At the age of 16, most Chinese students are still in High School. But 16-year-old Zhang Xinyang (张炘炀) stunned the country in 2006 when he entered college at the age of 10. Currently 16 years old, he is working towards his Ph.D in Pure Mathematics at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (北京航空航天大学). Since early this year, he has been pressuring his parents to buy him an apartment in Beijing. He even threatened to abandon his PhD and forgo defending his graduation thesis. "If I graduate with a PhD, but don’t even have my own house, what’s the point of having a Ph.D? " asked Zhang.
At the tender age of 10, Zhang passed the college entrance exam and became the youngest college student
At 13, he began to work on his master degree
The housing prices in Beijing are one of the highest in China. To buy an apartment is almost an impossible feat for Zhang’s humble wage-earner parents. But the 16-year-old doesn’t consider his request to be unreasonable. In his interview with reporters, he said, "They [his parents) want me to stay in Beijing so they should work for it…I don’t know if they have imposed their dream on me or not, but basically, I’m just following their unfulfilled dream. That’s it. "
Out of options, Zhang’s parents rented an apartment in Beijing and lied to Zhang that they’d bought it. Shorly after, Zhang found out the truth, but his determination to get an apartment hasn’t wavered a bit.
Having grown up in the public eye, a darling of the media, Zhang has long considered himself superior to his classmates, deserving of special treatment. He also makes no effort to conceal his pride. One time in college, he interrupted a professor during a lecture to ask "Do you think I’m the smartest student in this class?"
Zhang’s father, Zhang Huixiang (张会祥), comes from a humble rural family. As a young man he had been accepted by a famous university in China but had to give up the opportunity because of the expensive tuition fees. For this reason, he decided to dedicate his life to provide the best opportunity for his son. He and his wife focus their entire energies on their son’s study They haven’t watched a single t.v show for more than ten years now, fearing that it might distract their son from his studies. Zhang Huixiang even published a book entitled "Magical Study: Notes on Raising a Ten Year Old Prodigy” (《神奇的学习-10岁大学生张忻炀培养纪实》)"detailing how he parented Zhang Xinyang.
Surrounded by adult classmates, the 16-year-old began to put "house and car" onto his list of top priorities, like most Chinese adults today. Increasingly, material success has become a determining factor in people’s decision to enter into relationships with one another. The 16-year-old also shared this point of view. He told reporters that he had a crush on a girl in his class. He put her photo in his MP4 player, so that whenever he felt frustrated, he would look at the photo. However, he won’t confess his feelings until he has "become successful." When asked what counts as success in his view, he said, "Beijing Hukou (the household registration that officiates one’s residence in Beijing), a house and a good job."
Like in any family, Zhang and his father have different opinions though the falling-outs between them occur more often now. Sometimes Zhang tells his father to "shut up." Zhang’s father has blamed the vanity of big cities for his son’s change. "He’s exposed to things that are not appropriate for a child his age. Now he believes that he can’t live without money, even though he’s gifted and knowledgeable.."
Zhang’s story has stirred up heated discussion on parenting in China. While this seems to be another classic struggling-prodigy story, it reflects something more than just parenting. Some experts state that Zhang’s request is revenge on the parents who have imposed their dreams on their son. Many others believe that their story shows how society’s increasing materialism is destroying people’s values.