Chinese Mothers

[a Chinese mother by Helga’s Lobster Stew on flickr]

By now half the country has at least heard about an op-ed published over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal by Yale Law professor Amy Chua. Titled, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” it details the sometimes painful lengths she goes to to ensure the academic success of her two daughters. I am not a Chinese mother, nor was a raised by one, but I do have plenty of friends who are Chinese mothers, or were raised by one, and I am married to a Chinese father, so I know well enough that the piece does not come close to defining a universal experience in Chinese families. I have nothing to add to the firestorm that has already erupted over this article (see the onslaught of tweets discussing Amy Chua, for example) but thought it would be useful to sum up some of the reactions.

From China Hearsay, a blog written by a Western law professor in Beijing:

Does Chua really believe that all kids, no matter their background or DNA, can get straight ‘A’s and be at the top of every class as long as they try hard enough? Does she believe that her kids did not start off with some very substantial advantages in life that simply aren’t available to everyone else?

Why do I can care about this? Two reasons. First, I’ve seen a lot of kids here (some are my students) pressured unmercifully by their parents to the point where it is unhealthy. Shit, kids commit suicide from this kind of stuff when they can’t measure up to unreasonable expectations.

Are Western kids lazier than Chinese kids? To some extent maybe they are, and Chinese parents in general certainly push their kids much harder. Chua’s concept of parenting is brutal micromanagement; they should play the piano, stay away from their peers and popular entertainment. Studying 10 hours a day will indeed improve your grades, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a price to be paid for this as well.

Indeed. On her own blog, Betty Ming Liu writes a response to Chua titled, “Parents like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian-Americans like me are in therapy” in which she calls Chua, “a narrow-minded, joyless bigot.”

And a question on Quora also generated several interesting responses to Chua’s piece, including one by Christine Lu which tells the story of her seemingly successful Asian-American sister who committed suicide. Lu writes, “the notion of the ‘superior Chinese mother’ that my mom carried with her also died with my sister.”

Even the Village Voice got in on the act. And a discussion forum has taken up the topic, with a number of people showing more agreement with Chua’s points than the posts linked to above. And a post from the Big Wowo blog looks at the article from the perspective of Chua’s interracial marriage: “People like Chua talk one thing and practice another. ‘I love the culture so much that I searched long and hard for a man who didn’t embody it. That’s patronage.”

[a Chinese mother by kevsunblush on flickr]

Chua’s new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, from which her op-ed is excerpted, comes out this week. And now will surely sell. It is reviewed in the Washington Post:

…In many ways, “Tiger Mother” did not disappoint. At night, I would nudge my husband awake to read him some of its more revealing passages, such as when author Amy Chua threatened to burn her older daughter’s stuffed animals if the child didn’t improve her piano playing. “What Chinese parents understand,” Chua writes, “is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” By day, I would tell my own two daughters about how Chua threw unimpressive birthday cards back at her young girls and ordered them to make better ones. For a mother whose half-Chinese children played outside while the kids of stricter immigrant neighbors could be heard laboring over the violin and piano, the book could be wickedly gratifying. Reading it was like secretly peering into the home of a controlling, obsessive, yet compulsively honest mother – one who sometimes makes the rest of us look good, if less remarkable and with less impressive offspring. Does becoming super-accomplished make up for years of stress? That’s something my daughters and I will never find out.

As a review of the book in Entertainment Weekly concludes, “We’ll just have to wait for her daughters’ memoirs.”

UPDATE: Read an American mother’s take on the essay. And a moving post by Shanghaiist’s Elaine Chow about her own experiences with the “Chinese mother” model.

UPDATE 2: There have now been far too many responses to Amy Chua to post them all. But I think this video from Taiwan’s Next Media Animation just about says it all:

[a Chinese mother by tylerdurden1 on flickr]

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Multilingual Mania, hao mama. hao mama said: Sum up of the firestorm ignited by Amy Chua and her version of Chinese mothering: [...]

  2. Thanks for the linkage, haomama! You’ve got a really cool blog here. I too am trying to raise my kids in Mandarin and English, so I’ll be reading up on your older posts!

  3. [...] For the past week, the whole world has been talking about Amy Chua and her approach to child-rearing in what she calls a traditional Chinese way. An op-ed she wrote in the Wall Street Journal was an excerpt from her new book, out this week, called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which is now #6 on Amazon thanks to the ensuing uproar. I have summed up some of the initial responses to Chua’s op-ed on Hao Mama. [...]

  4. I thought that Amy Chua’s parenting style is reminiscent of a Race to Nowhere extremes where children are on a treadmill trying to live up to their parents’ expectations but never discovering their own identity.

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