January 16, 2011

Are Chinese Mothers Superior?

I was raised by a Chinese mother.

As a kid, I was often forced to do a lot of things I hated: 

* Playing piano
* Playing violin
* Attending extra math classes
* Attending Chinese school

I was also banished from certain activities that my mother didn't see fit. No Girl Scouts. No equestrian. No trombone. (Oh, how I loved the trombone!) Of course, my mom was a real softy at heart, but she made it clear that she was the Ultimate Ruler in our house. 

Growing up, I often resented my mom's strictness. I wanted to watch TV! I hated playing violin! But now as an adult,  I'm grateful for certain things my mom "forced" me to do. I got good grades in college due to the high academic standards she instilled in me. And playing piano for ten years? I appreciate music so much more and my piano skills have come in handy throughout the years.

The reason I bring this up is because of a Wall Street Journal essay I just read: "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" by Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School. In the piece, Chua explains why so many Asian children become math whizzes and music prodigies. The key to such success? Pushing your kids to become high achievers. Instead of worrying about their child's self-esteem and desires, a Chinese mother pushes and pushes and pushes her kid until she gets straight A's, plays piano with perfection, and excels in every endeavor.  

Not surprisingly, Chua's article has unleashed a firestorm on the web. Her essay has received over 6000 comments, and Chua has even received death threats since its publication. Numerous Asian-Americans have been appalled by Chua's thinking, questioning why she would continue the traditions of her parents when Chinese mothering can cause so much distress and frustration in kids. 

Through it all, however, Chua stands by her statements. She argues that Chinese mothers ultimately want what's best for their children---they just have different ideas on how to how to achieve that. 

Have any of you guys read Chua's essay? If so, what do you think? Are her parenting methodologies too draconian? Or do the ends justify the means?


  1. I thought the initial piece (and the choice of title) made her sound kind of over the top. However, there was a follow-up (I would link it but I don't still have the link, I'm sorry!) where she addressed some specific questions, and I felt much better about the initial article after having read it.
    Essentially I feel like there's no one right parenting style. I don't think I would have thrived under the environment she describes in her article, but I know other people who would.
    I hadn't heard that she's received death threats, and that's pretty sad. I think no matter how you feel about her choices as a parent, death threats are a wild overreaction.

  2. I just heard about her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother on NPR the other day.

    Maybe I'll pick it up. I love a good controversy. :)

  3. Kaitlin, I'll have to look for that link! I do think Chua brings up good points concerning the difference between "Asian" and "Western" parenting but I wonder if some of her techniques were a bit over-the-top. Yipes! Not letting your daughter go to the bathroom until she played the piano just right?

    A lot of my Chinese friends had mothers like Chua. My friends got excellent grades and excelled at the piano, but I wonder what their home life was like.

    Lex, another book to add to our book club list! I think I'll try to get it at my library...

  4. I read the article in the Sunday Times and thought she was far too extreme. So much so it was bordering on child cruelty. Mind you, death threats are taking it too far and a huge overreaction.

    My own belief is in balance, too much of one thing is bad - be it leniency/lack of structure, or a joyless strict upbringing without any form of freedom of choice.

    I'm sure there's a follow-up piece in this week's paper, where her daughter rebelled against the 'regime'

    Will have to have a read of that.

  5. I haven't read the article, but I really think that parents should push kids more than they do (me included!). We coddle them way too much, and then they hate to try new things and crumble when they fail. And who do we have to blame? Only ourselves. I won't say that Chinese mothering is the only or the best way to go, but pushing kids, and LETTING them fail and then get back up is important in my book.

    Interesting topic!

  6. I don't know that I have an opinion on Chinese mothering, having so many mothering issues of my own, but you've got some nice alliteration at the end of the third paragraph:)

  7. I think there is a balance between encouraging children to pursue their own interests and remembering that confidence comes from achievement, so we should provide children with opportunities to excel. In that last effort there will often be the need to be firm. I think sometimes us Americans are a little too prone to being indulgent with our kids =)

  8. Caroline, this is a really interesting sounding article. I love controversy so it sounds like one I might have to read:) Stop by my blog sometime today - you'll be interested in the Good Things in 3 post I put up.

  9. I've heard that her recent book is generating lots of talk, too. It's a subject that people are definitely passionate and opinionated about, so it should stir up lots of conversation!

    I clicked over from Lindsay's blog today, enjoyed browsing!

  10. The controversy continues! http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/opinion/18brooks.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=general
    But really, as different as each child is, can't we all agree that parenting styles ought to vary at least by that much?

  11. The only difference between this style and the "Western" style is that we follow up our childrens' efforts with helping them achieve mastery after they find something they are interested in themselves, instead of choosing for them. I'm not saying I don't know what's best, but, would like to see my child as an individual, no matter where we live.