Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

From Yale Law professor Amy Chua, a defense of Chinese parenting using herself and her children as examples in a parenting style that makes Mommy Dearest look like Mother Theresa:
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.

* * *

Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.

As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early.
You have to read the whole thing -- it gets worse, so much so that I keep thinking it has to be satire.  But it isn't.
Brian Caplan at the EconLog takes the piece seriously, even while finding it exasperating, in a post called Does Asian Parenting Cause Asian Success?
My initial reaction is exasperation. Yet another essay on parenting that doesn't even contain the words "genes" or "heredity"? A vast literature finds that heredity is not merely part of the reason for family resemblance, but virtually the whole story. How can a professor at Yale act as if this consensus doesn't even exist?
* * *

The upshot is that the tough love that Chua heralds is not just pointless, but cruel. The defender of Chinese parenting might retort, "Well, at least it does no lasting damage." But only massive future benefits could conceivably justify the truly sadistic things that Chua proudly admits she did for her children's alleged benefit.
Your reactions?

P.S.  Several people have mentioned the Resist Racism and Angry Asian Man responses, to I though I'd bring the links above the fold:

From Resist Racism:  P.S. You suck

From Angry Asian Man: Your permissive western parenting is inferior


Bukimom said...

After reading the article, I can only nod and say that I am not surprised. This is the Asian way of parenting. You show love by criticizing and demanding perfection. It is because you want the child to be the best he or she is capable of. But it is also because your child is a reflection of you.

Asian parents do spend a lot of time coaxing (insisting on) the best out of their children, but in my view it is also selfish because it is done to make the parent look good. They may grow up to be very competent adults who will take care of their parents in their old age, but are there true feelings of affection there? Does the child really become everything he or she is capable of, or just a cookie cutter person that looks like every other kid raised the same way?

Maybe we Western parents don't push our children hard enough sometimes, but I think the Chinese parents go to unhealthy extremes. I think a lot of Asian adults raised the Chinese way struggle with many "hidden" issues as adults though they may appear to have it all together to the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Angry Asian Man and "resist racism" are pretty exasperated by the piece, so it seems that many in the Asian American community are not too psyched to have the model minority stereotype given weight by someone within their community.

Dawn said...

Ugh. Because she conflates her extreme style of parenting with her Chinese culture she's just given permission for a zillion stupid white people to do it, too. Also she's set it up that any discussion about the details of her parenting to be about race instead of a nuanced discourse about different cultural values and differences in family practices. Cringe-worthy for a ton of reasons.

travelmom and more said...

sMy daughter's Chinese teacher sent this to the parents of the entire Mandarin program at her school in full endorsement of the article. I am not sure what I think of the ideas professed, but I also think there are some things to learn here. The idea that you can work hard to overcome obstacles is something that American parents could do a better job of insisting upon in our kids. I also think it is okay if school work isn't always fun and entertaining and that sometimes it is just plain hard work.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, just want to second that Resist Racism blasted her for making the stereotype 1. worse and 2. OK. Read his rebuttal to her--it's great.

I think one of the most disturbing things someone raised about all this is . . . what if you have a kid with a learning disability or some other issue. Don't even want to go there.

thewonderfulhappens said...

that article is terrifying...especially the piano story. It made me shudder. I understand cultural differences, but in my opinion, that was abuse.

Kim said...

Reading between the lines, you see a woman barreling ahead, against the judgment of her husband (doesn't HE get some say in how their kids are raised, too? apparently not) and her peers. And the feelings of her kids are irrelevant.

One woman, striking out alone. May very well end up alone in the end. (Maybe one day we'll get to hear from one of her kids?) But she can comfort herself with her kids' achievements. As if that makes up for lack of relationship.

Slipped into a little PTSD reading this article. My parents aren't Asian, but they must've gone to the same parenting classes. And one by one their kids pulled away as soon as we reached adulthood.

NOT the legacy I want to leave with my kids! Though I do agree with those who have commented above that we CAN hold our kids to being the best they can be and not being lazy. But there are a lot of ways to motivate positively. Shaming shows cruelty AND a lack of creativity in my opinion.

Ditto on the recommendation to read the Resist Racism counter-article.

Dee said...

Well, one thing's for sure: the WSJ article is helping Chua's new book rocket up the Amazon bestseller list!

Anonymous said...

Not a single person here is qualifed to be judgemental of another culture, much less established ways within the culture.

Yet you do it over and over and over again.

Nor can any Chinese person reverse the role and judge American parents or culture.

Give it a rest already with the projected righteousness. Parent your way, let other people parent their way. Let other cultures, which you really do not understand, alone with the bias and the judgmentalism.

Anonymous said...

"Not a single person here is qualifed to be judgemental of another culture, much less established ways within the culture."

A couple of us referenced other bloggers qualified to do that. What is your problem? There is no way Chua wrote this piece without expecting a truckload of commentary. She has almost written it in such a way as to *invite* commentary by deliberately invoking western stereotypes. I doubt she would have a problem with it. Somehow, I think she has a thick enough skin to withstand this rather mild attack.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised there is much of an audience for this book. Really, how many parents' goal is for their children to be a concert pianist, an Olympic athlete or class valedictorian? I know a few miserable parents--of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds--who raise their children based on fear and materialism. However, most of the parents I know, whether we have similar parenting styles or not, want our children to be good friends and community members, be able to give and receive love, find satisfaction and pride in work, and be joyful in life. Seems like a book about an extremist that will mostly appeal to rubber-neckers.

Meia Yao said...

I think it is important for a child to know his/her parent loves him/her regardless of accomplishments, etc. In other words, unconditional love. It seems to me that in "criticizing and demanding perfection" (a phrase one commenter used above) there is potential for negative "results" but of course that's an assumption and all individuals and parents and their relationships are different. So everyone is perfectly justified in sharing their own experiences and viewpoints stemming from their experiences with everyone else like this woman. However, I think it's not useful to try to apply her situation/beliefs/experiences in general/take them at face value/think they represent all "Asian parents"/criticize certain styles of parenting when there is no key formula... Also think there's a good point above in the comments, related to her associating her style of parenting with her culture...not sure if that's necessary... Anyhow, there's some kind of saying about raising a child... you only know how to until you do it or something... not that I'm an expert!

Diane said...

FYI- There is also an interesting discussion on this piece over at

Anonymous said...

"A couple of us referenced other bloggers qualified to do that. What is your problem? There is no way Chua wrote this piece without expecting a truckload of commentary. She has almost written it in such a way as to *invite* commentary by deliberately invoking western stereotypes. I doubt she would have a problem with it. Somehow, I think she has a thick enough skin to withstand this rather mild attack."

As usual Osolomama, you are using deflection as a justification to ignore the fact that you, yes very specifcially you, are not qualified to judge a woman of another culture, much less any parenting styles that are largely in the norm for that culture.

The elite rhetoric of some of the regulars who comment on this blog is not productive, and in no way promotes better understanding of other cultures and social norms (regardless if they are perceived as good or bad by the audience).

Real understanding lies in actually understanding and context. Judgement from within your fishbowl clouds your understanding. A characteristic that is all too common to the comments within this blog, and to the blogger herself. At least the blogger is honest and fair enough to allow commentary that does not follow the clique messaging that circulates here.

Judge less, in my opinion, work to actually understand and empathize. It does not require that you agree, only that you understand and empathize, rather then judge and disparage.

Aorijia said...

And yet another article:

SF Gate: 'Superior' Chinese mom misunderstood

...which claims that the WSJ basically copy pasted the most controversial fragments of the book, added a controversial title and a controversial picture.