When the NFL postponed the Eagles-Vikings game due to the blizzard, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell complained, "We've become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything... If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down." Now, to explain why Chinese kids seem more successful than others, Yale University law professor and mother of two Amy Chua has written a controversial essay in the Wall Street Journal, "The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, 'Hey fatty—lose some weight.' By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue."
The essay has already received over 1200 comments since yesterday, responding to Chua's various anecdotes and thoughts. For instance, her daughters Louisa and Sophia have never been allowed to: "attend a sleepover; have a playdate; be in a school play; complain about not being in a school play; watch TV or play computer games; choose their own extracurricular activities; get any grade less than an A; not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama; play any instrument other than the piano or violin; and not play the piano or violin." Also:
I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.
For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child "stupid," "worthless" or "a disgrace." Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child's grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher's credentials.
If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.
There's also a good one about Chua regaling a dinner party with how she called one of her daughters "garbage" because she disrespected her: "I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests."
There's no real middle ground for Chua, and some WSJ commenters suggest her kids, thought successful now in school, will be basketcases when they grow up. Sample: "As a Chinese daughter and a mother of two boys, I've given this a lot of thought over the years. Unfortunately, when parents consistently put performance over feelings, kids grow up not valuing how they feel. Overtime, this denial of emotions harden into other painful problems. Depression haunts so many of the Chinese families I know. If success at the price of happiness is the goal, then 'Chinese mothers' have it right. Otherwise, I'd venture to say it's woefully shortsighted." Indeed, one of Chua's children tells a friend, "I don't really have time for anything fun, because I'm Chinese." And a criticism is that the book ends when one child is 15—what about the rest of this kid's life? And the Twitterverse is offering reaction like: "The brouhaha over Amy Chua and her Superior Chinese Mom essay does prove 1 thing: Chinese moms' gift for overgeneralizing + overreacting" (via) and "Parents like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian-Americans like me are in therapy" (via) and "Hey, thanks for being a borderline pyscho stereotype in order to justify your shitty parenting, Amy Chua" (via).
Why the essay? Well, it's an excerpt from Chua's book, Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother, which hits stores on Tuesday—and it's currently #49 on Amazon. Her husband is Jed Rubenfeld, a "strikingly handsome" fellow Yale Law professor and novelist whose second book is hitting stores the week after. One commenter says, "I hope you realize that this type of parenting has caused many young asian males, while academically successful, to become socially awkward, creativity challenged and low self-esteem, which funny enough, were probably the reasons why you didn't want to date or marry one of them." Oh, snap! But let's face it, the Wall Street Journal's owner is Rupert Murdoch, whose wife is Chinese, so he's totally invested in promoting the book!