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May 10, 2011

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This kid's just too good to be true

THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD Huang Yibo has become a buzzword, media sensation and object of pity and ridicule for his too-good-to-be-true dedication to politics. Wang Jian, Liao Jun and Qiang Lijing report.

At the age of two, he was glued to China's Central Television news; at seven, he was reading the People's Daily newspaper. Now Huang Yibo, age 13, has published more than 100 articles in newspapers and magazines.

Huang, who comes from Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, is one of the hottest topics in the Chinese media and talk is swirling on the Internet.

He has recently been hailed as a political prodigy by some Chinese netizens, stirring a mixture of praise, skepticism, satire and carping about his parents' child-rearing methods.

Huang's popularity started with a picture of himself that he posted on his microblog last week. In it, he is shown reading some documents, posing like a professional politician and wearing an astonishing "five-bar" armband.

Chinese primary school students wear white armbands with red bars to indicate their positions as young pioneers for the Communist Party of China. Two bars indicate a class monitor, three bars usually means a grade-level leader. Huang's five-bar armband indicates that he is the chief of Wuhan's "young pioneers." Most people have never heard of a five-bar ranking.

He's jokingly referred to as "Five-Bar" (Wu Dao Gang) or Captain Pioneer, which has become a buzzword.

One cartoon even shows Huang with five bars shaking hands with US President Barack Obama who has earned only three stripes., China's top online store, sells T-shirts printed with a five-bar badge.

Huang's five-bar armband, his thoughtful gaze and zeal for politics have amazed Internet users; his microblog received more than one million hits in just a few days.

Mixed feelings

In the introduction to his blog, Huang writes that he is focused on cultivating his moral discipline, aspires to contribute to humankind and feels responsible for bringing prosperity and stability to the Chinese nation.

Huang's mother has told local media that the boy has a great interest in history and politics and that he cares about the well-being of the Chinese people.

Although Huang has been praised by many, others have cast doubt on his accomplishments, saying that the child is actually a victim of his parents' own overbearing ambition.

A netizen named "Rosa Rubus in the Moonlight" says Huang's behavior and mentality are unnatural for a boy of his age.

"It's sad that the boy has lost the innocence that is typical of his age. It is unnatural and harmful to the development of the boy's personality. Either his parents or society should take the blame for this," Rosa writes.

Netizen Hu Yinbin says Huang is a lonely and misunderstood genius, and that people should not judge him in terms of their own understanding of what an ordinary 13-year-old child should be like.

'Ordinary child'

Class is over, and Huang is walking out of the classroom, talking and laughing with his friends.

Huang says he's upset by the online criticism.

"Those people who dislike me actually don't know much about me. I believe that if they knew me in person, they would change their minds," he says.

In the eyes of school headmaster Huang Hengzhong, Huang is no different from other students. He says that while the child is not necessarily outstanding in his academic performance, he has a great personality and outstanding leadership skills.

However, what impresses the headmaster most is the boy's title of "Charitable Person of Wuhan," which he received after donating money paid for his articles to poor senior citizens.

Huang's parents say they are also distressed by the boy's overnight popularity and that they feel hurt by online criticism of their child-rearing methods.

Huang Hongzhang, the boy's father, says, "We don't expect that our son will become a politician when he grows up. He will be left to make his own career choices in the future. We taught him to read books and newspapers at a young age to broaden his horizons."

"I don't think my son is a prodigy. He is just an ordinary kid who is determined, independent and kind-hearted," Huang Hongzhang adds.

Rearing queried

Zhang Ming, a professor of political science at the Renmin University of China, writes in an online article that Huang Yibo is an example of Chinese education being negatively influenced by traditional Chinese culture, which attaches great importance to official positions and ranks.

Watching the news and reading newspapers at such a young age can cause imbalances in a child's knowledge and personality, Zhang says, adding that the perception of the importance of official rankings can distort a child's value system.

Parents and educators should protect the innocence of children and let them grow up naturally, says headmaster Huang Hengzhong. Huang believes that the development of a child's personality can be harmed if parents instill a strong sense of self-importance from an early age.

Parents should provide their children with enough space for them to discover and develop their own interests and personalities, Huang says.

Sun Yunxiao, deputy director of the China Youth and Children Research Center, writes in an article published by the China Daily newspaper that it is unfair to judge a child based on media reports.

Some of Huang's teachers worry that the negative comments will hurt the child, and they hope people can be more tolerant of the way in which Huang is being raised.


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