Eagle Dad, father of 4-year-old Chinese boy Duo Duo pictured running naked in the snow, gave his first interview
A video showing the 4-year-old Chinese boy He Tide shivering in -13C (9F) conditions while pleading for a hug has now been seen by millions and has sparked a worldwide debate about parenting.
The video clip, posted on YouTube by the boy’s father, nicknamed Eagle Dad, shows little He Tide forced to exercise in the snow in just his underpants.
For most, it amounted to child abuse. But some, muttering about how today’s children are mollycoddled, even thought there was some merit to this extreme form of tough love.
Now The Mail on Sunday has traced the boy’s father, businessman He Liesheng, who yesterday declared himself unmoved by the firestorm.
The father explained that the snow ordeal – which he filmed during a holiday in New York – was simply a small part of his extraordinary child-rearing regime for the son he has nicknamed Duo Duo – or “more more”. If all goes to plan, it will get him into a top university by the age of ten.
The father himself revels in the name Eagle Dad. He said: “Like an eagle, I push my child to the limit so he can learn how to fly.”
However, He Liesheng, 44, concedes that his techniques have strained his marriage, saying: “His mother just wants him to be a normal boy but I want him to be exceptional.”
The Mail on Sunday tracked down the self-styled “Eagle Dad” to Nanjing in eastern China for his first interview with foreign media. In a striking example of the pressure exerted on children in modern China by the country’s strict one-child policy and its “get rich” mentality, He Liesheng said that he believed his approach should help his son win an early place in a leading university – possibly, he hoped, China’s top-flight Tsinghua University.
Duo Duo, who turned four yesterday and, according to his father, is already showing signs of being a genius. The boy has started classes in an elite private primary school where the youngest pupil is meant to be six.
His hours after school and at weekends, meanwhile, are filled with an exhaustive timetable of hill climbing, swimming, skiing, skating, chess and martial arts classes aimed at making him clever, strong and fearless.
His father obsessively micro-manages his life with meticulously detailed weekly schedules that cover every minute of his day, from the moment he wakes at 6:00 a.m. to bedtime at 8:30 p.m.
The schedule includes motivation sessions during which his parents deliver a series of special phrases – written by He Liesheng – to Duo Duo on a daily basis to encourage him to improve himself.
The approach has caused a rift between He Liesheng and his wife, He Longhui, 34 – but he denies that their marriage is in jeopardy.
Drawing a bizarre parallel with the US troops sent to kill Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan last year, He Liesheng said: “Those troops were specially trained – they were the elite. In the same way, I believe the way I am raising my son will make him special and better than everyone else.”
Duo Duo’s plight emerged after the family spent a winter break in New York, where the boy went to kindergarten for three months as part of his tailor-made education. On the morning of January 22 – Chinese New Year’s Eve – he was sent outdoors to run in the snow.
Speaking at his ornately decorated European-style apartment – which has a picture of himself meeting Chinese president Hu Jintao on one wall and a gilt-edged print of Napoleon Bonaparte on horseback on another – the wealthy businessman said: “I did it for three reasons.
“First, I wanted to do something to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Second, I did it because China is developing very fast and I wanted to show that if a child can accept this kind of extreme education when they are young, they can overcome any difficulties the future might hold. And third, I did it because I want Duo Duo to be strong.”
The global backlash to his actions came as a surprise, he admitted.
He Liesheng added: “I didn’t realize people would react in the way that they did. In China, about 60% of people disapprove of what I did, 20% approve and 20% of people don’t know what to think. But I don’t regret what I did and I would do it again – or maybe another similar kind of exercise to make him stronger.”
He Liesheng got his son to do some warm-up exercises for 30 minutes in clothes before he stripped off, to prevent him from freezing.
He said: “We had my son’s agreement before we did this. We negotiated with him and we got his permission. This is my way to raise my child and I think it is a good way to raise a successful child. I don’t care about the negative reaction.”
On the contrary, He Liesheng appears to revel in his notoriety. His dining table and coffee table are covered in laminated Chinese newspaper cuttings of the story and he has hosted a stream of local TV crews since the controversy erupted.
The father now plans to publish a book in his “Eagle Dad” persona to promote his approach to parenting – and has even produced postcard-size prints of Duo Duo running in the snow in New York to hand out to visitors.
Explaining his philosophy, He Liesheng – who runs a company dealing in electrical appliances for export – said: “My approach to educating my son is aimed at making him successful in life.
“I call myself the <<Eagle Dad>>. When the baby eagle is large enough, the mother takes it to the edge of a cliff and pushes it off.
“When the young eagle falls into the valley, it learns how to fly. Some may die but most young eagles learn how to fly. It is an extreme form of education.”
He Liesheng – who admits that he did not seek any expert guidance in preparing his child-rearing philosophy – decided on his approach after his son was born two months premature, weighing just 4 lbs.
The father said: “The doctors told me that he might have suffered some brain damage and might have developmental difficulties. They told that me he would be a bit backward and not like other children.”
Apparently determined to prove them wrong, He Liesheng began to devise weekly rosters covering every moment of Duo Duo’s day.
The rosters include two motivational sessions at which his parents focus on perceived areas of weakness. On one, drawn up when he was aged two years and nine months, the sessions aim to stop him crying.
He Liesheng said proudly: “Soon after he would wake up, we would say to him, <<Duo Duo, you mustn’t cry. You have to be strong>>. After we did this, he improved and he stopped crying.”
The rosters also include 20-minute sessions set aside for praising and showing love to Duo Duo and a separate printed list of compliments for the boy’s mother to give him.
In one week the list of compliments – to be spoken directly into Duo Duo’s right ear, according to He Liesheng’s instructions – contained expressions including: “Duo Duo, you are the best. You are beautiful. You will grow up healthy. You are confident. You love physical activities. You will enjoy your life and your family.”
He liesheng, who travels on business and has visited UK and toured Cambridge University as a possible future destination for his son, said: “I am responsible for preparing the schedule. Duo Duo’s mother is responsible for carrying it out.
“She doesn’t agree with the way I am raising him. Sometimes we quarrel about it. But she has seen how he has improved and so she agrees to carry out my instructions.”
Oddly, there are plenty of pictures of He Liesheng and Duo Duo on shelves and cabinets throughout their home but no pictures of his wife. When he was asked to show pictures of the three of them together, he produced one from a drawer.
The mother has stayed on in New York since Duo Duo returned at the beginning of February for what HeLiesheng described vaguely as “personal business”, but he insisted that they spoke every day by video link and said she would return home within two months.
He Liesheng added: “Of course, she has seen all the reports in New York and she is very worried about them.
“I don’t know if she is angry or not – but it is true to say that she disagrees with my methods.”
He Liesheng said that he pressed ahead with his methods despite her objections because he was convinced that they were correct and worried that his son would not recover fully from his difficult birth if he softened his approach.
The result, He Liesheng claimed, is that his son had an impossibly high IQ score of 218 when he was tested at the age of 36 months. He cited other unlikely evidence for his genius – such as being able to hold chopsticks at the age of ten months and fly a kite alone at the age of three.
He Liesheng said: “I have five life goals for my son.
“First, I want him to be healthy. Second, I want him to have a peaceful heart. Third, I want him to have harmonious relationships with everyone around him. Fourth, I want him to be rich. And fifth, I want him to have a mission in life.”
Rattled by claims that he might have damaged his son’s health by making him go out in the snow, He Liesheng brought his family doctor, Wei Guo.
Dr. Wei Guosaid: “He is perfectly healthy and normal. It did him no harm and he was in no danger because his father made him do warm-up exercises before he went out in the snow in his underpants. This wouldn’t be suitable for every child. Every child is different.”
He Liesheng said that he had been contacted by other parents keen to find out more about his methods.
Yesterday morning, as he spent his fourth birthday playing in a park followed by a local TV camera crew, Duo Duo himself seemed oblivious to the fuss surrounding him.
A sweet-natured boy whose father clearly dotes on him, he seems sensitive and – crossing a small rope bridge as his father yanked it from side to side to make it more challenging – showed no obvious signs of being a child prodigy.
Duo Duo was asked what he remembered about his run in the snow. “I was very cold and I was unhappy,” he said shyly, the experience etched indelibly into his memory. “Don’t make me do it again.”
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