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Why a TV show about celebrity fathers has enraptured China


Where Are We Going, Dad? presents a newgeneration of men who, in a break
from Chinese tradition, now take an activerole in their children's

Five celebrity fathers and their childrentraipse around China, riding
camels through the western deserts, fishing offthe east coast, and
selling vegetables for their bus fare home in remotesouthwestern Yunnan
province. One dad doesn’t know how to do his daughter’shair, but give
him a couple of episodes—he’ll figure it out. Another one mustsurvive
with his son for three days in the desert, where, because neither
cancook, the two only eat instant noodles.

These story lines are part of Where Are WeGoing Dad? which, since its
debut in October, has become one of China’s mostpopular television
shows, averaging more than 600 million viewers each week(and more than
640 million downloads online). Sponsorship rights for the show’ssecond
season sold for 312 million yuan (about $50 million), more than tentimes
higher than the rights to the first season. And searches for Where Are
WeGoing Dad? turn up over 40 million hits on Sina Weibo, China’s

What accounts for the show’s popularity?The show features a new
generation of Chinese fathers, who, as part of thecountry’s burgeoning
middle class, have faced more exposure to modernchild-rearing techniques
such as taking an active role with their children.

“Intraditional Chinese culture, the conventional conception of
parenthood is thatthe father is stern and the mother is kind. But on the
show, we see fathers whoare much gentler on their kids and more
involved in their upbringing,” said LiMinyi, an associate professor of
early childhood education at the leading BeijingNormal University. “This
show raises an important question for modern Chinesesociety—what is the
role of fathers in today’s China?”

Confucian tradition dictates that there isno human trait more important
than filial piety: obeying your parents’ wishesand looking after them in
their old age. But Chinese parents increasinglyrealize that discussing
and respecting their children’s choices may be a moreappropriate way to
prepare them for modern society. “As they raise theirchildren, parents
are growing up at the same time,” said Wang Renping, apopular education
expert, in an interview with the Qianjiang Evening News.“They cannot use
parenting styles from 20 years ago to guide the development ofchildren
born 20 years later.”

“There’s ahuge difference between the way our parents raised us and how
we are raisingour children. This is an extreme example, but I remember
my friend telling methat growing up, her mother would tie her to her bed
and go to work,” said ZhouLingling, one of the co-founders of
Daxiaoaiwan, a new media magazine on WeChatwhich, in contrast to
traditional Chinese techniques, encourages parents to lettheir children
play. In just five months since its founding, the magazine hasattracted
over ten thousand subscribers.

Part of the appeal of Where Are We GoingDad? is the chance to peek into
the lives of popular Chinese celebrities andtheir children. Audiences
revel in watching the failed attempts of celebritydads making dinner,
braiding hair, and disciplining children—tasks often leftto mothers in a
society still influenced by the notion that “men rule outsideand women
rule inside.”

The children—and their bumblingfathers—show remarkable candor. “I’m best
at washing up, I can’t do anythingelse,” confides one dad to another as
they squat, doing the dishes aftereveryone had eaten dinner. “My wife
is great—she’s been raising our son for sixyears. I’m exhausted and it’s
only been three days. I’m buying her a bunch offlowers when we go
back,” confesses another.

The popularity of the show is measured inmore than just advertising
revenue. T-shirts, jeans, jackets, accessories,suitcases, and backpacks
used in the show are selling out on e-commercewebsites, and featured
locations have become travel hotspots, with fans eagerto sleep in the
same beds as the celebrities and their children. A spin-offmovie may be
released in conjunction with Chinese New Year, and governmentwebsites
predict that the all-important civil servant interviews next year
willfeature questions about the show. Television stations across China
have jumpedon the bandwagon, launching talk shows and reality programs
about therelationship between parents and children.

After each episode goes to air, the Chineseinternet explodes with
commentary on each celebrity’s parenting style. “Thefive fathers on the
show all have very diverse parenting styles, which is greatbecause it
shows people there isn’t just one way to raise a child,” said LiMinyi.

Zhang Liang, a cook turned supermodel, isan audience favorite for
treating his son, Tiantian, more like a friend. ActorGuo Tao tries hard
to communicate with his son, Shi Tou, but is seen as a moretraditional
Chinese father, and has been criticized online for being too harsh.The
show’s most famous celebrity, Taiwanese race car driver-turned-actor
LinZhiying, was originally praised as progressive and patient with his
son Kimi.But as the season progressed, fans began to criticize him for
raising aspoiled, undisciplined boy.

The behavior of these fathers have causedordinary Chinese people to
reflect. “As I watch the show, I find myselfreflecting on how I am
raising my own child. I think that’s part of the show’sappeal,” said Yan
Jiangning, another co-founder of Daxiaoaiwan.

Even the People’s Daily, the officialmouthpiece of the Chinese
government, is pleased at the success of Where Are WeGoing, Dad?. “The
deep affection on display in the show is heart-warmingand ignites a
desire in people to return home to loved ones,” it said in anop-ed. In
2012, the Ministry for Education issued, for the first time, aroadmap
for teachers and parents about how to raise 3-6 year olds, indicating
agrowing emphasis on early childhood education.

The success of Where Are We Going Dad?,adapted from a Korean show by
Hunan Television, is especially remarkableconsidering China’s tightened
regulations against foreign-sourced television.This year, Beijing banned
foreign programs in prime-time (between 7 and 10 pm),and beginning in
2014 domestic satellite television channels will only beallowed to
purchase the rights to one foreign program a year.

Hunan Television isn’t fazed. Where Are WeGoing Dad?, has thrived
despite airing in an unfavorable time slot: 10-12on Friday nights.


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