TIGER MOTHER AMY CHUA, HER DAUGHTERS AND THE RESPONSE TO HER BOOK

WHY CHINESE MOTHERS ARE SUPERIOR

20111122-amazon amy chau.jpg
In a Wall Street Journal article and her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother , Amy Chua wrote: “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.[Source: Amy Chua, Wall Street Journal, January 8 2011]

Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do: 1) attend a sleepover; 2) have a playdate; 3) be in a school play; 4) complain about not being in a school play; 5) watch TV or play computer games; 6) choose their own extracurricular activities; 7) get any grade less than an A; 8) not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama; 9) play any instrument other than the piano or violin; 10) not play the piano or violin. [Ibid]

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. [Ibid]

In her review of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother , Elizabeth Chang wrote in the Washington Post: ‘sometimes, you're not quite sure whether Chua is being serious or deadpan. For example, she says she tried to apply Chinese parenting to the family's two dogs before accepting that the only thing they were good at was expressing affection. "Although it is true that some dogs are on bomb squads or drug-sniffing teams," she concluded, "it is perfectly fine for most dogs not to have a profession, or even any special skills." On the one hand, she seems aware of her shortcomings: She is, she notes, "not good at enjoying life," and she acknowledges that the Chinese parenting approach is flawed because it doesn't tolerate the possibility of failure. [Source: Elizabeth Chang, Washington Post, January 9, 2011]

On the other hand, she sniffs that "there are all kinds of psychological disorders in the West that don't exist in Asia." When not contemptuous, some of her wry observations about Western-style child-rearing are spot-on: "Private schools are constantly trying to make learning fun by having parents do all the work," and sleepovers are "a kind of punishment parents unknowingly inflict on their children through permissiveness." [Ibid]

Book: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (Penguin Press, 2010]

Difference Between Western Mothers and Chinese Mothers

“Even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers,” Amy Chua wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “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. [Source: Amy Chua, Wall Street Journal, January 8 2011]

Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70 percent of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast, roughly 0 percent of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job." Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams. [Ibid]

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something---whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet---he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more. [Ibid]

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that. [Ibid]

Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away. [Ibid]

"Western and Chinese parents both want their kids to realise their potential,” Chua told the Times of London. “The difference is that Chinese parents tend to assume that potential is much higher," she says, adding that Western parents simply give up too easily when things get difficult for their children. "The Chinese think that hard work can go a lot farther than perhaps Western parents do. It takes perseverance to discover your gifts." She denies that constantly pushing her daughters to do better ran the risk of damaging their self-esteem. On the contrary, she says, it boosted their confidence by showing them what they were capable of. [Source: Alexandra Frean, The Independent, January 19, 2011]

Insulting Your Kid from the Perspective of a Chinese Mother

20111122-amazon amy cahu 5.jpg
“Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't,” Amy Chua wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “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. [Source: Amy Chua, Wall Street Journal, January 8 2011]

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. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests. [Ibid]

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." 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. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her "beautiful and incredibly competent." She later told me that made her feel like garbage.) [Ibid]

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, "You're lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you." By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they're not disappointed about how their kids turned out. [Ibid]

Child’s Self-Esteem and the Chinese Mother

20111122-amazon amy chau 2.jpg
“I've thought long and hard about how Chinese parents can get away with what they do,” Amy Chua wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “I think there are three big differences between the Chinese and Western parental mind-sets. First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently. [Source: Amy Chua, Wall Street Journal, January 8 2011] For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child "stupid," "worthless" or "a disgrace." Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child's grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher's credentials. [Ibid]

If a Chinese child gets a B---which would never happen’there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A. [Ibid]

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.) [Ibid]

Chinese Parents Believe They Know What’s Best and Their Children Owe Them Everything

‘second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything,” Amy Chua wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud. [Source: Amy Chua, Wall Street Journal, January 8 2011]

By contrast, I don't think most Westerners have the same view of children being permanently indebted to their parents. My husband, Jed, actually has the opposite view. "Children don't choose their parents," he once said to me. "They don't even choose to be born. It's parents who foist life on their kids, so it's the parents' responsibility to provide for them. Kids don't owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids." This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent. [Ibid]

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese daughters can't have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can't go to sleepaway camp. It's also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, "I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends." God help any Chinese kid who tried that one. Don't get me wrong: It's not that Chinese parents don't care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It's just an entirely different parenting model. [Ibid]

Coercion, Chinese-Style

20111122-amazon amy chau 3.jpg
“Here's a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style,” Amy Chua wrote in the Wall Street Journal. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called "The Little White Donkey" by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute---you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master---but it's also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms. [Source: Amy Chua, Wall Street Journal, January 8 2011]

Lulu couldn't do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off. [Ibid]

"Get back to the piano now," I ordered... "You can't make me."..."Oh yes, I can."... Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" [Ibid]

I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic. Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu---which I wasn't even doing, I was just motivating her---and that he didn't think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn't do the technique---perhaps she didn't have the coordination yet---had I considered that possibility? [Ibid]

"You just don't believe in her," I accused... "That's ridiculous," Jed said scornfully. "Of course I do."... "Sophia could play the piece when she was this age."..."But Lulu and Sophia are different people," Jed pointed out. "Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games." [Ibid]

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts. [Ibid]

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together---her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing---just like that. Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming. [Ibid]

"Mommy, look---it's easy!" After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn't leave the piano. That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up. When she performed "The Little White Donkey" at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, "What a perfect piece for Lulu---it's so spunky and so her." [Ibid]

Even Jed gave me credit for that one. Western parents worry a lot about their children's self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't. [Ibid]

Amy Chau, Her Daughters Sophia and Lulu and Husband Jed

20111122-amazon amy cahu 4.jpg
Amy Chau
Amy Chua—the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother ---is a professor at Yale Law School and author of two acclaimed books on international affairs---Day of Empire and World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability . Elizabeth Chang wrote in the Washington Post: “Readers of "Tiger Mother" get only a glimpse of that part of her life, with airy, tossed-off lines such as "Meanwhile, I was still teaching my courses at Yale and finishing up my second book" while also "traveling continuously, giving lectures about democratization and ethnic conflict."[Source: Elizabeth Chang, Washington Post, January 9, 2011]

Chau lives in a nice, well-decorated homed just outside the Yale University campus. Born in the United States to immigrant parents, she married a Jewish American she met while studying law at Harvard University. Chua juggled supervising her children's studies with her own career. That meant rising early, sometimes at 5.30am, to work before taking the girls to school, working with her kids after picking them up from school at 3:30pm and then often returning to work at 6:00pm. “I was always rushing, driving, being late for everything, missing things, messing things up, piecing bits of time together,” she told the Times of London . [Source: Alexandra Frean, The Independent, January 19, 2011]

Chua said that she was only raising her two daughters the way her immigrant parents raised her. "I don't really have time for anything fun, because I'm Chinese," one of Chua's daughters told a friend. “Though Chua's Jewish husband grew up with parents who encouraged him to - imagine! - express himself, he nonetheless agreed to let her take the lead in rearing the children and mostly serves as the Greek chorus to Chua's crazed actions,” Chang wrote. [Op. Cit, Chang]

Alexandra Frean wrote in Times of London, “Chua chose maths and music for her daughters, but it seems likely that she could have made them excel in any field. “It seemed strangely coincidental when my daughters were playing music and people would say, 'your daughters are so gifted'. I thought, that can't be the case; there's no musical talent in the family. It's just hard work,” she says. She believes this approach works with children of all abilities and uses her sister Cindy, who has Down's syndrome, as an example. Cindy (38) became an accomplished piano player and won two medals for swimming in the Special Olympics.” [Op. Cit, Frean]

“And oh, what Chua put herself and her daughters through,” Chang wrote in the Washington Post . On weekends, they would spend hours getting to and from music lessons and then come home and practice hours longer. At night, Chua would read up on violin technique and fret about the children in China who were practicing 10 hours a day. (Did this woman ever sleep?) She insisted that her daughters maintain top grades - B's, she notes, inspire a ‘screaming, hair-tearing explosion among Chinese parents and the application of countless practice tests.... She made them practice on trips to dozens of destinations, including London, Rome, Mumbai and the Greek island of Crete, where she kept Lulu going so long one day that the family missed seeing the palace at Knossos.” [Op. Cit, Chang]

Chua's older daughter, Sophia, a pianist, went along with, and blossomed under, this approach. The younger daughter, Lulu, whose instrument of Chua's choice was the violin, was a different story. One day, Akexander Frean wrote in the Independent, “Chua banished her daughter Lulu, then 3, to the garden without a coat when the temperature was -6C because the girl refused to co-operate with her first piano lesson. The punishment was not only extreme, it was also futile because a defiant Lulu had to be bribed with brownies and hot chocolate before she would come back in.” On another occasionshe threatens to burn all of her elder daughter Sophia's soft toys until she plays a piano piece perfectly.” [Op. Cit, Frean]

“Throughout all of this, the role of her husband Jed (51 in 2011) has been to provide balance, insisting on family bike rides and trips to water parks. Although he sometimes had reservations about his wife's strictness, he was won over by the impressive results. Raised by very liberal parents himself, he wished that his parents had pushed him harder to persevere with music and foreign languages.” [Op. Cit, Frean]

“It seemed, at first, to be working: from a very early age her daughters became outstanding students at school and were hailed as musical prodigies. At age 13 Sophia performed a piano solo at Carnegie Hall in New York. At 12, Lulu, a violinist, became concert master of a prestigious youth orchestra....Eventually, however, Chua realised she was pushing her girls too hard. Lulu had always fought hardest against her mother's demands and when she turned 13 last year refused to co-operate any more, sparking a string of explosive rows. Lulu expressed her hatred of the violin, her mother and of being Chinese. Chua imagined a Western parent's take on Lulu's rebellion: "Why torture yourself and your child? What's the point? . . . I knew as a Chinese mother I could never give in to that way of thinking." But Realising that she risked "losing" her daughter, Chua finally backed off and agreed a year ago that she could no longer micromanage her daughters' lives. Lulu promptly gave up violin lessons and took up tennis. [Op. Cit, Frean, Chang]

"Things are much calmer, and everyone seems happier," Chua says. Recently she even allowed Sophia to go to a rap concert and to start dating. The girls do not appear to resent their mother. In fact, Sophia has said she wasn't "subjected" to Chinese parenting, but rather that she "went along with it by my own choice". The biggest surprise has been Lulu's response. She seems to have mild regrets that her mother never gave her any choice when she was younger, beyond offers such as "do you want to practice six hours or five?" but she says that she loves playing the violin on her own terms. Although glad of her new-won freedoms, she has told her mother: "I'm glad you forced me to play the violin. I'm always going to love the violin." [Op. Cit, Frean]

Chua says she is now beginning to see the longer-term benefits: Sophia (18 in 2011), has just applied for college on the East Coast. While other parents hired tutors to write application essays and visited 30 different institutions, Chua took a back seat. "I felt that my work had been done a lot earlier," she says. "I said to Sophia, it's your responsibility---pick your schools and write your own essay. I have taught you all I have to teach you." [Op. Cit, Frean]

Review of Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother

20111122-Wikipedia Amy_Chua_Tiger_Mom_Daughters_2011_Shankbone.JPG
Chau and her daughters in 2011
In her review of the book, Elizabeth Chang wrote in the Washington Post: “The cover of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" was catnip to this average parent's soul. The memoir, the text says, was supposed to have proved that Chinese parents are better at raising children than Western ones - but instead it portrays "a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory" and the Tiger Mother's humbling by a 13-year-old. As a hopelessly Western mother married into a Chinese family, living in an area that generates immigrant prodigies as reliably as clouds produce rain, I was eager to observe the comeuppance of a parent who thought she had all the answers. [Source: Elizabeth Chang, Washington Post, January 9, 2011]

And, in many ways, "Tiger Mother" did not disappoint. At night, I would nudge my husband awake to read him some of its more revealing passages, such as when author Amy Chua threatened to burn her older daughter's stuffed animals if the child didn't improve her piano playing. "What Chinese parents understand," Chua writes, "is that nothing is fun until you're good at it." By day, I would tell my own two daughters about how Chua threw unimpressive birthday cards back at her young girls and ordered them to make better ones. For a mother whose half-Chinese children played outside while the kids of stricter immigrant neighbors could be heard laboring over the violin and piano, the book could be wickedly gratifying. Reading it was like secretly peering into the home of a controlling, obsessive, yet compulsively honest mother - one who sometimes makes the rest of us look good, if less remarkable and with less impressive offspring. Does becoming super-accomplished make up for years of stress? That's something my daughters and I will never find out. [Ibid]

In Chinese parenting theory, hard work produces accomplishment, which produces confidence and yet more accomplishment. As Chua notes, this style of parenting is found among other immigrant cultures, too, and I'm sure many Washington area readers have seen it, if they don't employ it themselves....Readers will alternately gasp at and empathize with Chua's struggles and aspirations, all the while enjoying her writing, which, like her kid-rearing philosophy, is brisk, lively and no-holds-barred. This memoir raises intriguing, sometimes uncomfortable questions about love, pride, ambition, achievement and self-worth that will resonate among success-obsessed parents. Is it possible, for example, that Chinese parents have more confidence in their children's abilities, or that they are simply willing to work harder at raising exceptional children than Westerners are? [Ibid]

Unfortunately, the author leaves many questions unanswered as her book limps to a conclusion, with Chua acknowledging her uncertainty about how to finish it and the family still debating the pros and cons of her methods (anyone hoping for a total renunciation of the Chinese approach will be disappointed). Ending a parenting story when one child is only 15 seems premature; in fact, it might not be possible to really understand the impact of Chua's efforts until her daughters have offspring of their own. Perhaps a sequel or a series ("Tiger Grandmother"!) is in the works. But while this battle might not have been convincingly concluded, it's engagingly and provocatively chronicled. Readers of all stripes will respond to "Tiger Mother." [Ibid]

Amy Chua’s Reaction to the Response Over Her Book

Amy Chau told the Atlantic, “I was stunned by how the book was received. Much of the book is making fun of myself, and I had hoped people would find it funny. It may be hard to believe, but people who know me think of me as supportive and self-deprecating. [Source: Lori Gottlieb, The Atlantic, November 2011]

You felt misunderstood? “Very much so. Most people talking about the book had not actually read it. The book is a memoir, not a parenting guide. On the Today show, they introduced me by saying, “People think you’re a monster, that you abused your children.” It was very painful. I broke down a few times, then I thought, I can crawl into a hole or I can be strong. So I went on the road for six months, and appreciated the opportunity to explain myself.”

On her supporters, Chau said: “I was grateful for their support. Parents of all backgrounds who favor stricter parenting said, “You are so brave, it was always a closet practice to raise our kids this way, and now we don’t have to feel ashamed of what we think is right.” Everybody wants to know why so many Asian kids are good at math and achieve so much, and many readers said, “This is such a relief: it’s not genetic, it’s not in the rice! It’s about hard work, so we can do this!”

Do you think you went too far in showing your uber-strict side? [My daughter] Sophia said, “You only put extreme moments in the book.” It’s true. I exposed a slice of our life, not the part where we’re lying in bed watching movies. I tell my kids that I love them, like, 10 times a day, and that’s not in the book. But I also sacrifice a tremendous amount for my kids. I don’t just make them work hard---I have to work just as hard to be that kind of mom.

How have your parents influenced the way you raise your kids? My parents were like so many first-generation immigrants. They worked all the time and saved every penny for their kids’ education. They taught us never to take any opportunity for granted. Also, my mother never complimented me, whereas I compliment my kids constantly. Yet I’m very close with my parents, and I love the way they raised my sisters and me.

What values do you want to instill in your own kids? Many people don’t realize it, but my book celebrates rebellion. [My daughter] Lulu was a heroine of the book, and she’s a rebel. I admire independent thinkers. I don’t want to have to apologize for doing things differently. I’m proud of it.

RESPONSE OF AMERICAN HUSBAND WITH HALF CHINESE DAUGHTERS TO BATTLE HYMN OF A TIGER MOTHER

20111122-220px-Amychua4.png
Amy Chau
Andrew Field,a Shanghai-based professor wrote, in a response to the Amy Chau article posted on the Wall Street Journal website: “I am an American husband to a Chinese woman and a father of two half-Chinese daughters, one of whom is now in first grade in what is touted as the biggest educational pressure cooker in the world these days, Shanghai. Already my daughter is doing countless exercise in math, Chinese, and English, and she is being given a lot of pressure by her Chinese mother, grandmother, and teachers (all female by the way) to excel. It's difficult for us to spend so much time with her day after day when we have our own busy schedules, but we try our best to help her do her homework and deal with a lot of frustration in the process [though as I relate below, her concentration skills have improved a lot over the past few months] [Source: Andrew Field, MCLC E-Mail list]

I've also started her on piano lessons (this was my own decision not her mother's by the way). I can play two instruments pretty well, piano and guitar, and I do it for fun and enjoyment, but I do sometimes wish that I had had more rigorous training in sight reading and other skills, and these do need to be acquired at a young age. I hope my daughters can develop a life-long interest in appreciating and playing music, since I believe strongly that such skills do add great value to the joy of living. [Ibid]

But my goal is not to train them to play in Carnegie Hall. I'd rather see them develop their own tastes in music and learn to play their own music rather than parrot dead composers, as so many kids are trained to do. It's unfortunate that most music training programs do not encourage or challenge children to improvise or engage in creative play with their instruments. This is not an Asian thing but a function of instrumental pedagogy in the Western world over the last century or so. All the great composers that Ms. Chua is teaching her daughters to play were all great improvisers as well. But of course they had to undergo rigorous training and copy the great Masters of their own time before they were able to attain that level of proficiency, and as much as we want to encourage children to have self-motivation, I do agree with the author of this article that kids have a tendency to resist hard work and strong and steady encouragement is important in attaining such training goals. [Ibid]

As for her claims about Chinese people and culture, these need to be taken with a huge grain of salt. People here in China do tend to spend more intensive time and labor on children's education, particularly here in Shanghai, but there are many different strategies and methods for doing so, and humiliation is only one of them. Beating and corporal punishment is of course another strategy that seems to be used here in China a lot (but definitely NOT one employed in our family), though what it does for a child's psyche in the long term is another question. [Ibid]

I do notice that my wife has a tendency to use the same strategies as Ms. Chua on occasion, and [when it comes time for Sarah to do her homework] our household is a constant battleground of wills between the females.* My own method of encouraging her learning is more about firm persistence than name calling, and believe me, I do get frustrated and disenchanted with the intensity of the system that she is a part of. But I do believe it is important to take an active role in furthering one's child's education, and in that respect I admire Ms. Chua's efforts although I do not agree with hereducational philosophy or methods. [Ibid]

(*This is a bit of an exaggeration, actually our daughter is pretty good these days about doing her homework, but over the past few months it has been a struggle by all parties (teachers, parents, grandparents) to get her into that groove. Also, my wife isn't nearly as demanding on our daughter as the article's author seems to be.) [Ibid]

Additional Thoughts: It occurred to me yesterday (I was thinking about this article a lot over the whole day) that the fact that the author's daughters had 2-3 hours a day to practice their instruments is also reflective of the differences between the educational system they went through and the one here in Shanghai. I find it hard to imagine that any kid in the local Shanghai school system would have that much time to practice an instrument, since most kids (including my daughter) don't get home until 5 pm, and they are pretty exhausted by that time. But they still have several hours of homework to do before they go to bed. Admittedly this system is pretty extreme even for China. I also wonder how the author has so much time of her own to devote to tutoring or overseeing her childrens' education.” [Ibid]

Chinese Daughters on Amy Chua

Tze-cheng Chun, a second-generation Chinese-American, is artistic director of the Tze Chun Dance Company in New York. She wrote on The New Yorker website: “Yes?Chinese mothers are superior in that they equip their children with the skills needed to succeed in their careers and as members of society. However, a different, and more difficult, task for a Chinese mother is to convey their best intentions and love while doing so. Chinese parents usually succeed in producing hard-working academically strong children; however, the second level of success---being able to create a loving and communicative family dynamic---is not always attained. Some Chinese children feel as many Western parents feel, that the Chinese parenting method is harsh and lacks compassion. Many just quietly obey their parents because they dread the wrath they’d incur otherwise. They simply do as they are told. Or, they rebel. Growing up outside of Boston, I knew many Chinese-American children who were hard-working students, and some who were the total opposite: unmotivated and defiant kids who stayed out late and got into trouble. Chinese people are traditionally not very open about their feelings, and many children I grew up with took their parent’s inability to communicate as a sign that they did not, in fact, know what was best. [Source: Evan Osnos, January 11, 2011]

My mother was by no means a “typical” Chinese parent. She rarely scolded us and let me give up piano at age seven. She encouraged my brother and I to pursue all our interests (including a school play or two) and supported us to the best of her ability while never pressuring us. She made it clear that no matter how much she wanted us to succeed, it did not matter unless we wanted to succeed ourselves. Giving us this responsibility for our own lives drove us to work harder. She taught us that our futures were ours to make, not hers, but whatever we chose to pursue she would be there to support us. My mother patiently explained everything to my brother and me, from how the world works to why we should work hard. She never asked us to just follow orders. She never dictated a chore or demanded more from us than what we could give. She always looked for creative solutions and pushed us to ask our own questions. My brother is now a filmmaker and I am a choreographer, two professions that are, as my grandmother constantly reminds us, a Chinese parent’s worst nightmare. [Ibid]

Chinese Daughters in China on Amy Chua

20111104-Qipao women.jpg
Lu Han was born in Beijing, received a master’s from New York University, and is a now a writer, researcher, and translator in China. She wrote on The New Yorker website: “Thinking that you have the world in your control, and telling your kids that, can be a very dangerous thing to do because there are all these things in life that will be out of your reach. Having said that, I do have to agree with what Amy said, “Chinese parents assume strength, not fragility,” and it is generally a good practice. I think that assuming the best of your kids essentially makes them confident, because, no matter how strict your parents are toward you, deep down you know that it’s because they think you are psychologically strong enough to handle it, and excellent enough to accomplish whatever the task is. This faith stays with you no matter how little praise you get from your parents, or how harshly they yell at you. However, there are definitely tragic examples, too, in which kids grow up receiving this kind of education and still turn out to be “losers” or “parent haters.” There is an online chat group on Douban called “Fumu Jie Huohai” [“The Scourge of Studious Parents”], in which group members, mostly those born in the eighties, blame their parents for their own unhappiness or emotional trauma.” [Source: Evan Osnos, January 11, 2011]

This issue has become extremely prominent as most urban families have been able to have only one child for the past twenty or thirty years, so the parents have such high hopes for them that it creates an intense pressure. It’s not only about being strict and spending more time on academic studies. What Amy, and millions of other Chinese parents are doing, is to make daily and even major life decisions for their children. I think this is an even bigger problem with Chinese education---when you take away the ability to choose, you are basically taking away the ability to be responsible for your own choice and action. [Ibid]

Qi Zhai, who was born in the Chinese city of Harbin and educated at Stanford, is a writer and editor in Beijing. She wrote on The New Yorker website: “I was not allowed to get anything but an A. I remember so vividly a big fight with my father one year. I had come home with a B+ on my report card (for math) and my father demanded an explanation. I said, “Dad, American parents would be so happy about a B+, or even a C, on a report card! To this kind of complaint, my parents’ usual reply was “Then go find yourself some American parents.” Another common type of parental retort is, “American parents also let their daughters get pregnant in high school and watch their sons join rock bands.” [Source: Evan Osnos, January 11, 2011]

I did extracurricular activities that my parents didn’t choose. I was in high school plays, I ran track and field, I did debate, I played volleyball. These were mixed experiences. For activities that my parents deemed respectable and worthwhile, like debate, they proudly showed up at events and told all their friends about my accomplishments. For sports and drama, they picked me up and dropped me off at all the practice times, but never bothered to attend games or performances. After sweaty practice sessions, at dinner time, my mother would always say, “Why are you wasting your time on this? You?re so tired, you shouldn’t work so hard for them.” It hurt me that she didn’t support my hard work and it was a conflicting message from what my coach was screaming on the field everyday, “I want you to run so hard that you vomit.” [Ibid]

I had sleepovers and was allowed to go out, but very selectively, with kids my parents knew whose parents they were comfortable with. Generally, with Chinese and Korean families, my parents didn’t worry so much. But I can’t recall ever spending the night at a Caucasian student’s house, except for a volleyball-team sleepover. I never quite attended a real party until graduation night, when I wandered around aimlessly watching the cool kids get drunk and high. I don’t feel I missed out on the teen-age pregnancies (common at my private high school in the Philippines) and drunken accidents (an American diplomat’s son died, among several other incidents), but I do feel that I needed more time to adjust socially once I was in America. To fit into American society, dinner parties, cocktails and other alcohol-infused events are a necessity. It took me longer to learn the basics of what you?re supposed to do, which arguably has an impact on how well you can network for a job, etc., in Western society. [Ibid]

Despite above objections to Amy Chua’s parenting style, I generally agree with her conclusions. American parents do “coddle” their children a bit too much. But there’s no other way. American adults are coddled, too---therapists, feelings, all that stuff’so to not coddle your children would be socially unacceptable. And Chinese parents do feel inextricably tied to their children for life, demanding everything of them but also giving everything to them. Like Amy’s story about staying up the night, the biggest gift my parents gave me is learning the value of education. I could feel it in everything they did, that education was the most important thing for the three of us. I had a science project in middle school that I couldn’t finish on time (because it was about nutrition and calories---not the kind of thing Chinese kids know a lot about and my parents were no help). My mother stayed up the whole night, cutting me apple slices and bringing other snacks, just watching me do the work so I wouldn’t feel alone. [Ibid]

When I have my own children, I will mimic my parents’ devotion to education. But what I will do differently is allow more room for creativity. Pragmatism and fear were the driving forces for my parents’ choices with me---fear of unemployment, war, disaster. I hope the luxury of choice will be the driving force when I become a parent. Nothing would make me happier than if my children could say, “Mom, I want to be an artist” without fearing for their income or success. I want to give my children what I’m still working on building for myself as an adult---confidence in knowing that no matter what choices you make, as long as you’re passionate about it, you will be successful. [Ibid]

In China, Not All Practice Tough Love

In article published at the same time as Amy Chua’s Chinese Mother Are Superior article, Victoria Ruan wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Parenting advice in China has long stressed discipline and authority. Those lessons are reinforced in best-selling books like "Harvard Girl Liu Yiting," a how-to manual published in 2000 by the parents of a student who won a coveted spot at the Ivy League school. Among the character-building exercises to which they subjected their daughter was having her hold ice cubes in her hands for long stretches. [Source: Victoria Ruan, Wall Street Journal, January 8, 2011]

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. In recent years, however, books that encourage parents to nurture their children's independence and confidence, as opposed to focusing exclusively on high academic achievement, have grown increasingly popular. They reflect a quiet shift in the parenting style of middle-class families, especially in China's growing cities. [Ibid]

The current best-selling parenting book, "A Good Mom Is Better Than a Good Teacher," by former Beijing public school teacher Yin Jianli, has sold more than two million copies since it was published in January 2009. Ms. Yin advocates listening to kids and developing their potential without forcing them to obey authority. [Ibid]

Chinese parents rarely question the decisions of teachers, but Ms. Yin sometimes offered to do homework for her daughter. In one case, a teacher had asked the girl to copy the same words over a dozen times one night as punishment for failing to memorize them. Ms. Yin believes that such tasks hurt children's interest in studying. Another best-seller, "Catching Children's Sensitive Periods" by Sun Ruixue, follows a similar approach. Ms. Sun writes that she "aims to help more parents understand their kids and let every kid grow up healthily in love and freedom." It is a sequel to her 2000 book "Love and Freedom," which focused on the idea of discovering a child's "true nature," as developed by the Italian physician and education reformer Maria Montessori. [Ibid]

In "My Kid Is a Medium-Ranking Student," author Fang Gang stresses that children don't necessarily need the highest test scores to enjoy a happy and successful life. "Our society, to some extent, remains a society full of ranking-related prejudice," he writes. But among the students with the top test scores, he asks, "how many have kept independent thinking, creativity and their unique characteristics?" [Ibid]

Many readers of these books---parents in their 30s and 40s---were born during the Cultural Revolution that took place in China from 1966 to 1976. After the turmoil of that difficult period, traditional thinking about education persisted. At schools, teachers continued to evaluate students on the basis of test scores and how closely they followed instructions. As China has gradually opened up to the world, however, Western ideas about education have spread, and many parents have started to question the traditional approach. [Ibid]

Two Chinese Schoolgirls Publish Book on How to Combat Tiger Mothers

Leo Lewis wrote in the Times of London. “Two Beijing schoolgirls, already masters of manipulation at the tender age of ten, have unleashed a daring counter-attack against Tiger Mothers: the pushy, discipline-crazed scourge of children across China...For every tenet of parental doctrine described in Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chen Leshui, and Deng Xinyi have a practical or devious solution. The guide, written in ballpoint pen on a battered notebook, for children between 6 and 12, and illustrated with crude diagrams of each "trick", catalogues how to navigate the relentless lectures and chastisements of everyday life. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times December 9, 2011]

Leshui's father, glowing with pride, uploaded the guide on to China's equivalent of Twitter, where it has been forwarded tens of thousands of times. State television has further drawn attention to the girls' work. With each stratagem comes a note on how regularly each gambit should be employed and a rating on what sort of mental attitude must be adopted to pull it off. Shoving a note of contrition under the door, for example, is described as "so-so", both in effectiveness and required skill. Bursting into song mid-punishment however, takes guts and should be tried very infrequently.

The guide has about 20 "tricks" ranging from the straightforward (No4: burst into tears and bury head on Mum's shoulder) to the suicidal (No. 8: when Mum has finished, come back with an insult of your own).

The idea for the guide came to Leshui when she returned home from an examination in which she had performed badly.Predictably, she faced the snarl of the ambitious Tiger Mother: a humiliating comparison with the other children in the class and a rhetorical "aren't you ashamed to bring this exam paper home?" Since no guide for dealing with the situation existed, Leshui decided to write one herself.

Baidu Baike reported: The “Collection of Tactics for Dealing with Mom” book quickly became famous on microblogs and the Internet. As for why her daughter created the book one of the creator’s mothers said that one time her daughter had come home with a classmate to do homework after having done poorly on a test. After seeing her score, [the mother] couldn’t help but say something: “Compared to your classmate, don’t you feel embarrassed for bringing this score home?” Upon hearing her mother compare her with her classmate, the daughter was a little angry, and the two little girls got together and immediately decided to “draw a book for children who get scolded!” So, they began planning in the room.

In an interview with The Times, Leshui's father insisted that his wife was not the dragon portrayed in his daughter's drawings. "We always advocate that parents should provide children with a free space," he said.

Tips by the Beijing 4th Graders on How to Combat Tiger Moms

The hand-drawn book—“Dealing with Mom Tactics Collection”--- made by the two 4th grade Chinese girls in Beijing consisted of tactics for 6-12 year old children who are yelled at by their parents every day.” Mothers, are you prepared, get ready to deal with these!” they warned at the beginning. [Source: Sohu Weibo & Sina Weibo , December 10, 201]

How to Deal with Mom: Tactics 1, 2, 3 & 4. Tactic 1): When your mother is yelling at you, you can: Look elsewhere, think about something else. Don’t care, don’t listen. Style: Hard. Note: Can’t be used often. Tactic 2): Your mother is yelling at you and not letting you look somewhere else, you can: Find something trivial about mommy to criticize. Style: Hard. Note: Can’t be used often.Tactic 3) : When your mother is yelling at you with all her might, you can: Pretend to cry (put some effort into it!). Style: Soft. Note: Must look real (can be used often). Tactic 4): When your mother is yelling at you with all her might, you can also: Throw yourself onto your mom and cry. Style: Soft + soft. Note: Can be used often.

How to Deal with Mom: Tactics 5, 6, 7 & 8. Tactic 5): When your mother is yelling at you with all her might, you can run back to your own room. Style: Hard + soft. Note: Don’t forget to lock the door (you can cry in your room). Tactic 6): After your mother yelled at you, you can: Not speak to your mother. Style: Hard. Note: Can’t be used often. Tactic 7): After your mother yelled at you, if she asks you something, you can: Reply to her question with your eyes closed (at best!). Style: Soft + hard. Tactic 8): After your mother yelled at you, you can: sulk/stay angry (at worst). Style: Hard + hard. Note: Must use sparingly.

How to Deal with Mom: Tactics 9, 10, 11 & 12. Tactic 9): When your mother is yelling at you, you can say: I’ll/it’ll be good next time, I promise! (First get through this instance now and deal with the next instance when it happens). Style: Soft + hard. Tactic 10): After mommy has finished yelling at you, and her anger hasn’t yet dissipated, you can: Write a note and stick it under her door. Style: Normal. Tactic 11): After mommy has finished yelling at you, you can: Secretly enter her room. Style: Normal. Tactic 12): After mommy has finished yelling at you, you can: Use some small things around you to make a mini-weapon. Style: Normal.

How to Deal with Mom: Tactics 13, 14, 15 & 16. Tactic 13): After mommy has finished yelling at you, you can: Sing, for example: “Mommy is a small watermelon.” Style: Hard. Note: Can’t be used often. Tactic 14): After mommy has finished yelling at you, you can: Fall on the ground, cover your years, and keep saying: “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you?” Style: Hard + hard. Note: Can’t be used often.Tactic 15): When your mother is yelling at you, you can: After covering your ears, scream: “I know!!!” Then run away. Style: Hard + hard + hard Note: Must use sparingly! Tactic 16): When your mother is yelling at you, you can: Hang your head and remain silent, letting your mom think you are admitting fault. Style: Normal.

How to Deal with Mom: Tactics 17 & 18. Tactic 17): After your mother has yelled at you, you can: Shout that you’re going to run away, take some things, run to the stairs, and run down crying. Style: Soft. Tactic 18): When your mother is yelling at you, you can: As your mother is yelling at you, you suddenly say: Can’t I go to the toilet? This way you can hide in the bathroom. Style: Sort of hard. Note: Best used sparingly.

Amy Chua’s Reaction to the Response Over Her Book

Amy Chau told the Atlantic, “I was stunned by how the book was received. Much of the book is making fun of myself, and I had hoped people would find it funny. It may be hard to believe, but people who know me think of me as supportive and self-deprecating. [Source: Lori Gottlieb, The Atlantic, November 2011]

You felt misunderstood? “Very much so. Most people talking about the book had not actually read it. The book is a memoir, not a parenting guide. On the Today show, they introduced me by saying, “People think you’re a monster, that you abused your children.” It was very painful. I broke down a few times, then I thought, I can crawl into a hole or I can be strong. So I went on the road for six months, and appreciated the opportunity to explain myself.”

On her supporters, Chau said: “I was grateful for their support. Parents of all backgrounds who favor stricter parenting said, “You are so brave, it was always a closet practice to raise our kids this way, and now we don’t have to feel ashamed of what we think is right.” Everybody wants to know why so many Asian kids are good at math and achieve so much, and many readers said, “This is such a relief: it’s not genetic, it’s not in the rice! It’s about hard work, so we can do this!”

Do you think you went too far in showing your uber-strict side? [My daughter] Sophia said, “You only put extreme moments in the book.” It’s true. I exposed a slice of our life, not the part where we’re lying in bed watching movies. I tell my kids that I love them, like, 10 times a day, and that’s not in the book. But I also sacrifice a tremendous amount for my kids. I don’t just make them work hard---I have to work just as hard to be that kind of mom.

How have your parents influenced the way you raise your kids? My parents were like so many first-generation immigrants. They worked all the time and saved every penny for their kids’ education. They taught us never to take any opportunity for granted. Also, my mother never complimented me, whereas I compliment my kids constantly. Yet I’m very close with my parents, and I love the way they raised my sisters and me.

What values do you want to instill in your own kids? Many people don’t realize it, but my book celebrates rebellion. [My daughter] Lulu was a heroine of the book, and she’s a rebel. I admire independent thinkers. I don’t want to have to apologize for doing things differently. I’m proud of it.

'Tiger Mom' Chua Urges Asian Parents to Relax

Chua was named by Time Magazine as one of the "World's 100 Most Influential People" in 2011. But after excerpts of her book were published in the Wall Street Journal Chua was the target of a hailstorm of criticism, including death threats---a response which she said turned her life upside down.

In October 2011, Chua urged strict Asian parents to relax and give their children more freedom but also insisted that parents also avoid the "romanticised" Western focus on creativity over hard work. "I think Western parents give kids too much freedom, too much choice at a young age... Asian parents like in Korea have opposite problems, giving too little freedom, too little choice for our kids," Chua said in a speech at a Seoul forum.She stressed that Asian parents often put too much focus on children's academic excellence while failing to foster social skills and "emotional intelligence". "As we head into the 21st century and global competition gets intense, simply emphasising hard work and memorising and long hours is not going to be enough," she said, urging a balance between the different parenting philosophies. [Source: AFP, October 13, 2011]

Chua criticised US parents and schools for deferring "too quickly to their young kids' choices", but at the same time called on Asian parents at the other extreme to let go once their kids become old enough. "To me this type of parenting should be when kids are very young. I think it actually should start to end when they are around 11, 12, or 13," said Chua, adding she mistakenly "went too far with it" with her daughters.

Chua defended many of the parenting methods described in her book, saying US parents mistakenly prioritise a "romanticised notion of creativity" over the hard work and discipline that is the basis for such creativity.She said her younger daughter, who six years ago hated maths after failing a test, now cites it as her favourite subject after long hours of study involving a stopwatch led her to excel.

"It's our job to prepare them for the future...there's something very joyful and fulfilling about doing something extremely well," she told the World Knowledge Forum hosted by Maeil Business Newspaper. Chua blamed America's "fear of Asia" for the heated response to her book, which she said was written as a family satire. "I think...the book tapped into America's deepest anxiety. One is fear of parenting and the second is Asia rising with the US declining," said Chua.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Amazon,

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2012


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.