Saturday, January 31, 2009

Photo essay: Shuang Qiao Gymnastic school

This week's photo essay is taken at Shuang Qiao gymnastic school for kids in Beijing. At this school, Chinese kids aged 4-11 train from a very young age in order to grow up and become China's next generation of gymnastic stars. 

The school is fairly young, it opened in 2003 and when I visited it (in May 2006) the headmaster told me that the competition for the school's spots was fierce. While a majority of the kids that I met were from Beijing there were also other children from far-away provinces. 

The headmaster told me that before any kid is accepted by the school they find out how tall the parents and the relatives of the child is, so that the risk of the child growing too tall for a career in gymnastic is minimal. 

Actually, when he told me this and I raised my eyebrows he looked at me and said: "well, just look at your own country and how tall people are over there. No wonder there are no good Swedish gymnasts." Fair enough!

Anyway, it was really interesting to visit this school and the children were adorable, curiously running up to me and then running away from me every time I tried to speak to them. 
























38 comments:

Julz said...

Nice pics. The kids are very cute. They look like they are trying to figure out why you are so interested in them. They also look like they are having fun which is nice.

Jonna Wibelius said...

Julz -Yeah they were having fun! I was expecting to see blood, sweat and tears but the coaches told me that when the kids are at such a young age it is mainly about playing and having fun, otherwise they will find their training boring.

kanmuri said...

Cute kids. I saw a documentary about it on Japanese Tv. I don'T think it was that specific school but they explained how parents sent their kids to such schools in the hope that they would become famous and become able to provide for them. The kids who couldn't perform well were scolded harshly. One kid wanted to go back home and his parents came to visit but they would not take him back home. In the end, the boy had to stay, and keep trying. I mean, it is a good way to get people to become perfect gymnasts, but I believe it is a form of brainwashing, and I don't think it is healthy for such small kids to live so far away from their parents...

Jonna Wibelius said...

kanmuri -I feel that a lot of Chinese parents push their kids quite hard when it comes to school/education/hobbies in order for the kid to become successful. I think there is a quite similar mentality in countries like Korea and Japan but I am not sure. It is kind of sad (and weird) to think of how much pressure these kids are under, seeing that it is so completely different to how someone like me grew up: just playing, playing and playing.

Corey Frisbee said...

Great Pictures!!

Melodieann said...

Just found your blog and the title intrigued me enough that I had to stop and check it out. Fascinating. What a wonderful opportunity to be able to travel and experience so many different cultures. And then to let others share that experience through your blog - wonderful! I'll definitely be back!

Subeksha said...

i envy you for having the opportunity to travel and live amongst different cultures and people. i enjoyed your posts. will come back for more :), thank you for letting us in on your anecdotes and life!!

Southern Realtor said...

The pics show some happy kids but that is a lot of pressure for a 4 year old. I have 3.5 year old twin boys that have separation anxiety when I drop them at preschool. Thanks for reminding me to enjoy them as little boys and not grow up too fast.

JamieM said...

What an excelent time you are making of your life! And thanks for sharing it with the rest of us who can't, won't or not able to experience those places ourselves! I loved the pictures of the kids. And your firework adventures... priceless. Thank you for bringing other cultures closer to home. I will definitly be back!

Alex said...

祖国未来的花朵,社会未来的栋梁。

Ventana de TeePee said...

Interesting. Didn't know that one of the selection criteria involves the height of their parents to gauge how tall the child will be.

I like your blog, do give us more insight about China.

Yogesh said...

Hey..
Your blogs are really nice. I have bookmarked it. :)
All the best and keep writting such good stuff..!!
-Yogesh

tangzhidan said...

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Aquaporina said...

Hello from Shanghai! There is just too much criticism about the gymnasts being pushed too hard. Asian parents push all kids hard but then it is part of excellence. I had found I could not related to other students at a ivy league grad school in US because none had really bothered to keenly master calculus etc. I think these kids have a shot at achieving something great and we shoudl admire the beauty and not let envy speak. China is onto soemthing and most critics west of the Caspain Sea don't like it.
Thanks and great article!

Jonna Wibelius said...

Alex -" 祖国未来的花朵,社会未来的栋梁。"

-这句话 有什么意思?汉字我看得懂 但是意思不明白了。好像我不太聪明。。。

lei said...

" 祖国未来的花朵,社会未来的栋梁" literally means

"motherland's future flower, society's future pillar"

kanmuri said...

It's the same in Japan. You have twelve-year-old kids committing suicide because they can't take the pressure. Other kids kill their classmates... it's terrifying. I'm glad I grew up like you, play, play, play...

Sang Rajuna Tapa said...

Wow...what actually all should start from the young age!!!!

Vaisakh P S said...

really nice pics..
it seems they are putting in a lot of good effort into training these kids

Miss Jane said...

Well there are so many ppl in this world, especially in China. So to stand out and to have a better life those kids must start at a young age. I agree it may seem cruel and sad to push them so hard to grow up fast but really that's just how human race is. The photo shows different expressions on their faces. I think we can all relate to so many aspect of that.

K. said...

Hi! I'm new here in Blogger, your blog made me curious, because of the simple fact that I love to learn more I can about foreign countries...and China, wow! The children are really nice. Is it truth that in China they're very strict in educating children? I hope you'll answer, if you want visit my blog: www.chat2talk.blogspot.com bye! K.

Anonymous said...

China still runs gymnastics program like a machine. Isn't that what they call it? The one you describe is not a typical gymnastics machine. A typical one is not open to outsiders. By that, I mean anyone not working at the gymnastics machine center is not allowed to enter. Kids are picked up from countryside at ages of 3 and 4. Their parents have to sign them off and in return get a job or a lump sum money to help their family. You can google "China gymnastics machine" to learn more. Once recruited (usually by lies from the state), kids are allowed to see their parents only 3 days a year. We met a group of Chinese Olympic gymnasts in 1996 in Atlanta. You can tell you have very seldom seen the outside world.

Jonna Wibelius said...

I agree with Miss Jane. I think many of you see this too black and white. Yes, they are young kids training gymnastics and yes they might be pushed hard, but many kids in China (or in Asia in general) are pushed hard. Most of the parents in China only have one kid and no social security. Therefore there is a huge pressure on the kid to get a good education/make good money so that s/he later in life can support his/her parents.. that's just the way people think over here. The children should support their old ones, end of story.

In the case of this gymnastic school, none of the kids were 'picked up from the country side'... they all applied and got in, although before they were accepted the teachers investigated how tall the parents were. It's not like it is hard to find kids to enter this sort of school in China... it's very popular to be able to have your kid in a private, professional gymnastic school. The monthly fee was something around 850 kuai when I visited and anyone who lives in China knows that this is a lot of money for a Chinese family (especially one on the country side). Most people wouldn't even be able to afford it.

I am not saying that pushing young kids is the way to do it, but I think everyone has their own methods... and before you criticize them maybe you should think about things like 'why' or even try to picture their situation. I am not saying I would like to put my kid (if I had one) in a school like this, but I can understand the thinking of the parents that do so.

Ankesh said...

Jonna, It's pretty good opportunity you have, to visit new countries and know about their culture, language and behavior. Great , Have fun.

N. Henderson said...

The kids seem to be having an excellent time!! I kind of expected something different just based on what is typically heard in the media. My daughter and I really enjoyed the pics!!

Thanks!!

flyingfish said...

I agree about trying to see all sides of the story, Jonna. As for your remarks, Aquaporina, perhaps you should take a page from Jonna's book and think of as many points of view as you can before leaping to the conclusion that criticism is based on envy. I think your remark that "China is onto something most critics west of the Caspian Sea don't like" is utterly ridiculous. National chauvinism has no place in this (or any other) discussion.

I certainly concede Aquaporina's point that excellence is often based on very hard work. I also think that it is reasonable to take pride in a tradition of super-focused dedication. But to imagine that these characteristics are the exclusive of a single demographic, or to assume that criticism based on other value systems is a matter of envy rather than judgment, is narrow-minded and provincial.

I think China richly deserved all the Olympic gold she won in these last Olympics. As for all the bad press concerning the bitter price many athletes have had to pay for their success -- I think she deserved that too.

公主不许看。 said...

Hey~cute kids!
I'm a Chinese student.
If you have any qustion about the education of China you can send me E-mail and i'm glad to help you.

Little Tiger said...

A Korean friend of mine told me how she used to finish school late in the evening and had to be up at the crack of dawn for school the next day. That was primary school and she still had homework to do when she got home!
For sure Asian parents push their kids more than in other parts of the world. Yet, it seems to give them a focus as there is a clear lack of anti-social behaviour among Chinese teenagers.

Alex said...

nice kids =)

hui said...

They are so cute, yet they start a hard training career from such a young age.

Rita said...

Great photos!

Svet said...

Really, kids love the training! And they never think that's too much... They would be unhappy kids if someone did not let them do their trainings.

I am from Russia and I was going in for rhythmic gym. I still love the sport very much! I love to find our Russian videos about trainings young gymnasts or ballet-kids.

I thing such occupation much better for kids than video-games and comuters.

Very interesting blog!

Thank you!
Svet

Lizz said...

Wow. I'm impressed with their dedication at such a young age. It's somewhat depressing to think about what kind of psych damage it would deal later on, though. :\

Anonymous said...

Theres no difference between a gymnastic sweat shop and a sweat shop making clothing. Its child exploitation pure and simple. What can a 15 old do who starts early versus a 25 year old who started later. I know there are parents who live their empty meaningless lives through their kids. We in the West prey on children pruning their consumer choices from the time they can sit in front of a TV.

Jim

thestone said...

Great.......
have a great fun.........
I will be intouch and keep visit your blogg

Blank-Socrate said...

so cute
I think your work is very lovely

RaGa said...

Hi
I know little about sweden. still, I m Jonas Björkman (hope u know him) fan. your journey is fascinating. some say, China is tough place to live. because there is no democracy. what do u think. ur blog is very nice.

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