Amy Chua is ‘Garbage’

Dissecting Amy Chua’s Assumption about Chinese Motherhood

by yifan zhang

See, Amy, I can use hyperboles too! For those who don’t know, Professor Amy Chua wrote a book which prompted an inflammatory article “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” in the Wall Street Journal. Yes I heard, those were just excerpts of the most controversial quotes from her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” Even though I may question the accuracy of the “excerpt,” it was one scary window into the mind of a scary person.

Her book describes the narrative of her own personal absurdist/sadistic mothering techniques. Her caring, motherly behavior obviously stems from a “foundation of love and compassion.” I mean if she doesn’t make you play violin and piano for six hours a day, then she really does not love you. Of course, threatening to burn stuffed animals, name-calling, and not letting your kids in partake in a phenomenon called “fun” doesn’t cause depression; it builds character. *bs*. From strict parenting, she implies that parents can have total, conscious control over the futures of their children.
Even more disturbing is how this article spread like wildfire across the internet! The New York Times, the Atlantic, Times Magazine, and every bloody Chinese American with a blog from Lena Chen to Vienna Teng commented on the topic . . . and so will hardboiled. Most of mainstream media has focused on how Amy Chua is some sort of cure to docile, “Western” parenting. The “Mommy Wars,” they decried. The Mommy Wars doesn’t describe the totality of the discourse. We must always remain vigilant about what those articles are actually implying.

Mainstream commentaries on Amy Chua parallel the classic depictions of Yellow Peril. Time Magazine cites standardized tests scores and economic growth in China in the same cover article as Amy Chua’s parenting to describe the impeding takeover by the Chinese overlords. There is a difference between a Chinese American and Chinese national; one salutes the stars and stripes while the other salutes the hammer and sickle. Why can’t people get this right?! “Are we the losers [Amy Chua] is talking about?” commented Time Magazine. Who the hell is “we?” Can I join? To continue the implicit fear-mongering, Time quoted former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. He commented, as a response to a postponed Philadelphia Eagles game: “The Chinese are kicking our butts in everything. If this was in China, do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium. They would have walked, and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.” I called my cousins in China: they can’t do calculus. If you wanted a proper sports riot, go to England, not China. So to Ed Rendell: fu/du.

However, Amy Chua and mainstream commentary both steam from the assumption that parenting techniques influence a child’s future, or at least parenting techniques correlates with offspring success. Although in the end Amy Chua “moderated” her parenting, she still maintains the assumption that she can have control over her children’s future. To the shock of all parents, there is no correlation between parenting techniques and a child’s academic success. There is no “optimum” parenting technique for Amy Chua or any other overbearing parent to obtain.

According to Freakonomics by Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen Dubner, parental behavior is negligible. Using the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Levitt concluded that parental behaviors such as spanking a child, moving to a new neighborhood, limiting television use, or even reading to a child has no effect on standardized test scores. Thus, the quest for the best parenting technique is analogous to the search for El Dorado and unicorns. It may be true parents cannot be too lax. Yet according to Levitt’s research, most modifications in parental behavior have minimal consequence on academics success. Obsessive parents a la Amy Chua are no better than their more moderate, “declawed” counterparts. Thus, the so-called “parenting techniques” preached by Amy Chua is inconclusive at best, heresy at worst. If she believes Asians value mathematics so much, why didn’t she analyze government data to obtain an optimal parenting strategy? I expect more from a Harvard educated economics major.

What does influence success for children then? According to Levitt and his research, socioeconomic status is more of an influence on academic success than anything a parent does. Moreover, parental education, English as a household language, and having books all influence a child’s success. Having books demonstrates both an emphasis on learning and purchasing power. Non-English speaking households are less well off socioeconomically, and thus their children are generally less successful in school. A child’s success “isn’t a matter of what you do as a parent; it’s who you are.” In short, indelible social class is the main determinant of intelligence and future success.

Time Magazine cites the school success in China and other East Asian countries is because of an intensively rigorous academic environment. They used the standardized testing scores from Shanghai to backup their arguments. However, that data must be
taken with a grain of salt. Urbane Shanghai students are not a fair representation of China’s population, as they are wealthier and more educated than their rural and migrant brethren. Remember, socioeconomic status correlates with high test scores. Round up a bunch of prep school kids from Philip Exeter, and I’ll bet these American students can rival the teens from
Shanghai. Additionally, China is known for “saving face” to the international community (watch the Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony if you don’t believe me). The Chinese government often tries to portray the People’s Republic as modern
and developed as possible, no matter how biased this portrait might be. Who says the government did not specially select a group of high achieving students? Plus, the students were probably given a speech about how the honor of the Motherland depended on this international test. “Traditional” Chinese culture has nothing to do with selection bias.

The same concept of selection bias explains why Chinese American students are doing well academically. The bias stems from the Immigration Act of 1965 and its seven point preference system. One of these preferences was reserved for educated,
skilled professionals. Educated ethnic Chinese like Amy Chua’s parents (one of whom taught electrical engineering here at UC Berkeley) came into the country through this preference. These aren’t the “wretched refuse” but the sons and daughters of aristocracy. Because of their high socioeconomic status, education, wealth, and often an emphasis in technical fields, their children (like Amy Chua) entered the school system and succeeded academically. The success of this portion of the Chinese American community is not solely due to “Asian values” as Amy Chua would like us to believe but their relatively high
socioeconomic status.

Most frightening, Amy Chua’s narrative illustrates that the Chinese American community has internalized the “model minority” stereotype. We think our “values” somehow gives us a competitive advantage academically and economically. The belief of these “values” gives many Chinese Americans the excuse to perpetuate often mentally scarring parenting techniques. Furthermore, our internalization of the stereotype perpetuates the “model minority” stereotype in the mainstream media. We let ourselves become the “Yellow Peril.” We dug our own graves. We drank the Kool-Aid; now we need to pump our stomachs.

13 thoughts on “Amy Chua is ‘Garbage’

  1. Some words penned in response to the thoughts of a student writing elsewhere . . .

    I would not normally lock horns and try to best a junior in high school; I’m hoping you do not read my words here as such, for they are meant for you only as a provocation to further thought to your ideas well-presented.

    You’ve written that you “used to get frustrated when I had to practice violin and I really didn’t want to . . .” Do I read correctly that you no longer “get frustrated?” If so, that’s a remarkable advancement. As a musician myself I want to ask you, Why do you practice violin and not another instrument of your choosing less frustrating, for examples, flute, harpsichord, tuba, or tabla. There is a vast – and I do mean vast! – repertoire for each of those, and many other, instruments that could challenge you unendingly for the remainder of your life. Instead of spending hours at your chosen instrument (whichever it may be) in the drudgery of isolated practice, why not spend more of your time in practice with music ensembles of various kinds. This can yield a discipline and advancement of a uniquely different kind. If you are studying formally with a violin teacher I’m quite sure he will confirm the well-founded idea that, as a performer, playing an instrument is one kind of challenge but playing an instrument WITH PEOPLE is significantly more so. A musician in isolation is a musician limited. And herein lays one, only one, of the transparent contradictions of the way Professor Chua has taught her two daughters to approach their instruments; opportunistically solely for unartistic purposes.

    A fundamental flaw in the approach to music of Amy Chua – an amusical hack with no known talent for an art of any kind! – is that she has decided it’s perfectly acceptable to pervert one of the greater of the fine arts for use in ulterior purposes. In the example of the Chua family, so-so slogging through masterpieces of music was used to impress others when applying for admission to university. (Would Professor Chua dare to advocate this openly with religion, physics, good grammar, or issues of national interest?) The whole idea that her elder daughter, Sophia, played a debut recital in Carnegie Hall is an early example of the pervasive blight of résumé bloat on which social climbers like Amy Chua have advanced themselves; a blight to which the Chua daughters were introduced early by two parents who know well how to tweak the system to gain unearned personal advantage.

    Carnegie Hall, http://www.carnegiehall.org/history/, includes three auditoria in its building: Stern Auditorium http://www.carnegiehall.org/information/stern-auditorium-perelman-stage/, Zankel Hall http://www.gotickets.com/venues/ny/zankel_hall_at_carnegie_hall.php, and Weill Recital Hall http://www.carnegiehall.org/Information/Weill-Recital-Hall/. It was in Weill that Sophia performed as only one among a cattle-call string of young pianists that day. Do you doubt what I write here? Compare the architectural design,
    http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/RV-AB160_chau_i_G_20110107132345.jpg, behind Sophia with that of the architectural design at the rear of the stage in http://www.carnegiehall.org/information/stern-auditorium-perelman-stage/. Having been a performer, myself, in both Stern and Weill over many years you have my assurance that Sophia performed her piece in Weill. Debut recital in Carnegie Hall! Indeed!

    You have written about your parents that they are “less extreme than Chua I’ll admit, but a lot of her memoir is satire and exaggeration.” Don’t be deceived by quick-change artist Professor Chua. She has spent more than one year trying to convince readers of her text that she is some kind of nouveau belles-lettrist who did no more than exercise a writer’s license to engage her readers. In truth she meant what she wrote until her hypocritical posturing as an authentic Chinese mother — born in Illinois to a Filipino father, she neither speaks Chinese nor writes Chinese script — came back to haunt her with a ferocity that caused this self-styled Tiger Mother to recoil into improvised doublespeak. Amy Chua is a complete fake!

    All young musicians should be given only two music instrument choices to pursue in life, Violin or Piano. All else is useless waste. Any adult giving such advice is one woefully ill-informed. As a bass trombonist, my instrument has been my first class ticket from person-to-person, school-to-school, city-to-city, studio-to-studio, and stage-to-stage. With the kinds of preparations the Chua daughters were given will they ever perform, as I have, with Richard Tucker, Birgit Nilsson, Roberta Peters, Herbert von Karajan, Leopold Stokowski, and the two-thirds of The New York Philharmonic who were my schoolmates for five years in Juilliard? Forget it!

    Mercifully, I was never besieged with a Tiger Mother or Tiger Anything to motivate me. Yes, I too sometimes was bored with scales and chords. Yes, sometimes my imagined future seemed an unattainable fantasy. Yes, I did sometimes fall flat on my face in public performance (as did my teachers before me and also their teachers before them). Life went on and continues to do so.

    You’ve written that “At this point (as a Junior in high school) about 35% of the pressure to do well comes from my parents and the other 65% is complete self-motivation.” From the subtlety of your writing I suspect you’re cutting yourself short with that 65%. You appear to be much more highly motivated than your objective perspective about yourself can show you at this early time.

    The violin? I advise you to seriously reëvaluate what you believe is your relationship to any instrument of your choice; if, indeed, the violin has been your choice and not that of someone else. If the violin has been your choice, stay with it through all the coming stormy weather of doubt and seeming incompetence. If it is not, drop it in preference to another more to your liking and its fitness for your physicality. (If it’s the tuba, tell your parents that someone other than I recommended it!)

    Good Luck!

    Cordially,
    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  2. Why is the art of music required to endure the ill-informed antics of such inartistic imbeciles as Amy Chua? Her lust for fame as an old-fashioned stage mother of either a famous violinist (yet another mechanical Sarah Chang?) or a famous pianist (yet another mechanical Lang Lang?) shines through what she perceives as devotion to the cultivation of the cultural sensitivities of her two unfortunate daughters.

    Daughter Lulu at age 7 is unable to play compound rhythms from Jacques Ibert with both hands coordinated? Leonard Bernstein couldn’t conduct this at age 50! And he isn’t the only musician of achievement with this-or-that shortcoming. We all have our closets with doors that are not always fully opened.

    And why all this Chinese obsession unthinkingly dumped on violin and piano? What do the parents with such insistence know of violin and piano repertoire? Further, what do they know of the great body of literature for flute? For French horn? For organ? For trumpet? Usually, nothing!

    For pressure-driven (not professionally-driven!) parents like Amy Chua their children, with few exceptions, will remain little more than mechanical sidebars to the core of classical music as it’s practiced by musicians with a humanistic foundation.

    Professor Chua better be socking away a hefty psychoreserve fund in preparation for the care and feeding of her two little lambs once it becomes clear to them both just how empty and ill-defined with pseudo-thorough grounding their emphasis has been on so-called achievement.

    Read more about this widespread, continuing problem in Forbidden Childhood (N.Y., 1957) by Ruth Slenczynska.
    ______________________

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  3. Continuing to follow the saga of what may be one of the more outrageous examples – and there are similar examples aplenty! – of the child abuses of Amy Chua, I think it timely and prudent to provide a healthy, humane counterpoint by way of a much different kind of example of adult guidance to a young stranger. To wit:

    ADVICE TO A YOUNG PERSON INTERESTED IN A CAREER IN THE LAW

    In May 1954, M. Paul Claussen, Jr, a 12-year-old boy living in Alexandria, Virginia, sent a letter to Mr Justice Felix Frankfurter in which he wrote that he was interested in “going into the law as a career” and requested advice as to “some ways to start preparing myself while still in junior high school.” This is the reply he received:

    My Dear Paul:
    No one can be a truly competent lawyer unless he is a cultivated man. If I were you I would forget about any technical preparation for the law. The best way to prepare for the law is to be a well-read person. Thus alone can one acquire the capacity to use the English language on paper and in speech and with the habits of clear thinking which only a truly liberal education can give. No less important for a lawyer is the cultivation of the imaginative faculties by reading poetry, seeing great paintings, in the original or in easily available reproductions, and listening to great music. Stock your mind with the deposit of much good reading, and widen and deepen your feelings by experiencing vicariously as much as possible the wonderful mysteries of the universe, and forget about your future career.
    With good wishes,
    Sincerely yours,
    [signed] Felix Frankfurter

    From THE LAW AS LITERATURE, ed. by Ephraim London, Simon and Schuster, 1960.
    __________________

    I knew that a Paul Claussen had been a major figure (1972-2007) in the Office of the Historian of The United States Department of State in Washington, with an abiding interest in The Great Seal of The United States. http://diplomacy.state.gov/documents/organization/101044.pdf
    An obituary of Dr Claussen is on page 47 in http://2001-2009.state.gov/documents/organization/86414.pdf
    and http://www.thefreelibrary.com/M.+Paul+Claussen,+history‘s+friend%3A+office+of+the+historian+suffers+a…-a0167843232

    So, wishing to determine whether or not the elder Claussen was, indeed, the boy writing to Justice Frankfurter in 1954 I wrote to his former colleague at State. The reply received today follows.

    —– Original Message —–
    From: PA History Mailbox
    To: ‘Andre M. Smith’
    Sent: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 10:11 AM
    Subject: RE: Chris Morrison

    Dear Mr. Smith,

    Copied below is the response I received from one of Paul Claussen’s long-time colleagues here in the Office of the Historian.

    Yes it is. The young Paul wanted to be a lawyer and so decided to write Felix Frankfurter and ask for his advice. Frankfurter evidently was taken with his letter and wrote back at length…Frankfurter of course kept a copy and the text of the letter has been published in collections of Frankfurter’s writings.

    Please contact us of you have any additional questions.

    Best regards,
    Chris

    Christopher A. Morrison, Ph.D.
    Historian, Policy Studies Division
    U.S. Department of State
    Office of the Historian (PA/HO)
    _________________________________

    Dr Claussen did follow the advice of Justice Frankfurter. And he came out of that advice none the worse for it. The world is much bigger, richer, more tolerant, and more laden with opportunities than the blinkered view of Amy Chua would have her daughters and fellow fear-laden mothers without Ivy League tenure believe.

    For a very well-balanced alternative to the mania – and it is nothing less – to which the many Chuas of the world subscribe, read the refreshingly informed reports on http://orient.bowdoin.edu/orient/article.php?date=2009-12-04&section=3&id=2, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/09/28/china, and http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/10/16/liberalarts
    ________________________

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  4. An integral amalgam of defining examples of narcissism that Professor Chua has instilled in her two daughters is self-advancement with sexual provocation. Her public signature posture is one of excessive toothiness, for a university professor exceedingly vulgar displays of long legs, and breast projections that might have won her Blue Ribbons as “Best in Show” as a candidate in any Sweater Queen contest during the 1950s. http://www.britishpathe.com/video/sweater-queen-contest She never misses an opportunity to increase the image of her breast size by folding her arms under them; in one oft-reproduced photograph she actually appears to be elevating the left one nudged up by a folded arm. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2f/Amychua4.png

    The elder Chua daughter, Sophia, has learned her lesson well. http://www.nypost.com/rw/nypost/2011/01/18/entertainment/photos_stories/sophia_chua–300×450.jpg and http://www.facebook.com/amytigermother?sk=photos#!/photo.php?fbid=230907580253565&set=o.134679449938486&type=1&theater,

    Birds of a feather . . . A coop of nesting trophy wives!
    _______________________

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  5. There is a recurring theme without solid core that continues to recycle on the question of Amy Chua and her style as a mother. J.G. (unfortunately anonymous, as are most of the endorsements of Professor Chua) has written

    I think it’s easy to take cheap shots at Chua, but it’s hard to argue that the average American child needs less discipline, less direction or less respect for others.

    It might seem amusing to mock her (her “cushy job” and “hottie husband”), but harder to actually consider the points being made in a non-defensive way, without trying to paint yourself as the “cool mom” who prefers three martini playdates?

    p.s. It seems ironic that an Asian-American female who went to Williams (fulfilling a fantasy of Chinese parents everywhere) would paint her parents as laissez-faire and herself as moderately motivated.
    Posted by: J.G. | January 18, 2011 at 02:31 PM http://thecareerist.typepad.com/thecareerist/2011/01/chinese-moms.html

    I, for one, have no interest whatsoever in her “cushy job” and “hottie husband.” Nor do I have any objection to her having become a millionaire from the sales of her book and that she will be well on her way to becoming a multimillionare once the planned translations of it into thirteen of the world’s languages have been completed. My uncompromising objections to Professor Chua are two-fold: her abuses of young children pursued to further her own narcissistic urgencies and her deep commitment of abuse of the art of music – of which she seemingly has no knowledge whatsoever – for reasons having nothing to do with that art. My shots at her are far from what J.G. calls “cheap shots.” They do in fact go to the heart of the problems with her that remain my chief concerns.

    J.G. and most of his fellow travelers in their tepid defenses of Professor Chua continue to focus on her inherited emphasis of the sorry state of public education in The United States. What else is new?

    As with most of the ringing endorsements of Amy Chua, those from J.G. are clearly from a mind not wholly engaged. He has written ” it’s hard to argue that the average American child needs less discipline, less direction or less respect for others. In his tangled syntax I’m quite sure he means – at least I’m hoping he means – it’s hard to argue that the average American child does not need more discipline, more direction or more respect for others.

    J.G. has written further, “p.s. It seems ironic that an Asian-American female who went to Williams (fulfilling a fantasy of Chinese parents everywhere) . . . “ Again, but this time TWO thoughts from nowhere! What has Williams College to do with Amy Chua (Harvard, A.B. ’84)? And since when has Williams even been on the “fantasy” palate “of Chinese parents everywhere?”

    Professor Chua usually receives the quality of defense she deserves.
    ____________________

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  6. I checked Asian. I had heard it was harder to apply as an Asian, so as a point of pride, I had to say I was Asian. http://jadeluckclub.com/true-picture-asian-americans/

    In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as a desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to acknowledge the good work of others, and excessive love of self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_deadly_sins#Pride

    1) Tiger Sophia, you may have checked Asian which does have a “tax,” however you also got big bonus points for being a legacy many times over. The upshot is that you had help getting in unlike these Asian Americans below who live at the poverty line and don’t have Ivy League parents with deep pockets.

    2) By checking Asian when, actually, you are of mixed race, you have taken a spot away from those who don’t have the benefit of applying to a less competitive race slot. Thanks to you, someone who[se] life could be completely changed did not get a spot. http://jadeluckclub.com/true-picture-asian-americans/

    For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. Matthew 25:29

    Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, the daughter of a mother of mixed Asian ethnicity of no known religious involvement and a secular — whatever that means — American Jewish father ostensibly has been raised as a Jewess in an atheistic family positing itself as . . . ? When she applied for admission to Harvard she descended into a pride of Asianness to avail herself of an ethnic quota advantage.

    This duplicitous young woman is, indeed, her mother’s daughter! http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=230907266920263&set=o.134679449938486&type=1&theater
    __________________________

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  7. For all my focus on this subject I think the following text, written from the trenches on the other side of The Pacific, should be required reading everywhere else; perhaps even over there.

    Cordially,

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.
    __________________________

    Chinese Mom: American ‘Tiger Mother’ clueless about real Chinese parenting
    The “Chinese” parenting style advocated by Asian-American author Amy Chua is no longer popular among Chinese mothers
    By Helen He 20 January, 2011
    http://www.cnngo.com/shanghai/life/helen-he-dont-demonize-chinese-mothers-545975

    As a post-1980s mother, I, like many other young moms in China, often seek parenting advice from various channels and never miss reading the latest popular books on parenting.

    Recently, a book titled “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” written by Yale university professor Amy Chua on the parenting experience of a Chinese mother, stirred up a controversy in the West after an excerpt from the book was printed in the Wall Street Journal.

    I’m a born-and-bred Shanghainese mother, not that proficient in English, so I wasn’t able to read Amy Chua’s entire work. But I did have friends translate a book excerpt printed in the Wall Street Journal for me.

    The author claims that mothers, by being strict and narrowminded and focusing only on results, are able to nurture child geniuses.

    This is clearly a utilitarian take on parenting and I was deeply astounded that Chua lauds this as a forte of Chinese mothers.

    I only want to say: Please don’t demonize Chinese mothers.

    Amy Chua’s claims are misleading because Chinese-American women cannot be said to represent mothers in mainland China, and thus are unable to objectively elaborate on the parenting attitudes and experiences of Chinese mothers.

    Amy Chua does not speak for all of us
    Environment has a big influence over a person’s values, and the role of a mother is not something that every woman takes to immediately.

    The Chinese parenting method Chua champions has no claims to authenticity.Every mother gradually devises her own parenting method, which is often shaped by her own experience growing up, as well as the environment around her.

    According to reports, Amy Chua is a Filipino of Chinese descent.

    Her parents emigrated to America and underwent an intense struggle to set their roots in a foreign land, which inevitably led them to adopt a more utilitarian outlook in raising their children: “We struggled to get you this new citizenship status, the best way to repay us as our children is to succeed in life.”

    Amy Chua brings up Confucius in her article to explain why Chinese parents feel that their children are indebted to them for life. But, she probably doesn’t know that there is another fundamental saying in the Confucian school of thought that “ethics matter more than results, harmony more than competition.”

    Simply put, one should not be overly aggressive in trying to outdo others nor adopt a mindset that every investment should get due returns.

    Confucius also believed that education should be something tailored according to an individual’s talents and capabilities, rather than a force-fed regime.

    In other words, the parenting that Amy Chua received while growing up already deviates from Chinese traditions, and despite her attempts to follow in the footsteps of her parents, the Chinese parenting method she champions has no claims to authenticity.

    This strict parenting style, if blindly — or even vengefully — repeated among successive generations, will only be a prolonged tragedy.

    The parenting styles of post-1980s mothers
    The bulk of parents in China today comprise children born in the 1970s and 1980s. I will raise two examples to illustrate how Amy Chua’s perception of Chinese parenting methods differs from current practices in modern China.

    Kaixin001, China’s Facebook that’s popular among the post-1980s generation in China, recently held two online polls.

    One was titled “If you had a girl, what would you teach her?” while the other was “What would you do if you discovered your teenage son was in love?” Each had a total of 97,470 and 28,915 respondents, respectively.

    a.. More on CNNGo: Another ‘Tiger Mother’ rebuttal from across the ocean
    In the first poll, piano and karate came out on top with 55 percent and 54 percent of the total votes. In third place was the response “How to deal with men,” which shows that young parents are also concerned about their child’s interpersonal skills and EQ.

    In the second poll, there were more than 15 different response options, but only 366 netizens (less than one percent of respondents) chose the most extreme option of sharply reprimanding the child.

    The reason why books such as “Fu Lei’s Letters Home” and “Education of Love,” as well as more recent titles such as “A Good Mother Is Better than a Good Teacher” and “An Average Student at Home,” are so well-received among Chinese parents is because they reflect a parenting mindset premised on mutual respect and communication between parent and child — an attitude that’s fast becoming the norm in China.

    The parenting method that Amy Chua encourages, one of forcing a child to discover his talents through disciplined and repeated practice, is contrary to the upbringing that many young Chinese mothers have received.

    The parent-child relationship depicted in “Growing Pains,” an American television series popular in China in the 1980s, is something that is finding favor with many mothers of my generation.

    When I was in university, the way the Seaver family openly communicated with each other was something I could identify with.

    This strict parenting style, if blindly — or even vengefully — repeated among successive generations, will only produce a prolonged tragedy.Along with the opening up of China, my parents’ generation had also opened up to other methods of parenting. They no longer held on to a “spare the rod and spoil the child” mindset, but instead saw their children as equals and hoped to build friendships with them.

    Nurturing healthy individuals rather than child prodigies who have no fun
    The desire for one’s child to be a straight-A student or a musical genius seems simple and naive to most Chinese mothers.

    A survey of 1,285 mothers of children up to six years old conducted by Babytree, China’s largest parenting website, found that health, happiness, self-confidence and kindness were the four most important traits that mothers hoped their children would have.

    About 77 percent of mothers did not expect their children to have particular talents and 65 percent of mothers said they would encourage children to pursue their hobbies, even if it was not an interest shared by the mother.

    The most important wish among mothers was for their children to have a happy, stress-free life.

    The point I wish to emphasize is this: a child is a gift, but the right to control him is not a given.

    The child that we nurture may subtly be influenced by our thoughts and values while under our care, but this does not mean that we should forcefully deprive them the independence to discover and grasp other opportunities that the world offers.

    Taiwanese author Lung Ying-tai wrote in her book “Seeing Off” that the role of a parent is merely to stand by one’s child and watch his back as he gradually ventures afar.

    This very appropriately describes the mindset of many young parents in China today.

    To raise a child is to give him the freedom to build a life of his own, rather than to force him to become a replica of your own successes or as compensation to make up for your regrets. As such, the right to decide what is good or bad for a child is not entirely up to the parents — the child should have a say, too.

    If life really is a race, instead of encouraging your child to tirelessly try to outdo others and come in first, why not let him run at an enjoyable pace so he can admire the sights along the way?

    I dare say that most Chinese mothers, especially those belonging to the post-1980s generation, do silently but lovingly encouraging their children to make the most of life in exactly this manner — a mindset contrary to that advocated by Amy Chua.

    Article translated by Debbie Yong. See the original Chinese version here.

    http://www.cnngo.com/shanghai/life/helen-he-dont-demonize-chinese-mothers-545975

  8. I divide my year annually between New York and Shanghai. One of my common visitations in the latter city is to the area in and around The Shanghai Conservatory of Music. About four years back the school built a large new building on Fenyang Lu. Along the street side is a lower level with a string of music stores stocked with new instruments. In four of those stores I counted, literally, one trumpet, one horn, one trombone, no tuba, two flutes, one clarinet, one oboe, no bassoon, a handful of strings (but no string bass), and two-hundred pianos! The single trombone (my instrument) looked and felt like it had been made in an industrial arts school as a class project. I asked one of the clerks how many trombone students were
    then enrolled in the Conservatory. “Five,” he replied. I told him it would be impossible for any serious student of that instrument to plan advancement playing such useless metal and asked what brand of instruments are taught upstairs. All the trombones were imported by the school, only as needed, from Yamaha in Japan. But, why the sea of pianos?

    Most parents do not want their children spending, i.e., wasting, their time on any instrument for which a student can not enter a contest and win prizes. Prizes mean medals and certificates, which Mommy and Daddy can display as their own achievements by extension. It is the major conservatories in China (Shanghai, Beijing, Shenyang, and Wuhan) which are responsible for continuing to nurture this false status, while, visually at least, giving the external impression that China is a major cultural locus of Western classical music. Anyone who has heard the wind sections of a major symphony orchestra in China will hear just how major the cultural locus is in China for those instruments. Naïve morons; school and parent alike!

    For the serious student having neither interest nor ability to become a graduate of Harvard Medical School, this phony sequence of contest successes may lead to Juilliard in New York or Curtis in Philadelphia. “If a clown like Lang Lang can make it, then so can my little angel. Who is, of course, the most adept keyboard wizard to blossom since Lawrence Welk or Rachmaninoff.” Stage mothers: Away with them!

    All of this clap-trap nonsense has no relationship whatsoever to two very important issues: music or Asian American. It is, with the rarest of exceptions, largely Oriental in the homeland. Atavistic immigrants from those eastern cultures or those descended directly therefrom – like the ever-psychobashing Kommandant Amy Chua – have some untested, sentimental notion that music opens doors and ensures careers in whatever direction the unmusical music student chooses; which the student is free to choose, so long as it isn’t music. (Try to figure out that one. “You are free to study physics or mathematics, so long as you don’t attempt to make a career of them.”)

    For the past forty years during my own studies in medicine and music in New York I have been wedded to and worked closely with and around nurses, physicians, surgeons, and medical technicians active in all the standard disciplines. Those persons have come from all modern regions of the world. And, yes, some of my coworkers have come from the beloved Harvard Medical School. But, I can write with authority, the number of those professional persons who have had any direct contact at any times in their lives with piano or violin is insignificantly small.

    No one has ever wasted time typing me as a wimp. Nevertheless, with an Amy Chua of my own only thinly masking a contempt while ostensibly trying to encourage me before the age of ten by classing me as “garbage, “lazy,” “useless,” and a host of other niceties (a savage, a juvenile delinquent, boring, common, low, completely ordinary, a barbarian) all the while forbidding me to sit on a toilet until I can play triplets in one hand against duolets in the other mechanistically en duo with a metronome might have (likely would have) set me up both for advanced training to climb The Texas Tower and chronic constipation.
    ___________________________

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  9. Amy Chua has never lived in China. Her understanding of its culture, that is, the culture as it’s truly lived by the indigenous people in their dailyness, then must be that of the tourist. Here perhaps is one view of a China she may or may not have seen.

    http://bbs.tiexue.net/post_5057209_1.html [Each of the four pictures can be enlarged for clearer viewings.] In what likely is Nanning, the capitol of Guang Xi region, the boy was caught stealing money to pursue his addiction in Internet gaming. (This is a common problem in China, especially among adolescent boys. http://playnoevil.com/serendipity/index.php?/archives/1076-China-continues-focus-on-Internet-Addiction-Reading-the-Tea-Leaves.html) As punishment his father has publicly stripped off the boy’s clothes, lathered him with some unstated brown caking (which I shall discretely hope is mere mud), bound his hands behind his back, and then pulled him on his back and buttocks by one foot for disgrace through a very-public area of the city.

    On contemporary corporal punishment in China:

    A third of them [child respondents] said corporal punishment negatively affected their personalities, causing them to become introverted and depressed.

    Legal experts cited by the paper said China should ban corporal punishment in its marriage laws to protect children from physical and psychological harm and to protect the rights of minors.

    They blamed the common occurrence of corporal punishment in China on the traditional belief that children were a part of their parents, not individuals. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-12/07/content_397964.htm

    The routine beatings allegedly given to child gymnasts in China are no different to the corporal punishment that was once part of daily life in English public schools, according to the head of the Olympic movement.

    Mr Rogge said he believed that if physical punishment is being used to train young athletes in China, then it is likely to be confined to sports such as gymnastics and swimming, where the age of competitors is much younger than in the other Olympic sports. What is not known is how widespread the practice is. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/1504716/Chinas-abuse-of-its-athletes-is-no-different-to-Britains-public-schools-says-Olympics-chief.html

    “It was a pretty disturbing experience. I was really shocked by some of what was going on. I know it is gymnastics and that sport has to start its athletes young, but I have to say I was really shocked. I think it’s a brutal programme. They said this is what they needed to do to make them hard.

    “I do think those kids are being abused. The relationship between coach and child and parent and child is very different here. But I think it goes beyond the pale. It goes beyond what is normal behaviour. It was really chilling.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/2368416/Olympics-Pinsent-upset-at-Chinese-abuse.html

    Anyone who thinks the Chinese are a race of genteel pacifists who, collectively, design their lives to awaken every morning wiser than they went to bed the night before is a candidate for some serious awakening of his own. As a whole person Amy Chua is a type; she is not an aberration.

    Now, for one question I have not seen asked anywhere. . . Does Professor Chua play a music instrument? If so, let’s hear some of it. If not, from what sources has she gathered her standards about music technique and style and how they might be taught to a very young child who has shown no particular affinity for any instrument? Can she play any music from what she has demanded from either of her two daughters? Can she play simultaneously triptlets in the left hand and duolets in the right? Can she perform, even modestly, http://www.alfred.com/samplepages/00-16734_01~02.pdf, the composition she has demanded her post-toddler daughter play with assurance?

    There can be no doubt that Professor Chua likes violence, so long as it’s not directed at her, the core definition of a bully. She has said recently that there are parts of the world in which some of her parenting techniques might be considered child abuse. I do wish she could be persuaded to name (1) which some of those parts of the world are, (2) just which parenting techniques she is referring to, and (3) why she believes those same techinques should not be defined as child abuse in her home state of Connecticut.

    How did such a reprehensible woman obtain a position so high up on the feeding chain with so little prior experience in law education?

    HUSBAND, faculty of Yale Law School since 1990 : Jed Rubenfeld
    WIFE, faculty of Yale Law School since 2001 : Amy Chua

    As the lawyers may put it, Let the evidence speak for itself. The Tiger Mom has made it on her own claws.

    One last question: Who prevents Professor Chua from sitting on a toilet or eating a meal when, at any given moment, she is vexed beyond her capacity to complete an academic assignment or any other professional obligation within the proper time allocated for its completion?
    _______________

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  10. Professor Chua is a woefully ill-informed parent, one ignorant of just what is happening in some parts of education in America. Fully confident in her presumed success as a writer with an editorial staff at Penguin shadow boxing for her and unapologetically wearing her signature plastic smile for public appearances, the Lawyer Chua is trying to persuade and convince; on both counts controversially, but with enough negative reactions to cause her subsequently to attempt a dilution of the intensity in her initial self-congratulatory tirade by latterly asserting that her writing is merely one person’s experiences of some trying times in motherhood. To gain working points among the Old-Boy network, the prime lubricant of Yale, Professor Chua initially claimed that she is a Tiger Mom as Chinese maternal type; Fierce! When that showpiece veneer didn’t sit well with mothers who are the real thing, i.e., mothers from China, this faux cat altered the validity of her claim to violence by stating that she is a Tiger Mom because she was born in 1962, a Year of the Tiger. That a tenured Professor of Yale can – must? – openly justify her self-classification with superstitious underpinning should provide anyone what is needed to draw a conclusion about the level of intellect afoot in Yale Law School. Professor? Indeed!

    Any of Chua’s public statements of the purposes of her work evolve to fit the tenor of the evolving criticisms directed at it. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/10/amy-chua-tiger-mom-book-one-year-later_n_1197066.html It has passed, in her own words, from (1) practical handbook for parenting to (2) tongue-in-cheek (whatever that’s supposed to mean), to (3) memoir, (4) satire, (5) parody, (6) “a coming of age book for parents” (7) “the book is about a journey”; and who knows what else as she makes the rounds of the book circuit trying to snare yet more unsuspecting purchasers into her net. That she can, without blushing, class a single work with such a range causes me to wonder what kind of grade she got at Harvard for her command of the English language. She’s Trollope (the author), Pope (the author), The Wicked Witch in Hansel und Gretel and Gullible’s Travels all penned together into one oversized Pamper. Anyone who can’t read the monetary cynicism driving the kaleidoscope of this whole Tiger Mom scam and its spurious, unproven claimed insights into parenting, with variant latter-day reflections by the author herself, deserves to have paid full retail price for this book.

    “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” http://bettymingliu.com/2011/01/parents-like-amy-chua-are-the-reason-why-asian-americans-like-me-are-in-therapy/
    Stamp collecting, fishing, lazing about on a summer day, science club, Brownie Scouting, baseball, birthday parties, church annual picnic, kite flying, visiting relatives, kissing, jumping rope, student council, insect classification . . . Away with this woman! “Fun” must be one of the more overused, misunderstood words in the American lexicon. Chinese parent = The Model Minority? In China?

    “I’m happy to be the one hated.” http://bettymingliu.com/2011/01/parents-like-amy-chua-are-the-reason-why-asian-americans-like-me-are-in-therapy/

    “If I could push a magic button and choose either happiness or success for my children, I’d choose happiness in a second. http://amychua.com/

    That’s it perfectly stated in Tigerese: Either / Or; not both. Amy Chua is a chameleonic con artist. PT. Barnum certainly was right, one “. . . born every minute!”
    _______________

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  11. Andre,

    Don’t want to detract from your comments. But you may be blowing this out of proportion. If you hunt around the net you will find stuff that suggests much of what this Chua lady wrote was completely untrue.

    (From the comments: http://alfin2100.blogspot.com/2011/01/amy-chuas-tiger-mother-parenting-2-with.html)

    It is some kind of psychological game or joke to this lady probably. Even if you read Sophia’s response to her mom’s book something strange stands out — that none of it is taken seriously. Given the shady kinds of things I have personally seen in the underground educational market and in the publishing world, I wouldn’t be surprised if half of her book was merely made up to rile people up and make sales.

    • Dear Yosh:

      As must a court, a conscientious reader must be allowed to take on faith what is presented by an author as an accurate record as the author states it to be true until disproved. A common maxim in law is that “A court may often be in error but it must never be in doubt.” A reader of the work of Amy Chua may be in error for believing her but he can never be in doubt that what he has read is in print before him.

      You have written that if I “hunt around the net you will find stuff that suggests much of what this Chua lady wrote was completely untrue.” True or not interests me secondarily. What does interest me greatly are her ADVOCACY of the abuse of young children and her perversion of the art of music used for purposes for which it has never been intended. On these two points alone nothing I have written has been blown “out of proportion.” More than one year after the problem of Professor Chua arose I absolutely can not find humor and satire embedded in these two premises.

      That a daughter of Amy Chua has been well-groomed to perform well in her public rôle in the mechanisms to enhance her mother’s bank account (to which, presumably, both daughters will become beneficiaries in some form) not only does not surprise but neither does it interest.

      Lest anyone think the pestilence of Amy Chua has now passed and we can all return to our assigned tasks, let us not forget that Battle Hymn is now being prepared in thirteen language translations for publication throughout the world.
      _______________
      André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
      Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
      Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
      Formerly Bass Trombonist
      The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
      Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
      The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  12. Dear Mr Smith,

    Amy Chua may have some Chinese blood in her but she does not represent the Chinese. While Chinese forefathers did indeed work hard in the fields or live a hard poor life or studied hard in school to pass on these traits, as a Chinese in a South eastern Asian country, I encourage my daughter to learn the piano or violin because classical music is beautiful. Most importantly, music is also friendship, she can make friends, look back and maybe keep some friends for life. At any point if music gets too difficult, we can drop everything and remember that we should enjoy music and then slowly take it from there…including the decision if we should continue with the instrument. I am Chinese.

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