The Black & White

My Chinese mother is no tiger

By Lucy Chen

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I participate in school plays, attend sleepovers and religiously watch Glee.  According to author Amy Chua, this means I don’t have a “Chinese mother.”

But the last time I checked, my ancestors were all from China.

Chua's two daughters were required to practice their piano and violin until their pieces were perfect. Photo courtesy WSJ.com.

Chua’s new book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” is causing controversy online over successful parenting styles, after an excerpt entitled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” appeared on the Wall Street Journal website. After the umpteenth time a friend sent the link to me, I decided to write about it. Chua’s generalizations don’t apply to many Chinese parents and only serve to perpetuate existing negative stereotypes.

Chua, the daughter of strict Chinese immigrant parents, bans the aforementioned behaviors to her own two teenage daughters. Her children weren’t allowed to “not play the piano or violin,” “choose their own extracurricular activities” or “get any grade less than an A.”

Yet according to other aspects of her definition, I’m the stereotypical Chinese child – I play the piano and the violin (though of my own volition), excel at math and science (yet also like English and history) and earn good grades (but not without the occasional bad test grade).

My mom, a Chinese immigrant, is like Chua to some degree in that she emphasizes academic achievement, but there’s a vast difference between Chua’s daughters’ upbringing and my own.

In her book, Chua writes that she forced her daughters to practice music for at least two to three hours a day, including during vacations. She even insulted them. In one instance, Chua refused to let her 7-year-old daughter eat or go to the bathroom until her piano piece was perfect.

I confess I struggle to squeeze in even half an hour on the piano bench a day. My mom will remind me to practice more, but she never threatens me because, unlike Chua, she realizes preparation for the future isn’t everything.

More importantly, I’ve developed social skills because my mom lets me hang out with my friends and discover creative passions on my own. As a result, I think I’m closer with my mom than Chua was with her children.

Chua defends her parenting style by arguing that “Chinese parents” push their children to their fullest potential, whereas “Western parents” don’t believe in their children’s capabilities and accept mediocrity. A look around Whitman defies what she says. Many of the parents here aren’t Chinese but are often criticized for being too demanding of their children.

The ensuing controversy has resulted in over seven thousand comments on the excerpt of the novel and countless commentaries in the blogosphere, debating the merits and pitfalls of “Chinese parenting” and whether American parents need to adopt stricter standards. Perhaps it’s a blend of the two that allows children to fulfill their true potential.

My mom was so stunned by the article that she did a dramatic reading of it at the dinner table, bursting into cries of indignation and bemused laughter. “You’re lucky to have me,” she half-joked when she finished. I couldn’t agree more.

3 Comments

3 Responses to “My Chinese mother is no tiger”

  1. Why is my name required? on February 2nd, 2011 3:09 pm

    Well stated.

  2. R. Kerr on February 3rd, 2011 10:00 am

    Thanks for this post. I heard an interview on NPR with Chua, and thought she skirted around some of the questionable arguments she was making about race, culture and behavior. I do think there are things about discipline that can be learned from the Her desire to promote and therefore justify her parenting technique suggests she is not entirely convinced of it herself.

    I could go on forever about the problems behind her ideas but I think the oversimplification of race and culture, which you point out here, is the most disturbing part.

  3. ASIAN on February 6th, 2011 4:26 pm

    We’ll see who gets into Harvard..