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One of the most talked-about books of this year was Amy Chua's memoir, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." The Chinese-American mom wrote about banning sleepovers, and threatening to take away toys if her kids' piano-playing wasn't perfect. Turns out, Chua is a pushover compared to her mainland Chinese equivalent, Wolf Dad. His first book was originally titled, quote, "Beat Them into Peking University." NPR's Louisa Lim reports it has sparked a big debate in China about how to raise kids.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: The latest media sensation in China: a father who not just beat his kids, but boasts about how he did it. Wolf Dad, as he's been nicknamed, has been doing the chat shows. He's been laying out his system for getting three of his four kids into China's top school, Peking University. Forty-seven-year-old Xiao Baiyou describes himself as the emperor of his family. As such, he's laid down an extraordinary system of rules for his children.
XIAO BAIYOU: One thousand, more than 1,000, rule. (Through translator) I have more than a thousand rules - specific, detailed rules about how to hold your chopsticks and your bowl, how to pick up food, how to hold a cup, how to sleep, how to cover yourself with a quilt. If you don't follow the rules, then I must beat you.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
LIM: What happens if you sleep the wrong way at night? I ask. Then I'll beat the child in the morning, he answers. For each violation of the rules, the penalty is to be hit with a feather duster on the legs, or on the palm of the hand. If it doesn't leave a mark, then it won't make an impact, Wolf Dad believes. Never mind sleepovers. His kids weren't even allowed friends. He started beating them when they were 3, and stopped when they got to 12.
XIAO: (Through translator) From 3 to 12, kids are mainly animals. Their humanity and social nature still aren't complete. So you have to use Pavlovian methods to educate them.
LIM: His oldest, a 22-year-old son, has his doubts about his father's methods. And he's quoted as saying he's not even sure he had a childhood. In many countries, Wolf Dad's behavior would be seen as child abuse. But Xiao denies that.
XIAO: (Through translator) In China, beating kids is part of their upbringing. It's not violence. It's not against the law. If this kind of beating is legal, scientific, and in the interests of the kids, then fine. I'm all for beating, since it's effective.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)
LIM: My God, have you asked your children what they want? says this woman, one of Wolf Dad's many critics. But his book has been flying off the shelves. So far, 120,000 have been printed, and he says most have been sold.
Another, contrasting media sensation has sharpened the debate in China. It's a small, scrappy exercise book filled with primitive line drawings. "The Complete Book of Combat with Mum" contains 20 strategies to deflect a scolding from your mother, and was written by two Beijing 10-year olds.
CHEN LESHUI: (Through translator) Move number four is useful: You run to Mom and throw yourself on her. Lots of kids say they use this because it makes Mom's heart go soft, and it makes her cry.
LIM: That's Chen Leshui, nicknamed Dangdang, who wrote the book with her friend Deng Xinyi after a particularly humiliating incident.
CHEN: (Through translator) Once, when I didn't do so well on an exam, a friend came over to play. And my mom picked up my exam paper and said, your friends will all laugh at you. My friend and I went to hide in my room, and drew these pictures on pieces of paper.
LIM: Her mother, who gives her name as Mrs. Li, says Dangdang has tried literally every trick in the book.
MRS. LI: (Through translator) There was one move she used to make when she was young: She'd pull down her pants, then present me with her naked butt and say, spank me, Mom. Later, if I scolded her, she'd hug my legs and not let go. And when she got even older, she'd lock herself into her room and write notes to me on slips of paper.
LIM: Online, there are those who call Dangdang a bad influence, but the book went viral after her dad - who gives his name as Mr. Chen - posted it on the Chinese version of Twitter. He admits he's not a traditional Chinese dad.
MR. CHEN: (Through translator) Mostly, we respect her decisions, and treat her as an equal. Chinese parents like one adjective: good, or obedient. I don't want her to be an obedient child. It just means you're in the system; you can only follow orders. It's only when you think outside the box that you can become creative.
LIM: As for the stories of Tiger Mother forcing her kids to practice piano without bathroom breaks or dinner until they get it right, well, that doesn't happen in Dangdang's house.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LIM: She plays the guzheng, a kind of Chinese harp, and practices about 40 minutes a night by herself. As for her mum's input, Dangdang says, dismissively: She couldn't tell, anyway; she's totally tone deaf.
If truth be told, it's pretty clear Dangdang is a good kid. Despite her guide to getting around mum, neither she nor her mother can even remember the last time she was scolded, let alone beaten.
Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.