The Truth About “Chinese Mothers”

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Chinese-MotherJonathan Liu, a Core Contributor to our companion blog GeekDad, offered to share his thoughts with GeekMom readers about a topic that hit close to home for him:

Over the weekend, I was pointed to an article from the Wall Street Journal titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” And over the course of the day and the rest of the weekend, I saw more and more references to the author Amy Chua and her new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, mostly from Asian-American parent bloggers, and almost all harsh criticisms of the article, of the “Chinese mothering” espoused and of Chua herself.

As a Chinese stay-at-home daddy blogger who was raised by two immigrant parents, I felt almost obligated to weigh in on the matter. If I hadn’t already been busy writing about stay-at-home parenting backlash I probably would have dashed off a response. As it was, I’ve had a little more time to process it since my initial reading.

First, here’s the gist of the article, in case you haven’t read it already: You want to know why Chinese kids are so stereotypically successful? Because of Chinese mothers. Amy Chua raised her two daughters with lots of restrictions, incredible pressures and using techniques that I imagine many parents would consider abuse. She uses the term “Chinese mother” to mean a particular type of parenting, admitting that not all Chinese moms adhere to this practice and that many non-Chinese moms do. It’s about tough love, high expectations, total control.

Many commenters and bloggers–in fact, the vast majority of the ones I’ve read–are aghast. Some are appalled at Chua’s parenting techniques and the potential damage it could cause to children who are raised this way. Others are angry because they have no desire to be lumped into Chua’s “Chinese mothers” categorization and feel that the Wall Street Journal is simply perpetuating harmful stereotypes. I’ve seen quite a lot of hateful language directed at Chua.

My own reaction is a little more complicated, and not something I felt I could sum up in 140 characters for a tweet. While I don’t endorse the method of parenting portrayed in the article, I also found some truth in it and couldn’t simply condemn Chua either.

Yes, I was shocked at the example Chua gave, a “story in favor of coercion” in which she forced her daughter to stay at the piano until she mastered a particular piece, not even allowing her to get up to use the bathroom. Yes, I agree that calling your daughter “fatty” or “garbage” is reprehensible and that Chua comes off as a tremendous bully. Yes, I feel that there is more to success than going to Harvard or Yale and performing in Carnegie Hall.

But here’s what else I saw: the acknowledgment that the reason so many Asian kids seem to excel in academics has little to do with genetics and a whole lot to do with practice and culture. As recently as this winter I’ve had conversations about how “Asians are just good at math,” and I had a hard time convincing some that the “model minority” stereotype can be a harmful one. Not only can it discourage non-Asians who believe they didn’t win some genetic lottery, It places an unfair burden on Asian kids who are expected to behave and perform a certain way. Chua credits her children’s success to the parenting techniques and not to some inborn abilities. I think there is some truth to the Eastern idea of “practice makes perfect”–as supported by the “10,000 hours” theory of genius–compared to the Western idea of innate talent. (I don’t deny there is such a thing as talent or prodigies, but I also believe that practice goes a long way toward developing those early aptitudes.)

That said, I have my disagreements with Chua. The biggest one isn’t whether or not severe parenting produces high-performing children: while I don’t think it will work universally, I think it’s fair to say that it has been proven effective in many cases. The deeper issue is how we think about “success” when it comes to our children–or more importantly, when it comes to our parenting. For Chua (and many parents, Chinese or Western), it seems that she feels her children’s behavior is a direct reflection of her parenting skills. Thus, if her daughter plays the piano well, she is a better parent. Also, Chua’s opinion on what constitutes success is quite stereotypical: academic achievement, musical excellence. Excelling at sports is seen as unimpressive, and school plays are completely laughable. Emotional maturity and personal passions? Forget it. The true measure of success here is “math whizzes and music prodigies.”

Here’s my own story. My parents are both immigrants to the U.S., and they raised me and my siblings fairly strictly, but with the encouragement for each of us to pursue our own interests. We were expected to study hard but we weren’t whipped for Bs. (Neither were we given monetary rewards for straight As.) We took piano and violin lessons because we asked for them, not because our parents forced them upon us. Though, having started, our parents wouldn’t let us just quit taking lessons simply because we were tired of practicing–they required a good reason. We were required to speak Chinese when we were at home, which irritated us as kids but has been a blessing for us as adults. My parents didn’t force me toward law school or med school, and while it was a bit strange for them to accept the idea of me becoming a stay-at-home dad, they’ve been supportive of me regardless. According to Chua’s article, my parents were not Chinese parents. Maybe that’s why we haven’t accomplished the sorts of things that Chua considers successful. But my parents are okay with that, and so am I.

This Monday I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion with many other Asian American parents, hosted by Jeff Yang of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Asian Pop column. Though all the participants were Asian American, we ran the gamut from first-generation to fifth-generation. Some were raised by Caucasian parents, one had a rebelling-against-tiger-mom hippie mom, some related experiences that made Chua seem tame in comparison. It was enlightening, to hear of the vastly different ways that we had been raised, but the common thread was that nobody endorsed the extreme “tiger mothering” reported in the article. Do a search for “Amy Chua” or “Chinese mothers” and you’re bound to turn up story after story of Asian Americans who are still reeling from the effects of this sort of parenting–or stories of siblings who committed suicide because of it. One participant in the phone call remarked that it felt like group therapy, being able to air these issues with each other.

I also learned, though, that the Wall Street Journal article doesn’t tell the whole story. I suppose by now that should come as no surprise. Yang shared that he had actually picked up the book and read the entire thing, and that the article does her a disservice–the particular excerpts used for the article, the headline (not chosen by Chua), and the way it was presented all paint a very one-sided picture of this self-proclaimed “tiger mother.” But what’s left out in the article, according to Yang, is a lot of self-deprecation, confession, and the uncertainty that all of us feel as parents about how best to raise our kids. Yes, Chua is an extreme example of Chinese mothering, but the book is apparently more nuanced, more of a memoir and less of a how-to.

Of course, the article will sell books. We already know it generated buzz–as of this writing it had already generated over 2800 comments. I’m sure the collected responses to that single article have already surpassed the word count of the book itself many times over.

In the end, here is my hope: that parents, Asian or not, would take the time to consider what constitutes success. That we raise our kids as best we can, remembering that our self-worth isn’t based on their performance, academic or otherwise. That our kids would know that we love them, by our words and our actions. That our kids would dream big and reach far, not because we’ve forced them to but because we’ve given them courage and confidence instead of a fear of failure.

And, hey, while I’m at it, I hope that we would learn not to judge a book by its cover (or cover story), and learn to tell the whole story instead of just the one that sells.

Jonathan Liu is a stay-at-home dad, Etch-a-Sketch artist, community agitator, board game geek, and a voracious reader.

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29 thoughts on “The Truth About “Chinese Mothers”

  1. It would seem your parents had a balance of cultural expectations and openness. As a veteran teacher of gifted children, I have seen what “Chinese mothers” can do to children. None of them have actually been Chinese but they certainly had the characteristics.

    Practice certainly does help to perfect a skill and too many children today don’t want to do anything that pushes them, however her tactics are mean and overbearing. I wonder how her daughters will turn out. Will they continue to rule over their children or will they learn to find balance?

    1. Mim, I agree with you entirely—I think I agree with SOME of Chua’s philosophies but not the way she practices it. I think the main reasons I’m not just joining in and bashing Chua are (1) I’ve heard from reliable sources that the article doesn’t tell the whole story and (2) there are small hints of truth in the article that can be missed because of the shock value of the bulk of it.

      And Mike, I think that’s exactly right: in my opinion, the more important question is what yardstick you use to measure success, because that will determine what methods you use in parenting. If your only concern is for math whizzes and musical prodigies and nothing else, well, maybe this method is right, but I doubt it’s a good way to get healthy, well-adjusted kids.

  2. I think it’s a pretty balanced take on the article and echoes my own reaction: the article is designed to get you to the book, where you may not get what you expect. Still the yardsticks Prof. Chua uses as the measure of success may not be the right ones.

    When I got to college I had my own share of social miscues (college was a seething mass of 30,000 students, and the town I grew up in had 8,000 total), but I’m reminded of kids who went to single-sex schools or home schools, who haven’t developed the same social cues and defenses that mixed-school kids have and realize there’s more to the school experience than grades can tell. I’m sure that the “tiger mother” would dismiss those as intangible nonsense, but I wonder what her parents think as they read the book.

    1. Jason, I think the reason I don’t just bash Chua as many others have done is that I do believe some of it is tongue-in-cheek, and that from what I understand her book isn’t quite as one-sided.

      However, the description of the piano battle with her daughter isn’t a joke, and that’s where the humor falls apart. That, I think, is abuse (or at least borders on it) and I can’t endorse that type of parenting.

  3. I have to say, it’s either courage or insanity to express the thoughts that Chua has. First of all, proclaiming yourself as better than anyone in today’s social climate is probably the real reason for all the hate. Secondly a parent isn’t allowed to do anything but say “Please honey, don’t set the school on fire.” these days. Kids need structure and direction everyone agrees but the word “discipline” is a dirty word these days and can only be carried out by “professionals” when it’s way too late.

    I am acutely aware of the effect that a single word from a parent can have on a child, name calling is completely out in my book. Still I hear parents that would curse Chua to her face for calling a girl “fatty”, calling their children “stupid” “idiot” or “retarded”. So I can’t demonize her for something that I’ve heard most parents do. This culture is just really uptight about weight issues.

    1. ‘Structure’ and ‘direction’ is about more than ‘discipline’, Emmett. I’m a strong believer in ‘motivation’. I see my son having no problem with self dicipline (which I happen to think is the best form of discipline) when motivation is there. I see it as my task to encourage motivation, and to show him how even tedious chores relate to the things he really wants to achieve 😉 I’ll tell you, it’s WAY more efficient than any kind of negative feed back!

  4. I felt the same way when reading her article. She made some valid points about kids not knowing what is best for them and pushing them to practice. The story about her not letting her child eat or use the bathroom though was abusive to my opinion. I think the best approach would be a happy medium between “Chinese” mothering and Western ideas.
    It reminded me of Ada from the Biggest Loser this past season as well. She had some serious issues with her parents which led to her being obese.

  5. My parents required academic excellence, in part because they knew it would help me get out of the cycle of poverty that they grew up in. However, they measure my level success by one very simple factor. Am I happy? In the end, that’s probably the best of both worlds.

  6. There is only one fact that gives this article any merit whatsoever and it is, consequently, the primary reason that the article is controversial at all. The fact is that in North America (I won’t paint a stroke as wide as Chuang’s by characterizing an entire hemisphere) we have become lax with regard to self-disciple and motivation. It’s true that we are too concerned with self-esteem and tolerance. Nevertheless, this is not axiomatic ground for Chuang’s ridiculous claims. I understand that some of it is tongue-in-cheek and it may be taken somewhat out of context. However, statements like “If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen…” are just too stereotypical and, let’s face it, racist to overlook. Imagine if a Caucasian wrote a similar statement about Caucasian children. But to the point, you’re right in questioning Chuang’s standards of excellence. What the data appears to demonstrate is that this type of parenting does in fact produce great performers. It is a testament to the incredible ability that lies within the human race. However, there does seem to be some confusion on Chuang’s part between skill and talent, knowledge and genius, ability and artistry. If I may make an observation that will, no doubt, be spurious (but will, hopefully, serve to demonstrate the crux of the matter)… The model of success held by Chuang suggests that practice, indeed, does make perfect. And the Chinese culture does produce amazing performers at a staggering rate. But what do we do with the fact (and here is the controversial statement) that many of the greatest composers were westerners, that many of the greatest mathematicians were westerners? Amy Chuang may, by brute force, produce extremely capable and skillful artists or incredibly knowledgeable and competent scholars. But true genius is more elusive and, I fear, not something attainable through sheer determination. The calculations that humans can train themselves to execute in their minds are fascinating and the child prodigy on the violin is inspiring and amazing. But I think one can intuitively see that these skills do not necessarily end in the ability to unlock the mysteries of mathematics or compose a symphony that makes the entire world laugh and cry for centuries to come. And there is still the matter of other qualities such as happiness, social impact, meaning, etc.

  7. There has been an argument made that people ( immigrants usually ) from nations that are not economically as well off as the US, or the EU, tend to have different concepts of social propriety. Some have pointed to mannerisms in people who are waiting in line. I believe there is some merit to this argument. The simple fact is, immigrants have to work harder. They have no safety nets, usually very few friends in their network, and they suffer the complexities of culture shock. End game is that children of immigrants are taught to fight mercilessly for a position in society.

    The fundamental problem with this method of education, is that it de-emphasizes the most important aspect of American culture. At the core of our laissez faire educational system are base concepts of freedom to pursue happiness, and rights to free expression. These permeating tenets of Americanism are what define our culture. Crushing a child’s opportunity to rebel against the constraints of society and pursue a path of their own deprives society of radically new thoughts, and inspired contributors to the greater good.

    What good is an army of classically trained technically perfect violinists, if none of them truly love their music. If none of them are willing to entertain the possibility that all of their training may have led them away from some fundamental paradigm shift in our knowledge concerning the mechanics of stringed instruments. How will reach those who have yet to discover their deep love of music and continuing innovation of it, if we are so busy sorting a glut of technically perfect human record players.

    Where would the Van Goughs and Salvador Dalis be if they were beaten into submission in youth and forced to adhere to the modus operandi of critics and artisans of yesteryear. Efficiency comes at a price. Sometimes it is inspiration, and innovation. Sometimes the cost can be a great deal more severe.

    In a society in which technical merit, and productivity are considered to be paramount to personal success, we face a danger. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, we marvelled at the industrial age, and we grew arrogant in our pursuit of technical growth. We looked to engineer the very fabric of our societies. We began research into eugenics, and genetics. We saw a future in which people could be better. And in pursuing that dream we brought about terrible evils. To wish to better one’s self is no crime. But to believe you have the right to choose for another what they should be, is a path that has lead to the worst crimes in human history. And at the very core of United States constitution, we believe that all men ( and women ) have a right to pursue their own happiness.

    I fear that some methods of education fail to inspire children to believe in themselves, and to challenge others by contributing to the marketplace of ideas in their own unique way. No mother, teacher, or student knows what is the right answer all the time. We see so little of the universe in our brief lives. What strikes me as far more important to the growth of a child than technical prodigy is to know right from wrong. To choose to be excellent in whatever situation they find themselves in. Even when that choice may put them at the end of the line.

    1. Matt,

      Yours is the best comment I have read on this subject. For those who marveled at China’s success. let me tell you, it’s a very oppressive society; the abuse of power of the government is quite amazing there. I, being Chinese, have always wondered why that society is the way it is, why people would put up with it. well, it started with the demand of absolute obedience of children toward parents at home. Once you are conditioned to obedience to your parents, it’s natural for you to accept obedience to the authorities, to those with power in the society.

      Thank goodness that the majority of this society are not educated as Chua’s children. I shudder at what our society would be like if all parents behave like Chua.

  8. I had the odd juxtaposition of reading this article after just returning from a Waldorf preschool orientation. Talk about two diametrically opposed teaching philosopies! This article disturbed me on many counts, but brings up some interesting points. We all want what is best for our children. There are some serious cultural differences in what this is defined as. In the end, I would hope a happy and well-adjusted adult would be the goal. Read in another post on the WSJ that success/high paying job leads to security which leads to happiness. Not sure I buy into that. I know plenty of high wage-earners that are pretty miserable, despite their large bank accounts…

  9. I think what surprised me was the inability of a Yale law professor to write a persuasive article. I agree with your analysis of her central thesis, and I agree with her thesis (being married to an ABC mother of grossly over-achieving children, how could I not?). So why did she sound like a complete nut-case? And does WSJ employ a sober editor?

    1. Based on what I’ve heard from people who have actually read the book and not just the article, the article basically took one side of what she writes about and portrays it as the whole thing. Even the title “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” is misleading, because that’s not exactly what the book is about—if you look at the cover it mentions being humbled by a thirteen-year-old, which obviously doesn’t happen in the article. So maybe the reason the article isn’t persuasive is because they’re excerpted from something that wasn’t meant to be.

      I’m cutting Chua some slack—not too much, mind you—because I think the Wall Street Journal article doesn’t paint the whole picture, probably purposefully.

  10. Current research tends to support delibrate practice and quality mentorship and dismiss the idea of latent talent in generating amazing skill. I would suggest that grace and artistrty has more to do with desire coupled with great skill rather than with being gifted. Motzart’s father made him start at age 4 and was one of the best music instructors of his day…

    Check out:
    “Talent is Overrated” by Colvin

    Harvard Business Review article: “The Making of an Expert” by Ericsson, Prietula and Cokely

    1. Not surprised at all that someone at Harvard would argue that talent is overrated. That whole institution is built on that belief.

  11. Jonathan,
    You have some very valid points there. I feel that for “western” readers to understand Amy Chua and stereotypical “Chinese parents, they must first understand our Asian culture. For example, spanking with a ruler, belt, some kind of stick, etc. might seem appalling to some Americans but it is commonplace here.

    I’m also an American-born Chinese myself (recently moved back to Malaysia), born to Malaysian-Chinese parents. Many of my Chinese friends’ parents have studied overseas too. Although they are more liberal than the generation before them, they still keep many traditional aspects of “Chinese parenting” such as corporal punishment and the get-all-A’s mentality. Most of us don’t drive to “school” until we are 17/18…aw heck, many of us don’t even drive to school, own our very own cars, apartment or credit card.

    But then, there must be something about this stereotypical “Chinese parenting” style that contributes to the fact that most successful business people and high school leaving examination top scorers in Malaysia and Singapore are Chinese….

  12. Thanks for this post. I was having a hard time with the original article’s premise that being good at math and music are some kind of obvious measures of success. It IS narrowly focused on what success is.

  13. An Asian-American, I turned parent at 45. My wife is China-born, Hong Kong-raised. Our son is three. One thing that really stands out in our parenting is the different styles. I’m the “no pressure” one; she’s the “you listen and do as I say” one. With no psychology background, I’m the one who wants to understand what’s going on inside our son’s little mind. My wife probably already has his whole life mapped out. When I was growing up in America, I’m glad I didn’t have the kind of parents (or specifically, mother) referred to in Jonathan’s article. Sure, my father wanted us to excel in everything, but he was too busy to really know what we kids were really doing. My mom just let us be. I guess my brothers and I were lucky. I hope my son feels that way when he’s my age. Thanks for the article, Jonathan.

  14. If academic excellence is the ultimate goal, there has to be better methods than hysterics and threats. Even Chua eventually understood.

    I consider myself lucky. I understood from the start.

    I am Chinese, born in Manila from Chinese parents like hers, raised like her.

    Unlike Chua, I vowed not to parent like my parents. I continue to resent them. My father passed away recently, and I wept because I could not feel any loss.

    I encouraged my daughter to enjoy all the things my parents prohibited, sleepovers and play dates, and school plays.

    She missed school to watch the Oscars, and we bonded by playing Nintendo.

    I never said, “I am right because I am your mother”.

    I taught myself to say, “Mother does not know,” and “I am sorry. Mother is wrong.”

    My daughter can only play “Close To You” by The Carpenters on the piano, but she can do it really well!

    And still, she is an academic superstar! Near-perfect SAT scores and offers of admission from Harvard, Princeton and Yale. No doubt in my mind about good fortune playing a major role in that.

    I never pushed. I encouraged. And I loved unconditionally.

  15. I personally welcome any provocative book that elicits strong feelings, prompting conversation about raising children. As a parent, this book motivated me to reflect on my own parenting style. Like parents, I found myself continually torn betweent the extremities of strictness and self-expression.

    As a college consultant, I wouldn’t mind a judicious sprinkling of the Eastern approach in raising American high school students. Parental involvement varies across the board in our society, from abject neglect to hypermanaging. Ironically, helicoptering in our culture seems more about micromanaging a kid’s resume and decisions than being engaged with the SUBSTANCE of learning.

    By contrast, I was struck by Chua’s description of Tiger Moms’ hands-on role in their children’s ACADEMICS: “It’s true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring…” That’s impressive. Among my clients, I see so many parents who attend every soccer game, but have no idea what their student is studying in history, or what he got on the last test. They’re obsessive, all right, but not about the things that will get their children ahead in life.

    In my practice, I see many parents who are so long on self-esteem (or at least ego) and so short on drive to build their child’s competencies, that they unwittingly create unrealistic expectations for college admission. The child is given a false sense of entitlement to be accepted at an elite college, without the qualifications for today’s competitive college marketplace.

    “By contrast,” Chua says in her book, “the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.”

    Will those kids end up in therapy? Probably. But underachieving kids with no direction end up in therapy too. I obviously could lose Professor Chua’s harsh, in-your-face style, but I think she does have an important lesson to teach American parents.

  16. The Tiger Mother Club

    I am Chinese, and I am a mother. Now, that makes me a Chinese mother, right? The local chapter of the Tiger Mother Club was looking for more Chinese members, and since I was new in town, and was eager to make new friends, I sent in my application.

    And they turned me down! Apparently I was not qualified. I found that baffling since I am a Chinese mother.

    Reading Chua’s book explained everything. It was all about the piano.

    Despite years of lessons, my beloved daughter has no hopes of playing Chopin in Carnegie Hall. She can barely read music notes, and her repertoire is limited to The Carpenters. Oh well, it is a good thing I like Karen and Richard.

  17. Some words penned in response to the thoughts of a student writing elsewhere . . .

    I would not normally lock horns and try to best a junior in high school; I’m hoping you do not read my words here as such, for they are meant for you only as a provocation to further thought to your ideas well-presented.

    You’ve written that you “used to get frustrated when I had to practice violin and I really didn’t want to . . .” Do I read correctly that you no longer “get frustrated?” If so, that’s a remarkable advancement. As a musician myself I want to ask you, Why do you practice violin and not another instrument of your choosing less frustrating, for examples, flute, harpsichord, tuba, or tabla. There is a vast – and I do mean vast! – repertoire for each of those, and many other, instruments that could challenge you unendingly for the remainder of your life. Instead of spending hours at your chosen instrument (whichever it may be) in the drudgery of isolated practice, why not spend more of your time in practice with music ensembles of various kinds. This can yield a discipline and advancement of a uniquely different kind. If you are studying formally with a violin teacher I’m quite sure he will confirm the well-founded idea that, as a performer, playing an instrument is one kind of challenge but playing an instrument WITH PEOPLE is significantly more so. A musician in isolation is a musician limited. And herein lays one, only one, of the transparent contradictions of the way Professor Chua has taught her two daughters to approach their instruments; opportunistically solely for unartistic purposes.

    A fundamental flaw in the approach to music of Amy Chua – an amusical hack with no known talent for an art of any kind! – is that she has decided it’s perfectly acceptable to pervert one of the greater of the fine arts for use in ulterior purposes. In the example of the Chua family, so-so slogging through masterpieces of music was used to impress others when applying for admission to university. (Would Professor Chua dare to advocate this openly with religion, physics, good grammar, or issues of national interest?) The whole idea that her elder daughter, Sophia, played a debut recital in Carnegie Hall is an early example of the pervasive blight of résumé bloat on which social climbers like Amy Chua have advanced themselves; a blight to which the Chua daughters were introduced early by two parents who know well how to tweak the system to gain unearned personal advantage.

    Carnegie Hall,, includes three auditoria in its building: Stern Auditorium, Zankel Hall, and Weill Recital Hall It was in Weill that Sophia performed as only one among a cattle-call string of young pianists that day. Do you doubt what I write here? Compare the architectural design,, behind Sophia with that of the architectural design at the rear of the stage in Having been a performer, myself, in both Stern and Weill over many years you have my assurance that Sophia performed her piece in Weill. Debut recital in Carnegie Hall! Indeed!

    You have written about your parents that they are “less extreme than Chua I’ll admit, but a lot of her memoir is satire and exaggeration.” Don’t be deceived by quick-change artist Professor Chua. She has spent more than one year trying to convince readers of her text that she is some kind of nouveau belles-lettrist who did no more than exercise a writer’s license to engage her readers. In truth she meant what she wrote until her hypocritical posturing as an authentic Chinese mother — born in Illinois to a Filipino father, neither speaks Chinese nor writes Chinese script — came back to haunt her with a ferocity that caused this self-styled Tiger Mother to recoil into improvised doublespeak. Amy Chua is a complete fake!

    All young musicians should be given only two music instrument choices to pursue in life, Violin or Piano. All else is useless waste. Any adult giving such advice is one woefully ill-informed. As a bass trombonist, my instrument has been my first class ticket from person-to-person, school-to-school, city-to-city, studio-to-studio, and stage-to-stage. With the kinds of preparations the Chua daughters were given will they ever perform, as I have, with Richard Tucker, Birgit Nilsson, Roberta Peters, Herbert von Karajan, Leopold Stokowski, and the two-thirds of The New York Philharmonic who were my schoolmates for five years in Juilliard? Forget it!

    Mercifully, I was never besieged with a Tiger Mother or Tiger Anything to motivate me. Yes, I too sometimes was bored with scales and chords. Yes, sometimes my imagined future seemed an unattainable fantasy. Yes, I did sometimes fall flat on my face in public performance (as did my teachers before me and also their teachers before them). Life went on and continues to do so.

    You’ve written that “At this point (as a Junior in high school) about 35% of the pressure to do well comes from my parents and the other 65% is complete self-motivation.” From the subtlety of your writing I suspect you’re cutting yourself short with that 65%. You appear to be much more highly motivated than your objective perspective about yourself can show you at this early time.

    The violin? I advise you to seriously reëvaluate what you believe is your relationship to any instrument of your choice; if, indeed, the violin has been your choice and not that of someone else. If the violin has been your choice, stay with it through all the coming stormy weather of doubt and seeming incompetence. If it is not, drop it in preference to another more to your liking and its fitness for your physicality. (If it’s the tuba, tell your parents that someone other than I recommended it!)

    Good Luck!

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  18. For all my focus on this subject I think the following text, written from the trenches on the other side of The Pacific, should be required reading everywhere else; perhaps even over there.


    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

    Chinese Mom: American ‘Tiger Mother’ clueless about real Chinese parenting
    The “Chinese” parenting style advocated by Asian-American author Amy Chua is no longer popular among Chinese mothers
    By Helen He 20 January, 2011

    As a post-1980s mother, I, like many other young moms in China, often seek parenting advice from various channels and never miss reading the latest popular books on parenting.

    Recently, a book titled “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” written by Yale university professor Amy Chua on the parenting experience of a Chinese mother, stirred up a controversy in the West after an excerpt from the book was printed in the Wall Street Journal.

    I’m a born-and-bred Shanghainese mother, not that proficient in English, so I wasn’t able to read Amy Chua’s entire work. But I did have friends translate a book excerpt printed in the Wall Street Journal for me.

    The author claims that mothers, by being strict and narrowminded and focusing only on results, are able to nurture child geniuses.

    This is clearly a utilitarian take on parenting and I was deeply astounded that Chua lauds this as a forte of Chinese mothers.

    I only want to say: Please don’t demonize Chinese mothers.

    Amy Chua’s claims are misleading because Chinese-American women cannot be said to represent mothers in mainland China, and thus are unable to objectively elaborate on the parenting attitudes and experiences of Chinese mothers.

    Amy Chua does not speak for all of us
    Environment has a big influence over a person’s values, and the role of a mother is not something that every woman takes to immediately.

    The Chinese parenting method Chua champions has no claims to authenticity.Every mother gradually devises her own parenting method, which is often shaped by her own experience growing up, as well as the environment around her.

    According to reports, Amy Chua is a Filipino of Chinese descent.

    Her parents emigrated to America and underwent an intense struggle to set their roots in a foreign land, which inevitably led them to adopt a more utilitarian outlook in raising their children: “We struggled to get you this new citizenship status, the best way to repay us as our children is to succeed in life.”

    Amy Chua brings up Confucius in her article to explain why Chinese parents feel that their children are indebted to them for life. But, she probably doesn’t know that there is another fundamental saying in the Confucian school of thought that “ethics matter more than results, harmony more than competition.”

    Simply put, one should not be overly aggressive in trying to outdo others nor adopt a mindset that every investment should get due returns.

    Confucius also believed that education should be something tailored according to an individual’s talents and capabilities, rather than a force-fed regime.

    In other words, the parenting that Amy Chua received while growing up already deviates from Chinese traditions, and despite her attempts to follow in the footsteps of her parents, the Chinese parenting method she champions has no claims to authenticity.

    This strict parenting style, if blindly — or even vengefully — repeated among successive generations, will only be a prolonged tragedy.

    The parenting styles of post-1980s mothers
    The bulk of parents in China today comprise children born in the 1970s and 1980s. I will raise two examples to illustrate how Amy Chua’s perception of Chinese parenting methods differs from current practices in modern China.

    Kaixin001, China’s Facebook that’s popular among the post-1980s generation in China, recently held two online polls.

    One was titled “If you had a girl, what would you teach her?” while the other was “What would you do if you discovered your teenage son was in love?” Each had a total of 97,470 and 28,915 respondents, respectively.

    a.. More on CNNGo: Another ‘Tiger Mother’ rebuttal from across the ocean
    In the first poll, piano and karate came out on top with 55 percent and 54 percent of the total votes. In third place was the response “How to deal with men,” which shows that young parents are also concerned about their child’s interpersonal skills and EQ.

    In the second poll, there were more than 15 different response options, but only 366 netizens (less than one percent of respondents) chose the most extreme option of sharply reprimanding the child.

    The reason why books such as “Fu Lei’s Letters Home” and “Education of Love,” as well as more recent titles such as “A Good Mother Is Better than a Good Teacher” and “An Average Student at Home,” are so well-received among Chinese parents is because they reflect a parenting mindset premised on mutual respect and communication between parent and child — an attitude that’s fast becoming the norm in China.

    The parenting method that Amy Chua encourages, one of forcing a child to discover his talents through disciplined and repeated practice, is contrary to the upbringing that many young Chinese mothers have received.

    The parent-child relationship depicted in “Growing Pains,” an American television series popular in China in the 1980s, is something that is finding favor with many mothers of my generation.

    When I was in university, the way the Seaver family openly communicated with each other was something I could identify with.

    This strict parenting style, if blindly — or even vengefully — repeated among successive generations, will only produce a prolonged tragedy.Along with the opening up of China, my parents’ generation had also opened up to other methods of parenting. They no longer held on to a “spare the rod and spoil the child” mindset, but instead saw their children as equals and hoped to build friendships with them.

    Nurturing healthy individuals rather than child prodigies who have no fun
    The desire for one’s child to be a straight-A student or a musical genius seems simple and naive to most Chinese mothers.

    A survey of 1,285 mothers of children up to six years old conducted by Babytree, China’s largest parenting website, found that health, happiness, self-confidence and kindness were the four most important traits that mothers hoped their children would have.

    About 77 percent of mothers did not expect their children to have particular talents and 65 percent of mothers said they would encourage children to pursue their hobbies, even if it was not an interest shared by the mother.

    The most important wish among mothers was for their children to have a happy, stress-free life.

    The point I wish to emphasize is this: a child is a gift, but the right to control him is not a given.

    The child that we nurture may subtly be influenced by our thoughts and values while under our care, but this does not mean that we should forcefully deprive them the independence to discover and grasp other opportunities that the world offers.

    Taiwanese author Lung Ying-tai wrote in her book “Seeing Off” that the role of a parent is merely to stand by one’s child and watch his back as he gradually ventures afar.

    This very appropriately describes the mindset of many young parents in China today.

    To raise a child is to give him the freedom to build a life of his own, rather than to force him to become a replica of your own successes or as compensation to make up for your regrets. As such, the right to decide what is good or bad for a child is not entirely up to the parents — the child should have a say, too.

    If life really is a race, instead of encouraging your child to tirelessly try to outdo others and come in first, why not let him run at an enjoyable pace so he can admire the sights along the way?

    I dare say that most Chinese mothers, especially those belonging to the post-1980s generation, do silently but lovingly encouraging their children to make the most of life in exactly this manner — a mindset contrary to that advocated by Amy Chua.

    Article translated by Debbie Yong. See the original Chinese version here.

  19. Why is the art of music required to endure the ill-informed antics of such inartistic imbeciles as Amy Chua? Her lust for fame as an old-fashioned stage mother of either a famous violinist (yet another mechanical Sarah Chang?) or a famous pianist (yet another mechanical Lang Lang?) shines through what she perceives as devotion to the cultivation of the cultural sensitivities of her two unfortunate daughters.

    Daughter Lulu at age 7 is unable to play compound rhythms from Jacques Ibert with both hands coordinated? Leonard Bernstein couldn’t conduct this at age 50! And he isn’t the only musician of achievement with this-or-that shortcoming. We all have our closets with doors that are not always fully opened.

    And why all this Chinese obsession unthinkingly dumped on violin and piano? What do the parents with such insistence know of violin and piano repertoire? Further, what do they know of the great body of literature for flute? For French horn? For organ? For trumpet? Usually, nothing!

    For pressure-driven (not professionally-driven!) parents like Amy Chua their children, with few exceptions, will remain little more than mechanical sidebars to the core of classical music as it’s practiced by musicians with a humanistic foundation.

    Professor Chua better be socking away a hefty psychoreserve fund in preparation for the care and feeding of her two little lambs once it becomes clear to them both just how empty and ill-defined with pseudo-thorough grounding their emphasis has been on so-called achievement.

    Read more about this widespread, continuing problem in Forbidden Childhood (N.Y., 1957) by Ruth Slenczynska.

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  20. I checked Asian. I had heard it was harder to apply as an Asian, so as a point of pride, I had to say I was Asian.

    In almost every list, pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as a desire to be more important or attractive than others, failing to acknowledge the good work of others, and excessive love of self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God).

    1) Tiger Sophia, you may have checked Asian which does have a “tax,” however you also got big bonus points for being a legacy many times over. The upshot is that you had help getting in unlike these Asian Americans below who live at the poverty line and don’t have Ivy League parents with deep pockets.
    2) By checking Asian when, actually, you are of mixed race, you have taken a spot away from those who don’t have the benefit of applying to a less competitive race slot. Thanks to you, someone who[se] life could be completely changed did not get a spot.
    For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. Matthew 25:29

    Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, the daughter of a mother of mixed Asian ethnicity of no known religious involvement and a secular — whatever that means — American Jewish father has, ostensibly been raised as a Jewess in an atheistic family positing itself as . . . ? When she applied for admission to Harvard she descended into a pride of Asianness to avail herself of an ethnic quota advantage.

    This duplicitous young woman is, indeed, her mother’s daughter!

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  21. There is a recurring theme without solid core that continues to recycle on the question of Amy Chua and her style as a mother. J.G. (unfortunately anonymous, as are most of the endorsements of Professor Chua) has written

    I think it’s easy to take cheap shots at Chua, but it’s hard to argue that the average American child needs less discipline, less direction or less respect for others.

    It might seem amusing to mock her (her “cushy job” and “hottie husband”), but harder to actually consider the points being made in a non-defensive way, without trying to paint yourself as the “cool mom” who prefers three martini playdates?

    p.s. It seems ironic that an Asian-American female who went to Williams (fulfilling a fantasy of Chinese parents everywhere) would paint her parents as laissez-faire and herself as moderately motivated.
    Posted by: J.G. | January 18, 2011 at 02:31 PM

    I, for one, have no interest whatsoever in her “cushy job” and “hottie husband.” Nor do I have any objection to her having become a millionaire from the sales of her book and that she will be well on her way to becoming a multimillionare once the planned translations of it into thirteen of the world’s languages have been completed. My uncompromising objections to Professor Chua are two-fold: her abuses of young children pursued to further her own narcissistic urgencies and her deep commitment of abuse of the art of music – of which she seemingly has no knowledge whatsoever – for reasons having nothing to do with that art. My shots at her are far from what J.G. calls “cheap shots.” They do in fact go to the heart of the problems with her that remain my chief concerns.

    J.G. and most of his fellow travelers in their tepid defenses of Professor Chua continue to focus on her inherited emphasis of the sorry state of public education in The United States. What else is new?

    As with most of the ringing endorsements of Amy Chua, those from J.G. are clearly from a mind not wholly engaged. He has written ” it’s hard to argue that the average American child needs less discipline, less direction or less respect for others. In his tangled syntax I’m quite sure he means – at least I’m hoping he means – it’s hard to argue that the average American child does not need more discipline, more direction or more respect for others.

    J.G. has written further, “p.s. It seems ironic that an Asian-American female who went to Williams (fulfilling a fantasy of Chinese parents everywhere) . . . “ Again, but this time TWO thoughts from nowhere! What has Williams College to do with Amy Chua (Harvard, A.B. ’84)? And since when has Williams even been on the “fantasy” palate “of Chinese parents everywhere?”

    Professor Chua usually receives the quality of defense she deserves.

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

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