Friday, September 22, 2006

Turning China's Elite into its Next Ruling Class

There is a fascinating article by Howard French in the New York Times about the race of China's new rich to give their children a boost in the next, even more competitive generation. FasTracKids – what a wonderful, perfectly revealing name – has sprung up in Shanghai to tutor preschoolers in elite culture, sports, and manners.

The late, great sociologist E. Digby Baltzell said that a society will have a stable and legitimate ruling class only when it turns elite individuals, who rise to the top by merit and other individual skills, into a class made of families. The Chinese have, in the past generation, created such an elite of individuals. Now, before our eyes, we see them creating the first generation of what will become the Old Money of the New China.

What is equally fascinating is seeing exactly what they want their kids to learn. Another great dead sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, said that what separates the merely well-schooled from the most socially successful is their mastery of that parallel curriculum of "cultural capital." This is just the kind of knowledge that FasTracKids, and thousands of enrichment programs like it, teach children in families eager to rise socially. And what is the cultural capital that the next generation of the ancient Chinese civilization needs to know? Golf. For pre-schoolers. " In addition to early golf training, which has become wildly popular, affluent parents are enrolling their children in everything from ballet and private music lessons, to classes in horse riding, ice-skating, skiing and even polo." Manners classes are also in demand, as the Chinese rich have been embarrassed to learn that they are considered rude, "ugly Chinese" abroad.

In other words, the next ruling class in China is acquiring the same social capital that the ruling class in the West has been developing for centuries. I expect that mastery of Chinese culture will also be a part of their training. That distinctly Chinese culture they may learn better in regular school and at home. But when the stars of the world's most populous economy join the next global ruling class, they will be just like today's global ruling class: they will all play golf.

4 comments:

Edith OSB said...

Interesting. Did they have anything to say about the gender imbalance in China? I don't know whether the male-female ratio is equally skewed at all levels of Chinese society (seems unlikely). The formation of the stable elite class may hit a bump: to produce the third generation, they may have to obtain brides from outside the carefully prepared second-generation now in progres.

Edith OSB said...
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Gruntled said...

The article did not treat the gender imbalance, though it did say that the one-child policy was an important reason that the new elite was investing so much in their progeny. The one-child policy is an important reason, I think, for the gender imbalance. Perhaps in ten or fifteen years, rich Chinese men will come in droves to court the Chinese girl babies given for adoption in America.

Edith OSB said...

The gender imbalance is certainly related to the one-child policy. If these elite children who are the focus of so much attention (some have termed them "little emperors") do come courting the abandonned girl babies who have been adopted by Americans - what a class of cultures! I doubt the Chinese-American teens will be much impressed with their knowledge of classical music and golf, and the Chinese will probably not think much of the informal habits of American teens.

It will certainly be interesting to see how it all plays out.