Partially Chinese Mother Is Only Partially Superior

3:02 pm in Culture, Education by Rayne

Fortune cookie cupcake (photo: abakedcreation via Flickr)

Last weekend’s piece in the Wall Street Journal by Amy Chua whipped up a firestorm of debate about parenting techniques heightened by racial, ethnic and cultural tensions.

What a pity, really. This should have been an opportunity to talk about the challenges parents share in common rather than polarizing them into Chinese/Western, obsessive-compulsive/loosey-goosey, dictatorial/complacent factions.

I should point out for starters that the Wall Street Journal’s bought-by-News Corp. editorial team kicked this off with the crappy, inflammatory but traffic-boosting headline they put on Amy Chua’s essay — “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” is just begging for a beat-down, isn’t it?

And I say that as a person of Chinese heritage.

Chua didn’t do herself any favors, either; she comes across as a real tyrant who in just the right community and state might be labeled an emotionally abusive parent. She’s sold herself on the notion that it’s just the Chinese way to bully children into complete submission.

Granted, she does say other groups will do the same thing, but still, there’s this smugness about her background. And granted, this particular essay is an advance peek into her book she hopes will sell like hotcakes; there’s some hyperbole to be expected but this seems a bit excessive. (You can be certain that when someone claims to speak for half a billion people of a single cultural group and gender, there’s some hype involved.)

On the other hand, I’ve gotten some mileage out of her essay here at my house. I asked both my blonde-haired, Asian-eyed 13-year-old and 16-year-old kids to read Chua’s piece; both of them had the same reaction, their eyes wide with disbelief that a parent could possibly be more demanding than their own mother.

“No sleepovers — ever?” said the 16-year-old, stunned at the prospect of not having a girls’ night with her peeps.

“No television, no video — ever?” said the 13-year-old, his thumbs moving in unconscious sympathetic reaction to the loss of an invisible game controller.

“Yeah,” I said, “Imagine if I went full Chinese mother on you and expected better than 3.85 grade point averages out of you. Just think of it!” I rendered my best imitation of my Asian auntie’s high-pitched laugh.

They were terrified. Good.

But not really… Read the rest of this entry →