This Mother’s Day, will Asian mothers around the world be receiving a little bit more gratitude (or resentment) than usual from their grown-up offspring?
After all, like it or not, the image of the Asian mother in the West has changed in the eyes of many, possibly forever, thanks to Chinese-American author Amy Chua’s book and memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which exploded onto the US scene at the start of the year.
More recently, Chua, who’s also a professor of law at Yale university, was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, for (according to the accompanying blurb) having ‘hit us where it hurts, questioning our parenting, our kids’ educational achievement and our nation's ability to compete globally in today's world.’Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
So what’s so striking about the book—Chua’s personal memoir of raising her two now teenage daughters—that it’s ignited such fervour in the press and public? Back in January, Chua told the media that in the week after the Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from Battle Hymn, she received hundreds of emails—which included death threats.
Perhaps it’s Chua’s assertion that Chinese parents simply raise more successful kids through a certain rigid method of child rearing that includes strict rules such as: no sleepovers, school plays, TV, or computer games, (and even stricter rules like: no grades less than A and no instruments other than the piano or violin). Or perhaps it’s her admission of using surprisingly drastic parenting techniques, such as food deprivation and verbal abuse.
In the end, some will argue it may be harsh, but it works—including Chua’s 18-year-old daughter Sophia, who last month started her own blog to address the issue and defend her mother’s parenting style. Her first post tells us she’s been recently accepted to both Yale and Harvard, and is currently trying to decide which to attend.
Others, like our own China Power blogger Jiang Xueqin, may disagree. Jiang has questioned the attitudes of Chinese parents today, who he believes often tend to place status (getting into an elite overseas school) above actual education and growth, and he has highlighted some real-life examples of ‘tiger mothers’ from his experiences as deputy principal at Peking University High School.
Meanwhile others, like China-based Daniel Bell, author of China's New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society, seem conflicted. Bell recently told me that Confucianism, the ancient Chinese philosophy that he believes is making a major comeback in Chinese society, places a very different set of values on education from Chua’s tiger mom view.
‘It’s much closer to what we’d call humanistic education,’ he explained, which emphasizes the arts, such as ‘sports and music and calligraphy.’ From a Confucian perspective, the current system is quite problematic, he says, as ‘Confucians would take a much more broad view of what the content of education should be, as well as the purpose… really emphasizing moral education as well. So to the extent that there’s this view that East-Asians are narrowly focused on highly competitive forms of education especially on math and language, is really not the product of Confucianism.’
However, at the same time, Bell himself believes there are merits to the current Chinese educational system, which he sees as being ‘focused on preparing students for the university entrance examinations, centred on math and language.’ He explained that if the current system wasn’t in place, ‘Communist Party officials could just promote their sons and daughters and it would be this much more skewed and kind of nepotistic system of education.’