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the unsuperior chinese mother
debunking amy chua's parenting beliefs
by alex b (@Lexistential)

As the product of a Filipino upbringing in America, my childhood is nowhere near as stereotypically severe as the first-generation Chinese kids I went to school with. Where my peers turned in longer hours of study for a perfect 4.0 average, my mother was fine if my report card consisted of A's and B's, and forgave the D+ I had struggled to earn in Calculus after nightly studying. Though I admired their straight A's, I was content with my decently good grades; in turn, they seemed wistful towards my after-school cartoon privileges.

However, this past week, I read an essay that reminded me of the heavier-handed parenting my Asian-American classmates received. Titled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior", the piece was a contribution from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother author Amy Chua, who wrote it to showcase her upcoming Asian-American memoir. Among other traumas, Chua recommended forbidding participation in non-academic activities like school plays, sports, and social playdates, as well as castigating her children if they received grades lower than an A.

I, for one, am floored Chua had enough chutzpah to make her assertions; though her parenting tips are more disciplined and uncompromising compared to Western ones, they are also resoundingly abusive while racially tinged. The Internet likewise responded with a cataclysmic amount of outrage to Chua's parenting tips. (A standout rebuttal is Ayelet Waldman's "In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.")

Personally, I don't think Chua truly intended to definitively demean Western parenting. At most, I feel like she stirred the ethnic pot to generate interest in her Asian memoir, and committed egregious errors of taste by writing her essay as critically as she did. But, Chua set herself up; while she doesn't deserve the death threats she's gotten, she has fully earned the backlash she provoked.

But, my greater issue with Chua is in her parenting tips: they're horrible.

Chua can say all she wants about how her Chinese parenting is destined to create The Next Great Math Prodigy, but her kind of child-rearing also successfully— and effortlessly— plants resentment, anger, and warped expectations in a child. A child may become mathematically brilliant and technically adept at playing the piano, but will also grow deeply neurotic, socially awkward, and emotionally stunted in the process of being forbidden to exercise their own decisions for the sake of responsibility, or even fun.

In suggesting that Western parenting is flawed on a general basis, Chua merely states the obvious. All anyone has to do is look at the abominably behaved casts of "Teen Mom" or "Jersey Shore", as well as the overly spoiled kids dying to emulate "Gossip Girl" to see that Western parenting is prone to its fair share of disaster. I would personally love to see some of the old-school, immigrant parenting Chua discusses applied to the aforementioned groups of people, even as I believe it would ultimately have no positive effect past entertaining me.

But, in general, I'm amazed that Chua is presumptuous enough to believe her style of parenting is the definitive answer to perceived failings present in Western child-rearing. Though statistical studies reinforce Chua's assertions, not all Chinese are perfect. Evidently, she has never met a Chinese college dropout who would have liked a sleepover instead of four-hour math drills, or an Asian suffering from drug addiction, depression, anxiety, and social awkwardness as a result of such parenting. I thus believe that Chua is nowhere near the pulse of most productive Western parenting. Maybe if she chose to socialize in an authentically multicultural setting like New York City instead of a Connecticut suburb close to Yale, she'd have a set of more realistic perceptions to write about instead of her gilded, overgeneralized stereotypes.

Plus, perhaps because she is a warped result of the very parenting she advocates, Chua seems unable to comprehend how nurturing environments present with Western parents produce positive results. The results may not lead to a solo show at Carnegie Hall by the age of sixteen, but from what I saw in my predominantly Western neighborhood in the Bay Area, parents succeed on a day-to-day basis in creating generally productive members of society who don't end up in a gossip blog, police report, or reality show. (It's here that I'm surprised that Chua is as dense as she is, for she actually married one such member of society instead of another fellow Asian.)

As of this writing, Chua seems to be on a mea culpa mission of damage control and self-promotion. She's taken pains to appear more approachable and self-deprecating in her interviews with mainstream media. I remain skeptical as to whether she actually feels chastised enough from her essay; after all, she's selling a book that I don't plan to read, much less spend money on. I have very little empathy for Chua and her extreme parenting beliefs, and while I hope she receives no further violent threat, I pray that she absorbs some of the common sense she's being castigated with.

Most of all, if Chua's daughter ever grows to hate the violin, I hope she has the good sense to quit, in spite of what her mother says.


An expert in coloring outside the lines while reading between them, Alex B has a head for business, bod for sin, and weakness for ice cream during all seasons. Apart from watching Bravo marathons and enjoying haute bites here and there, she writes about TV, pop culture, and coloring outside even more lines. She sneaks Tweets via @lexistential.

more about alex b


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published: 6.30.06

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margot lester
1.19.11 @ 8:34a

I heard her discussing this on Diane Rheem and couldn't believe how smug she sounded. The only thing that outdid that was, as you justly point out, her awful treatment of her children. Bleh.

reem al-omari
1.19.11 @ 3:33p

I heard her being interviewed on NPR. She seemed so...fake? Yeah, fake. She's a fake person, who seems to be buying and feeding into the stereotype about her own people.

alex b
1.19.11 @ 3:37p

I think she's making ridiculous claims to shill her memoir. I would agree that old-school discipline is handy in raising little ones, but I don't think neutering a child into focused obedience is guaranteed to make them succeed.

A couple of other links:

18-year-old Cub Defends Her Mother

alex b
1.19.11 @ 3:40p

Whoops- the "edit" in italics leads to a second essay I meant to enclose in the right tags. (Amy Chua Is A Wimp)

And heh... there's Tiger Mom Says.


mike julianelle
1.20.11 @ 5:20p

Not sure it makes a lot of sense to blame the behavior of the cast of Jersey Shore on bad parenting. For one, they don't act all that different than most kids on spring break, and the presence of a TV camera, crazy ratings and tons of money only serves to validate their behavior.

The truth is no one entity should get all the blame or all the credit; neither the parents methods, the parents genes, the entertainment kids watch or the friends they hang out with are exclusively responsible for influencing the way a kid grows up and turns out.

I haven't been a parent long - or really at all, actually, since there's not much opportunity to 'parent' an infant - but if I had to guess at the best antidote to this lady's techniques - whether they help produce "successful" kids or not, is variety and moderation.

But I guess I'll figure it out on my own.

alex b
1.20.11 @ 7:27p

I meant to be light-hearted about mentioning the Jersey Shore kids, but I do think that they are an example of what bad Western parenting can produce. In the same way I don't want my prospective child to turn into one of Amy Chua's neurotic violin-playing automatons afraid to pee during a practice break, I don't want my kid to look forward to hair gels, smushing and tans.

I haven't had a child yet; the most I personally know about parenting comes from helping raise a younger brother (with whom I have a ten-year age gap with) and also tutoring adolescent kids for close to four years. I think variety and moderation are two of the ingredients that will help raise a kid to be happy. It might not be "successful", but it'll work well.

adam mcglashan
2.2.11 @ 10:39p

I think Chua's claims of the superiority of 'traditional' Chinese parenting firstly seem to ignore the fact that female children have not exactly had the greatest status and have often been the victims of infanticide. Secondly, the Confucian tradition that 'chinese' learning stems from is based solely on rote learning, where material is memorised rather than understood. The detrimental effect of this in terms of the lack of creativity and adapability of chinese students has been documented for years in peer reviewed journals. Thirdly, Chua seems to have a warped sense of what qualifies as 'success'. The pursuit of As (I think I got about 3 in the whole of my school life, and I now have 3 postgraduate qualifications) at the expense of socialisation and that kids should actually be allowed to be kids for a few years. I do feel a little bit sorry for the Asian kids you see over here with great study skills and no social skills. But mainly I feel glad that I'm not like them, although I do wish them all the best with the material benefits of Chinese parenting, at least until the point they die alone and unhappy, with their last contribution to humanity being having their straight A report cards read out at their poorly attended funerals.

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