US vs Tiger Mothers, Lion Fathers – UPDATED

Our Sunday Visitor is carrying a piece of mine looking at the controversial question of whether the berating Chinese “Tiger Mother” is truly superior to the doting and timid “you’re so special!” Western mode of parenting. I am of two minds on it:

In America we have allowed genuine excellence to be sacrificed upon the altar of our children’s self-esteem, and our barely earned praise has become a kind of cheap grace. In our schools, every test gets a star, every assembly gets a “participation certificate” and every sporting try gets a trophy. Often children do begin to realize that when everything they do is overpraised, their specialness has been undervalued through condescension. That, in turn, reveals the flimsy foundation upon which their self-esteem has been so carefully built. Such a realization can be shattering.

Still, to Western sensibilities, Chua’s methods can seem extreme. Chua relates being called “garbage” by her father, noting it inspired her to work harder and never made his love feel out-of-reach. Relating at a party that she had replicated his method on one of her extremely successful daughters, Chua found herself immediately ostracized, and also the cause of some Western High Drama, as one party guest “broke down in tears and had to leave early.”

That response forces the question: Have Americans become such hypersensitive violets that they cannot bear a bracing wind?

Six years ago, then Harvard president Lawrence Summers suggested that the underrepresentation of female scientists at elite universities could partly be attributed to “innate” differences between men and women. His remark caused a female biologist from MIT to dramatically depart the meeting in a near swoon.

Perhaps some of this is a reflection of cultural differences that seem sharp-edged in the first throes of immigration, but eventually dull. My mother, born of an impoverished, knock-about family of Irish immigrants, seemed to believe that raising her children with a psychic callus would serve them well in the world, and so she dished out the criticisms along with the boiled potatoes. Being the stumpy member of my otherwise-tall family, I never did understand what was particularly funny about being referred to as “the after-birth,” but, on the other hand, I have never had to exit a gathering of people because someone’s perspective gave me a case of the vapors.

Read it all and answer the poll

Meanwhile, Todd Zywicki takes a look at Anthony Esolen’s book, Ten Ways To Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, and American parents shouldn’t feel great about this, either:

While professor Chua conscripts her daughters with compulsory three-hour violin and piano lessons (leaving open the obvious question, “What is so special about the violin or piano as opposed to the cello, trumpet or, for that matter, fly-fishing or baseball?”) Mr. Esolen says we should encourage children to pursue their passions and develop a love of those activities for their own sake, regardless of their utility. Whereas Ms. Chua insists on world-class proficiency in the hobbies her daughters pursue under the belief that such things are fun only after one becomes expert, Mr. Esolen instinctively sides with G.K. Chesterton’s tribute to amateurism that anything “worth doing is worth doing badly.”

If Ms. Chua sees American children as needing more structure and control, Mr. Esolen urges the opposite – fewer play dates and music lessons and more free time for play, reading and tree climbing. If we want to destroy children’s imagination, we should fill up their time with scheduled activities, tell them what books to read and what instruments to play and, above all, stress that none of this is to be enjoyed for its own sake but merely as steppingstones to eventual admission to Harvard or Brown.

These articles are of-a-piece, in a weird way, with my column yesterday on the audacity of being uncredentialed.

It is a wonderful thing to sit in a classroom and grow in knowledge, if one is in fact doing that, but often it seems that degrees should be awarded in going through the motions; they come without a genuine expansion of thought, or an enlargement of wonder. And, to paraphrase Gregory of Nyssa, it’s the wondering that begets the knowing.

Clearly, there needs to be a balance between achievement for sake of excellence and excellence born purely of passion, and unimpressed with what anyone else thinks. Educationally (and perhaps otherwise) we’re schizophrenic. We want our kids to have the best opportunities but we hobble them with insipid curricula that are too heavy on social engineering and too light on personal accounting. We watch the government pay lip service about the importance of a good education and the crippling effect of poor schools upon our young, then we watch the same gasbags do everything they can to prevent poor kids from getting into good schools, because they’re real concern lies with their union-filled coffers, and not the kids.

UPDATE I: Evangelical writer and Baylor University Fellow Thomas S. Kidd has more thoughts on raising boring children and Esolen’s book.

UPDATE II: Timothy Dalrymple’s thoughts on why we have children:

We have children because love overflows. I believe as a Christian that I am created in the image of a God who is Love, a God whose love so desired an object that it brought us into being. Although the wisdom and power of love within us is clouded and twisted by sin, still the image of Love is there. We have children because love is essentially creative, and because our souls long for other souls we can love lavishly and forever.

Love precedes the beloved. That is why it is unconditional. In bearing children we participate in God’s continuing creative act, and in sustaining and guiding and sacrificing for our children we reflect God’s redemptive act. Theologically, then, we have children because we are made after the image of a God who had children, a God who is irreducibly relational and endlessly creative.

It’s unimaginable that we could forget that, but we do. You’ll want to read it all.

UPDATE II:: Shrinkwrapped looks at the limitations of parenting:

Most parents have a tremendous narcissistic investment in their child(ren) and unconsciously love those aspects of the child that resemble what they value in themselves and hate those aspects of their child that they detest in themselves. Finding way to minimize the effects of one’s unconscious Narcissistic investment and tolerating, even enabling, the child to find and become the person he wants (needs?) to be, is a rare skill in parenting. Some Chinese Tiger Mom’s will, in between the demands of piano practice, find ways to encourage or at least tolerate their child’s interests and developmental diversions, even while being disappointed that he prefers the flute (possibly an acceptable instrument) or the guitar (unacceptable) or, God [they-don't believe-in] forbid, baseball. An argument can be made that a parent who wants a child to study piano 3 hours a day and is able to compromise on 1 and 1/2 hours a day exchange for allowing their son to go to baseball practice or their daughter to learn to cook (or go to baseball practice for those very few girls who prefer) is a mother who is able to set her own narcissism in second place to the needs of their child.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Mandy P.

    You know, it really should be a balance between the two extremes. I push my children. But certainly not to the point or the degree where Ms. Chua pushed hers. For most people, it is in our nature to slack off and procrastinate. So you have to push children a bit because they have to learn how to do things, and do them well, on their own.

    On the other hand, I tell both of my children how much I love them and how well I think of them every single day. I want them to know that I love them beyond what they can fathom, and because of that love I want what’s best for them. Which is why I am strict, a stickler for rules, and push them to go beyond what they are comfortable with sometimes.

    And the bottom line is that it is our jobs as parents to prepare our kids, as best we can, to live in the world and to hopefully be responsible for themselves. If you treat your kids like trash, they’re going to be emotional messes. But if you never push them out of laziness and self-indulgence, they will never learn how to excel at anything. I think that extreme parental behavior in either direction can produce the same thing: children who grow up unable to cope with the world.

  • Anne B.

    Let’s see if either of Chua’s daughters are still speaking to her, five years from now.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    In my opinion, Amy Chua is a terrible mother, because she doesn’t have much respect for her husband, and keeps him out of all the parenting decisions.

    A good mother doesn’t do that to the father of her children.

    Okay, I’m cynical (and paranoid, too, I confess it!) but I find it interesting that all this emphasis of Tiger mothering, and the greatness of Chinese parenting comes at the very same time that Obama is wining and dining the Chinese premier at the White House, and we’re being informed that China is now a leading world power, and our friend—even as a Chinese pianist plays an anti-American song at the White House—and gets away with it; woot for China, we should all be more like the Chinese! Stop spoiling your kids, you wimpy Americans, raise them to be more like the Chinese, instead!

    Considering China’s history throughout the 20th Century, and the darker side of Chinese parenting (girl children, and defective boys abandoned in orphanages), no, I don’t think acting more like the Chinese is a good idea.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Also, I’m getting tired of the whole, “American parents are just lazy, and emphasize self-esteem too much!” meme.

    Back in the city we used to live in, my husband and I sat on committees to improve local education; we, and our comrades in arms (so to speak) spoke out against things such as dumbing down standards, too much emphasis on self-esteem, not teaching kids basics. We supported school choice for parents trapped in neighborhoods with bad schools. We fought long and hard for higher educational standards—with little success. When he was a teacher, my husband refused to dumb down his math classes when the new, politically correct math came in, and taught the kids the traditional way.

    I have friends who’ve made sacrifices to get their kids into private schools, or home school. In fact, home schooling has became a huge movement over the years, with websites and special curricula to support it. So, why aren’t we talking about “American Eagle” parents, who sacrifice their time, income and risk getting in trouble legally, to teach their kids at home when their local schools aren’t doing the job? Americans parents do care about their kids education, but they get no support, and no attention—or, at least no favorable attention. The ones trying to get into private schools are portrayed as snobs, indulging in “white flight” from the cities (even if they’re black themselves); home schoolers are portrayed as weird fundamentalists, as are school choice supporters.

    Rather than trying to be “Tiger Mothers”, why don’t we go back to the basics of American education, and try again what seemed to work just fine for us, back in the 50′s, before all the educational “reforms” set in?

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    And there’s something to be said for free time in which to think, explore and just let your mind stretch. As the great Frank Zappa once said, “If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.”

  • Roger

    I’m not particularly interested in reading it, but I’d be curious to know if in her book Chua addresses the different manner that Chinese parents have traditionally treated their male and female children. Being that traditional Chinese culture tends to be male dominated or centered, girls in that culture were not looked upon very favorably, and as such, were not really encouraged by their parents to excel in anything like academics. That Chua herself was apparently pushed to excel in school as a child so that she could “be all she could be” as an adult is a testament to the influence that Western/American culture, which inherently values equal opportunity for all people regardless of race or sex, had on Chua’s parents. To this extent, for Chua to assert that Chinese parenting is superior to Western parenting is wrong insofar as the “Chinese parenting” she’s espousing isn’t really Chinese.

  • Joseph Marshall

    “In America we have allowed genuine excellence to be sacrificed upon the altar of our children’s self-esteem, ”

    Just a quick question Anchoress, how many of your friends, acquaintances, and neighbors actually do this?

    Whenever I read overly broad generalizations like this I strongly suspect that the writer is merely indirectly quoting other writers, who are indirectly quoting still other writers, who simply have come to the conclusion that since everybody is saying it, this is what is so. Both your article and your blog post seem to have plenty of these sweeping generalizations.

    There is plenty of excellence in real and particular children to be found out there if you go looking for it–from the Olympic gymnastic trials to America’s Got Talent–but true excellence is possible only for the gifted few. Excellence requires both education AND talent. And talent is rare.

    I have been reading for decades about how parenting on the Asian Rim hothouse forces genius–first it was Japan and now China. It also creates quite a problem of childhood and young adult suicides among those whose talent is totally exhausted in the hothouse, and who see no hope or point to life If they cannot please their parents with “excellence”.

    The point of any education in art, music, competitive sports, and so on, is what it does for the child, not whether or not the child can be put on display. First, it is there to identify talent if it exists. Second it is to teach that “if you play when you practice, then you’ll practice when you play” or whatever the equivalent is in any other sport or artform–in other words it is there to teach the average individual how to enjoy the labor and effort no matter what their level of talent.

    Many years ago I taught briefly in one of the top level New England prep schools with a fine program of competitive sports and league competition among other prep schools. All the prep schools in the league knew what they were doing and divided the students into several skills levels so that no team played in games that it was impossible for them to win. So even when they lost, the kids loved it. And no matter what their talent, ALL of them obtained the real benefits to life of the sports experience.

    I envy them. All of my physical education in school did nothing but yoke me to children of greater talent and force me constantly to lose. I hated it, and with good reason.

    “We watch the government pay lip service about the importance of a good education and the crippling effect of poor schools upon our young, then we watch the same gasbags do everything they can to prevent poor kids from getting into good schools, because they’re real concern lies with their union-filled coffers, and not the kids.”

    If you live where I do what you watch is the constant failure of school levies killed by voters who are of the opinion that there is no reason why they should pay to educate someone else’s children. Most of these people went to public schools. It never seems to occur to them that someone else paid for THEIR education. Apparently they think it happened by magic. Just like all government services happen by magic–so no one should ever have to pay taxes. The notion that well-educated citizens are a public good for which all the public should be responsible is absolutely absent where I live.

    We have gasbags of our own. They are largely Republican and remain in power by encouraging the inane illusion that “Government should only do what benefits me and my sort of people personally, and me and my sort shouldn’t have to pay any taxes for it to happen.” Ohio has a constitution that explicitly mandates the State to provide material support to schools. It was written that way in 1803 and remains so today. For years there has been a standing order of the Ohio Supreme Court for the State to create a statewide school funding plan.

    What have our gasbags done? They have simply ignored the order. Of course, this is America and the “rule of law” only applies to you and not to me, and the explicit social contract between a government and the people is revocable by the gasbags at any time and returnable without notice. Particularly if it happens to put my nose out of joint by asking me to pay for anything the government does for you and your kind of people.

    What kind of people? Just guess. When I graduated from High School, the notion that well-educated citizens are a public good for which all the public should be responsible was an unspoken axiom and the results a matter of pride worth paying for.

    What happened? Well, all of a sudden the city was faced with the prospect that white children everywhere would have to go to school with black children.

    For two decades after not a single school levy passed. Not one.

    And it didn’t matter that the children of the people who voted down the levies suffered just as much from the slide of the school system into mediocre and then absolutely dreadful.

    The children simply didn’t matter. Period. Just like they don’t matter to the gasbags, and the people they preen to vote for them, now even if the schools in your system can’t repair the roof, let alone teach art, music, sports, purchase computers, or even purchase new textbooks.

    It’s been this way in some school systems in my state long enough for people who got dripped on by the leaking roof to grow up and vote down school levies of their own.

    By the way, when they are not counting the ill-gotten gains in their union coffers, people in the teaching business do observe one phenomenon that is well-nigh universal. The more kids you stuff in a classroom, the worse the result. This occurs even to the best teachers out there.

    There are other things that can be done to improve our schools. But there is only one cure for overstuffed classrooms.

    Money. You know, the stuff that grows on trees so the gasbags can harvest it and provide services for me and my kind of people.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    And, while there are some foolish families who spoil their chhildren, and the schools certainly over-emphasize self-esteem (hey, it’s easier than teaching!) are we really, as a people, guilty of being too easy, and too kind, to children? Look at our child abuse statistics—and our abortion statistics; look at our scandalous foster care.

    We do not, as a country, appear to like kids very much, or to be overly concerned with their self-esteem, or anything else about them.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Joseph, if you and your “Kind of people” really want money, it might be better if you didn’t refer to the people you want to pony up as “Gasbags.”

    And, no, it doesn’t grow on trees.

  • Manny

    What Chua doesn’t do is descrimnate on the parts of the Chinese child raising that work and those that don’t. There’s no evidence that berating children leads to better results. Yet expecting more from children, having a disciplined approach to learning rather than some nebulous intuitive approach, and building on a child’s accomplishments are certainly positive for the child. You don’t have to be heartless to have a successful child. Discipline and kindness can go together.

    I loved Dalrymple’s thoughts.

  • william

    Much of mainland China is still impoverished and not playing the violin. Chua’s parents were part of the Chinese community in the Phillipines. Many successful Chinese in the US are also really from Taiwan not mainland.
    I send support monthly for deserted babies in Beijing and half my clan is Chinese through my wife. Chinese have flexibility problems. That is why they play classical music because it has no radical spontaneity demands as jazz does. It’s all written down already. It’s a controlled gestalt….safe.

    Jazz is about flow and non control. They therefore produce no Miles Davis nor a Chris Botti…and likewise they do not drive well because it is an area wherein you cannot control many things. We can learn more control from them without going overboard as some of them do. They can learn flexibilty from us. It will help them in very important areas and in less important areas like driving. The young Chinese in our family call it DWA…..driving while Asian. But it is really about control which feng shui is about also. Hence their problem with a Pope.
    That for them is an outside male from Europe….seeking control.

  • wildiris

    Before you beat up on American students too much, if your opinion is based on that international student assessment that came out last year and ranked USA students among the bottom of the industrialized nations, then you need to check out this re-ranking of the data based both on nationality and ethnicity

    When USA-Asian students are compared to other Asian countries, they beat all but one participating Asian region. When USA-white students are compared to their European counterparts, they beat every nation except Finland. When USA-Hispanic students are compared with the few Spanish-speaking countries that participated in the assessment, they beat all of them too. No sub-Saharan African country was included in the assessment, but by all estimates USA-Black students would have beaten their African counterparts hands down.

    These results are as un-politically correct as you can get, so make of them what you will.

  • Joseph Marshall

    Well, perhaps I’ve been too hard on our Republican legislators. And I presume that Elizabeth has also been too hard on the government officials in New York that she calls “gasbags”, too.

    As for money growing on trees, let me be explicit about the fact that I have never had children and I worked in the secondary school trade for only one term, at a private school, at the request of a friend who needed help in an emergency.

    So money going to schools has personally benefited me in no way whatever since 1969.

    I have never voted against a single school levy, Not one. And I have paid my share of school taxes with my full heart’s support.

    “Americans parents do care about their kids education, but they get no support, and no attention—or, at least no favorable attention.”

    The question is not how much do they care about the education of their own children, but how much do they care about everybody else’s children.

    The only reason for public schools at all is that everybody has a vested interest in everybody else being able to read, write, and think as well as possible. If that is not the case then everybody should home school, or pay for private schools if they can afford it. Or remain illiterate if they have no one to do either of these for them between the ages of 5 and 18.

    The school problem in Ohio is exactly as I have described it. The commonplace of people complaining about what government does to them while remaining obstinately and willfully ignorant of what government does for them [and I mean for THEM and not somebody else] as well as willfully and obstinately ignorant about what their taxes are actually buying, both for them and everyone else, is exactly as I have described it. And the cynical encouragement and exploitation of this willful ignorance by the Ohio Republican Party is exactly as I have described it.

    I would be curious to know how large your husband’s class sizes were at the beginning of his career and how large they were at the end. And in all your meetings did anyone even ask the question? Did they even look at the problem of how to improve the “bad” schools at all?

    I know full well that money cannot buy “high standards”, but what it can do is give a good teacher the best chance they have of doing well–particularly if the roof is leaking, the textbooks are a decade out of date, and he or she is forced to set “high standards” for 35-40 faces on the other side of the desk.

    This sort of thing really does happen here in Ohio.

  • Tim Muldoon

    “Newspapers are filled with stories of bright and wealthy college students – almost all of them single children because of the state’s one-child policy – who kill themselves because they fear that they cannot fulfill their families’ aspirations.” See the Guardian (UK) story at

    Tiger parenting is the product of ramped-up consumerism in China pasted over Confucian values. Filial piety is a good thing–Americans can learn from the Chinese on this point–but it also serves as a platform for strict obedience to parents corrupted by consumer desire.

    Sure, there are extremes in the West; we tilt toward Harrison Bergeron (the novel by Vonnegut). I would offer the thesis that education is part montessori and part boot camp. Either extreme is likely to reflect the biases of the educators. It should be about allowing the discovery of talent, then the training on how to use it.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    We have payed our full share of taxes, too.

    My husband loved the kids he taught, I love the Sunday School kids I teach.

    His classes ran from about medium to large; he taught in public schools for about three years, with one stint in a smaller, private school for a year.

    Our son wasn’t born when we began trying to change the schools in our area, so we were trying to do it for everybody else’s children, not ours (we had none.)

    We did indeed raise the questions of how to improve bad schools, and schools in general.

    Never lived in Ohio. Never had anything to do with the school system there. Sorry if you had bad experiences, there.

    Frankly, I find your insinuation that people who try to change their schools don’t care about other people’s children. . . well, rather gaseous, shall we say?

    Yes, I agree that everybody has a vested interest in reading and writing. It would be nice if government run schools were more efficient at teaching the same, and that so many students didn’t come out of the public school system unable to read with much comprehension, or write a sentence. But, I suppose it is simply being a Republican gasbag, to even think of criticizing our fine, fine, public schools, which do so very, very much for us! Indeed, how can we criticize the government at all? It does so much for us! Let’s just give them more money!

    (Your post does tend to prove my point about American parents, who care about their kids’ education, tend to be simply dismissed, or insulted. Ah, well, we American parents are just fat and lazy! Really, we should emulate the Chinese!)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Tim, honestly. . . taking a look a Chinese society, and remembering the horrors of the 20th Century—which one writer has described as “Death by Government!” I sometimes think the best thing we could do, is to raise a generation of snarky, cantankerous, uncontrollable individuals, who’se attitude when asked to help ethnically cleanse their neighbors, or assist Big Brother in hunting down dissidents, is “Ahhh, giddoutahere!” “Get lost!”

    “Whatamatter wit’ you?” and other, less printable epithets. Maybe, in the tumultous era we’re facing, good grades and playing the violin won’t matter as much as being able to face down, and disobey, if necessary, Fearless Leader, the Father of His People, Comissar so-and-so!

    I mean seriously, Chinese society is nothing to emulate.

  • zmama

    Rhinestone Suderman wrote:

    “Okay, I’m cynical (and paranoid, too, I confess it!) but I find it interesting that all this emphasis of Tiger mothering, and the greatness of Chinese parenting comes at the very same time that Obama is wining and dining the Chinese premier at the White House, and we’re being informed that China is now a leading world power, and our friend—even as a Chinese pianist plays an anti-American song at the White House—and gets away with it; woot for China, we should all be more like the Chinese! Stop spoiling your kids, you wimpy Americans, raise them to be more like the Chinese, instead!

    Considering China’s history throughout the 20th Century, and the darker side of Chinese parenting (girl children, and defective boys abandoned in orphanages), no, I don’t think acting more like the Chinese is a good idea.”

    Rhinestone-You wrote exactly what I have been feeling lately re. the media’s adulation with China. As the mother of an 8 year old daughter born-and abandoned-in China, it troubles me greatly that we are holding up China’s economy as a model. China has been able to achieve this level of economic success in part because they refuse to set up the same system of regulations that we believe are important for the safety and welfare of our citizenry. They are sacrificing the health and lives of their citizens with horrific poisoning of their environment. They have undervalued their monetary system. They are known to use prison labor for some of their manufacturing. And they have a history of using forced abortion and sterilization to maintain their oppressive population control policies. But we have let them get away with it because we need our bargains. I am just as guilty as most anyone else in America shopping at discount stores. The past coule weeks-in light of the state visit and other praise of China in the media I have begun to grapple with my own part in supporting such a system with the items I purchase-yet now we as Americans are somewhat trapped and can no longer purchase many items made here. I too am cynical and think the state dinner and the comments in the SOTU are a way to kiss up to a monster we have helped create because we are now so indebted to China we have no other choice. I think we as Americans will have to answer to God someday for our part in tolerating China’s human rights violations.

  • Andrew B

    My standard for assessing any parenting trend is simple: Could my crazy mother do as well? When I say crazy, I mean it in a literal way. My mother suffered from periodic bouts of mental illness and alcoholism.

    In spite of these impediments, my mother did a surprisingly good job. She instilled discipline but was fair. She punished me when I was guilty but praised me when I deserved it. She never excused my bad behavior and would not countenance public tantrums. She seldom used corporal punishment (probably less than I deserved) but did not flinch from doing so when needed. All it usually took was for her to turn, point a big, calloused, nicotine-stained finger at me and say in a flat, quiet tone, “Don’t shame me.”

    If my crazy mother did it, others should too. Alas, I work with children every day, and many demonstrate that their moms can’t make it work as well as my crazy one did.

  • dry valleys

    I am told that Amy Chua’s idea are slightly more complicated than they are conveyed. You’d have to read her book for a full insight into what she thinks because reading digests in the media so often leads people astray. (I suppose she would tell me that I should read reports, speeches, bills etc rather than commenting on media accounts of them- well, I should, but I have a job that has nothing to do ith politics that leaves me with far too little time).

    I’d set against her claims those of people like Carl Honore. I have both his books (“Under Pressure” is an excellent one about parenting that I bought, despite being childless- hence I’m not going to devote my energies to reading a load of books about bringin up children- on the strength of his other book, thinking I’d like to hear his thoughts).

    You can see his blog at . As I say, those who take a stronger interest can consult the books.

    I really shouldn’t, but when I heard about the Kenneth Tong car crash ( ) I wondered whether he was brought up by a Tiger Mother.

    I can’t imagine we need any particular lessons from countries which may well have to strain themselves, with the poverty that exists within their borders, but we don’t. It may be necessary for them but not for countries that already have what they strive for.

    This is also related to the oft-heard cry that great feats of engineering, for example, are no longer done in the western world. Well, maybe that’s because having been done in the past we don’t need to repeat them. We lament technology destroying jobs but we forget that we are vastly more prosperous than our forefathers, even the unemployed being better off than middle-class employees of a century ago.

    Unemployment is a curse but with underemployment, a different (more widespread?) phenomenon, people can seek fulfilment outside their jobs. They can afford to to a far greater extent than a Chinaman who spends his whole life working because he has the raw need to.

    Herculean efforts may well be necessary when modernity is in its birth pangs in a country or amongst penniless immigrants but if Amy Chua’s daughters manage to avoid having total mental breakdowns, their grandchildren will just get bored like the rest of us. So will people in China, or sub-Saharan Africa, whom I refuse to believe are eternally destined to remain just where they are now.

    Not sure if this HTML works on the new system.

  • waltj

    Something that should be remembered: vast areas of China, most of it, in fact, are still impoverished, traditional backwaters where girl babies are (still) killed, where businessmen trying to wring maximum profits out of their products lace baby formula with melamine, pet food with cyanide, and use lead-based paint on children’s toys because it’s cheaper. China is still a place where the local schools are sometimes used as fireworks factories to make money for corrupt teachers (with predictable results), where the local “clinic” has only herbal medicines, where more miners die every year than in any other country, and where the government/party officials really are “the best that money can buy”. The prosperous areas in China are pretty much where they’ve been historically: in the south (Guangzhou), and along the coast (Shanghai), with other major urban areas like Beijing, Harbin, and Wuhan close behind. The interior, the far west, and the southwest still lag.

    I, too, find the current infatuation with all things China to be quite irritating. Yes, the Chinese do some things well, and have raised their standard of living greatly in the last 20 years. Good on ‘em, credit where it’s due and all that. But it has come at a high price, and China still has a lot of serious problems.

    I’m old enough to remember the fascination with Japan 25-35 years ago that was similar in many ways to what we’re seeing now with China. Japanese management, Japanese industrial policy (which, thank God, we never adopted), Japanese this, Japanese that, in 1980, the Japanese were thought to be the successor to the U.S. as the world’s economic superpower. By 1985, the bubble had burst, and by 1990, nobody with any sense was looking for Japan to dominate much of anything. Some Japanese companies were (and still are) cutting-edge, but their economy as a whole had stagnated. China may avoid the worst of Japan’s errors (or not, it’s early yet), but I’d be very leery of attempting to blindly emulate Chinese ways, including in child-rearing.

  • dry valleys

    Quite so, waltj, it is this poverty which explains the frenzy found in China. Once they attain standard of living that meets their material needs, which the haven’t done yet, they will become as decadent as we are :)

    With regards to the statements by some commentors, especially Joseph Marshall. One thing that children would benefit from is not only a civic society (look at Egypt to see the unhappy lot of a country where one doesn’t exist) but also public services. We are seeing the wrangling over cuts to local libraries in Britain. I feel this because I myself was a regular library visitor in childhood. Because I am from a very modest background, my parents were simply not able to have a book-lined house of the kind which I now learn is taken for granted among the chattering classes.

    Yet they too, alongside working-class people, do not think that famly wealth should determine a child’s opportunities or lack thereof. I don’t see any private-sector organisations that can take the place of the library, despite fatuous claims to the contrary that I’ve heard.

  • Joseph Marshall

    “When USA-Asian students are compared to other Asian countries, they beat all but one participating Asian region. When USA-white students are compared to their European counterparts, they beat every nation except Finland. When USA-Hispanic students are compared with the few Spanish-speaking countries that participated in the assessment, they beat all of them too. No sub-Saharan African country was included in the assessment, but by all estimates USA-Black students would have beaten their African counterparts hands down.”

    Okay, I went and read it. It is a classic example of how to lie with statistics by monkeying around with the terms of comparison. The agenda is to “prove” that “demography is destiny”.

    What is absolutely “uncorrect” about it is that there is no reason whatever to compare people whose great-grandparents came from Africa ONLY to the people currently live in Africa EXCEPT the agenda of “proving demography is destiny”.

    On that basis shouldn’t we also be comparing Americans who are Jewish only to Israel? And this despite the fact that their grandparents largely came from Poland or Russia?

    The African case is particularly spurious. The historical process of enslavement and discrimination effectively [and in the case of slavery, deliberately] stripped African-Americans of the language, connection, and cultural continuity with wherever they came from in Africa. Compared with Americans of Asian, European, or Latin American decent, all that remains are bare fragments.

    It is also noteworthy that the partisans of “demography is destiny” are the among first to mock African-American attempts [such as Kwanza] to collate those fragments and reconnect them to Africa in any way.

    As far is the Spanish linguistic basis of such comparisons goes, shouldn’t we be comparing Italian-Americans only to Italy, Swedish-Americans only to Sweden, Polish-Americans only to Poland, and Serbo-Croatian-Americans only to Montenegro? And what about Spain? Isn’t that the country against whom we should compare American Latinos if the basis is linguistic?

    To simply extend the logic of this type of analysis and apply it consistently is enough to reveal it as ridiculous.

    The REAL survey is a comparison of public schooling systems by country, not demographic groups of people. If it were the latter, the Jewish in Britain would also be compared only to Israel. To say nothing of the Anglo-Africans or Anglo-Indians and Anglo-Pakistanis.

    One of the most telling indicators of the weaknesses of our own school systems in teaching people how to think is that this sort of bogus reasoning passes for gospel among so many Americans.

  • zmama

    @waltj-Before the toys with lead paint surfaced here along with the poisoned pet food I sensed that in China the standards used for products within the country were lower than those produced for export. Eight years ago when we were in China to adopt our daughter-then a year old-I realized I had left behind in our freezer the teething ring I had meant to pack. I was happy to be able to purchase a new one in the hotel gift shop but when I opened the package I was almost knocked out by the overwhelming petroleum odor. I had never encountered any plastic that smelled like that here in the US. There was no way I was going to let my daughter put that in her mouth. A few years later came the outcry over the lead based paint in the toys. I told my family then we will likely see more of this in the future. No doubt when the factory owners realized they could not raise their profit margins by paying their workers any less, they were going to find other ways to cut corners. It was inevitable that some of those products made with the lowered standards they have for their own people would make their way over here. I’m afraid it will only get worse.

    As for the China mother vs the American mother I do find it somewhat amusing. I’ll have to ask my daughter what she thinks in another 10 years.

  • dry valleys

    “For the first time in history, even those of the most modest income are within a six-hour flight of a personal experience of the Mona Lisa or the churches of Toledo, Spain, not to mention having books and theater within financial reach”

    I don’t know what sort of low-income people Todd Zywicki’s been talking to, but none of them live on my estate!

  • Joseph Marshall

    Actually Dry Valleys, American public libraries were largely established by the private donations of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. And though they are now usually maintained by tax support, the sheer volume of money poured by Carnegie into them can still be readily seen by the permanence and quality of their original buildings [many of which still stand] and the extent of their original holdings, if you by chance happen to find the old, hand typed card catalogs back in storage.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    zmama, Waltj, is nice to know we’re not alone in being suspicious of the current ballyhooing of China! :)

    Yes, I too remember the obsession with Japan, and how it was, supposedly, going to take over the world, and become an economic titan! I worked in a bookstore at that time, and yuppie business executives were constantly coming in, ordering Miyamoto Musashi’s book, “The Book of Five Rings” because somebody in Forbes, or Wall Street Journal wrote an article about how this book gives deep insights into the way the Japanese do business!

    As for those “cheap” Chinese products, I think they’ll wind up costing us more than we realize. As for American vs. Chinese mothering. . . it will be interesting to ask those Chinese baby girls adopted by Westerners what they think of it, when they grow up.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Valleys, “As decadent as we are?”

    Given China’s forced one-child policy, the fact that its Nobel Prize Winner was unable to attend his award ceremony because he was sitting in jail, its gulags, its organ-trafficking, imprisoning of dissidents, the tens of millions who died under Chairman Mao. . wouldn’t you say it’s already pretty decadent, without any help from us?

  • Sal

    Many excellent comments all around.

    Or if not “American Eagle”, how about “Little Red Hen” parenting?

    ‘Then I’ll do it myself” said the Little Red Hen. And she did…

    This, I think, is the fear of many in control- that some may escape their purview.

    If your kid is a person, you want them to develop to fulfill their vocation. If they’re an accessory, then they’d better meet your expectations for reflected excellence.

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  • CV

    Like the rest of America, I have been fascinated by the Tiger mom and the rabid response to her. My first reaction was that the truth is probably somewhere in between (but then, I am an indulgent Western mom :-)

    We all have to live in this culture of over-achievement and her methods can inspire some discomfort with one’s own “self-image” shall we say, as a parent. On some level some of us western parents probably suspect that we could have done more to push own kids’ academic performance or been more willing to “put in the time” as Chua did. There’s a lot of truth to what she says about setting high standards and expectations, etc. And I agree that if someone becomes so upset at cocktail party chit-chat about differing parenting methods that they have to leave(!) there’s something amiss with that person.

    But on the other hand, commitment and high expectations should also apply to character development and raising moral and/or faith-filled kids. I didn’t read Chua’s whole book but I don’t get the sense that she was quite the same “tiger” in that area.

    I’ve seen a few of Chua’s appearances in promoting her book (Today show and elsewhere) and frankly she comes across as a self-absorbed, obnoxious, narcissistic “supermom”…the kind many of us would love to hate on the playground (if Chua and her kids actually went to the playground, which apparently they never did). She claims the book is more “memoir” than parenting manual, but I don’t buy it. She clearly wants her kids to be perceived as the best of the best, and she herself expects to occupy the same lofty pedestal as a parent. “Look at Amy Chua, she’s the best-of-the-best because she not only teaches at Yale law and writes best-selling parenting manuals but her kids play Carnegie Hall and are aceing their science and math studies at insert-Ivy-League-University-here.”

    The whole spectacle leaves me cold. In the end, Chua is less a role model for the best aspects of Asian parenting as she is a poster child for the very upper middle class western ideal of ultra-achievement, win every trophy there is to win, get 1600 on your SATS and admission to an Ivy, etc.

    I suppose there’s always the possibility that Chua also educated her children about developing their talents and working to the very best of their ability in order to give glory to God, but from what I’m hearing that doesn’t seem to be part of her book.

  • dry valleys

    The original comment I made was quite tongue in cheek. I meant that the west is decadent by the sort of standards Amy Chua would apply, yet that China might end up becoming just the same as it becomes more prosperous, & would be better off for it.

    I yield to none in my criticisms of the Chinese way of doing things, I was actually trying to express that, albeit maybe none too clearly.

  • Rhinestone Suderman


  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Exactly. Control is the real issue, here.

    (And the over-hyping of China, which we’re getting a lot of at the moment.)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    zmama, we are, indeed, trapped, but, if you check on-line, you can do some research, and find a lot of things still made in the USA, or ally countries, such as Israel, or Japan.

    It’s best to abvoid the big box stores: “Walget” and “Targmart”(I know it’s hard). You can find an amazing array of stuff in thrift stores (and the money goes directly to the charity they support). Check out local food stores, farmers markets and businesses, too.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Oh, and I love the phrase, “Little Red Hen” parenting! Very apt! (Been there, done that. . . )

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