After a child has his or her first birthday, many parents will give him or her the “grasping test”. This test involves putting different items on a table in front of a child. These items symbolize different things and the test is to see which item the child grabs first. Depending on which item he or she grabs, it is said that the child’s future lies with what the items symbols. For example, many parents will put a pen, a coin, and a rubber stamp in front of their children. If they grab the pen, it means they will be very academically driven and smart. If they grab the coin, it means they will be very rich and successful. If they grab the stamp, it means they have a future in politics.
This reflects the Chinese philosophy that with the proper dedication, you can do whatever you set your mind to. Everything that the parents set out for the baby to grasp leads to success – they just represent different types of successes and futures. There are no failure options for the baby to grasp. This also reflects on the stereotypical future-obsessive Asian parent. In China, parents are very much so hands-on in their child’s education and future. There is the thought that they have to give their child more opportunities than they were given as children.
My informant is my mother and on my first birthday party, she set the three items mentioned above along with a small flute in front of me. I grabbed the pen and the flute simultaneously, which led my parents to enroll me in many extracurricular musical activities and academic clubs. In turns out that I am very musically driven and love learning. My informant clearly believes in this folk tradition, because it has held true in her experience, but I believe that it is also kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I had chosen instead the stamp, maybe my parents would have enrolled me in Model UN and other political activities instead of piano lessons, thus acquiring my taste for politics.