STAR DUO: Actor and singer Jimmy Lin kneels beside his son Kimi. The two are popular with Chinese audiences (FILE)
Recently, the TV show Where Are We Going, Dad?, produced by Hunan Satellite Television, has been wowing audiences across the nation. Originally created by South Korean MBC Television Stage, and first aired in January 2013, the reality TV show was brought to China and localized when Hunan Satellite Television saw its potential to entertain Chinese audiences. It seems they were right, as although it is only in its first season, it has already become the most popular show of 2013 by ratings.
In each episode of the program, which airs at 22:00 every Friday, five celebrity fathers spend 72 hours with their children in the countryside, taking care of them without assistance for the whole three days, while also taking part in a series of activities for the children and their dads to do together.
"It is great fun to see them living in an unfamiliar environment. There are a lot of hilarious moments," said Liu Liping, a 28-year-old fan of the show living in Beijing.
"Some parts of the program are touching too. The fathers are always busy working and seldom have time to be with their kids. The time they spend together during the program is especially sweet and unforgettable," said Liu.
Just what is it about the show that makes it so popular? "It addresses social reality. Dads normally focus on earning more money and making achievements in their career. They put more weight on creating a better life for their families than they do spending time with their kids," said Xie Dikui, general director of the show.
As the father of a 3-year-old daughter, Xie said he found his own heart being touched by the program as he made it.
"I worked day and night at the television station and neglected my daughter," Xie said with regret, "No wonder she likes her mother more. After making this program, I feel I really should spend more time with her. As busy as these fathers are being celebrities, they are able to spare time for their kids. We can do better than that."
Xie's condition reflects the dilemma of many young parents in China. Most of them say that they know this is a problem but that they are helpless when it comes to changing it.
"I often have to work overtime in the evening. When I get home late at night, my daughter is already asleep," said Tang Jun, father of a 2-year-old girl in Beijing. Tang works at a foreign-funded accounting firm.
"I wish I could have more time to be with my daughter. She is so adorable. No matter how tired I am when I come home from work, all that goes away when I see her," said Tang, "But I have to keep working like this if I want to stay in this position or get a promotion."
Tang's words reflect the lives of a large number of fathers in the big cities of China, where the cost of living is high and career competition is cutthroat.
This dilemma is also a reality for fathers in rural areas, just in another form. More and more men from underdeveloped areas are now working as migrant workers in developed areas, such as south and east China's coastal areas, leaving their children at home under the grandparents' care.
According to a report on rural migrant labor in 2012 by the National Bureau of Statistics, the country's rural workers amounted to 262.61 million that year, up 3.9 percent year on year. Of them, 163.36 million were working in cities away from home.
"I have a son and a daughter, both of them attending primary school in my hometown," said Xu Canyong, a 33-year-old man working in Shantou, a city in southeast China's Guangdong Province.
More than 10 years ago, Xu left his hometown—Wuxue, a small city in central China's Hubei Province—to seek better opportunities in Shantou. Like many migrant workers, he got married in his hometown, and the couple moved to work in a city, leaving their children at home to be cared for by their grandparents.
"I miss my children very much. I call them every week. I want to have them live in Shantou with us, but the cost of living and attending school here is too high," said Xu.
After more than 10 years of hard work in Shantou, Xu has become an experienced mechanic. Recently, he started his own business, processing parts according to supplied samples. Nevertheless, he still regrets missing a part of his children's life.
Currently, his children only come to live with him during the summer and winter vacations.