A book that claims the nation's boys are academically inferior to girls and losing ground physically and emotionally is causing vigorous debate. Lin Qi looks at the issues
A leading researcher on youth issues who claims there is a "boy crisis" in China has caused a storm of debate among parents, educators and the media.
Boys are physically less able than previous generations, unable to accept their social responsibilities, and are mentally and emotionally inferior to girls, according to Sun Yunxiao, the deputy director of China Youth and Children Research Center.
He makes the claims in his book Save the Boys (Zheng Jiu Nan Hai), co-authored with Li Wendao and Zhao Xia, published in January.
The term "boy crisis" was originally coined to describe the poor academic results of American boys, but Sun has extended the term to Chinese boys and the academic, physical, social and mental problems he says they face.
The book cites Ministry of Education figures for national scholarships in 2006-07, that were awarded to 32,542 females and 17,458 males, a ratio of 1/1.86. The ratio for 2007-08 was 1/1.88.
He adds the average height of boys aged between 7 and 17 is 2.54 cm less than their Japanese contemporaries. Compared with 20 years ago, the lung capacities of urban and countryside boys have decreased 304 ml and 312 ml respecitively, based on a survey he conducted from 1985 to 2005.
He also notes that Beijing Children's Hospital dealt with 19,196 children aged from 6 to 11, between 2000 and 2007, who had mental problems. He says 69.19 percent of the cases were boys, rather than girls.
Sun reckons that boys are lagging behind their counterparts abroad and compared with girls because they are coddled, they have less positive male role models, are in a failing academic system and are influenced by pop culture.
His opinion resonates with many teachers and education experts.
Deng Yanlin, 49, an English teacher at No 1 Railway Middle School in Hengyang, Hunan province, says boys are not dealing with exam stress as well as girls.
She cites the case of one of her 17-year-old students, who is a potential candidate for Peking University, but has not been concentrating and has been crying in class.
"He can't stand the huge pressure of the National College Entrance Examinations (NCEE) in June. I suggested his parents take him to a psychological consultant," Deng says.
"Many of my boys show little interest in class activities, while 20 years ago, boys were courageous and keen to take on responsibilities."
Qian Honglin, a Beijing-based family education researcher, says: "It is a positive attitude, spirit of adventure and a sense of responsibility that makes a real man. (Teachers and parents) seem to have difficulties helping boys cultivate such a healthy masculinity."
Qian emphasizes the father as a role model, who the boy imitates and thereby completes self-gender identity. She says fathers are failing on this account as they work and socialize too much and are seen by their sons as little more than breadwinners.
She adds that because the divorce rate has risen the mother usually takes custody of the child and this exacerbates the situation.
But above all, Sun says, the exam-oriented education system is to blame for disrespecting gender traits and needs.
Zhou Yuzhi, a freshman at Shenyang University, Liaoning province, agrees.
"Boys easily get bored of sitting in the classroom and focusing on textbooks for hours and hours, day after day. We want more practical courses and sports time," he says.
"We have ambitions, for example, to be powerful leaders in the future. But we dare not share these ideas with parents and teachers, because our academic performances are not as good as girls and we don't want to be laughed at. Some boys remain silent, docile and become sissies We are oppressed."
Sun argues the curriculum should have physical training and wilderness exploring. Qian suggests schools should adopt a multi-value assessment system.
There has been strong criticism of Sun's views.
"There is no boys crisis. These are just difficulties boys face growing up. Overcoming them will make them men. There are many responsible men in this society, and do not forget they grew up under the same education system," says Luo Huiyang, a teacher at Zhongguancun No 3 Elementary School.
Xie Yong, father of a 7-year-old boy in Shenzhen, Guangzhou province, says he and many of his fellow parents disagree with Sun.
"A father's influence should not only be valued in terms of the quantity of time spent, but also the quality of time spent caring for a child," Xie says.
"For instance, I am often too busy with my job to help my son with his homework. I will compensate by buying him DVDs of The Analects of Confucius and The Thirty-Six Stratagems, which he asks for, and which we can watch together some other time."
Even so, both parents and educators have expressed deep concern over entertainment programs and blame them for conveying the wrong gender values.
For instance, popular talent shows such as My Hero and Happy Boys feature boy performers with girlish looks, who shed tears to win votes.
Xie says TV programs should laud righteousness, mutual support, earnestness and collective social values.
"What they mostly transmit is overnight success and this has a negative impact on teenagers," Xie says.
Shenyang University student Zhou, however, disagrees on this issue.
"They are just entertainment shows. You can't say the stars are not girls or boys just because they don't dress conventionally. I think our parents are overreacting," he says.
Gan Tian contributed to the story.