flames, or in buildings and tourist attractions that collapse on their occupants. While such things can, and do, happen in any country, poor maintenance adds appreciably to the risk, and is something that should perhaps be taken into account by parents when allowing their children to use amusement park rides, monorails, and adventure games.
While it is relatively safe to cycle in dedicated lanes, cycling becomes hazardous whenever heavy traffic is encountered, as it will be at every intersection. It takes time to grow accustomed to cycling in the kind of crowds that China generates, and constant vigilance is required to remain safe. Children should always be accompanied by an adult cyclist.
These after-school community centres or youth clubs are designed for children and teenagers from the age of 7 to 16. Shanghai is well-endowed with such institutions, often housed in former colonial mansions. Selected children study arts, science, music, and sport. Foreign children can visit the Children’s Palace at 64 Yanan Road (tel. (021) 6249 8661) on Tuesday and Saturday afternoons during the school term.
Faced with the need to slow down the growth in China’s population, the government adopted a ‘one child per family’ policy. Large families are traditionally seen as a source of security for parents’ old age, and this meant a traumatic change in lifestyle. One side effect has been female infanticide, as parents try to ensure that the one child they are permitted is a male (women are still regarded as second-class citizens, especially in rural communities). Ironically, China is also worried that pampered single children, or ‘little emperors’ as they are known as, are growing up as a spoiled generation.