Chinese ‘Eagle Dad’ Defends Making Son Run in Snow Without Clothing

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On a family vacation to the U.S. during the Chinese New Year, He Liesheng recorded his 4-year-old son running around a snowy street in Flushing, New York. Wearing only underwear and shoes, the child, nicknamed Duoduo, cried and shivered while his parents pressured him to run and perform push-ups in the snow.

The parents told CNN that the freezing run was part of a regimented “training program” they’ve cleared with doctors, but not before the home video prompted outrage across the web.

According to CNN, He got inspiration for his self-titled nickname, “Eagle Dad,” from Chinese-American author Amy Chua’s controversial parenting book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. “It’s tough for me, too, when he cried out for my comfort,” He told CNN. “But I believe in ‘no pain, no gain.’ Like an eagle, I push my child to the limit so he can learn how to fly.”

(MORE: Tiger Moms: Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer?)

The child’s father told the AFP he is trying to help his son develop a “masculine temperament” through activities like mountain climbing, dancing and cycling. Challenging him to run around in near-zero temperatures is just one of his tactics. Xin Lijuan, He’s personal assistant (He runs a bed linen company in Nanjing, China), told the AFP that the child agreed to run through the snow and “did half an hour of slow running to warm up.”

According to the parents, the boy had severe health problems after a premature birth. The parents say they think their intense parenting methods are responsible for his improved health. “This child has received all sorts of forms of training since he was small. When he was one, he started swimming in water that was 21 degrees Celsius,” Xin added.

Xin says He didn’t post the video online. He had emailed it to a few friends and one of them uploaded it anonymously.

(MORE: ‘Tiger Mom’ Amy Chua in the 2011 TIME 100)

The video has been met with virulent criticism from bloggers on China’s Twitter-like social media site Weibo, who have called the parents everything from “abusive” to “inhuman.” The video has also been uploaded to YouTube, where it has been viewed more than 1 million times — and comments are just as harsh. “I am an Asian dad, [and] I will never do anything like this to my kids. These people should be in jail and have their son taken away ASAP,” one commenter wrote.

Though the majority of the commenters appeared dismayed or outright hostile about the incident, a handful saw some validity in the practice. “His father is cruel, but what he did is for the boy’s good,” a Weibo user told the AFP. “He won’t be like today’s children, who are only able to play with cell phones and computers.” So far, there have been no reports of child welfare groups looking into He’s behavior.

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