Being footloose and fancy-free during the summer ... or not!

Youxian zide – footloose and fancy-free. That's one Chinese idiom that describes the summer holiday as a child. But for more and more Chinese kids, summer is anything but.

Youxian zide — footloose and fancy-free. That’s one Chinese idiom that can quite easily encapsulate the feelings of the summer holiday as a child. But for more and more Chinese kids, summer is anything but.

You will soon be able to hear the collective sighs of school and university students across the nation as the sunny holiday approaches its end. Soon the sun will set on the days of swimming, fishing, travel and getting up late. That is, of course, if they got any time off at all.

I remember the end-of-year holidays back in New Zealand — typically about six weeks off around Christmas and New Year — were always fun and relaxed. My brothers and I would build amazing tree forts, roller-coasters, and one time we even built a Jurassic Park in the bush near our house, complete with giant dinosaur footprints and a ticket booth.

As I got older, I turned my summer holidays into an opportunity to increase my fortunes — I was known as the kid mogul of our street, and many of the other kids were jealous as my “wealth” slowly grew (when I finally reached the NZ$100 milestone in savings everyone knew about it.)

I’d buy bulk snacks and sweets and stationery and toys and then sell them at a mark-up to all the other kids. When I was about 14, I launched my own newspaper (it was more like a leaflet) and TV channel (using a mini video sender) which, as well as the latest “news,” featured ads with the latest goodies on sale in my shop.

I used to count down the days until the holidays every year in my school calendar. Oh, how slow the days would crawl by.

I can’t imagine, then, what it’s like for many Chinese children who, unlike my childhood, spend their summer months going to class.

A friend of mine, Spring Wang, runs a small after-school education center in Shanghai which every summer goes full-time, with 25 students and about five teachers. She told me that there are a couple of reasons behind Chinese parents sending children to school over the holidays.

“Some parents are scared of the holidays because they have to work from 9-5, and the kids can’t stay home alone,” she explained. “Others fear the competition that exists in China, so they want their children to keep learning all year round to improve their grades — good grades determine a child’s future to some extent.”

Wang agreed that times have changed drastically over the last few years since we were young, and she admits that going to school during summer never entered her mind during her childhood in northeast China.

“We just did a little homework every day, then played with our friends to our hearts’ content,” she told me. “We played hide-and-seek, threw little sand bags to each other, caught fish in the river — we even swam in the rivers because they were not polluted then. At that time, there were several kids in a family, so the kids who had brothers and sisters were not lonely.”

Even so, she told me that if she did go to summer school as a child — at least to learn things like drawing, writing and singing — she might be a more well-rounded adult today.

I do agree, to some extent, but need to note that the kinds of classes Wang feels might have been beneficial could broadly be referred to as “artistic” in nature. I doubt she’d want to have spent her childhood learning math and Chinese during those hot summer months when Mother Nature was screaming out for friends to play with.

It’s good to see, though, that some authorities are cracking down on what they call the “educational burden” placed on young children in China today. Shanghai’s government, for example, is cracking down on age-inappropriate learning material for young children in kindergartens and preschool training centers. 

Children under 6 years old should instead be taught using games and activities based on their interests, the government urged. Teaching that utilizes recitation, memorization, copying or calculation is strongly discouraged.

Who knows, maybe one day soon they’ll ban summer school classes. Probably not, but if they did I can’t help but feel Spring would have a little smile on her face.

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