Why this Chinese mother says she is better than the rest of us

CAU coverI don’t usually look to the Wall Street Journal for a dose of parental perspective-skewing, but they printed a doozy over the weekend: an essay by law professor and mom Amy Chua explaining, for the record, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior. I never felt like they were, necessarily; I can’t say I gave it much thought at all. But Ms. Chua is here to tell us moms like her (Chinese or not) are right, and the rest of us are wrong. To wit:

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable– even legally actionable– to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty– lose some weight.”

Don’t you wish you could do that, Western moms? Isn’t that so clearly superior to the way you might do things?

By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of “health” and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image.

Right. Whereas if you just berated and shamed your child yourself, rather than letting society do it, she’ll still have an eating disorder but your own personal shame will prevent her from getting that embarrassing therapy, yet she’ll be skinny enough to be perceived as perfect. Can you not see how much better that is?

How about grades? Are you screaming and tearing your hair out when your child comes home with B’s? Well, WHY NOT? Get on the superlative Chinese program: 

If their child doesn’t get [A’s], the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to sub-standard performance is always to excoriate, punish, and shame the child.

This essay is full of bons mots like these that will have you flipping back to the front of the paper to make sure you aren’t reading The Onion. Yes, Ms. Chua’s daughter has played Carnegie Hall. She also never went on a playdate or watched television. EVER. Not once. According to Ms. Chua. Wonder if the kid thinks it was worth the cost.

But let’s not make the Chinese mother the enemy, because Ms. Chua thinks that’s totally unfair: 

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids’ true interests.

Yeah, you authors, stereotyping Chinese mothers! Cut it out!  There’s no need for you to vilify mothers like Ms. Chua. She seems to be doing a pretty good job of it herself.

Thanks to sheposts.com for including this blog in its roundup of the blogosphere’s response to  Ms. Chua’s essay. Check it out- more interesting reading…

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy Zimmerman January 10, 2011 at 3:39 pm

I read this yesterday and was completely freaked out as well. I couldn't figure out if she had a really sophisticated sense of irony, or no irony whatsoever…but am afraid it was the latter.

Too bad, because there were a few things that more subtly put, could have been thought-provoking. As written, all one could do was laugh and be simultaneously horrified…


Amy Wilson January 10, 2011 at 3:41 pm

I think she's for real. It's part of a book coming out this week, BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER. I just read the Amazon page on it, and there's no indication that it's supposed to be anything other than parenting advice for the rest of us who want to be so so much more like her.


myorii January 10, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Wow. I'm stunned speechless over that article. Is she for real? I'm a Chinese mother myself and I don't believe in any of the stuff she wrote. In fact, both my husband (also Chinese) and I grew up with mothers like her and neither of us trust or have any sort of deep relationship with them. Heck, we moved to another country just to be far from having to deal with them on a daily basis.

Growing up with a mother like Ms. Chua has not been very good for my sister's or my self esteem. Both my sister and I are constantly feeling inferior about our weight issues and even at one point in time tried every diet pill possible untill it messed up our internal organs. I use to work so hard getting A's in class that the first time I got a C in college, I had a panic attack and broke down in parking lot in tears. I ciuldnt go home because of fear of what my parents would say. I ended up retaking the class again during the summer. It was really stressful for me growing up that way.

In a way, though, her attitude makes sense to me. Chinese mothers do have a tendency to believe they are better at child rearing than everyone else. Just ask my mom or my mother-in-law or even my grandmothers. They'd probably give Ms. Chua a pat on the back and give her praises. They're main concern isn't whether or not we grow up to be happy healthy adults but rather that we become successful and fulfill our duties by giving them grandchildren and taking care of them at their old age. It's really frustrating.

Of course, this is from my own personal experience. Who knows. Maybe there really are Chinese kids out there who enjoys having a mother like Ms. Chua.


Mollie January 10, 2011 at 5:01 pm

I just finished reading Tom Scocca on this. All I have to add is: that's the smuggest photo I have ever seen. It's like an illustration of "smug."


Meredith L. January 10, 2011 at 5:39 pm

By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.

NO, NOT SPORTS!!! For the love of god and all that is holy, we must stop American children from participating in exercise-related activities that they enjoy and which foster social skills and the ability to participate as a productive member of a team!



wenmei January 10, 2011 at 7:46 pm

I have to say that this article really hit home with me. I am the mother of two young children, and I am the daughter of a Taiwanese mother. A lot of what Ms. Chua writes is very familiar to me, although my mother was not quite as extreme. The mother in me was saying, "I could NEVER do that to my children," while the daughter in me said, "Hm. That's actually kind of true."

I do think that it was written in a rather divisive, extreme way which will make it hard for people to relate to. But there are some things that make sense (at least to me, as a daughter who was raised in that style). I like that she assumes strength rather than fragility in her children, although I wouldn't necessarily take the step of assuming I can safely crush my children b/c they are strong enough to withstand it. I also like that she teaches her children to start with themselves when they are unhappy with a situation, rather than immediately blaming others.

As an adult, I have seen the results of both over-protective and too lenient parenting, and I have to say that I am happy that I was raised in the way I was. Even though I feel that my mom can be unfair at times, I've never doubted that she loves me and does everything with her best intentions in her heart.

It does make me cringe to read some of the things Ms Chua's daughters have gone through. It reminds me of "The Joy Luck Club" — where the mother/daughter relationships seem awful and hurtful to a lot of my non-Asian friends but seem quite authentic to me.

As with any parenting "guide", I think that while following Ms Chua's recommendations to the letter would be irresponsible and unrealistic, there are bits of wisdom that any good parent can find and apply in a way that fits with his/her family.


Amy Wilson January 10, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Wenmei, you're right– there is something there about assuming strength rather than fragility in our kids. I do think we can do that without torturing them however.

You should write your thoughts down and get them published somewhere online as a response!

Myorii, your response is also very interesting. I think Ms. Chua thinks her parenting is successful because her children are great musicians and students. But only time will tell what adults they become– and what relationships they choose to have with her, once it is their choice.


Anonymous January 10, 2011 at 10:31 pm

I'm a chinese mother and I hope she doesn't cast the false image to us all.
I do a lot for my kids, but I don't push them as if I were sick. If I had a dream and I didn't make it come true, I don't push my daughter to do it for me.
I have enough of the "chinese mom" trash. when my kids do well at school people tend to think that's a result of my pushing. I'm sorry, it's not. I learnt a lot from the way western people raise their children. I have respect to my kids.
Please don't think all chinese mothers are the same. and we are not crazy.


Amy Wilson January 10, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Anonymous, I certainly don't think all chinese mothers are this way… and I'm surprised there hasn't been more of a backlash already from Chinese-Americans saying this is not how I would ever choose to parent. However you look at it, she's certainly started an interesting conversation.


NoHo Mom January 11, 2011 at 2:02 am

I have been posting about this at The Juggle, and I think this will surpass the Erica Jong essay the Journal posted a month ago as a lighting rod in the parenting wars.


Anonymous January 11, 2011 at 4:45 pm
Amy Wilson January 11, 2011 at 4:48 pm

thanks for posting that anonymous- I saw it but I'm at the library and can't watch… does she backpedal successfully?


Anonymous January 11, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Meh…she attempts to balance things out a bit by emphasizing love and explaining her own harsh (of course) upbringing. I wasn't very impressed by the clip. The best part was when, toward the end, she mentions that she was using the term "Chinese parenting" loosely and was really writing about an overall immigrant mentality. The comments below the clip on the Jezebel site are very interesting. It's a great site.


Courtney January 11, 2011 at 5:39 pm

I'm pretty sure China has one of the highest suicide rates for teenagers in the WORLD. Go figure.


sharon January 12, 2011 at 7:04 pm

I found the article very interesting… and I do plan on buying the book from Amazon when it is released next week to read the whole thing.
Let me explain…… I find reading about how parenting is approached by other cultures to be quite fascinating…. not from an advice-gathering stand-point (because I could never imagine parenting my kids using an approach anything close to this)…. but more as a means of understanding other people. Although Ms. Chua suggests in her article that her approach is representative of all traditional Chinese parenting- that is ridiculous. That's like saying that all Americans parent one way (oh-wait… she says that too- again, ridiculous).

However, since I am parenting three children who we adopted from China, my children will be dealing with racial stereotypes throughout their lives- and reading this book and understanding Ms Chua's point of view on what she calls the Chinese-way of parenting, can only help me to understand how others might view my children (perhaps assuming they are being raised by a "Chinese mother"), and how my children can respond to such assumptions.

I also believe that we should be able to read an article like this, learn about and try to understand someone else's point of view, without taking it as a personal directive to change (even if she is presenting it that way).



Jack January 12, 2011 at 11:41 pm

I am surprised by how many mothers reacted as if this article attacked their parenting skills. Why would anyone care what this woman says or thinks.

We teach our children about sticks and stones….


Amy Wilson January 13, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Sharon (momof6), you're right that we can look at things she is saying, apart from her confrontational rhetoric, and find much to consider. Clearly that's the case or there wouldn't be so much discussion, right?

I thought she made a good point when she said that things are fun when you get good at them. Learning to play the piano isn't fun. Being able to sit down and play whatever you want *is* fun. Same for skill at a sport, or gymnastics, or dancing. That did give me inspiration to help my kids get over the hump in whatever activities they choose- but THEY will choose them, not me.

Jack, I'm pretty sure that this essay DID attack Western parenting skills. It took as a given that they were inferior to the author's way of doing things; that was her jumping-off point. Hence the offense taken by so many.


Anonymous January 16, 2011 at 12:24 am

Say what you want, but the fact remains, asians score higher SAT scores, achieve more in college, and have a lower level of serving prison terms than most other "cultures" in America.
Taking personal responsibility for ones own success, as well as failures, certainly is almost unfathomable to the typical american mindset, and that's why the asian stats will remain superior to all others in the foreseeable future.
Overeating, and junk food addiction is surmountable. Servicing the "needs" of a fat person is servicing the needs of an addict, despite what the media heads would like you to believe. "I'm fat, and that's okay," is NOT okay for most people. Having a fat kid should be the same as having a kid who is smoking pot, since the eventual rendevous with a brick wall by the addict, is essentially the same.
Parents who consistently "break down" and buy their kids happy meals are weak. They try to transform their shame into false indignation, just like fat people, or drug afficianados (unless suffering from a genuine medical problem) are weak.
You're weak. Your kids are fat. Your kids are mediocre in school. You don't have the will to make it change. Just be honest and say you're overwhelmed, or deal with it.
Don't point fingers at your betters and say, "well, they aren't as happy as we are," because on closer, honest examination, this will be a lie, and as many of you have experienced, families that lie, eventually disintegrate.
Support your family. Stop lying.


Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }