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Why I raised my kids in China

Children practising Mandarin characters in traditional Han Chinese costumes. Zhu Wanchang/Getty

When my husband and I had our two daughters in Shanghai in 2008 and 2010, says Heather Kaye in The New York Times, we faced the same dilemma as all expat parents in China: a pricey international school or somewhere local, run by the government. We weighed the pros of the local route – “our girls would learn fluent Mandarin and, hopefully, a broadened worldview” – against the cons: “exposure to Communist Party propaganda”. I can’t say exactly why, but “we took the plunge”.

Our “stringent government co-parent” quickly made its presence felt. The girls’ nursery lectured us on everything from “how many hours our daughters should sleep” to “what they should eat and their optimal weight”. Each morning, all the students “performed calisthenics in straight rows”, raised China’s flag and sang the national anthem. But it wasn’t long before the benefits kicked in. Our girls came home discussing “self-discipline, integrity and respect for elders”. They never needed pushing to do their homework; “the shame of letting their teachers and classmates down was enough”. Heavy censorship results in a “kid-friendly internet”, and there are strict national limits on video gaming, sparing parents the battle.

Ironically, the Communist Party’s tight surveillance “results in its own kind of freedom”: with a “constant but benign” police presence, our daughters were riding the subway unsupervised in a city of 26 million people from the age of 11. Returning to the US after 16 years, the culture shock “feels stronger than when we first arrived in China”. My girls had their first “live-shooter drill” at school the other day, and we’ve become hyper-alert to danger in a way we never had to be in Shanghai. Strange as it sounds, “in these times, I find myself missing my Chinese co-parent”.