Young Chinese boys train at a weightlifting school in Xiamen, Fujian province. Photo: AFP

“Be a man!” That’s the advice to boys in China’s first gender education textbook for those in possession of a Y chromosome.

Launched last week in Shanghai, the gender-specific textbook is targeted at primary school boys in the 10-12 age group. Its contents are intended to embolden boys to take more responsibility but critics are concerned that it propagates gender stereotypes.

Initiated by the education bureau of the city’s Jing’an district and produced in collaboration between teachers and principals from several primary schools in the area, the book — titled ‘Little Man’ — arrives amid rising concern that Chinese boys are being outperformed and overtaken by girls in terms of educational attainment.

Divided into six chapters and peppered with colorful illustrations and games it covers a wide range of topics, both physiological and psychological, to help boys get to know themselves better. Questions such as “Why I am a boy instead of a girl?” are addressed.

Some sections have caused controversy, however. For example, one chapter with the heading “I am a man. I am independent. I can take up responsibility.” has seen a backlash on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

‘Little Man’ is intended to boost masculinity in young boys. Photo via Weibo

Responding to a post about the book on the official account of the People’s Daily newspaper, commenters questioned why taking responsibility should be considered a masculine trait.

Xiong Jing, the executive director of the Feminist Voice, an NGO dedicated to promoting sexual equality in China, told Asia Times: “Girls deserve educations like this, to be taught to grow up as responsible and independent individuals.”

Her impressions of the book in its entirety were that it is more of a moral education than one about gender, as it includes chapters on self-protection and learning to manage money. Such lessons are likely to have a positive value for all students and there was no need for such a gender-focused approach, she added.

According to the publisher — the Shanghai Educational Publishing House — a similar textbook for girls is under preparation. Gender education would then be rolled out for pupils in Shanghai in segregated classes, using the two different, gender-specific textbooks.

Questioning this segregation, Xiong said: “It is good to see primary schools in China start to open sexual education, but to promote it in such way could lead to sexual separation instead of sexual equality.”

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