The adventures, thoughts, and general scrawlings of a classical pianist

On Chinese Mothers

My mom mentioned this article, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, by Amy Chua, and how much she hated it; the article paints all Asian mothers as demanding, screaming crazy people who have absolutely no threshold for failure, and then insists that this method is better than “Western” parenting.

I read said article and it honestly bothers me too. Some points are true:

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.

Of course that doesn’t apply to all Asian parents, but yeah, it’s kind of true.
But then there are passages like this:

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.

And this:

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?” 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.

Can I please say that these are not representative of Asian parenting? There’s even a point in the article where author makes a point of comparing her two children and shooting down her husband’s observation that their two daughters are different people. Amy Chua takes pride in being “mean” (her words!) to her daughters.

This article offends me because to the naked eye, I might look like a child of the Amy Chua parenting style: I play piano and violin, get (mostly) all As, etc., etc. But it’s not because my parents scream at me to be at the top; it’s because under their care I’ve developed my own independent drive to do the best I can. As for music, the reason why I’ve pursued it so far is because I love it; nothing else I’ve discovered in my life holds a candle to the power and expressiveness of music.
(And that’s another thing: this crazy-Asian parenting churns out plenty of kids who can play lots of notes accurately and very quickly, but does nothing to instill the power of expressing oneself through the music. But I digress.)
So, Amy Chua, keep your screaming parenting tactics to yourself, and don’t you dare go telling the world that all Asian parents are like you, and that it’s the best way to bring up kids.

5 responses to “On Chinese Mothers”

  1. Stereotypes are always bound to be stereotypes. They will often originate from some truth but they’ll usually be exaggerated and there will often be outliers. Don’t let it get to you. Anyone who is intelligent enough to actually be worth talking to will realize it’s only one situation in a sea of possibilities.

  2. Sharon! This is so funny because my mom sent me this article too and was like oh my gosh i didnt push you hard enough! I actually never read the whole thing but, it sounds interesting nonetheless. In any case its hard to judge parenting western or chinese or whatever as it all kinda hinges on what your definition of success is and since thats different between cultures, so will parenting, ya know? — Laura

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  4. You know what really bothers me? The fact that this article sounds like its being said so rationally. The women is clearly articulating what she wants to say, in a grammatically-correct and concise way. Which means she’s pretty decently educated.. at least with the basics (reading/writing/math/social media..)

    It scares me when well educated people tout such strongly opinionated beliefs as if they are common knowledge…

  5. @Ravi: That’s true. The article is still infuriating though! From what I hear (it’s making the rounds) lots of people are taking it seriously and either A) deciding that this is the secret to good parenting or B) that all Asians are soul-less, uncreative robots. Not many people seem to be realizing that this should not be the norm.

    @Laura: Yeah it’s hard to completely judge this stuff (for example, I can’t say anything really about Western parenting because I never experienced it) but some things are downright scary, like the mom poo-pooing the idea that her daughters are different people. No matter the culture, that is just frightening.

    @Shan: That scares me too. This woman’s craziness seems so “rational” because of the way she presents it. I think that’s the reason why people are actually being convinced that it’s all so enlightened and wise.

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