Last year, a strange thing happened at a zoo in Beijing, China’s capital. When the day started, no one had any idea of what would happen some time later. As usual, there were many visitors to the zoo, especially children.
All of a sudden, a six-year-old girl caught hold of a peacock and squeezed it hard. She said she would free the bird only if her mother agreed to buy a Barbie doll for her. Her mother, who wanted the bird to remain alive, said yes. A Chinese journalist called Wen Chihua wrote about this in a newspaper called Terra Viva.
Why did the girl do such a thing? Well, there are many who feel that very often Chinese children do not get to see nature in all its forms. Especially children living in cities, who do not realise the importance of living in tune with the environment. Most of them live in small matchbox- like houses with hardly any greenery around.
Parents also get into another habit, when they take children to the zoo or to the aquaria. While showing an animal to the children, they talk about its value as a food item, rather than as an animal with many other roles in the environment.
How would it be if we thought of fish chops and the proteins they contain, every time we saw a fish. Or, if the sight of a turtle made us think of turtle meat and how it could make us live longer! The Chinese believe that eating turtle meat could help them live longer.
Some years back, a group of Japanese and Chinese children attended a summer camp. The difference between Chinese and Japanese children was very interesting. The Japanese children put up tents on their own while the Chinese children just watched along with their parents.
When they went out on a nature walk, the children found some ostrich eggs. While the Japanese children made nests for the eggs and kept them carefully, the Chinese children did something very different. They liked to break the ostrich eggs.
Why do they behave like this? This is a question many Chinese are asking today. But now they think they know what the problem is.
One of the problems is that for about 25 years, Chinese governments have had a rule that every family must have only one child. They did this because they felt that China’s population was growing too fast. Families that had more than one child got less benefits when it came to getting government houses or jobs.
So, most children grow up lonely and needing warmth. Even squeezing animals becomes a way of getting in touch with others around them. And since most of them do not ever come in contact with nature, they often become cruel to animals. Or they break things around them, and get involved in fights with other children. It is because they do not know better.
As a result, adults have started thinking of the ways in which they can learn to think of nature and animals in a positive way, so that children too do the same.