Parents Talking Parenting, Chinese Mother Edition


Are Chinese mothers superior to Western mothers? Yes, says Amy Chua, a Yale Law professor writing this weekend in the Wall Street Journal; their strict discipline and refusal to acknowledge their kid’s desires and individuality inevitably result in high-performing academic star-children, if we are to believe Chua’s sweeping cultural generalizations. And for some of this article, we were kind of with her! There’s a picture of her daughter playing the piano at Carnegie Hall, even! But then, things go a little…far.

Chua has two daughters, who have never been allowed to do the following:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

The grades thing, okay. The TV and computer games thing is understandable, if extreme. But they really never got to go to a sleepover? Have a play date?

Well, we all knew kids like this, though. Maybe it wasn’t so bad!

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.

Quite the…dinner party. Can you imagine? The fun continues!

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.”

Maybe that’s not legally actionable, but this might be:

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.

This, so that her seven-year-old daughter would master a piano piece.

But we’ve got to be sensitive to cultural differences, right? Different styles of parenting have their advantages and disadvantages, etc. The thing is, Chua isn’t sensitive – her claims about the weakness of the Western approach in comparison to the Chinese one are so broadly painted as to be pretty offensive to both sides.

The moral of this, really, is that all parents should probably stop spouting off about their own parenting techniques. Relatedly, the word “parenting,” and the verb “to parent,” and using words like “techniques” and “methods” to apply to the raising of children – all of that should probably die from overuse at this point. As Gothamist pointed out, the story’s garnered over 1200 comments; it’s clearly hit a nerve, and not necessarily a positive one. To boot, in the words of a commenter: “I initially thought the article was a spoof, because it was so over-the-top narcissistic and, frankly, racist.”


This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 9, 2011

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