HOW to raise up a child in the way he (or she) should go? The old question has new urgency in China. With a national policy that generally permits only one child per family, Chinese society is entering unknown social terrain. Now 8 out of 10 first-graders are only-children. By the year 2000, most Chinese 20-year-olds will be from single-child families, writes Chinese Youth magazine.
``What will be the impact of these brotherless and sisterless people on China's development?'' the magazine asked in its June issue.
Will they be more secure, better educated, and more independent, as some people hope? Or will they be self-indulgent, egocentric, and overbearing, as others think?
The questions are troubling schoolteachers and state officials in a country where being alone is an anathema. But for parents who are intent on pampering their only child, it seems they are raising a generation of ``little emperors.''
Cartoons in the Chinese press often point to the 4-2-1 syndrome, or the problem of four grandparents and two parents indulging one child. Children tell their own stories.
``I ride on Daddy's shoulders and ask my parents to make a circle with their arms,'' a schoolchild told the China Youth News recently. ``Then I say, `You're the sky and I'm the little red sun!'''
The hopeful side of China's one-child policy, begun in 1979, is that it has sharply reduced the growth rate of the world's largest country, winning praise from many international organizations concerned with population problems.
During almost three decades of rule by Mao Tse-tung, China's population grew at an average annual rate of 21 per 1,000 population. In the past 10 years, that has been reduced to an average rate of 12 per 1,000 population, though last year it slipped back up to 14 per 1,000.
China's birth-control policy has been controversial from the start. Officials are confronted with the problem of trying to enforce in a humane way a national policy that denies Chinese the traditional pleasure and security of large families.