Shenzhen pediatric surgeon Pei Honggang has an alter ego: “Doctor Pei,” an internet celebrity with 900,000 Weibo subscribers whose WeChat essays regularly clock more than a million reads.
Under the slogan “Let parents spend less, let children suffer less,” Doctor Pei dispenses simple medical advice and parenting wisdom via essays, live broadcasts and online consultations in order to take what he calls “scientific child-rearing” into the age of the cloud.
Beijing mother Liu Yan (not her real name), 27, describes “smart” parenting via the likes of Doctor Pei as being all the rage for the post-’90s generation. Neither their elders’ conventional wisdom nor China’s overburdened hospital system quite cut it for today’s young parents. “If our children have a runny nose, the first thing we would do is take out our phone,” Liu says about her generation. “We have our own chat groups, and apps and doctors’ WeChat accounts that help you really understand, instead of just solve a problem.”
Pei ruffles conservative feathers with his reservations about traditional Chinese medicine or involving grandparents or “maternity matrons” in raising children. However, this increases his popularity with his base, who haven’t shed their reputation for individualism — or, less flatteringly, hedonism — even as they begin to deal with expectations of marriage and family. A 2015 Peking University survey found that the greatest wish of post-’90s people was “traveling,” selected by more than 50 percent of working-age millennials — far ahead of such options as career, relationships and wealth.
In a 2016 survey of 6,000 post-’90s mothers by research company MGCC, around 56 percent selected “loss of personal time” as the biggest challenge of parenthood, over “lack of experience,” “lack of money,” or “lack of time due to work.” In terms of where millennials obtain parenting advice, “experts and doctors” and “personal experience” were chosen over family and peers.
Liu has had to defend her own parenting style. “My colleagues were surprised I was old enough to have a child,” she says. Living with her in-laws, however, relieves her of childcare duties during the day.
Ji Kangli, a 27-year-old single mother from Hubei province, relies on both sets of grandparents to babysit her son in her hometown while she works fulltime in Shenzhen. She says it’s not an ideal arrangement but a necessary one, given the cost of living and the stress of her career.
Other young parents find ways to passively rebel. In December, a WeChat essay popularized the term “Buddhalike” to describe post-’90s adults who adopt a stoic attitude toward pressure and setbacks, rejecting both the materialism and idealism of earlier generations.
Liu agrees with these principles, citing her own overscheduled youth. “I want my child to grow up happier, with more freedom of self-expression,” she says.
Ji thinks society is becoming more pluralistic toward parenting: “Everyone makes choices based on their circumstances. Even if I’m not with my son, his grandparents love him — isn’t that a good environment for a child?”