A Strong Rebuttal to Opinions Expressed by Chinese Tiger Mom
by Annie Shao, age 17
By now, many of you have read or heard about Amy Chua’s controversial essay titled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” This opinion piece ran in the Wall Street Journal’s editorial section recently. Many people, including me, were in utter shock after reading about her military-like way of raising children. I was appalled, angry, and indignant at Chua’s words.
In her editorial, she boasts about methods she uses with her two daughters Sophia and Louisa. She wants, in my opinion, to convert them into academically and musically talented machines.
Chua claims that there are two types of parents: Chinese parents and Western parents. According to Chua, Chinese parents are infinitely stricter than any Western parent can ever dream of being, and this is how they raise “so many math whizzes and music prodigies.” Chua then lays out the differences between Chinese and Western parents that she believes account for the perceived achievement gap between the two groups’ children.
Her arguments are as follows: first, Chinese parents believe that children owe everything to their parents, while Western parents believe that children should be independent. Chinese parents also believe their children can learn from harsh criticism, while Western parents are irrationally afraid of lowering their children’s self-esteem. Lastly, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children, which is why they often ban them from personal activity preferences. Most Western parents would not do this.
As a daughter of two Chinese immigrant parents myself, I am critical of Chua stereotyping Chinese parents as academic and music authoritarians. Her generalization offends me; it has a negative connotation to many of us in America and it is simply untrue.
Unfortunately, I have observed this same stereotype at school. In the school environment, many have the impression that Asian parents regulate aspects of their children’s lives like grades and activities. Jargon like “Asian failing”— receiving any grade lower than an A— comes from this impression. The worst part is, “Asian failing” is a term used solely by Asian students. It infuriates me that Asians perpetuate this stereotype of themselves. I’ve tried hard to break and discourage these types of stereotypes; I believe everyone has the same potential, regardless of race or culture. There’s no “secret” to how Chinese students succeed; we take opportunities and work hard, like anyone else.
Although Chua may be acting in what she believes is the best interest of her children, I cannot agree with her ideas completely. She says “to get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.” True, parents should not let their children give up, but they also should not restrict their children’s freedom.
My parents have raised me in a way that would fall between Chua’s Chinese parent and the stereotypes some associate with Western parents. Yes, my parents taught me math and reading skills earlier than most of my Western peers. Some of the things they taught me were so advanced that they surprised my teachers and other parents. For example, I started reading English at age four, even though Mandarin Chinese is my first language. At age eight I started learning basic algebra.
My parents both encouraged me and set high standards for me. But they also never let me forget that the fate and my long-term success was primarily up to me. My mother and father are always there to help me, but they never do things for me. I am now a high school student taking honors classes and earning good grades. At the same time, I still play piano and part in many extracurricular activities. My parents still let me go out with friends, participate in school plays, or go to sleepovers; examples of things Chua’s children are not allowed to do.
In the end, success comes from one’s own motivation and hard work. The only thing parents do for their children when they shelter them from the things they enjoy is dampen their potential.
In another part of her article, Chua explains, “Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they know their child can get them.” According to Chua, if a child gets a less-than perfect grade, it is because of lack of effort. She believes that in order to get a child to do their best, a parent must “excoriate, punish and shame the child.” Chua forgets that sometimes a person’s best is not necessarily a perfect grade. Again, everyone is different. Sometimes a grade lower than an A is acceptable, as long as real effort is applied.
Also, please consider whether or not Chua’s way really teaches the right lesson? She emphasizes to her children that they owe everything to their parents. Teaching kids to work for the sake of themselves seems to me just as imperative. Children will part with their parents at some point in their lives; if their motivation is only for their parents, they may no longer have anything to keep them going.
At the end of her essay, Chua tries to justify the harsh punishments she uses, saying that when Chinese children succeed, “there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.” Is ego really what we want? Ego does not always translate into true happiness. Also, the parenting process Chua uses ultimately causes a child’s happiness to completely depend on how their parents view their successes and failures.
It annoys me that this essay is being used to promote Chua’s new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I get the impression that she published the book and the article for attention. In other words, it is a form of showing off. Chua is entitled to believe whatever she wants, but she is not justified in boasting to the world how she mistreats her children.
To those who read and were as deeply affected by this article as I was— don’t worry, not all Chinese parents are like this. Many still promote independence, self-motivation and freedom for their children; the way it should be.
[Sources: The Wall Street Journal; The New York Times]