I am an American who has lived and worked in a college in south China (quite a bit different from Kunming, I do believe) for some years and feel that the issues here are incredibly complex—certainly not as simple as those stated in the article. I have close friends and students who come from both privileged and extremely poor backgrounds, with whom I exchange extensive confidences, and it seems that there is a big difference between them in what they demand and expect from their children. For one thing, only a very well-off family can afford violin or piano lessons (extraordinarily expensive relative to the normal standards of living in China), and indeed, the amount of bragging and comparing of children tends to increase exponentially according to income and/or status. Children of wealthy parents are quite aware that their performance is very much used as a status symbol and they seem to be increasingly bitter and resentful of it. These children are also a universe away, in terms of character and moral rectitude, from the kids in the relatively small town college where I teach. (I had the occasion this summer of spending two weeks in the big city home of some extremely wealthy and influential acquaintances with a teenage child (and her friends who had gathered there) and am still reeling from the shock, both in parental attitudes and the teens' behavior.) But, regarding the youth in my own small town and surrounding areas, I have often commented that the West must certainly have a lot to learn from Chinese parents. In short, the proof is in the pudding. The college youth I deal with here are, in general, infinitely more respectful, kind, giving, generous, considerate, humble and tolerant than those I have generally known in the West. Whether this is important, depends, I guess, on one's priorities—who would you prefer as a son or daughter when you grow old, one of these children or a creative Western child? Actually, it doesn't have to be an either/or situation if we can get the right mix of Chinese and Western ingredients...
Certainly, more academic discipline is demanded of all children in China, especially as they get older, but a very important point seems to have been entirely overlooked in the comments I read from the article—and that is an amazing amount of tolerance, patience and gentle coaxing that most Chinese parents use with their children, particularly young children. I have spent many long hours in Chinese homes and have rarely seen a parent shout and demand obedience in the harsh authoritative manner that Western parents tend to resort to. Rather, children are gently coaxed, prodded and reasoned with. There is, however, a very different flavor to this patient Chinese coaxing and reasoning from any I have seen in the West—in that it seems to stem not so much from an intellectual decision that some amount of gentleness and patience is required; rather it stems from a natural, innate tendency to avoid conflict.
And this, I feel is the crux, the key, to past successes of the Chinese in producing "good kids". Setting high academic standards IS part of the mix of ingredients used, I do agree, as well as exposing children to some hardship and expecting hard work, but it is the part of the culture that regards one's ability to give face to others, to get along harmoniously with others and to put others' ("others" as in those in your circle of family, co-workers and friends) needs before one's own needs as a sign of maturity and acceptability that is, probably, much more influential in producing "good kids".
Another thing that this article seems to overlook, and I cannot but believe it was a deliberate sidestepping—thinking perhaps she is addressing a largely Western audience that wouldn't know—because it is impossible she wouldn't be aware of such a well-known issue in Chinese circles, is the fact that the behavior of children is changing very, very swiftly in China, due to the one-child policy which everyone agrees tends to produce increasingly spoiled and selfish children—-and again, particularly, but not exclusively, amongst the privileged and wealthy sectors of society.
In conclusion, my take on this is that these wealthy parents who so blatantly use their children's performance as status symbols (the author is dead right about that), are able to do so only due to a long tradition of innate good character embedded in the Chinese culture which is still managing to rub off on their children. It's influence is, however, sadly waning, and their increasing selfishness and pride cannot but also rub off with increasing effect. There is, sadly, no doubt at all that they are in for a rude awakening, and if my experience this summer is any indication, they are already experiencing (but just not admitting) it.