Sunday, January 23, 2011

Battle Hymm of the Mother Tiger?

I'm sure most of you have heard of Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua's controversial new book, Battle Hymm of the Mother Tiger, and her article on the Wall Street Journal on Why Chinese Mothers are Superior. Here is an excerpt of her book on the New York Times.

Basically, she talks about her own pretty extreme parenting techniques, that include not allowing her daughters to attend sleepovers, not permitting anything below an A in school, not allowing them to watch TV, not worrying about their self-esteem, etc. She then criticizes what she sees as the soft American way of parenting and blames this for the reason why Chinese children are more high-achieving than American children.

She claims 3 differences between Chinese and Western parenting. One is that Americans care too much about the self-esteem of their children. Second, Chinese parents believe their children owe them everything. Third, Chinese parents know what is best for the children and therefore can override their preferences.

There have been many editorials written in response to Chua, calling her parenting abusive and harmful in the long term. Readers have written thousands of comments, some of them Asian Americans who believe they were emotionally damaged by their childhood treatment. Others thought the article was written in an ironic tone and meant to criticize the parenting techniques of the Chinese. Chua has even received death threats - which I believe is ridiculous but probably expected considering how much of an attack her article is to their private home realm.

Personally, I take issue with the fact that not all Chinese mothers act this way. There may be some truth to the stereotype, but Chua takes it to the extreme. For example, I do play violin and piano, but this did not result from coercion from my parents. They never dictated my practice routine or criticized my efforts. I did watch TV, albeit with certain limits, but I think limiting TV time is a fairly common practice. I did not really attend sleepovers, but this was due to the overprotective nature of my parents rather than a restriction on playtime or social activity.

Many Chinese and Chinese American parents that I know also deviate from this strict model of parenthood. In fact, many mothers in China overly coddle their one child, leading to somewhat spoiled and egoistical offspring. Most are demanding only in regards to academic achievement; the child can have anything he or she wants as long was he performs well in school. Many mothers bend over backwards to make sure the child does not have to do chores, is always content, and always has the best to eat so he can focus well on schoolwork.

Also, why is it Chinese mothers? In just as many families it is the father who pressures the child more than the mother does. Chua has an interesting dynamic within her family because her husband is American and therefore is stereotypically the "nicer" parent.

Therefore, without even commenting on the legitimacy of Chua's parenting technique, which many experts have already dissected, I can tell you that there are obvious misconceptions in her statement. Regarding her actual practices, I believe that they may be effective for certain children but devastating for others. It is a thin line, and Chua is lucky that her daughters turned out the way they did.

What do you think about Chua's argument?


  1. I strongly disagree with her, but I'm going to give her some credibility. I think there are similar elements of filial piety in, this seems to be, Confucian thought and, the canon of the West, the Bible ("Honor they mother and father."). And, looking into the article, I found that the daughter wrote a letter to the New York Post vindicating her mother of being abusive, high expectations and strict, but not abusive. Like in the West, the goal is to get an A, to get a gold medal, and to do well in competitions against others.

    That being said, I disagree with her view that problems in Western education are a result of a soft culture. It seems to take a macro-problem and place blame entirely on micro-actors. More likely culprits of lower standards of education in America are unemployment, poverty, lowering funding for education, and creating an economic system that dis-incentivizes people from socially productive careers. To me, this would better explain the decay of the American education system - more so than a cultural difference between the West and China.

    However, I also agree with you that her system is hyperbolic and based on an ideal. Its irritating to see someone abusing a stereotype, especially for profit and especially if it may harm others by giving parents a false impression of how to raise their children. Chua's probably not as bad a mother as she is portrayed, but her system is clearly full of holes, like, what if the parent isn't competent? and just because a parent believes their child owes them everything, doesn't mean the child is going to pay them respect, especially when the respect isn't reciprocal? Her argument, to me, seems hyperbolic, good for selling books, but bad for advice, especially for Western youth who already grow up with little power over themselves.

  2. By the way, I'm not sure if you saw this, but Amy Chua went on the Colbert Report a while ago: