Happy Chinese Mother’s Day.

Via on Jan 10, 2011

On Saturday the Wall Street Journal ran this article written by Yale professor Amy Chua that finally explained why Chinese kids are so much more successful than American kids.

I’ve often wanted to ask this very question to the Chinese couple who live down my street, but they never come to our annual block party. They have one son, their third and only child. The first two were girls and they don’t seem to be around. It’s almost like they disappeared the day after they were born. The son however is definitely alive and withering. I see him walking down the sidewalk carrying his violin case, his head always bowed in concentration, depression, or pure fear that his mother is watching and disapproving of his posture. He is a portrait of such…joy…it reminds me of a dirty puddle filled with torn, sun-faded candy wrappers.

Okay, so maybe he doesn’t look that happy, but according to Amy Chua a child’s happiness is secondary to their aptitude, which is precisely why Chua says children raised by Chinese parents are better prepared for the future than children raised by “Western Parents.” Chua expounds that Chinese parents accept nothing less than excellence while Western parents are pushovers when it comes to their children’s academic performance.

I never knew parents were categorized by nationality, or even hemispherically. I always looked at a mom or a dad as just that, a mom or a dad. It never occurred to me to add the classifier Chinese or Western. But, according to Amy Chua, Chinese mothers are more successful than Western Mothers at parenting, which Chua says is proven by the fact that children raised by Chinese parents are better at math, violin and piano than children raised by Western parents.

Chua is no stranger to stereotypes, nor is she afraid to cast them. In her article, which by the way is titled, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” she says Western parents “seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly;” that Western parents give up too easily when trying to teach their children something difficult; and that Western parents will eventually blame the school if their children are struggling with a subject rather than hold themselves or their child responsible. I know a lot of parents, Western parents that is, and, well, none of them fall into Chua’s gross generalizations.

Chua brags that her daughters were never allowed to play any other instrument other than the violin and piano, and in fact they were never allowed to not play the violin and piano. Chua is very proud of not giving her daughters any choice in picking or discovering their passions. Hopefully their passions are getting all A’s, having no social life, and having no opinion.

And cheers to Chua for being so unapologetic about her Chinese mothering model that many might think a wee bit austere and perhaps even abusive. For Chua, and hopefully her children, it works. Since Chua has made such a strong distinction between Chinese mothers and Western mothers perhaps there should also be a separate Mother’s day for Chinese mothers. We could call it, Chinese Mother’s Day.

Children from Western parents typically give their Western mothers things like Western flowers, Western chocolate, and we take them out for Western brunches (which is sometimes Chinese food.) Thanks to Chua we know that children from Chinese mothers excel at math and musical instruments, but she didn’t say whether children raised by Chinese Mothers are good gift givers so here are a few gift suggestions for children raised by Chinese Mothers to give to their Chinese mothers on Chinese Mother’s Day:

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder medication.
  • A gag ball to bite in case she accidentally gets the urge to praise you.
  • A dictionary that doesn’t include the word “Creativity” (extra points if you can memorize the entire dictionary, you know you can do it, in fact there’s no excuse for you not to be able to memorize the dictionary, if you don’t memorize the dictionary you’re garbage!)
  • Toys to give to you so she can then threaten to take away said toys from you if you don’t get all A’s.
  • A scale and fat pinchers to inspect your weight and BMI.
  • A year without tears or even ideas.
  • Pop IQ tests to spring on you on a slow Sunday morning.
  • An alphabet book with every page ripped out except for the first one.
  • A simple card that says, “Mom, I owe you EVERYTHING!
  • Her childhood back, because maybe then you could have yours.
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About Jimmy Gleacher

Jimmy Gleacher is the author of three books and movie. He is currently working on his fourth book, THE YOGA TERRORIST. He lives in Boulder, Colorado. For more information please visit his website, jimmygleacher.net.

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26 Responses to “Happy Chinese Mother’s Day.”

  1. Tyrone says:

    Jimmy Gleacher, you're angry because you fail as a parent and you know that everything Chua said is true.

  2. Jimmy Huynh says:

    Tyrone, you're angry because you mentally abuse any children you may have, and hope that Chua is correct because it would justify your behavior.

  3. Kevin says:

    We know Chinese in America only have very small percentage in the population, but Chinese children have made 10 time more successful rate than Western children in the academic achievement (college , graduate school , music competition award…). Jimmy , how can you to explain this ? you just ignore the fact , Chinese have much better family education than Western family way. Many American parents too pamper their children, over emphasize children what they like and what they don't like, put fun at the first place for their life. History already and will continue to prove this is a fail method for educating children .

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dave Tan, Red Fox. Red Fox said: HAPPY CHINESE MOTHER’S DAY. http://bit.ly/g0gQ7j [...]

  5. Guest says:

    Wow, Kevin – you must not be Chinese, because your grammar is terrible.

  6. >:P says:

    jeez… all these steriotypes…… I BLAME CABLE!

  7. Colin Wiseman Colin says:

    I have to add that the stereotype is there because stereotypes are generally true. Chinese parents are just more about hard work than lazing around doing nothing watching tv. My friend's parents work in restaraunts, long long hours to provide for their family. And have taught them brilliant morals. However my friends are not academically brilliant, just briliant at family life in raising their own kids, or financially brilliant – their parents' have taught them how to save money! Unlike us "westerners" who really like getting into debt.

  8. Jayne says:

    Once you enter the work force, no one cares about grades, competition medals, etc. Soft skills really are more important, and not easily measured. No one cares about your 4.0+ from high school. While the "good old boy" network may not function as it once did, the "friends" network still does. Without friends from school and university, you lack a massive social network that will assist you in work and life after you finish university.

    My brother scraped his way through high school, yet today he makes an excellent living as a software sales rep. He had friends who respected his knowledge of the auto industry, and today his "common touch" helps him sell software to blue collar owners of autobody shops. Those friends recommended him, he worked hard, and now he's the number one rep in the country.

    Most Chinese children – maybe 90% – in China do not attend college, and work blue collar jobs, so I don't think the Chinese Mother system (syndrome?) really works for an entire society.

  9. Shannon says:

    Jayne, you're right AND you're wrong. It's true that once you enter the workforce, your academic record means squat. College is just a door-opener, a checkbox that HR uses to filter out who gets interviewed. However, the so-called "soft skills" are not the main requirement for every job. Sure, a sales rep cannot succeed without good people skills. But an engineer? A doctor/surgeon? An accountant? A financial analyst? I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the idea. Many of the most lucrative jobs left in western countries require very little "soft skills".

    • Kris says:

      To think that being an engineer requires very little soft skills is naive. I am one, and I always need good soft skills on the job. Else, how do I talk to the product manager or cater to the support team about an escalated case from the clients? I spend a lot of time in front of a computer, but I still need to interact with people on a daily basis to be successful at my job. Actually, we just laid off another engineer because, though brilliant technically, he had very low EQ and cannot work with people at all. And if you ever want to advance to become a VP of Engineering or CTO, in addition to having a strong technical background and proficiency, you need very good soft skills.

      Going back to that co-worker who got laid off, the sad part was that even outside the job, his low EQ affected him. He doesn't have any friends and cannot get any dates. He keeps telling me that the problem is there's something wrong with other people without looking at himself in the mirror and see what he's like. Truly, that is not the way to succeed in life in my opinion.

    • Jillian says:

      Shannon is right. You need to be more openminded Jayne.

  10. Miriam says:

    You tell 'em, Jayne – well said!

    Loved the above article, by the way – wanted to slap Chua (not for her parenting, which only her kids have to endure, but for her insufferable arrogance and self-praise – ugh!)

  11. Kevin says:

    Miriam. you are mad , what Chua told us is the fact. you just can't stand for it.

  12. pam says:

    Chua's article is so sad and reminds me of two good friends in high school and college whose (Chinese) mothers could have easily passed for Chua. One of them secretly rebelled in ways that would have shocked her mother had she found out. The other ended up in the psychiatric unit of a hospital — twice — for suicidal tendencies. Looking back, I realize both friends had this quality of deep sadness that stemmed from their very strict upbringing that was, in Chua's world view, typical "Chinese" parenting.

  13. Susan says:

    Chua's method of parenting produces somebody who can play Beethoven, but it wil never produce a Beethoven. I favor instilling children with a work ethic, but children should be allowed to pursue their own interests and develop their own talents. Otherwise we will just produce people who are very good at replicating what somebody else has already done, but who can't create anything new. I wonder how many potentially great Asian-American artists, writers, designers etc. were never allowed to develop their talents because their interests were not considred prestigious enough. Ridiculous.
    I love our innovative western culture, and I would not change it for anything!

    If Chua thinks western culture is so inferior, then why is she even here?

  14. Guest says:

    Jimmy,

    I also live in our beautiful Boulder, Colorado, which is is partly why I am responding to your post. I work at CU.

    As a Chinese American, a father, and an educator, it has been painful to read many of the comments on Chua's article. I was not too bothered by Chua's article, because the article is laughably untrue and only shows that Chua is a good salesperson for her book. What I was troubled, deeply, was the stereotypes that people have for each other — of course Chua's article typifies it, but never seem to question themselves how much they know about the subject, especially for something as complicated and personal as parenting from different cultures. I do not know how much Chua knows about Chinese, given that she was born in the US to academic parents who had lived in Philippines before moving to the US. It looks like that you do not even know the single Chinese family on your street — granted that they did not go to your block party. Yet, both you and Chua seem to have a lot to say about Chinese mothers.

    I grew up in China, came to the US for graduate studies >20 years ago and have been a professor at CU for many years. I can tell you that Chua's parenting methods are way-way beyond the norm for Chinese in China and Chinese Americans in this country. When I was a kid, my parents only inspired and expected me to be a good and caring person. We were so poor that we could not even afford a simple flute — the only musical instrument I knew at the time, never mind about Chua's piano and violin stuff. I would be punished only for behavior issues such as occasional skipping school or picking up a fight with other kids, although there were only a few times, as far as I remembered. However, they did expect that I tried my best on anything I do, and I knew that back then. Unlike Chua's academic upbringings, but like most of my parents' generation in China, they did not have much of education (only 2-3 years elemental schooling) — three of my grandparents died to Japanese bombings around 1940 when my parents were ~ 10 years old. Most of my friends were raised in the similar way.

    I have two kids, both born in the US, and my wife and I were married before I left China. We raise our kids similar to how my wife and I were raised. My kids have never played any musical instruments. We spend time with them on various activities including, of course, study of their daily class materials. My older kid is crazy about writing novels and fantasy stories (never published anything), and the younger one is crazy about soccer and basketball. We only ask them to finish the homework assignments from their teachers (yeah, public schools from our Boulder Valley School District) with no extra drills of any sort. We expect that they do their best to fulfill their teachers' requirements in doing their homework, and we make sure that they know our expectation. I know of a lot of Chinese Americans in our area who teach their kids this way.

    In a public university as large as CU, I work with many students of different background everyday, and I do not assume of anything automatically based on their looks. I really hope that other people do the same for my kids. My own experience tells me that people, despite vastly different background (culture, race, education level, …), are more similar to and also more different from each other than we often categorize them.

    Some final quibbles:
    1) Chua's article should be titled as "Why Chua is Superior or Inferior Mother".
    2) Did Joe Jackson write a book "Why Joe Jackson is Superior of Inferior Father"?
    3) Your Chinese neighbor on your street would appreciate if you get to know them better. They did not make to the block party, perhaps because they are worried about their English or perhaps because they are too busy with their work.

    It will get much warmer tomorrow, in 40s, in Boulder. I remain hopeful.

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