“A Love for Separation,” based on a novel by Lu Yingong, started screening last week and grabbed the public’s attention despite competing with the Olympic games for viewers. Users on the cultural website douban.com gave the show an average score of 8.2 out of 10.
Some critics say it reflects a widespread anxiety among China’s middle class: they constantly feel insecure and believe that the only way for their children to get a better life is to leave China and pursue their dreams elsewhere. The story line has triggered discussions about the country’s test-based education system and about “tiger” mothers, fathers and teachers. Many scenes of domestic conflict in the show center around the children’s test scores.
In one clip circulating on social media, Fang Duoduo, a ninth-grader, yells at her father, “You want respect from me? You only treat me like an exam machine!”
In this still from the TV show “A Love for Separation,” the character Fang Duoduo’s mother helps with her homework late at night.
Stress about the highly-competitive gaokao, or college entrance exam, is one of the reasons why some parents would rather send their kids abroad to study.
In the show, Duoduo’s mother tells her, “If you can’t make sure you in the top 100 right now, you won’t enter a key senior high school. If you can’t enter a key senior high, you won’t enter a key university. If you can’t enter a key university, you whole life is done.”
In China, college admission hinges on the gaokao, which can only be taken once annually. Competition is so intense that parents would do anything to make sure their kids’ sail through the exam without interruptions. Last summer, a Sichuan family made headlines when it emerged that a mother hid from her daughter news of her father’s death for nearly two weeks until she’d finished taking the test, for fear it would influence her results.
The show reflects a “collective anxiety” among the middle class, the writer Huang Tongtong said in an article on her public WeChat account.
“Do you sometimes feel like everything you own is so fragile? Is it merely a fluke that you have the kind of life you live? Do you have the confidence that your children can live a good life? These are the questions that each one of us has to face,” Ms. Huang wrote.
Frustrated with a rigid education system and a growing list of grievances, more and more well-off Chinese parents send their children away when the children are increasingly young. More than 520,000 people left China to study abroad last year, up nearly 14% from 2014, according to China’s education ministry.
In a survey of 458 Chinese millionaires by China Citic Bank and Hurun Report, 30% of them said they plan to send their children to attend senior high schools overseas, while 14% of them said their children should leave at a younger age, for junior high school.
In the U.S. alone, Chinese students make up about half of the 60,815 foreign pupils in high schools and 6,074 in primary schools.
“The show makes me so sad. I used to argue with my parents all because of my scores. Study is the most important issue in my family. Only study study hard, there was never love and care,” said one user on the Twitter-like Weibo platform in China.