Chinese Education and the Durability of Wealth

Having so far spent 3 months in Singapore, where I met a fairly important number of Chinese people from China and Singaporeans with Chinese origins, I have realised how peculiar for a European the family richness transfer is in Chinese-type cultures.

Basically, it is a common thing that the most established family wealth does not last longer than 3 generations. In the meantime, it seems to me that rich families in Europe – and more specifically France which I am more aware of – tend to keep and actually often even grow a bigger wealth with time.

Why ?

It’s very simple: Education.

A typical Chinese family that is financially in a good shape will overly spoil their kids. There is a fear from the parents that if you do not care enough about your children they will leave you and not like you anymore. It is all the more frightening in a culture where it is a very common thing that one or several of your children will live in the same house as you and take care of you when you are old(er).

But the consequences are disastrous! Especially in China with the one-child policy, which only in itself tends to grow spoiled kids within financially comfortable families. On my friends says “Nowadays when they finish university and find a job, quite a number will act like a spoiled and arrogant kid in their company, ready to leave if there’s anything the company does not like about them (in Chinese cultures = would like them to improve)”.

It comes with no surprise to declare that spoiled kids are not likely to work hard, take initiatives, and in a more general fashion do anything that may maintain or develop the family’s previous richness. Instead, they would rather pump the richness and keep living as they were accustomed in their childhood.

In France, (most) rich families (of my close environment) tend to give a rather tough time to their kids, and a greater and greater academic education from a generation to another. It not a rare thing that entire families have been doing their advanced studies at the Ecole Polytechnique. I may mention that it is in France by far the most prestigious school, equivalent to the Ivy League institutions in the USA and counts among the the top world institutions.

For the Ecole Polytechnique, unlike in some top US universities, it does not matter if your dad or mom has been studying there previously, and can pay big money to the university. Only your results matter. And you get into the Ecole Polytechnique because you’re good (at doing maths…but that’s a discussion for another day) and motivated, not because your parents force you to do so. My point here is to stress out that the education those receive tends to let develop in them an intrinsic motivation, which I find tremendously fundamental in education.

Still in France, in the worst-case scenario, if a kid fails with their academic education, eventually because they were too spoiled, they still have a solid security net: their family as a network. And according to the French culture, they actually will extensively use that network and reach a comfortable situation, thus sustaining the family’s richness.

What’s the take-home lesson?

  1. Not spoiling your kids will not make them hate you. Well, they will hate you at some time 🙂 but once they are grown adults they will thank you a lot for the rest of their lives. If my father was still among us today (may he rest in peace) I would once more thank him a thousand times for the great “you must deserve what you have” education he gave us.
  2. Many times, not helping helps. This is probably the fact that is the most difficult to understand when you have an affective link to these your are trying to educate, typically the mother-child relationship; too bad the mother is also the most influential person on their kids… That is how you teach independence and autonomy: Don’t help them right now and tomorrow they will know how to do it by themselves. I know that mostly from tutoring, the abilities and eventually grades of my students just dropped up when I gave up helping them every single time they would be stuck. You feel guilty first, but then you realise that it works and that it was for their good.
  3. Whatever you build in life, make SURE to take enough time to ensure its CONTINUITY. That’s a lesson I learned from a couple of previous (major) failures with non-profit activities. You’re passionate, you want it to work and you dedicate a lot of your time and effort to it: it’s great. But you also want it to last when you cannot sustain it, so TAKE some time THINK about the most efficient ways to pass it on to future generations, shall it be a knowledge, an art (including that of making money 🙂 ) or any other activity.

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