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The 2011 Chinese Mother Debate

2 Ratings: 4.0
Responses to Amy Chua's article "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior"

   The article puts forward a very strong view on behalf of Chinese/Chinese-American mothers who hold their children to rigorous and demanding standards even if that requires using abusive language as "motivation"

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:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• 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.

I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I'm also using the term "Western parents" loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.

Ms. Chua answers questions from Journal readers who wrote in to the Ideas Market blog.

All the same, even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough.

When it comes to parenting, the Chinese seem to produce children who display academic excellence, musical mastery and professional success - or so the stereotype goes. WSJ's Christina Tsuei speaks to two moms raised by Chinese immigrants who share what it was like growing up and how they hope to raise their children.


1 review about The 2011 Chinese Mother Debate

Amy Chua knows how to promote a book

  • Jan 19, 2011
If you've been wondering what that recent rumbling has been in newspapers and blogs recently, it's the enormous response to Amy Chua's article "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" that's registered a 9.0 on the Blogospheric Richter scale. And boy, people are plenty pissed.

In the opening segment of the piece, she highlights the following as things her kids "were never allowed to do":
  • attend a sleepover
  • have a playdate
  • 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.
She qualifies her points by adding that "Chinese mother" extends to other nationalities following the same doctrine including, strangely enough, the Irish. I was dozily readily this pre-caffeine on a Saturday morning and my initial response was "that's freaking awesome", and moved onto some car review or new restaurant or something.

Naturally, these days you can't say this kind of stuff without getting a response, and - wow - what a response - 4,000 WSJ.com comments, and 100,000 Facebook comments, largely reacting as if she'd burnt down a kitten sanctuary. And not just any old sanctuary - a sanctuary for blind kittens started by Martin Luther King and funded by the Steve Jobs Kitten Fund.

But wait, what the...

The way I initially read the article was fairly tongue in cheek, highlighting the difference between people who are disciplined with their offspring and those that embrace the spirit of individuality and let their kids muddle around at school and not excel in anything. Proponents of the classic Western approach consider the former tantamount to child abuse (while pouring shampoo into the eyes of aforementioned kittens), while "Group A" thinks "Group B" are a bunch of lazy parents.

I'm not Chinese, as you might have guessed, and don't have a Chinese mother (as far as I'm aware of) but Amy Chau's strict approach was more in keeping with my own parents' beliefs - namely that education was supremely important and screwing around was a waste of time. I came to quite enjoy the academic side of school and invented endless excuses to avoid sports, school plays or anything musically inclined. Thank God.

Talking to one of my best friends, who's a secondary school teacher, it sounds like the average child could use a little more parental direction. He spends his days confiscating iPhones and then being bitched out by pissed parents, having grades altered by by the Principal to keep the jocks in football teams, being threatened with physical abuse by 15 year-olds, and getting irate calls from Mommy and Daddy when little Johnny gets 20% in the test he didn't study for. (No kidding, the 20% score was in a multiple choice test where there were only 4 options, which is statistically worse that a monkey with a dartboard.) He's literally on the point of giving up.

Part of the inflammatory reaction to Amy Chau's article is the racial element, sure, but I suspect it's also a defense from the anti-parenting parents who think their kids should be given everything in return for nothing. I don't know how true it is to say that Chinese mothers are like Ms Chau, but maybe my mother was Chinese after all.

What do you think, Lunchers?

Amy's Book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" is probably a hoot.

Bonus review material! I received this definition of 'political correctness' from a friend this morning, which seems appropriate in this debate:

"Political correctness is a doctrine, fostered by a delusional, illogical minority, and rabidly promoted by an unscrupulous mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a piece of shit by the clean end."

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February 18, 2012
Discipline or its converse is becoming less and less relevant. Cell phones, video games, iPods and a host of electronics either here or to come are a tremendous distraction from accomplishing what needs to be done academically. In addition, these gadgets isolate people more and more from face to face contact. For some young people, electronic gadgetry is becoming more of a distraction and hindrance rather than a help.

In addition, I am afraid for students who multi-task while
trying to learn academic material. Multi-tasking , if ever
appropriate, should be done with regard to tasks
that have been mastered- not subject matter to be
learned for the first time. How can a student sit
down to do complex math homework when text
messages are coming continuously throughout the
study period?  Setting boundaries is important;
however, the electronic gadgetry actually deprives
students of badly needed privacy to get
important things done without constant interruption.
October 28, 2011
I don't know if it's only Chinese mothers that raise their kids in a strict manner- I know plenty of parents that raise their children with discipline. I also know plenty of parents (I hope to be one of them someday) that balance being a parent with supporting their child when they'd rather paint than get tackled, act than catch fly balls, dance than run around in circles. I think that it's highly possible to be disciplined (making your kids work for privileges) and to be a support system. The above argument makes it look like it's the parent's way or the highway....I've seen cases where the kids pick the highway. I also believe that if your kids want an iPad or cell phone, tell them to get a job to pay for it and the monthly bills. Anyhow...those are my two cents! Great, thought-provoking review, J!
October 29, 2011
Thanks, Jim- I like my method, too! We'll have to wait til I have kids to see if it works though lol
January 21, 2011
Great review! This article was great in the way that it sparked up so much discussion. A few interesting facts I found out that the header of the article - "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" wasn't actually made by Chua but by WSJ. It worked and got people reading it! But anyway back on topic, I'm sure many of us have known people who were raised by extremely strict parents and every case I've seen, the people have always been successful but I always questioned whether or not they were happy. An example I read from one of the comments read:

"My big sister was what I used to jealously call "every Asian parent's wet dream come true" (excuse the crassness, but it really does sum up the resentment I used to feel towards her). She got straight As. Skipped 5th grade. Perfect SAT score. Varsity swim team. Student council. Advanced level piano. Harvard early admission. An international post with the Boston Consulting Group in Hong Kong before returning to the U.S. for her Harvard MBA. Six figure salary. Oracle. Peoplesoft. Got engaged to a PhD. Bought a home. Got married.
Her life summed up in one paragraph above. Her death summed up in one paragraph below.

Committed suicide a month after her wedding at the age of 30 after hiding her depression for 2 years. She ran a plastic tube from the tailpipe of her car into the window. Sat there and died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the garage of her new home in San Francisco. Her husband found her after coming home from work. A post-it note stuck on the dashboard as her suicide note saying sorry and that she loved everyone. '

I hear stories every once in a while about kids in Asia who end up committing suicide when they don't make it into the school they were going for or fail to meet their parents' or their own expectations. It's an unfortunate, but relatively rare consequence as a result of this style of parenting. On the other hand, I think children need motivation to succeed and I think that they do need some sort of strict discipline, otherwise, they'll end up quitting everything they start. Easier said than done, but in the end I really think there just needs to be some balance. It's even more difficult when 'traditional' Asian parents raise their children here in the United States because a majority of the population wouldn't be tolerant or understanding of that style of parenting. The kids will see other kids who are given more freedom or in some cases carte blanche to do whatever they please. In many cases, I've seen the kids resent their parents and end up doing things just to spite them. But once again, I really think it comes down to balance. I'm kind of not looking forward to becoming a parent one day =P
January 21, 2011
Wow....great response...Wish I could push "like" on this comment.
January 21, 2011
Interesting points, YungBolo. I think parenting is one of those things where everyone's an expert until they try it - as you say, it really comes down to balance.

The New York Times' David Brooks is all riled up today with his article "Amy Chua is a Wimp". Good to see that Mr Brooks is no better than the rest of us and has come down to our level!
January 24, 2011
Thanks guys and @ thanks for linking that David Brooks article, it was very interesting, with good points!
January 20, 2011
I just read the article a couple of days ago! My sister shared it on Facebook, the mother of four boys 6 and under. I am not at all offended by the racial divide implied. I come from Russian myself, frankly I have a hard time understanding Americans. But I am really fascinated by all cultures and I think it is beautiful that we are all so different. What a boring world it would be if everyone parented their kids the same way! :) My parents were somewhere in between, and sometimes I wish they were more "Chinese" in pushing me with academics. Since I am a parent myself now as well, I would say I'm a little more "Chinese" than my parents in my education approach, but not to the point described in the article. Thanks for sharing the review and sparking some conversation! I'm sharing it on Twitter!
January 20, 2011
It's funny because I wasn't offended either, so I was surprised by the vociferous response to the piece. I'm English, and there's more commonality (generally) between the UK and US in it's approach to education - specifically, it's undervalued. Thanks for tweeting!
January 21, 2011
You're welcome! PS: The comments on the WSJ article are equally as interesting to read!
January 21, 2011
I personally think they are more offended just by the word "superior" than by the content! ;-)
January 21, 2011
Sharrie, you might be right - David Brooks said in his OpEd column:

"Chua plays into America’s fear of national decline. Here’s a Chinese parent working really hard (and, by the way, there are a billion more of her) and her kids are going to crush ours. Furthermore (and this Chua doesn’t appreciate), she is not really rebelling against American-style parenting; she is the logical extension of the prevailing elite practices. She does everything over-pressuring upper-middle-class parents are doing. She’s just hard core."
January 20, 2011
Hm, sounds like this has some similarities to a Filipino household that practices tradition....Iknow I was driven to study and try to excel most of the time. But I was also allowed to play. My parents weren't strict as long as I did my job. Nice write up!
January 20, 2011
Thanks - I had a similar upbringing to what you describe, hence my nerd-like nature. :-) I hope Amy Chua's recycling all that hate mail...
January 20, 2011
My mom was never the typical chinese mother, so this doesn't apply to me. However, I do know a lot of mothers who are either Singaporeans or HongKongers or Taiwanese and also now that I'm living in China, some typical Chinese mothers who are very serious about their kids. Interesting enough, I was just thinking about writing a review on being Chinese and what it entails earlier this morning. I thought to myself that it is not fair to not write about Chinese when I wrote one on Japanese recently. The first few things that came to mind was, boy, the American readers on Lunch would be having a big party if I do that. Then again, it may be a little harsh to many Chinese if I wrote everything I had in mind! Well, may be I'd write it eventually... the reason being that I know a lot about being American but I don't think many American knows about being Chinese. Considering how globalization affects all of us today, in order to have peaceful existence, we need to know where people are coming from and the mentality behind each decision. So, yes, I'd try to write one in future :-)
January 20, 2011
Yeah, I think you should do that, Sharrie. Perhaps I'll do one coming from a Filipino household...
January 21, 2011
I just did a short review of being Chinese. A long one would be writing a book on it, LOL......
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The 2011 Chinese Mother Debate
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