Correction appended: Jan. 20, 2011
An editorial cartoon in the Jan. 13 edition of Hong Kong's English daily the South China Morning Post shows a family a father, mother and frowning boy together in the kitchen. On the table sits an untouched breakfast the sodden castoffs, we infer, of the insolent child. "If you don't eat it," the father threatens, "we're going to have you adopted by Amy Chua." The child looks horrified.
Amy Chua is a professor at Yale Law School, an author and, as of last week, one of the most talked-about mothers in the world. On Jan. 8, the Wall Street Journal published an essay she wrote headlined "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," in which she discusses her approach to child rearing. Her kids, Louisa and Sophia, were never allowed to have playdates, watch TV or get anything less than A's in school. They played instruments of her choosing (piano, violin) and practiced for hours under close watch. If they resisted, she pounced: at one moment she called her daughter "garbage," in another "pathetic."(Read TIME's Q&A with Amy Chua.)
The piece, adapted from Chua's just-released memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is now at the center of a raucous global debate about parenting, identity and family. More than a million people have read the story online, more than 5,000 have commented on it, and countless others have passed it along to friends and family members. It's doing the rounds on Facebook and has been animated, to hilarious effect, by the folks at Taiwan's Next Media (of Tiger Woods drama re-enactment fame). Reactions range from (to paraphrase) "You're on to something" to "You're a bigot and a bad mother" to "You're just like my mom" often in the same breath.
For better or for worse, many people saw themselves or their parents or both in Chua's portrait. In accounts that are by turns intimate, hilarious and angry, hundreds of people of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds have shared their own childhood stories online, articulating, perhaps for the first time, the pressure they felt as children and how it shaped their lives. Gene Law, a Chinese-Canadian journalist and son of a Taiwanese immigrant mother and a Chinese-Canadian father, could relate to Chua's tale. "As the article said, I'm indebted to my parents until they die," he wrote in an e-mail. "This is my mom's school of thought. I dare not disagree." But Law questioned the long-term efficacy of the "Tiger Mother" approach: the harder his mother pushed him, the more he rebelled. Now, he wrote, "my relationship with my mother is more tense than the Korean DMZ."(Read "Five Things the U.S. Can Learn from China.")
But do such clashes have anything to do with Chinese culture, or with culture at all? "Hiding behind culture to justify cruelty is offensive," wrote one commenter, "IansMom," on Quora.com, a social-media message board. "Chua is a bully, and she's teaching her kids to be the same." Whether they admire Chua or not, few readers accept the precept that calling a child "garbage" is a cultural practice rather than an ill-tempered expression of exasperation. Chua, to be fair, anticipates this objection in her essay. "I'm using the term 'Chinese mother' loosely," she writes. "I know Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too." Yet the piece, as many critics point out, seems to turn on clichés about what Chineseness entails (good grades, music, no sports), echoing the stifling model-minority tropes that have trailed Asian immigrants for decades.
Indeed, in my conversations with friends, sources and colleagues in Hong Kong and China, the word that came up most frequently in relation to Chua after wrong and stereotype was old-fashioned. Here, as elsewhere, parenting practices are always changing the Tiger Mother, if she ever existed, is not as fierce as she once was. Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal at Beijing's Peking University High School, says he was "shocked" by the "crass generalizations" in Chua's piece. "It goes without saying that there is no one type of Chinese parent," he says. "Some are disengaged, some are deeply involved it's the same as anywhere." Describing her hopes for her 8-year-old son, a 34-year old Beijing resident named Xiang Yuqiong says, "I want my son's life to be like mine, but better." Each parent is different, but that sentiment, we can all agree, is universal.
With reporting by Chengcheng Jiang / Beijing
Correction: The original version of this story included an excerpt from a Quora.com post that had been designated for restricted circulation. It has been excised.See TIME's Pictures of the Week.See the Cartoons of the Week.
Amy Chua Hanna Rosin Parenting Styles
Amy Chua and Hannah Rosin: a comparison and contrast of parenting styles
In recent years, Yale professor Amy Chua has drawn a great deal of attention due to her focus on a parenting style that is foreign - both figuratively and literally - to most Western parents. This style centers around a Chinese model that Chua espouses, and that has become famous, or infamous, for the stern and rigorous practices that Chua enforced with her own two daughters. Chua has received a large amount of criticism; one of her critics is Hannah Rosin, a prominent writer and editor. In response to Chua, Rosin outlines an alternative method of parenting. It can be argued that while both Chua and Rosin are involved and devoted mothers, they have distinctly contrasting views on how to raise children. There are three areas in which this contrast can be most clearly seen: attitudes to success, attitudes to self-esteem, and attitudes to happiness.
Amy Chua's model of parenting has success at its core. Chua sums up the Chinese approach to activities in this way: "What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it" (Chua, 2011). With this as a mantra, Chua promotes an extremely rigorous approach to such activities as learning a musical instrument; she believes that two or three hours of practicing an instrument daily is appropriate for young children. Furthermore, Chua believes that parents should not give their children any choice over which musical instruments to learn; the violin and piano are the only acceptable choices, regardless of the child's natural talent or predilection. This approach is also evident in academics. Chua says, "…the vast majority of Chinese mothers…believe their children can be 'the best' students, that 'academic achievement reflects successful parenting', and that if children did not excel at school there was 'a problem' and parents 'were not doing their job'" (Chua, 2011).
Hannah Rosin takes a distinctly different approach to success, one that is arguably more reflective of Western attitudes in general. Rosin says, "Ms. Chua has the diagnosis of American childhood exactly backward. What privileged American children need is not more skills and rules and math drills. They need to lighten up and roam free, to express themselves in ways not dictated by their uptight, over-invested parents" (Rosin, 2011). In Rosin's view, Chua's version of success is ultimately very limiting. Rosin doesn't argue that success is a negative thing in and of itself; however, her looser, freer approach suggests that it can be achieved differently.
Another area where Rosin and Chua differ from each other is in their approach to self-esteem and the way in which parents should treat their children. Chua openly admits that it...
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