A Chinese mother explains why being a hard-ass Asian parent is better for your kids than Western coddling

My mom, brother and me at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, eayly 1960sWow, the WSJ has a book excerpt today, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” written by Amy Chua, a Yale law school professor that boggles my mind and sends a chill down my spine. It’s her blunt declaration that the values of Chinese (and I’m telescoping it out to include all Asian) mothers are better for raising kids than “Western” parenting style.

She acknowledges the stereotype that Asian moms are hard-asses and then goes on to say that being tough on your kids is a Chinese mom’s way of showing they know the kids can a) get an A in the class, b) learn that difficult piece on the piano c) excel at everything the Chinese mom says is important. It’s just a different way of showing your children you love them, she says. She states her case so emphatically that this essay really just fortifies those American stereotypes. I can hear parents in conservative households murmuring their agreement: “See Martha, I knew there’s a reason why those Chinese are always so damned good at math and science!”

Here’s how the article starts:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• have a playdate
• attend a sleepover
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.

This has to be a joke, I thought, except the Wall Street Journal probably doesn’t have a sense of humor and doesn’t run satire pieces. Take this line, for instance: “If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion.”

Nope, Chua, who was born in 1962 a year after her parents immigrated to the US, is serious. In fact, this essay is an excerpt from a book being published this week, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”

She explains that Asian culture and Western culture have completely different approaches to child-rearing. She proudly recounts how she yelled at her daughter and didn’t let her eat, drink or even go to the bathroom until she got the complicated syncopation between her hands on one difficult piece correct, even though her daughter fought back. Then her daughter found it easy to play the piece, and they snuggled and laughed together in bed that night. Sounds like the mom from hell to me.

I’d be the first to agree that Asian and Western societies aren’t the same. In one study, she points out:

In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that “stressing academic success is not good for children” or that “parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun.” By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be “the best” students, that “academic achievement reflects successful parenting,” and that if children did not excel at school then there was “a problem” and parents “were not doing their job.”

Well duh. I grew up with a strict Asian mom (shown above with me and my older brother Gary, when my family lived in Japan). I know all about being yelled at over a B instead of an A. God forbid my brothers and I should ever get a C or lower. I got a “D” on handwriting in 3rd grade, the only grade lower than a B that I ever got. I concocted a scam to get my dad’s signature on the report card and when the scam unraveled I was punished at a level that’s illegal today, though it was as much for the scam as the grade.

Chua blithely proffers that the Chinese moms’ approach is more effective, and that Western parents spend too much time worrying about their kids’ self-esteem and nurturing them at every step, and ultimately, “seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly.”

As an Asian American kid who was born in Japan and raised very much with the values Chua extolls, I have to say that I’m glad my mom wasn’t quite as hard-assed as Chua. I was allowed to pursue my passions, including music and art, and though it disappointed my parents when I turned down studying journalism at Columbia, they let me go to art school (and reminded me afterwards, when I became a journalist after all). I have no doubt Chua’s daughters are destined for Yale or Harvard, and will go into law like their mom, or engineering, medicine or accounting, the career paths approved by all Asian immigrant parents.

I have to wonder how much trauma her kids have swallowed during their young lives, and if they’ll grow up really — really — appreciating their mom’s tough love when they raise their own kids.

I hope not. I rebelled against my upbringing, and I’d like to think I turned out all right.

(Thanks to Dean Dauphinais for forwarding the URL to the essay!)

UPDATES: There’s been a lot of chatter in the AAPI community about Chua’s book. Here’s a terrific response from blogger Betty Ming Liu, who says “Parents like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian Americans like me are in therapy.”

More related links worth checking out:

Jen Kwok’s response, “Amy Chua Is Not Superior

WSJ article, “Not All Practice Tough Love

Blogger Byron Wong: Amy Chua: Chinese Conceit, Chinese Ignorance, and the $24,000 question

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang’s older piece about raising Asian American daughters: APA Girl Power! (Updated): Raising Strong and Confident Asian Pacific American Daughters

Response from the Contrapuntal Platypus (it’s worth reading her About page): Asian vs. Western Education: A Third Way? (My response to Amy Chua, Part 1)

(Please note the comments below; there are a couple of Asian Americans who agree with Amy Chua.)

Here’s Shangahiist’s take, “Tales of a Chinese daughter: On the superiority or not of Amy Chua’s Chinese mothers.”

And here’s Hyphen’s response: “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior: We’ll See.”

Jan. 11: Amy Chua appeared on the “Today” show and mellowed out her message a bit.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang also wrote a piece in AnnArbor.com about Amy Chua’s book. (And here’s another older piece she wrote for Asian American Village about education and Asian kids.)

Cynthia Liu on the K12 News Network: “Dear Asian America: Forget Chua’s Book, This is Our “It Gets Better” Moment

Anderson on YouOffendMeYouOffendMyFamily: “xxx

Philip on YouOffendMeYouOffendMyFamily: “In Defense of Amy Chua a.k.a. MILF-y, Angry, Overachieving Chinese Mother

Other voices to check out on this topic:

Angry Asian Man

Racialicious

Users on Quora (an up-and-coming Q&A site)

Keith Chow on the Rice Daddies blog

Zahira, guest-blogging on 8Asians

FlipFob.com

Model Minority

Channel APA

Why no one is calling child protective services on Amy Chua” is an interesting take on the Sotah blog that raises the question, “what if Chua wasn’t a Yale law professor but a woman on public assistance?” Instead of just race, Sotah questions the privileges of social rank and class that play into Chua’s parenting.

Awesome: James Fallows on Atlantic.com comments briefly on the WSJ piece (saying he think Chua wrote it as a joke, because if so, “the author comes across as slyly Swiftian rather than as an incredible asshole”) and then embeds the requisite Taiwanese computer animated take on Western moms vs. Chinese moms. Here’s the video:

Jeff Yang’s Asian Pop column: “Mother, superior?

Betty Ming Liu: “Forget Amy Chua. Bigger fish to stir-fry: 4 ways I’ve been conned by Confucius

Bao Phi’s response on his Facebook page: “My late and messy reaction to this whole Chinese Mothers Are Superior Hubbub

The Associated Press interviewed some AAPI bloggers (and Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos) on their reaction to the WSJ piece, and Chua gives more context. So is the WSJ at fault for running the excerpt without the context of the rest of the book? Or were we all duped by a brilliant PR campaign? At the least, I think this conversation has been a good one to air out publicly: “Tiger mom’s memoir meets ferocious roar

The final word: And the best and most well-rounded look at the book and the WSJ excerpt, as well as a talk with Chua comes from Jeff Yang in his SF Chronicle “Asian Pop” column. He points out the good stuff in the essay (the fundamental Asian values) and the bad (the implementation of those values), speaks with people who both agree and disagree with Chua, then gets the larger context from Cha herself: That her book is about she evolves away from the hard-ass Asian mom at the end of the book, thanks to her rebellious 13-year-old daughter; that she did allow playdates for her daughters; that she herself rebelled against her parents (by marrying a white guy, which I thought was notable in her original essay; and most notably, that the WSJ edited passages together and presented the whole as an “excerpt” that became more inflammatory than the parts in the book, and slapped on a confrontational title. Here’s Jeff’s take: “Mother, superior?

OK, one postscript, a cartoon by Gene Luen Yang, in… WSJ.com: “Are You Tiger Dad Material?

PS #2: On bigWOWO, Byron posted a response from a reader who thinks Chua is right and who idolizes her father: “Battle Hymn of the Kitten Daughter.”

PS #3: The Good Chinese Mother appears to be a brand-new blog that was created as a response to Chua’s book. See her comment below….

PS #4: OK, OK, I know this is ridiculous. But I’ve been waiting for Disgrasian — the originator of the phrase “hard-ass Asian parent” — to jump in the fray, and Jen Wang has written a thoughtful essay, “‘Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother’: You Hated The Excerpt, Now Read The Book,” after reading the entire book. It’s looking more and more like the Wall Street Journal (or the publisher’s PR flack) is to blame for this week’s crazy level of conversation about Chua’s book, by publishing an “excerpt” that isn’t an excerpt in the traditional sense.

PS #4.5: In case you just can’t get enough Chua-ness, here’s Angry Asian Man’s list of links to blog posts, including this one (thanks, Phil!). There are some that I haven’t added here, so go for it….

PS #5: “Guest Offender” Teresa Wu, the author of her own recent book about Asian parenting, “My Mom Is a Fob: Earnest Advice in Broken English from Your Asian American Mom” writes “I can’t Eat In-N-Out anymore.”

PS #6: Also on You Offend Me, You Offend My Family, Elaine’s post “Double Happiness: Why Amy Chua is The Panda Express of Chinese Moms

PS #7: Follow-up by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, “So what’s the big deal about sleepovers, anyhow? It is in the nuances – more on Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother

Geez, going on a week and a half, and there’s more:

Via Angry Asian Man, “Tiger Mom Says” is a clever new Tumblr blog worth chuckling over.

Also via Angry Asian Man, “Tiger Cub Speaks!” — Amy Chua’s 18-year-old daughter Sophia in the New York Post.

The Economist’s “Banyan” column looks at how views on parenting aren’t so uniform even in China.

Erin K. Ninh’s on both Hyphen and HuffPost with “Amy Chua and the Externalized Cost of Book Sales,” about the ripple effect of the bogus “excerpt” as it spreads without the context of all this discussion.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang wraps it up on New American Media with “Hey Amy Chua—There Are Other Ways of Being a Chinese Mother.”

May Lee Chai puts it all in a larger context on her blog post, “Mother Tiger Trope Masks Class Privilege

Lac Su addresses the issue in a powerful, undeniable AOL News opinion essay, “Opinion: My Life as the Child of a Tiger Mother

Frances posts yet another (final, I hope) piece.

And a last word from 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors:

OK, last laugh: via Angry Asian Man, comedian/musician Jen Kwok’s “Tiger Mom Rap” MP3.

Are we done now?

53 Comments to "A Chinese mother explains why being a hard-ass Asian parent is better for your kids than Western coddling"

  1. kc's Gravatar kc
    February 5, 2014 - 11:32 am | Permalink

    Now she’s written a new book. She’s married to a jew and she says the Chinese and jews are destined to rule. no Chinese or jews signed the declaration of independence, only groups she calls losers. she’s a narcissist. she’s willing to sacrifice her personal life, childhood and all fun for material success. but it pays off in the end- she gets to go on TV and be despised by millions of people. she’s campaigning for a personal visit from the Klan.

  2. jo's Gravatar jo
    April 8, 2014 - 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I grew up with a tiger mom, I have issues with self esteem, since all my mom ever did was tell me I am never good enough. Not pretty enough, not smart enough, not good enough to be her daughter Unless I was a doctor. Then all is forgiven. Wow. Screw her and her thoughts. Thank god I grew up in America.

  3. July 2, 2014 - 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Wow, I kind of agree with your thought on this issue. I grew up with quite a hard-ass father, as my mother is a little bit soft. For example, when my grades are low, I’ll be punished, and that’ll be really hurt so I need to maintain my grades. But, such situation shape the current me. I’m glad that my father is my father.

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