Guillaume de Bernadac and Miona Milakov posing for photographs with children. Hector Retamal/AFP
Danielle Liu stares straight ahead, a book balanced precariously on her head, and carefully walks along a red line on the floor.
The 10-year-old's mother hopes the exercise will help make Danielle "a little lady" and allow her to shine among the offspring of China's ultra-competitive elite.
Danielle is with seven other young children spending their Saturday holed up on the top floor of a five-star hotel in central Shanghai for a class in etiquette and manners.
"Kids should be kids, that's true, but at least they should have some discipline.
The four boys look dapper in bow ties, suits and shiny black shoes. The four girls are all billowing dresses and angelic smiles.
"You have a stability problem," Guillaume de Bernadac, the self-styled French doyen of all things etiquette in Shanghai, tells one boy of his attempt to walk and keep the book on his head.
"I'm scared," Zachary repeats as he attempts to eat his pea-and-mint soup while keeping two pieces of white paper tucked under his armpits.
The children also have a red ribbon tied behind their shoulders to stop them slouching. Those that do are gently upbraided by de Bernadac or his staff in English or Chinese.
Danielle's mother Cheng Liyan, who also uses the English name Shirley, wants her only child to be "perfect".
"To be lady-like, to be athletic, also academic, I hope she can develop herself in an all-round way," said Cheng, a teacher, in near-faultless English.
Danielle already takes part in extra-curricular swimming, piano and dancing, which is her favourite.
Danielle Liu and her mother during an interview after the etiquette and manners class in central Shanghai. Hector Retamal
Cheng and the other parents pay the 31-year-old de Bernadac 2,688 yuan ($390) for four hours of practical instruction for one child.
Against a soundtrack of classical music, the children learn social skills, dining manners and deportment — hence the books on heads to teach them to walk nicely.
Other exercises include how to introduce themselves and greet people, including "air kisses", and even what topics are appropriate to discuss at the dinner table.
Fast-tracked to adulthood
De Bernadac is adamant that he is not simply trying to make the kids more Western.
"Our point is really to say if you go abroad, or even within China if you move to an international environment where you may be facing other cultures, we give you the keys to adapt," he said.
"The elite are ready to make some effort, some steps, towards the international community," he added.
Cheng, sitting elegantly next to daughter Danielle when class is done, brushes off concerns that at their age, these children should be playing outside and having fun.
"Kids should be kids, that's true, but at least they should have some discipline," said Cheng.
She explained: "For example in a public situation, they can't yell, they can't scream. It's so inappropriate."
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