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Are Chinese mothers superior?

harvardlogo052610_optBY PAM LOBLEY

The Wall Street Journal published an article this past weekend titled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior." It generated a fireworks display of comments from readers.

The piece is actually an excerpt from Amy Chua's new book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", a memoir of her struggle to raise her two girls the Chinese way. Ms. Chua insists that she did not choose "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" as the title for the excerpt; that was done by an editor at The Wall Street Journal. She says she doesn't believe that one way of parenting is superior to another, and that she was forced to come to terms with her own strictness when her youngest daughter rebelled at 13.

This gist of the article is that Chinese moms raise stereotypically successful children because they believe in their kids and are super tough on them. Some things Ms. Chua never let her two girls do:
  • 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.

Yikes! My two boys play the saxophone, the drums and guitar. What a couple of losers.

Ms. Chua describes riding her kids relentlessly, including berating them and calling them names ("garbage") when appropriate. The two girls are teenagers now, and I don't think they've been admitted to Harvard yet, but I'm sure they will be. This is the goal of Chinese mothering: musical mastery and Ivy League acceptance.

It's also incredibly stereotypical. Ms. Chua seems to have cast off all worries about political correctness and cheerfully embraces the cliché of the hard-working, success-obsessed Asian. If the season of political correctness is over, and it's OK to speak in ethnic clichés again, then I'm looking forward to some more upcoming parenting articles:

Why Italian Mothers Are Superior: My kids stop by every Sunday, fix the toilet and then stay and eat some of this food I keep cooking.

Why WASP Mothers Are Superior: My kids are always on time for dinner at the club, they know how to hire and manage a household staff and they can (usually) hold their liquor.

Why Redneck Mothers Are Superior: My kids never go hungry as long as there's a squirrel in the backyard.

Ms. Chua makes some interesting points about Western style parenting: that we don't set the bar high enough for our kids and are soft on discipline, and that we are too worried about their self-esteem.

I guess its all about how you define success. If perfect grades and an Ivy League school are success to you, then you might try Chinese mothering. I don't think I will. I don't really care about the Ivy League thing. My parents went to Purdue University (that's in Indiana) and they are two of the smartest, most interesting people you'll want to meet. I know many people who went to Ivy League schools and they are no better off than the rest of the people I know.

Plus, I don't want to berate my children. Well, that's not true. I do want to berate them – when they leave their muddy shoes in the middle of the living room, or when they wear the same hoodie for 5 days in a row insisting it doesn't smell. But I don't berate them, and I hope I never do.

I do agree with Ms. Chua that we should be holding our kids to a higher standard and toughening up on discipline. And I'm going to get right on that, just as soon as they turn off the TV.

Pam Lobley writes the "Now That's Funny" column. Sign up for her mailing list at


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Comments (2)
2 Thursday, 13 January 2011 19:35
Good Chinese Mother
Dear Ms. Chua,

Like you, I am a Chinese mother, born in Manila from Chinese parents like yours, but unlike you, I vowed to be a different Chinese mother, and encouraged my daughter to enjoy all the activities you prohibited. And still, she scored 2340 on the SAT, 60 points off perfect, and got accepted by Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

It will be interesting to see if your methods can produce the same results.
1 Thursday, 13 January 2011 18:14
It seems that you're misunderstanding Chua. Chua continually emphasized that she in fact, did not choose the title "Chinese mothers are superior" to remove herself from the idea that she is endorsing a particular method of parenting. By contrasting your own method of parenting to that of Chua's and sarcastically calling your kids "losers" for not playing the piano or violin like Chua's kids reveals that you don't understand this fact. Chua is not looking down on the "Western" style of parenting, she is simply defending the parenting style of those that fall under the "Chinese" parenting stereotype.

I'm using quotation marks to reiterate the fact that I, like Chua, am using the terms "Chinese" and "Western" very loosely. Neither of us are referring to all Chinese or all non-Chinese parents when we use those two terms. Chua clearly establishes that at the beginning of the Wall Street Journal excerpt. It is blatantly evident that Chua didn't simply throw out "cast off all worries about political correctness" seeing that it was in fact, the first thing she addressed. Again, your sarcasm isn't warranted; it just further reveals your misunderstanding. The fact that you repeatedly mock the use of "____ Parents are Superior" is also laughable since you already made it clear that Chua does not endorse such a title.

Interestingly enough, you criticize her for being "incredibly stereotypical". If you haven't noticed, the point of the excerpt was to defend those that practice the stereotypical Chinese parenting.

Now THAT, is funny.

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