Parents like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian-Americans like me are in therapy

January 8, 2011 · 407 comments

in Inspiration, Relationships

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All day long, people have been telling me about an article headlined: “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” And I’ve had enough! I’m posting my reaction so that I don’t have to keep talking about it. Getting to the point: the piece is crap. But its writer, Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua, is also a marketing genius. Let me explain….

The article ran in this morning’s Wall Street Journal. It’s an excerpt from her memoir, which hits book stores on Tuesday. With everyone in the Asian American community jabbering about it, she and publisher Penguin Press are getting tons of free publicity for “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”

If, like me, you’ve never heard of this woman, don’t worry. The entry about her is oh-so-current. Yes, it just happens to have a link to today’s shrewdly-timed Journal article. Hmmm.

As for the actual piece, all I can say is that Chua is a narrow-minded, joyless bigot. Don’t waste your money on the book. I’ll even spare you the drudgery of reading her essay by giving you highlights from the Journal excerpt:

  • Chua begins by explaining that the reason “Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids” is because the children are totally controlled. She doesn’t let her kids do sleepovers, have playdates, be in school plays, watch TV or mess with computer games.
  • Her two daughters are also forbidden from choosing their own extracurricular activities. They have to be the top students in every subject except gym and drama. They must bring home A’s.
  • Kids need to be relentlessly drilled to achieve. “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it,” she writes. By the way, taking piano and violin lessons are a must.
  • This overachieving — and overreaching — author writes about the time her father inspired her to excellence by telling her that she was “garbage.” A proud product of her upbringing, she once mentioned at a dinner party that she had, in the past, called her own daughter Sophia “garbage” — to the child’s face. Ugh.

This is a photo of Chua and her kids that was in The Wall Street Journal article, a self-congratulatory essay that goes on and on. You get the idea. Chua buys into the hardcore, traditional Chinese approach to tough love.

This is so sad because we’re talking about values that have nearly ruined so many of us.

Of course, what’s really sad is that Chua is perpetuating very dangerous ideas:

  • Haven’t we had enough of over-pressured, guilt-ridden Asian immigrant and  Asian-American college students committing suicide and acting out???
  • Who gave her the right to define what is means to be “real” Chinese? Do all Chinese people have to behave like this to be authentic?
  • If you look at the Wall Street Journal photo of her daughters, they still look like girls to me. Isn’t it frighteningly premature of her to hold them up as examples of her success? Would a good mother really behave like this?

I know casual observers will think Chua knows what she’s talking about because she teaches at Yale, and is a graduate of both Harvard College (magna cum laude) and Harvard Law School.

Well, there’s a dirty little secret about these lunatic, prestige-whoring Chinese parents that Chua represents. For all their lusting after the elitism of Ivy League degrees, what they admire more than anything is financial success. So on that note, I would like to recommend a different book for you to read: Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.”

A dear friend recently gave me a copy and I’m enjoying every page of it. This bestseller has been #1 on both The New York Times and Wall Street Journal lists. Even more than that, “Delivering Happiness” was the most popular gift book item for 2010, according to Publishers Weekly.

This memoir by Tony Hsieh tells how he co-founded the Internet company LinkExchange. He sold it in 1999 for $265 million, when he was 24. Later, he went on to help grow the footwear website into a $1 billion company. Along the way, he revolutionized the shoe business. Oh my goodness, he’s only in his mid-30s!

Like Chua, he’s also the American-born child of immigrants of Chinese heritage (his parents are from Taiwan). He writes about being a kid who was forced to play four musical instruments and pressured to study hard. Like Chua, he went to Harvard, too.

But read the book. The young man had fun! I found his memoir inspiring — and not just because he’s made money while I’m still sitting around counting my tiny stacks of George Washingtons.

I am in awe of people who get outside the box to do something different, something creative and original. Tony — may I call him Tony? — has a fabulous story. He didn’t submit to the browbeating of parental values and immigrant culture. Instead, he took chances, fumbled and made mistakes. That, in turn, gave him the wisdom to trust his personal vision.

But getting back to Chua’s essay. In it, she writes: “I’m happy to be the one hated.”

Poor thing. It’s the only time the word “happy” appears in this excerpt from her book.

As for me, I’m happy to be the one…who is finally happy. I sucked at piano, which my mother made me study because she had been a child too poor for lessons. My grades in college were so bad that one semester, I had a straight D average. Screwing up academically was the only power I had over my dad, a tyrant who wouldn’t let me take art or English courses.

I’ll spare you the rest…for now. You can read more details someday in my memoir. Haha.

Anyway, that’s my rant for tonight. Don’t bother with Chua. Instead, let us go on, with tenderness for ourselves and our children. Let us explore the joys of having a real life.


And if  you want to know why Amy Chua’s messed up — just like us — check out:

“Forget Amy Chua. Bigger fish to stir-fry: 4 ways I’ve been conned by Confucius.”


On May 12, 2011, Amy Chua spoke for the first time ever to a group of Asian American adults. I was there. My reaction:  Amy Chua Can’t Be Trusted.


Jan. 22, 2012 — Hey, Happy Year of the Dragon to you all! As long as we’re on the topic of Chinese cultural obnoxiousness, maybe you’ll like to check out my post about the dragon. The old boy needs some new moves in the love department because he doesn’t treat his phoenix/woman very well. Click here. ~_~


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{ 353 comments… read them below or add one }

lina lee January 8, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Betty, Wonderful note. As an Asian mother, I agree with your viewpoint 100%. Many Asian parents control their children and force their narrow-minded value to their kids. I am so happy you speak so well for me.


Shirley Bubbles January 8, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Hi! Betty, What a coincidence? My former Daily News colleague emailed that WSJ to me yesterday. I did not continue to read after a few paragraphs, it recalled my unhappy childhood.

One thing I can say, no matter how Chinese parents try to order their children to get straight A, it never happens to all the children work out that way.

For me, I never got straight A no matter how hard my mom tried to push me. I used to very narrow-minded due to my mom’s parenting. It took a long long time for me to find “myself” and the living value after making a lot of mistakes and learning different lessons in reality.

You go girl!


betty January 9, 2011 at 12:01 am

thanks, lina and shirley. i mean really, what is the point here? what does getting A’s have to do with The Meaning Of Life?


Shirley Bubbles January 9, 2011 at 12:15 am

Many Asian parents want their children to get A’s to show off how superior about their parentings in academic without teaching their kids the true values in life. Many of them referred getting straight A’s = you will earn a lot of $$$ after your college graduation.

My parent paid for my college education but I was “so lost” after graduated from the college. I did not know how to cope with the reality to make a living especially I was NOT a straight A student.

I could not pursuit my personal goals until I have become financially independent!

I am glad I have learned Healthy & Happy are the most precious things in my life. Without healthy, no matter how much $$$ you have, it is kind of worthless and you cannot be a happy person.


Shirley Bubbles January 9, 2011 at 12:41 am

Finally, I finished reading this WSJ article. I feel very sorry for her daughters + her hubby! She is just another dictator living in the modern world. Well, let’s wait and see for the rest of her life with her kids! :(


Diane January 9, 2011 at 12:50 am

Thanks so much, Betty, for coming out with this. I read the article this morning, and thought, hmm, maybe I could be a bit more firm with my daughters’ academic efforts. But hearing your side confirmed what I suspected: this “tough love” parenting method makes for unhappy people! Why weren’t her daughters interviewed in the piece? I’m sure Chua had their mouths carefully taped shut. It must be especially hard on these two girls to be the only kids their fairly privileged community to have NEVER gone on a sleepover, sampled an extracurricular of their choice, played a computer game, or watched TV. What do their friends (if she lets them have any) think of that?
Anyway, thanks again for this post — I’m going to go and give my girls a hug. And hugs to you!


Elizabeth W January 9, 2011 at 1:37 am

Fascinating. I think I will add “Delivering Happiness” to my library hold list on you recommendation. I love an interesting memoir, and I only read business lit when it’s sharp and interesting. My curiosity is piqued.

I can’t imagine ever calling a child “garbage” as a deliberate parenting strategy. Shudder!


Laura Madden January 9, 2011 at 8:10 am

Yowsers Chua is raising a couple of unsocialized people-bots. Imagine what their hopefully inevitable rebellion will be like.


betty January 9, 2011 at 8:43 am

diane, even if someone interviewed chua’s kids, they would behave perfectly. they don’t know anything else. it was only when i started therapy — in my 30s — that i finally got mad at my mom.

until that breakthrough moment, it never occurred to me to rebel against my mom. i always saw her as an ally against my impossibly boorish father. then i saw the truth. she was a manipulative, self-involved, unfulfilled woman who lived through her children. after a while, even the shrink got tired of my anti-mom rants. “it’s time to move on and take responsibility for your own life,” she told me. “you’re an adult now; you have the power to do that.” (mom and i made peace right before she died. my post on that:

and elizabeth, “delivering happiness” is worth reading! i won’t spoil it by sharing details. but trust me, tony did NOT put his nose to the grindstone at harvard. he wasn’t good at the violin either. my only regret is that he didn’t pay better attention in his english classes…he keeps making one particular grammar mistake throughout the book. it’s a very common error. here’s my teacher-y post about my pet grammar peeve:

btw, laura, the issue of chinese parents isn’t just confined to the chinese. as chua points out in her essay, there are people of other races and ethnicities that she embraces as honorary chinese because they think like her. sad.


Noel January 9, 2011 at 11:16 am

Very interesting post, Ms. Liu! I’m a sophomore at Columbia University and a member of the AAJA NY chapter and while I definitely don’t agree with Professor Chua’s methods, I do believe that my parents’ tough love made me much stronger as an independent person (I know tough love can also destroy a kid though). Luckily, they were never as strict as Professor Chua — I did my fair share of school plays, I was constantly flying to NYC by myself in high school, and I was captain of a cheer team (something a lot of Asian parents at my school forced their daughters to stay away from). Of course, this was all contingent on me getting straight As, so I guess the tough love was still there. I like to think that as we get older, we’ll have that internal Chinese Mother inside our heads to keep things in perspective (I still value family as the most important thing in my life), but that we’ll continue to follow our own hearts and dreams.


betty January 9, 2011 at 11:42 am

thank you noel! glad to hear that you feel good about your upbringing. thank goodness you had fun activities! but just as you make room for your internal Chinese mother in your head, please consider guarding your heart from her relentless meddling. there is much for you to explore in matters of love, creativity and self-expression. that internal mom might not always approve of where you’re going with that stuff. :)

p.s. — please call me “betty.” even my students call me that.


June January 9, 2011 at 11:38 am

Betty, I guess I’m a failure in Ms. Chua’s world. My two sons were were involved in sports, community service and doing what children should be doing.


bigWOWO January 9, 2011 at 11:42 am

You wrote:

“”Well, there’s a dirty little secret about these lunatic, prestige-whoring Chinese parents that Chua represents. For all their lusting after the elitism of Ivy League degrees, what they admire more than anything is financial success.”

I love it! NOTHING is more true than your statement above. And I don’t think I’ve seen anyone say it as well. Totally lunatic, totally prestige-whoring, and it’s always about the money.

Thanks for the post!


betty January 9, 2011 at 12:02 pm

june, you done good with your boys! long live sports, community service and having fun! and thank you, bigWOWO — i am so sick of the phony elitism too. why not just say that you want to be rich?


osangjin January 9, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Aruging that the kids “won’t be happy” and instead you can be “rich AND happy” seems to be a bit of a weak argument. That still plays into the “if you aren’t rich – you are a loser” mentality, doesn’t it?

Yeah, I’d like to hear her talking about happiness a bit more, I guess. Even more so, I’d like to know that these kids would have a hint of a clue about empathy, justice, compassion, kindness, and sensitivity. I see Chua and her ilk floating through their “winner” life, either unable to see or entirely indifferent to suffering around them.

I seem to recall this Chinese guy, Kongzi (aka Confucius)…. obscure as hell, not really “real” Chinese, I know. He had this insane philosophy whereby a person would be measured not by their wallet, prestige, or even their happiness, but by their kindness, their benevolence, their humaneness.

仁: REN, Amy Chua. Look it up. Damn.


Shirley Bubbles January 9, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I second Betty re: mom.
I am a little different from Betty~ I made peace with my mom after her death.
She appeared in my dream once a while.


betty January 9, 2011 at 12:28 pm

osangjin, yes, of course, you are onto a larger issue of how we express our humanity. but is it weak to suggest that you can make $ without being miserable? i think this is a good place to start re-educating people. people need to relate to big altruistic themes on a personal level. as for confucius, i plan to blog about him soon. in my book, he is public enemy #1.

and shirley, funny you should mention dreams. i saw my mom two nights ago too. we are each onto our next journey now. and i go forward knowing that she loved me in her own demented way.


lou January 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Indian mothers are like that too — speaking from my own experience growing up and by watching my sister and, now, my nieces in action! (Me — and later my nephew — broke out by dropping out of engineering programs, which is the second choice of every Indian family! My nephew is smarter than me — after a liberal arts degree, he got his MBA and is doing very well in a big corporation. Therefore, has become the kid who made good and lived up to expectations even if he didn’t become a doctor or an engineer!)

As I mentioned when the Rutgers suicide story broke, it’s this type of upbringing with its lack of socialization and sensitization that leads to incidents like that involving Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei. (They were not anti-gay bigots, but lacked social maturity or awareness of consequences and acted in a very juvenile manner in a serious manner, like it was a middle school prank.)

As you talked about finding yourself, we have to find ourselves and our place in society — and understand society — on our own!

Strangely, the only regret I have is that my mother didn’t make me learn music when I gave up on it at 9 (unlike in the case of my sister, who was made to study classical vocal music till she finished high school).And an add about my nephew and nieces: My nephew’s kids are now also raised with the same expectations and the academic and music push. But a difference is that they seem OK with it, because they also get their sports and other fun activities with their parents.

The kids of my niece in California live in a parallel universe. They take all this as the norm: Their schools are almost 90 per cent Asian — Chinese, Korean and Indian. Their music teachers are Chinese immigrants; their Kumaon was run by Koreans. All their friends are Asian — Chinese, Indian or Korean. Parents in the area have begun to add sports to their kids routine there — only because they have realized that it will look good on the college applications! They have even discovered community service! When the kids in the schools grow up and move into the real world, they’ll be in for a shock — who it is made up of and what it’s like!


osangjin January 9, 2011 at 1:03 pm

I’m sorry to have miscommunicated both of my points.

My argument is not, “I don’t think you can be rich AND happy.” Obviously you can. My argument is that if we say, “you can be rich _and_ happy” we concede too much to Chua, who can simply reply, “my kids ARE happy.” Then we are left arguing whethere or not the kids are _really_ happy, which can’t ever end well (who are we to say who is or isn’t “really” happy?). It is the focus on being rich, having prestige, and equating “success” with those things that is so problematic and prone to creating seriously messed up kids. Given that the vast majority of the kids will not grow up to be rich (happily or unhappily so), or go to Ivies, or be doctors/lawyers/musical geniuses, it seems a very poor path for human personal development.

Second, re: Confucius. I’m no unabashed advocate of Kongzi (his vision of gender is flat-out evil, but reading his works thoroughly, I can’t deny that his overall teachings have many progressive elements that have been ignored by his followers, who I think are more worthy of the moniker public enemy #1). What I was trying to do was show that her bigotry and vision of Chinese supremacist thought isn’t criticized merely by the “Western” critics she mocks, but by the pre-eminent philosopher in the ethnic tradition of which she claims to be the standard bearer.


Madeline January 9, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Hi Betty,

Glad you wrote about this. My youngest sister just talked with me about over the phone and how the article/book rubbed her the wrong way. Chua should really just speak for herself! And yes – I found the photo on the WSJ eerily creepy and a little sickening.



Shirley Bubbles January 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Agree with Madeline and Betty~ Chua’s family photos with her daughters were kind of weird to me. She should speak for herself and NOT the entirely Chinese parenting or Asian family group.

Ironically, now most of my Asian friends and Chinese relatives I know in Asia, they spoil their kids a lot, it seems going to the extreme directions in these days. It turns out most of them are very impolite and very self-centered in social life.

I am NOT a parent. However, I always think too liberal and too strict in the parenting is NOT healthy at all. You have to keep a balance in between.
Plus every child has her/his own personality, you cannot use one rule to apply for them at all.


Gino neutrino January 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Please don’t take this the wrong way…but you are right.. And I can see it from the other side. I’m a pro musician and most of my closest friends are as well. As a group, we just hit 30ish but have all the accolades already! Some of us have grammys, some play world tours, some write backround music for millions, and some are Artists in their own right. Here’s the thing… We are all from different countries and backrounds AND not a single one of us was PUSHED to it by an overbearing parent. We were never forced to practice, it was always fun, and we made it!!! Great blog.


betty January 9, 2011 at 2:06 pm

osangjin, your clarification is brilliant! really appreciate your explanation.

and madeline, i hope you forward this link to your sister. everyone’s talking about the wall street journal piece. and everyone needs to know that chua doesn’t speak for the majority — or maybe, not even the minority.

the comments on this post are even more important than my original rant because y’all give voice to the private thoughts of real asian american moms, dads and children. thank you, thank you!

right now, i really feel like my blog has become my online living room. sweet.


betty January 9, 2011 at 2:24 pm

gino neutrino, thank you for representing the musicians! citizens from your world can NOT be forced to do anything! btw, do you know that I always wanted to be a drummer? a few years ago, i bought a drum kit and took lessons. i’m way too inhibited to be any good but i still feel like i found a missing piece of myself.

and in terms of treating each child as an individual, shirley, i want to share about my daughter’s piano lessons. when she was little, i once complained to my shrink about what hard work it was to force my kid to practice. i thought my shrink would praise me for being a diligent mom. instead, she said something like this:

“how dare you interfere with your daughter’s pleasures! by yelling at her, you are making the piano all about you. it’s not about her joy anymore. music is about joy. now you’ve turned it into a matter of pleasing you. back off!” i did. (or, um, at least, i do most of the time. hehe.)


Gabriel Rom January 9, 2011 at 3:29 pm


Nice post. Chua, for all her academic credo, is most definitely a controlling (and crazy) mother. I can only thank my cosmic luck for landing a Mom who let me have sleepovers and allowed me to play computer games when I was (god forbid) in 3rd grade.

But there is one point that Chua raised that I think has some merit:

As mentioned by a few of the other commenters, I think America could learn something from the rest of the world in terms of discipline. Our educational system (in my experience at-least) tends to shy away from teaching through rote memorization and repeated exercise. It’s all about teaching kids to succeed in “their own unique ways”, which can easily turn into an excuse for kids to work way under their potential without any repercussions. (Disclaimer: I fell into this camp for many years of my academic life. It feels right in the moment, but leaves you empty handed in the long-run.)

Approaches to education needs to come in moderation. We don’t want lazy slackers who don’t appreciate some good old fashioned hardwork just as much as we don’t want high-strung, narrow-minded overachievers. A middle-ground that encourages individuality as well as good study-habits and respect for hard-work seems healthiest too me. Unfortunately I doubt the word ‘Balance’ comes up in Chua’s conversations with her kids, or herself, very often.


Steve White January 9, 2011 at 4:03 pm

I go to MIT so I see a lot of products of “successful” Chinese parenting. I agree more with your portrait of the impact than hers.

I a lot of Chinese people seem to have low self-esteem. Many of them are either completely romantically inhibited or binge (presumably) being restrained so long. I don’t see how that is a great life, even if you get an MIT degree. Some even admit to only being here because it was more prestigious than an Ivy (if they didn’t get into Harvard) even though they don’t see math or science as their calling!

When they survey people around the world, Asians always score very low in self-reported happiness. You could say thats because they are poor–but its true of Hong Kong and Singapore too. I think it has more to do with feeling empty–the “success” of being able to play that piano piece doesn’t fill you up for very long, but the weeks of suffering, tantrums, and bullying sting for at least that long.


Ann January 9, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Betty – I was premed at Brown and thus had a lot of Asian American classmates who were being pressured by their parents to do medicine. I didn’t see the WSJ article but thanks for the heads up. I always cringe at these “model minority” type articles about Asian Americans. Does that make African Americans and Latinos – the non-model minorities?
Love your blog – keep up the good work.


Gloria Moy January 9, 2011 at 4:43 pm

I think you dad and my dad might have been related. Clearly one of the major points of contention was my poor academic performance. For the record, not all Asian Americans are excellent students.

Professor Chau who may think she is doing the right thing in the way she is raising her kids DOES NOT speak for or represent all Asian Americans. I hope her kids can get out of her grasp.


betty January 9, 2011 at 5:17 pm

gabe, thanks for your take on bringing structure to the classroom. i believe in discipline too. but if you’ve never been subjected to the asian approach to merciless drilling….well, it’s pretty bad. but i will take to heart your comments and see if i can offer more drills for my classes next semester. they can thank you for it!

steve and ann, how wonderful for you to weigh in with your experiences from “good schools.” very valuable to get that perspective. and gloria, we both know how hard it is to make that jail break. on that note….

I HAVE A PERSONAL MESSAGE HERE FOR AMY CHUA: amy, if you happen to be reading this blog, i wanted to pass along a suggestion from a friend. this pal emailed me and said that maybe you should try therapy. i always thought getting shrunk was for self-indulgent white people. and i was leery at first, because my shrink was white. what could she possible give me?

but she turned out to be the good mom i never had. i also learned to stop judging by ethnicity and color. dee was a fiery and opinionated jewish grandma who never ridiculed or judged me. she wanted to know what i wanted out of life — and how she could help me get there. isn’t that what mothering is about?

it wasn’t until my own mom was on her deathbed that i got the love from her. she finally stopped talking (she was so weak) and listened. sometimes we just sat there and held hands. at the end, she told me she loved me and that she was proud of me. my point is that even chinese moms are capable of growing in a way where they can heal their children instead of wounding them.


Spike January 9, 2011 at 5:48 pm

As a Caucasian living in Asia more than 10yrs, I am surrounded by these sorts of parents. And in deference to how I raise my child (a lovely daughter). Chua is a misguided, narrow minded, abusive, greedy, mentally disturbed freak who probably has a wasteland of skeletons in her closet. I feel sorry for her children – and sorry for Chua who will die one day, a loveless, miserable woman still looking for the end of the rainbow.


Mimi Chen January 9, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Hey right on sister! kudos for saying it the way it is. glad I wasn’t the only one who resented being pigeon-holed into the ‘one parenting style fits all’ sterotype. My mom just made sure she got me great piano lessons and that was it. What I did with my life was my own doing. Besides that, this woman thinks academic achievement of a bazillion degrees equals success. Hmmm, tell THAT to Mr Harvard dropout Bill Gates!


Lydia January 9, 2011 at 7:51 pm

When I read the article, I honestly thought this Amy Chua was trying to write a satire piece and thought (hoped) that she was a creative writing professor or something. Many people have described the article as hilarious. I grew up in the Asian-American community and did not know anyone this bad. My parents had expectations, some of which were not consistent with mine, but nothing like what she describes. Like the previous poster, my mother sent me to piano lessons. That’s about it. There was never any expectation of going to Juilliard or playing Carnegie Hall. If Amy Chua is peddling this article as truth, then she is just shamelessly trying to draw attention to herself and reinforcing negative stereotypes about Asians along with it. Also thank you for the recommendation on Delivering Happiness. I saw this book at the airport and it looked interesting.


Gene January 9, 2011 at 8:13 pm

The article certainly clarified why certain parents have a huge problem when their child is mentally or physically challenged. There is no need to see these wonderful children as ‘shameful’. Why would they accept a cultural norm that is so obscene?


Gen Kanai January 9, 2011 at 9:33 pm

If you haven’t read the thread on with Christine Lu’s powerful rebuttal of Chua, I highly recommend it.


Emilia January 9, 2011 at 9:38 pm

I loved this rant, Betty. Really, really good points. It sounds more like Chua herself needs to be in therapy, or an institution. I mean it’s one thing to raise your children how you do, but to publish it and to actually SELL the idea of restricting children that way? Absurd. Maybe she’s trying to convince others that it’s the best way to raise children because it would secretly affirm her own childhood was not wasted, which it sounds like it was.

There are ways to be firm and give tough love without stifling your child’s personal development, whether that be creative, academic or, Hell, even social. But, holy crap! Amy Chua needs a reality check. I hope she notices if her children cry at night.


Aisha January 9, 2011 at 11:43 pm

I winced through most of Amy Chua’s piece. It is horrible to insult your child and call her names like ‘garbage.’ The scene about getting her young daughter to master a difficult piece on the piano with threats, manipulation and fear was heartbreaking. It is possible to be a strict parent with high expectations without resorting to such techniques.


Nina Chen January 10, 2011 at 1:56 am

I just hope the WSJ article doesn’t damage more millions of children – enough harm has been done already.

I find it interesting that the WSJ and Chua both focus on mothers – as if fathers have nothing to do with parenting.

My parents were both very much like Chua is described. I started violin at 3, piano at 7, quit music at 17 and still hate classical music with a passion. I fled the family home, getting a PhD at Columbia because I knew it was the only way I could escape the home. I have survived multiple suicide attempts and still hear my parents’ voices scolding me whenever I make mistakes, which is several dozen times daily.

I speak to my parents as rarely as possible, delete most of their emails, immediately shred all the classical music CDs they keep sending me, and live thousands of miles away so that I don’t have to visit more than once every two years. During those visits I stay in a hotel and refuse to stay in their home more than two hours or so; otherwise I get suicidal again.

They are desperate for grandchildren but I have vowed not to start a family until both are dead. Why? Because I would never expose a child of mine to my parents, not even for a short visit.


Jackie W January 10, 2011 at 4:42 am

Hi Betty:

I first saw the review of this book in Entertainment Weekly and was appalled that someone actually published a book on this topic. It really dredged up a lot of painful memories. To my parents’ credit, they were so interested in making sure that we had as an American upbringing as possible (my mom was from Taiwan, coming here in 1960, and my dad was American), so I did have the sleepover and play dates. But it ended there. I think there is another side to this demented parenting. My mom came from a very poor village in Taiwan so for her success was using her outer beauty to get out of the village as her education stopped in jr high. She met my dad while she was working at a dept store and then came here. Sure they both wanted me and my sister to have things they never had and they wanted us to succeed. As the younger daughter, they were hands off with me – completely non-involved with my life, but wanted to take the credit for my success. And then there was the emotional onslaught from my mom because I did not measure up to her criteria of success which was to be a lithe, beautiful, half-Asian girl. I had to leave to go to school on the east coast, to get away from her and to live my life. With my daughters now, I know they are smart, but I would never say to them the things my mom said to me under the guise of motivation. That’s just wrong. I feel sorry for Amy Chua’s girls. Their upbringing is now public and they will have to deal with the questions of CONCERN, while Amy Chua thinks she won the Mother of the Year Award.


betty January 10, 2011 at 6:12 am

these emotional comments are so moving. we are a scarred community, aren’t we? thank you all for sharing your experiences and reactions. it’s almost funny to read how often the piano has been an instrument of torture.

spike, emilia and jackie w, i feel sorry for amy chua’s kids too. mimi and gene, thanks for pointing out that individuality has such tremendous merits! lydia and aisha, i also initially thought the amy chua piece was satire but then i winced through it too. and yes, do get “delivering happiness!”

as for suicide…nina, thank you for your brutal honesty in sharing about your relationship to your parents. thanks, too, to gen kanai for the link. everyone, it’s worth a visit. christine lu shares how this superior parenting crap drove her “perfect” sister to commit suicide.

sigh. we are really dealing with profound issues here.


Jane January 10, 2011 at 6:43 am

Some people suggested that this was more of a satire, used to market the book, especially when reviews of the book talked about Chua “being humbled by a 13 year old”. The subtitle of the book, I was informed, said: “This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. This was supposed to be a story about how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones.
… But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.”

I run a website on depression (guess why I made the website) and over the recent years, have heard more from the products of the type of parenting that Chua espouses as superior. It’s both painful and disturbing to read from both adults and teens alike on how years of belittling and emotional manipulation/abuse have left a profound effect on their psyches. I can’t even begin to describe the demons these people struggle with, and it’s especially hard for me to read the feedback from young people.

If the opinion piece was meant as a controversial flaming teaser to get the author and her book “shock and awe” publicity, it worked. I hope she sells enough copies of this book to make worthwhile against the costs to her conscience that will come, and have come, because of her approach to marketing it. There will be some parents who will take this piece literally, and point to it as proof and justification for their “Tiger Parenting” methods.

I’ve said this several times already and I’ll say it here too: anyone can force compliance from a person by using physical and emotional terror methods. It It’s not rocket science: it works on animals too. I consider this the basest form of gaining compliance from a sentient being, and in fact, this disproves Chua’s argument that “Chinese Mothers are Superior” and supports the argument that “Chinese Mothers are Inferior” if they have to resort to physical and emotional manipulation to prepare their young. They are conditioning a world-view in their offsprings that this is how the world works, and how “love” can only work. Superior methods will gain compliance from a child by eliciting that child’s desire to cooperate, which means the parent will need to get creative and actually use some of that evolved intelligence and consciousness that humans continually tout they have over other species.


Helene January 10, 2011 at 9:24 am

The dialog surrounding the WSJ article has been amazing and interesting. As I write this, two days after publication, the number of comments is closing in on 1,600. My husband noted that Bill Gates wrote an article on Africa and the mess there and that only has 187 comments…
I just wanted to put out there that not all Chinese parents are/were THAT kind of Chinese parents. My own were academics who viewed happiness as the path to true success, and so encouraged friendships, extracurricular activities and following our hearts. I may not have a million-dollar home, but I’m happy with a great family of my own, and have a wonderful, supportive relationship with my mom. We are as much friends as mother/daughter. I have absolutely no recollection of my patient and gentle dad, who passed away 14 years ago, of ever losing his temper or yelling. When I think of unconditional love, I think of him.
That being said, my husband’s relationship with his parents is probably more similar to those of other commenters to this blog. He talks to them only occasionally, even though they live nearby. At age 40-something, the constant criticism continues. He remembers very little of his childhood because very little of it is worth remembering. As a mother, this saddens me more than I could ever articulate.
When I first read the WSJ article, I thought for sure that Ms. Chua was only, maybe, 75% serious; the other 25% being tongue-in-cheek. My husband read it as dead serious. When I read it again, I moved over to my husband’s train of thought. Which saddens me even more. My heart goes out to her children and to all the other children in this world who grow up believing they are not worth something if they don’t have the grades/achievements to show for it.


betty January 10, 2011 at 10:50 am

helene, so glad to hear from you. thank god not all of our parents were horror shows. thank you for sharing this. clearly, we have gotten into something here that’s core for all of us. has me wondering what I should blog about next. so many directions to choose from….


Leslie January 10, 2011 at 11:13 am

AMEN, sister!!! You’ve absolutely nailed it on the head. I came to Chua’s article much like others did, via email from a colleague. When I read the title in the subject line, I started to chuckle in anticipation of a Dave Barry-esque satire. Even halfway through the article, I was so stunned by her extremism that I kept waiting for the punchline. Sadly, it never arrived.

My parents weren’t nearly as dictatorial as Chua, and yet the resultant scarring was almost as significant. As Asians, it’s not just our parents who hammer those expectations into us, it’s our entire culture (not to mention the pressure from “outsiders” that view us as model minorities.) I was the youngest of three, with two brothers who both a) went to Harvard; b) became doctors; c) married doctors; and d) had all sons. I grew up as a musician – my choice, actually – and my parents’ way of being supportive was to assure me that “it’s okay if you want to become a musician, because your brothers are going to be doctors and they’ll be able to support you.” At the time, it sounded reassuring. By the time I reached 40, the undertones of that messaging, and the way that it impacted my life, sent me running for therapy.

I have to say that working with a good therapist is one of the greatest, most profound experiences that one can have. There were several “aha” moments for me, but one that I’ll never forget is when I finally – FINALLY! – realized that there’s no such thing as perfection. Therefore, my lack of perfection wasn’t due to a lack of hard work or effort, but to the fact that perfection is an ILLUSION. By extension, then, my mother wasn’t perfect either, an idea that I had never allowed myself to embrace. When my therapist asked me how that made me feel, I giddily replied that I was ecstatic. She was surprised, because apparently most people mourn the loss of the idea of their perfect mother. To me, all it meant was that I was off the hook. And it was life-changing!

I’ve pursued a life in music, but not as a performer – I’ve been an arts administrator for well over 20 years. However, my parents have only expressed approval at my latest career move, because I’m now a Dean, which is a title that they enjoy sharing with their friends. Hopefully they’ll get a lot of mileage out of it, because one of my secret, long-term ambitions is to become a great barista. Not sure how they’ll spin that one…

Also, I can’t wait to read Tony’s book! Thanks so much for pointing it out – it sounds like, in some ways, he’s speaking for all of us.

Thanks again, Betty. You’re clearly a kindred spirit, and we’ve got your back! :-)


Nina January 10, 2011 at 1:30 pm

You are so right! And Tony Hsieh’s book is fantastic. Thanks for writing this. Lunatic, prestige-whoring (that line made me laugh) people of any ethnicity are dangerous and mostly, ever so annoying.


Janice January 10, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I agree with you that Amy Chua is crazy. I also think she was probably exaggerating in order to garner attention for her book.

That being said, however, underneath the craziness and horrible stereotypes about Chinese women, Amy Chua’s piece provides an inkling (and I stress INKLING) of a legitimate critique against the type of parenting that white, middle-class parents extol.

I teach a pretty diverse set of high school students, and over the years, I’ve realized that the “Chinese Mother” parenting model is closer to how a lot of working-class Latinos, eastern European immigrants, Asians, and African-Americans treat their kids. I think we need to understand that the borderline coddling and emphasis on “self-esteem” and “emotional development” that a lot of white, middle-class parents lavish on their kids is a PRIVILEGE, a choice that not everyone has.

When I went to college, I was surprised at how many of my white classmates would hate their parents for the smallest things, while my own mother spent 20 years of her life on her hands and knees working a job she hated just so I had a shot at college. I think this is the perspective that Chua and her own parents come from. I can understand that.

I am Chinese-American too, and I definitely grew up with the archetypal Chinese parents. However, I started rebelling pretty early, and the only thing that kept me from dropping out of school altogether was the ass-beating and emotional badgering from my strict Chinese mother. Honestly, if my parents didn’t push me as hard as they did, my ass would have never gone to college. Like Chua, my parents assumed that their daughter do better doing, and that she was stronger than she realized. Looking back, I am eternally grateful for this.

Ultimately, there needs to be a balance between “Western” parenting and the crazy Chinese Mom parenting that Chua talks about. As stupid as I find Chua’s arguments, at least it is a starting point for discussion.


JulieD January 10, 2011 at 3:50 pm

I am a Vietnamese-American and I resonate with some of the things you say here and I was also deeply disturbed when I read Amy Chua’s article. I just remember thinking growing up and even as adult, is it so hard for my Mom to say she’s proud of me? She has said it a few times now that I’m grown up, have a college education, am married, have a career and own my own home. I think part of it was that she was often worried about how we were going to turn out because she was even a single mom for a period of time. My biological father was exactly like Amy Chua describes down to her bullet list to what her kids are allowed to do. He believed in corporal punishment. I just call him an abuser. I have no relationship with him nor do I want one.

I don’t have any children and am not sure if I want any and I’m sure this stems from my childhood. Thank you for your reaction to her article, I will not be reading her book.


betty January 10, 2011 at 3:53 pm

jane and leslie, it means a lot to hear from folks like you who are involved with therapy. everyone should have the privilege of therapy at some point in their lives. it completely transformed me too. as for nina — a “delivering happiness fan!” yay! and yeah, janice. it’s all about that elusive quality called “balance.”

on that note, another thought…i hate to admit this, but there’s still a lot of the asian mom in me. over the years, i’ve really worked at breaking out of the tough love mold. not easy. maybe it’s not all bad. at the end of the fall semester, i was giving out goodbye hugs when one student told me affectionately, “thanks for being a good asian mom.” i was so surprised! but i took it as a compliment.


stillhere January 10, 2011 at 7:18 pm

I was the epitome of the Chinese-American success story who behind the scenes was emotionally beaten into submission by his parents who were hell-bent on such narrow-minded “success” that they were willing to sacrifice everything — including their son’s well-being for it.

I went along with it for far too long for my own good.

I did it because I loved my parents.

I wanted to make them proud.

And for this, I sacrificed everything.

When I finally bucked up and decided not to continue the myth that had become my life, they were relentless in their shaming of me.

Now, I struggle every day.

Because of the horror of parents like Amy Chua.

Shame, shame, shame.

There is life and meaning beyond the Harvard name.

Amy Chua makes me want to puke.

She is why kids like me kill themselves. Every day.


Anita Lau January 10, 2011 at 8:15 pm

I commend you on this. As an Asian I know full well the reason why I am so screwed up emotionally and it took me a long time as an adult to overcome it. Yes, it is exactly the reason why we are in therapy!!

I’m a parent and I do not agree with that sort of tyrannical behavior towards my child. I’m not completely lenient either but I’d like to think I’m a far better balanced parent than my parents ever were.

Thank you for your article.


lh January 10, 2011 at 8:33 pm

i loved your article. the pursuit of life is has a higher calling than academic achievement and musical excellence.

thanks betty!


JGregg January 10, 2011 at 8:43 pm

can’t wait to read both books. i’m troubled by some of the harshness of Ms. Chua’s rhetoric from the WSJ article, but i also know that as a parent of two boys, there are times when your kids are completely working you and you need to respond vigorously to their scheming ways! the Hsieh book looks amazing, though, and one that i’m more likely to need and find helpful (as a founder of an Internet company that now has over $4.5 million in revenue).

thx Betty!


betty January 10, 2011 at 8:58 pm

thank you all! sounds like we have a lot more reading and talking to do on this topic….


AC January 10, 2011 at 9:10 pm

A Amy Chua-isque system makes no sense to me. If a classroom is filled with only Amy Chua-isque families, and only 10% of the class can receive an A, then 90% of these families will have “failed”. If 90% of a society is unhappy, is this a good system?

On another note, I have no idea why I should read the memoirs of such a financial or academic outlier as a Harvard cum-laude Yale professor, or a multi-millionaire multi-business starter. I think, it would be more pragmatic to read the memoirs of someone who is more of a “median of society”. Most people, by definition (assuming a Gaussian distribution), are closer to the “median person”, than the “ultra-winner” at the far end of the distribution. To my understanding, by observing the actions, experiences and mistakes of the “median person”, I am more likely to learn a lesson which can be applied to my own life.

I’m grew up with similar parents, and I remember holding a lot of enmity against them. Sure, they took me out of a 3rd world country, and blessed me with food, shelter and education, and I am grateful for that. However, I was still bitter about great expectations, and growing up seemed to be more adversarial than collaborative. As a result, there was a toll on my own sense of security and confidence, both of which, I believe, are critical to a happy life.

However, around when I attended University, I created a distance from my parents, and they became less ‘strict Asian parents’ and more casual friends with me. I guess they feared alienation from their own off-spring. Similarly, I also warmed up to them. Therefore, I think it’s possible for Amy Chua-isque families to shift gears and “recover” as well (if you want to call it that).

Sorry if this sounds like a paper.


Erin January 10, 2011 at 9:49 pm

Boycott Amy Chua!
She need not make a profit from her pulpy narcissism.


ContrapuntalPlatypus January 10, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Here is my response to the Amy Chua WSJ piece, written from a piano teacher’s/educator’s standpoint and discussing the limitations of both the “Asian” and “Western” approaches:


Jake January 10, 2011 at 11:00 pm

What a brilliantly written article.

I am an anglo husband of a chinese wife, and I can completely relate to this article.

Although I admire my wife for her commitment to our son, we are in constant conflict over her need to berate the child, to tell him that he is “no good”, to voice her opinion to him that he is intellectually handicapped, and to compare him to some mythically perfectly competitor (who changes daily), and is never satisfied with his progress.

I genuinely fear how my son will continue to suffer the demands of his mother.


IHaveManyAsianFriends January 10, 2011 at 11:03 pm

I have many Asian friends in America. Many of them even born here. But under a strict totalitarian rule of their parents.

As a result, the kid succeeds in getting good grades because he devotes all of his time to studying and impressing his parents. As a result, he lacks common sense, lacks social abilities to the point that he cannot make lasting friendships with anyone, lacks basic logical and critical analysis. Is completely gullible, and falls easy prey to any authority giving him information. His sexual education is zero, and will probably live the rest of his life asexual unless he finds a conservative Asian girlfriend somehow raised in the same way, who is aggressive enough to be with him. He lacks social etiquette. He has no idea about friendships. He doesn’t understand what to say or not to say. He doesn’t understand that when someone calls you, you call them back. He lies to his friends about important stuff because all that matters is his own success and desires. Selfishness becomes a central part in his philosophy.

His parents have turned him into a stereotypical socially inept asian american, with an illusion of happiness. He is a grown man, but lives with his parents, because he has no control over his own life. I cannot imagine such a person can survive in the real world alone.

I have been friends with him for 7 years, through college. I wouldn’t dare tell anyone about him except the anonymous internet. I feel pity for him because he’s raised in such a strict religious Chinese family.


MS Chi Hua Chua January 10, 2011 at 11:05 pm
AH January 10, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Interestingly enough, if my experience with Asian-American parents was aggravating, it didn’t get REALLY bad until I got to college. Like so many Asian-American kids, I had piano and violin lessons. What my parents didn’t expect was that I’d actually come to LIKE music – they thought playing piano and violin would look good on college applications, and expected me to quit both the day I got into college. They actually ended up spending all four years trying unsuccessfully to pressure me to quit my college orchestra and playing chamber music, and that, more than anything, was what eventually put me in therapy. Eventually my parents accepted that I would always be a musician on at least some level – I’m now in law school and still devoting much of my spare time to musical pursuits.

The same, to a lesser degree, happened with sports, which also looked good on my college applications. My parents also spent four years trying to get me to quit after I walked onto my college soccer team. (This was perhaps a little more justified by frequent injuries and the fact that I hardly played even when healthy. That didn’t make it any less maddening.)


Ellie January 11, 2011 at 12:03 am

I stumbled on this website when I googled Amy Chua, after reading her essay with disbelief. Not disbelief that people think like that, but that anyone would publish that garbage, or that anyone would want to see this sort of child abuse promoted as somehow acceptable.

I’m not Asian, but I had a mother who had a lot of similarities with Amy Chua. I literally felt sick reading Chua’s guide to how to emotionally abuse a child – my heart was pounding, and I felt my stomach turning over. I had to stop reading it at points to get my feelings – brought on by vivid memories of what much of my childhood was like – under control..

Like Chua’s poor kids, I was only allowed to get A’s, and was screamed at and made to feel like “garbage” for a B+. Playdates – and friendship in general – while not strictly forbidden, were so thoroughly discouraged as to be virtually forbidden. Weekend socializing, even in highschool, was limited to the occassional formal party (sweet sixteens and the like), with casual getting-together, seeing a movie, etc., forbidden (I was supposed to be grateful for being allowed to go to a formal party two or three times a year). I was informed, on no uncertain terms, that friendships and socializing were a waste of time, and not good for anything – “success” was all that mattered. (My mother tried to shove music lessons down my throat as well, but failed at that only because I am really and truly tone-deaf.) The ultimate goal, of course, was prestigious-college admission and a prestigious career – the only thing my mother cared about.

The end result of all of this? Depression, bordering on suicidal, while I lived at home. (I remember thinking about killing myself in elementary school, because I was scared I would do poorly on a test. I thought about swallowing pills, but didn’t because I was afraid I’d fail at dying, and then I’d REALLY be in trouble.) When I got older, endless obsessive thoughts about how I might run away from home. Misery. Crying myself to sleep, almost every night, for years, because I was SO VERY TIRED of school, and work, and pressure, and grades – and because I was so very lonely. Sleep deprivation, from ridiculous loads of advanced-course homework. Seething hatred of my mother. Borderline eating disorders. Lack of understanding of how to have a healthy relationship, resulting in lots of unhealthy relationships as an adult. My father was a decent but weak man, and who lacked much say in the way my mother ran the family, but he was responsible for most of the few happy memories of my childhood. Also, there were “cracks” in my mother’s control – I got away summers to camp, and escaped at home via books and art (I was allowed to go to museums, as that was “educational” – but art was often much more subversive than my mother knew.)

But you know what was worst of all? Reaching adulthood with nothing to my name but a fancy college degree (although not as fancy as my mother had hoped, of course). By the time I left college, I had little of value – no clear sense of identity, no understanding of my own interests, no understanding of how to make a happy life, no idea what to DO with myself (having figured out that I didn’t actually WANT to be a doctor or a lawyer), and no base of friendship or social support to draw on.

Having escaped my mother, it took me decades (and thousands of dollars of therapy) to find myself and start pursuing my own life and interests. I’m middle-aged now, and no longer as unhappy as I was as a child and teenager under that woman’s control. But I would never say that I’ve had a “happy” life – just that I’ve managed to find a place of peace, where I’m at least not really UNhappy. I don’t have children, and I will never have children. I thought about it, but in the end, it always came back to “I could never do that to someone” – i.e., bring another human being into this world and risk having them suffer as I have.

I’ve known others who were raised like me. Every single one of them turned out one of two ways: either as narcissistic, superficial, materialistic “success” stories with various combinations of anger-management problems, health problems, and substance-addiction problems; or as melancholy oddballs like me.

I don’t know what to feel about Amy Chua – I cycle between rage that she could do what she is doing to those poor children, and pity that there is something the matter with her that caused her to become whatever excuse for a human being she pretends to be.


WWH January 11, 2011 at 12:20 am

As a Western father with an Asian wife living in an Asian country, I laughed with my oldest daughter after reading the WSJ article with her. I really don’t mind the hyper intense competition here in Asia. What bothers me is there is no alternative for many kids.It is a system that demands 100% (or more) participation and intensity just to stay in the game.I try to encourage my daughters to have the best of both worlds. Try to get the most out of the competition but don’t sacrifice everything just to keep up with the crazies. Healthy participation in sporting activities is also 100% supported by me.


Frank January 11, 2011 at 12:26 am

“these lunatic, prestige-whoring Chinese parents that Chua represents” and then “We’re elevating the conversation to the next level”. No, Ms. Liu, I think you’ve lowered the conversation rather substantially to at least the debased level of name-calling. You and I might not agree with Amy Chua’s apparent approach to parenting, but those derogatory terms are no more applicable to those targets of your wrath than they are to us. Ms. Chua may or may not be the “narrow-minded, joyless bigot” you’ve judged her to be. I don’t know and since I’ve no interest in reading her book, I’ll never be able to form an opinion on that. Were I to make a firm conclusion based on this short posting of yours, I could come to no other than that you are at least as narrow-minded as Ms. Chua and rather easily consumed by hatred for others. But I’m not likely to read your lengthier writings either, so I will merely wonder whether you and Ms. Chua are as different as you imagine.


World Citizen January 11, 2011 at 1:02 am

Amy Chua proves that even Harvard has garbage to put out.


Ravi January 11, 2011 at 1:54 am

Thanks for your article, and recommendation of the Zappo’s founder’s book. As a psychiatrist and Asian American, I can testify to the harmful effects of Chua’s style of parenting. Parallels occur with religious fundamentalist parents, and similar authoritarian regimes.


gweipo January 11, 2011 at 2:48 am

Thank you for this article and the comments. As a non-chinese parent in a Chinese system I often have to question my own assumptions about parenting and try to balance a middle road between what sometimes seems to be two extremes. Perhaps Amy Chua is extreme for the USA, but in HK, there are plenty of her ilk and worse around. “Her” children are my children’s classmates.

I also wonder how it would all have worked out had she had boys instead of girls …


jen January 11, 2011 at 4:21 am

Reminds me of my mum who constantly criticised us and went behind my sisters back and changed her university application from horticulture to law because it is more prestigious. She went around boasting about how her daughter was doing law but my sister went ahead and changed it back to horticulture. My mother is a very lonely woman now, even when we visit her we just don’t bond with her and I won’t be sending my kids to holiday with her either. Afraid she will will mess them up with her criticism and skewed values.


Tom January 11, 2011 at 4:23 am



Tom January 11, 2011 at 4:27 am

This post is moving. You have given voice to the muffled roars of this continuous problem among us Asians and I really wish there was a way we could start a cultural movement that would get rid of this problem. It is truly a silenced scream that is hard to give a voice to because the parents who do this stuff don’t listen and the American world we live in doesn’t understand these problems.

I for one haven’t grown up with this problem to an extremity, but it has been there. What these types of parents don’t understand is that we live in an American world. No matter what the influence of the masses outside of homes will overpower parental influence. For example, I grew up not being able to go to sleepovers and I still can’t go on road trips during spring break or drive my car to college like all my other friends. The natural reaction is “Why can’t I do what all my other friends get to do?” Another example, my friends have late curfews while I don’t get the freedom of coming home late into the night as a college kid during breaks. This once again brings me to ask, “Why can’t I have a late curfew like all my other friends?” It diseases us growing up and leaves a gap in personal development and an understanding of relationships that all of our other friends have come to terms with. And many a time when you do find others who can compare over these strict regulations, it is the frustration over these rules that brings people together, not fun. That is no healthy formula.

I love and appreciate my parents. They can’t be perfect in all decisions, but I want the freedom of personal bonding with others outside my home and finding things that make me happy with others. At times I feel my restrictions at home over my childhood and teenage years are the reason I don’t have a niche in friendship at the moment and why I am still searching for it as a college kid.

Values can’t be forced. That is a formula for burning out. They must be learned and experienced by getting out there.


Lin Lin January 11, 2011 at 6:33 am

Ms. Liu, I wholeheartedly disagree with you.
I come from a family with not ONE Chinese mother looking after the children, but my father was as strict, if not even stricter, than my mother.

And I love them for that. They didn’t ‘push’ me, they encouraged me. They didn’t ‘force me’ into things, they gave me opportunities. They didn’t ‘lecture’ me, they explained why I should take a certain path, and why they were being so strict.

Perhaps you feel like I should enter therapy now, to reverse the ‘brainwashing’ that I’ve had from my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Even without social pressure from other Chinese to strive for the best, go to MIT or Stanford, be a brain surgeon or electrical engineer, I would be grateful for my parents to give me the life I have.

I barely had ‘play dates’ when I was little; I never wanted them anyway since I was so shy. As I grew up though, I took social matters into my own hands. I still didn’t have ‘play dates.’ How then, was I able to win student government elections? Become a champion debater? Lead three clubs from my sophomore to senior years in high school while playing role of varsity captain of both a club and school tennis team? I broke out of my ‘shyness’ shell sometime in middle school. I’m not sure how, but it happened. I’m finding my now comfort in public speaking to be very useful in job interviews. I don’t ramble on and on, but I can speak with a stranger, make eye contact, and explain how I would handle a situation, etc.

You may be wondering… why did you have so many extra curriculars? I thought for Chinese parents, its piano and violin, and study for SAT? Perhaps it helped my ’cause’ that everything I was interested in was math or science based or had to do with quick logical thinking. It came naturally to me, as with many Asian kids I know. You can really tell when a kid enjoys something and when their parents just signed them up. In my experience, I’ve met way more Chinese kids who actually enjoy robotics, chess, math team, engineering club, and other ‘nerdy’ activities that American society has cast side for other things such as football and cheerleading. Anyway…. before partaking in any activity, my parents and I would sit down and discuss why I was interested, what this can do for my future, and how this isn’t a waste of my time. Once I start, it’s like a snowball rolling down a hill. My parents crank up “Chinese Parent Mode” (all caps! ^^) even higher to help me in my goals. Yes, some of that “pushing shoving” method that you condemn, but it showed me how much I needed to expect myself to work. It showed me how the REST OF THE WORLD was working, not just my peers. They wanted me to be the best. In America, ‘everyone is a winner if you have fun!’ but in the real world, that’s not the case. I learned many of these real world lessons from my parents parenting.

I saw my efforts rewarded. State, regional, national, international competitions. It felt like a high every time I achieve something. I didn’t do this for my parents. I did it for me. It felt great to see that my parents’ “pushing” was actually useful, contrary to popular American belief that too much stress and pressure will break a child. Believe it or not… Chinese parenting brought my family closer than ever. I never get sick of my parents. I feel indebted to them.

This post is getting somewhat long, so I’ll wrap up on this. Overall, I’m glad I have Chinese parents. I don’t exactly feel a sense of ‘superiority’ over my peers, but I definitely felt a difference between our maturity levels and emotional states (in a good way!). I’m so happy to be where I am now. Chinese parents are not heartless.

If Chinese parenting fails so much, why did the generations before succeed? Why do I see married couples so happy? People at their jobs loving what they do? Answer me that. America is focused on current happiness. Perhaps as a country, we need to teach our kids that there is some sacrifice involved in our lives. We don’t have to suddenly transition to a “strict Chinese parent,” but seriously… show some restraint on these kids instead of letting them run loose and carefree, just to have a difficult life later? Power to them if they can still be happy there… but would you want to spend your life in worry wondering where your next paycheck came from?


Sarah January 11, 2011 at 9:50 am

“If Chinese parenting fails so much, why did the generations before succeed?”

You must be talking about the generations of unwnted little girls rotting away in orphanages waiting for the chance to be adopted by “lax” Western families, right?


Mike January 11, 2011 at 10:00 am

How to teach piano to a 7-year-old, by Amy Chua:

“I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indul­gent and pathetic…. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom.”

Weapons and tactics? No water or bathroom breaks? This is CHILD ABUSE.

Please join me in sharing your opinion on Professor Chua:
Yale Law Alumni Affairs

Public Affairs/Media Contacts


Melissa January 11, 2011 at 11:38 am

I have been following this topic with interest since reading the Chua’s essay yesterday. Thank you for your insights, they really resonated with me and proved that extreme methods (one way or another) are not necessarily the best way to raise children.

As parents, I know we all constantly struggle to find the right balance in raising our children. We want them to be well rounded, smart, and well educated – but don’t we want them to be happy? I grew up with a LOT of expectations forced on me, and perhaps disappointingly to me parents, I ended up being a very unglamorous, typical woman. But you know what? I am happy, and there is something to be said for that.

Ms. Chua’s methods may be extreme – what we need to do is look to ourselves and our families and figure out what makes us happy.


Lili January 11, 2011 at 12:05 pm

Lin Lin, some kids will thrive better under pressure and control but thinking that this kind of education is the ultimate one like Chua does is pure BS. A lot of kids will break down and become unhappy adults as shown here on this forum. I am happy for you though that you didn’t. Good parenting will be able to adjust their education style to raise fullfilled, happy and successful adults. And seriously who can really think that calling his/her own children “garbage”, don’t let them go to the bathroom…” is THE way of achieving success. Look up the definition of “abuse”.


Sarah January 11, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Please people: put your reviews on Amazon where it will make the real difference – in Amy’s wallet!!!


Michelle Tsai January 11, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Lin Lin, it sounds like you were a successful student who appreciated the support you received from your parents, and that’s great.

There’s a big difference, though, between strict parents who have high expectations and hypercritical parents who withhold love and empathy when children fail to meet their impossible standards. There’s also a big difference between having an impressive high school career (where achievements are obvious and external: trophies, awards, etc) and leading a fulfilling life (where you have to create your own happiness through your work, your relationships, your sense of self).


Jane January 11, 2011 at 4:31 pm

So I watched the clip of Chua on the Today show. Chua basically states that people are misinterpreting her message, and it’s about HER growth as a parent, certainly not to trash talk the entire western parent group… then why name the title of your WSJ article, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”?

I linked my comments as a follow-up of watching the clip, if you want to read it in its entirety. Here are the key points:

1) don’t blame people for responding to your article exactly as you’d written it (with a dead-serious note, and coming from a law professor, it’s hard to tell if you’re actually making a joke because people tend to take “experts” seriously).

2) you’re making extreme comparisons – it’s not “all or none”, “coddling or extreme strictness”. I don’t believe in coddling, but I believe in building resilience in a different way that would not include belittling a child.

3) you’re assuming that most Asian parents pair extreme strictness and high expectations with love. I can tell you that this is not always the case, then you have extreme strictness paired with nothing resembling love. Hence, the despair, hopelessness, cutting, high suicide rates.

4) you’re assuming that most children will interpret and respond to these types of parenting cues the way you did as a child. obviously this is a nature/nurture debate. maybe you’re born with thicker skin and it doesn’t bother you to be called garbage because you know you’re not and you see it for what you believe it is (your father encouraging you). on the other hand, there are kids who will actually BELIEVE that they are indeed garbage and worthless.

5) yes it’s all about “knowing your children”, but many children will never dare to “rebel” the way Chua’s second daughter did. for those children, they continue to live in that oppression and turn their anger and hatred inward, upon themselves. that is how depression and suicides get started.



betty January 11, 2011 at 6:12 pm

thank you for this heartfelt conversation. i’m adding this comment for one purpose — to say that i think this will be my last time commenting on my blog. the inspiration comes from my shrink. just got back from my session. he says that my voice in here interrupts the flow of your conversation.

i actually really agree with him; mostly, my comments are a chance to say thanks. so time for me to stop acting like a hostess and give everyone room to talk. :)


Ruth January 11, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Betty, thanks for having a forum for this discussion. I am not Chinese or a parent but I would like to throw in a couple of points as an observer of Chinese culture (in China) and as an observer of parenting styles (and also an involved Aunt).

Most of the people who have joined in this discussion have covered the basics; one cannot lump all Chinese parents into one category nor can one have one style of parenting that works for all children. Unfortunately, overly strict parenting can occur in any household. There are so many aspects to parenting that one marvels that there are any well-adjusted people out there! (Are there? Sorry, I digress). What is lost on most of these practitioners of the “Chinese Style” (or any style) of overly strict parenting is cultural and social context.

I lived in China (PRC) in the 1980’s largely before the the economic boom of the last 10-20 years so my observations are from a quieter less frantic Chinese society. In 1983-84 I lived in Zhengzhou in Henan Province and in Nanjing from 1987 to 1989. Most Chinese parents I knew parented more by example than pushing and threats. Since I lived at the university in both cities all of the Chinese people I knew were intellectuals so that may also influence my take on all of this. I did observe parents of other walks of life in the streets and out at the parks and whichever “class” they were in, small children were touched, coddled, loved and adored by just about everyone, related or not. The whole society supported the learn-by-rote-you-must-study-hard school of parenting and teaching but countered some of the harshness with doting attention when the children were small (this was just about when the one child policy was enacted so many people had more than one child at that time). Everyone did it that way. When someone called their child stupid, it was a wacky (to my mind) form of “false modesty”. I remember a parent introducing me to his “stupid son.” I was appalled at first, a parent calling his child stupid in front of him? But they were both smiling and the look the father gave his son was one of understanding (as in “I am just calling you stupid when really I mean the exact opposite, wink wink”.) Of course I asked my Chinese roommate how on earth a father could speak like that and she explained about the false modesty, and not wanting the child to get a swelled head. She went on to raise a daughter here in America who is well adjusted (at least I believe that is the case, I will have to speak to her daughter see her take on the Chua article). Context is so important. If a parent in the US called their child stupid, no one, including the child, would understand that as a veiled compliment or a lesson in false modesty. But there, at that time in that society it was acceptable, even expected.

But it is not just some Chinese parents who expect too much from their children. We tend to forget in American society today, I mean the society of the educated upper-middle-class where over parenting is rampant, that children are, well, children. They learn at different rates and different ways. At some ages they are not physically and emotionally ready for some types of learning and each individual learns at his or her own pace. Average is not a sin.

Here are some quotes from my sister on how she hoped her two sons would do in school when they were young, “Not everybody can be a genius. Average is alright with me if they are happy. I would rather they have good social skills than be geniuses.” Fast forward to high school. “Please, please let him graduate from high school so he can go on to college any college.” Fast forward to the present. “Who is this polite young man who is graduating from college with honors? Did an alien kidnap my son and replace him with a son-bot?” :)

One of these “average” children went on to become a rocket scientist, really, no pushing at all, he loves math. The other is graduating college with honors and will serve his country in the National Guard. A dear friend of mine has a nephew who has severe autism and who be an Olympian at the next Special Olympics this summer in Greece. Instead of straining to raise geniuses and prodigies we should all accept the fact that most children are average, but remember that all children are extraordinary.


Amie January 11, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Thanks Betty. Finally a voice of reason.


Shirley Bubbles January 11, 2011 at 9:58 pm
Jennifer January 11, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Hi Betty –

Just wanted to say thank you for creating this forum space. Like you, I grew up in New Jersey and NYC, the product of a Chinese father and a Korean mother. I have one brother, an Ivy League undergrad who went to medical school on a full scholarship. He did everything “correctly.” Our upbringing was similar to the way Amy raised her kids, although my brother got the lion’s share of attention, being the revered son in an Asian household. I loved painting and drawing but dropped out of my Advanced Placement Art class in senior year of high school, due to pressure from my father, who told me that even if I got into art school, he would never help me pay for it. For him, it came down to going to Ivy League or going to State University. I got into State…I am 31 and live in San Diego now, moved out here five years ago out of a desire to get away from my family and figure out who I am.

Right now I am also fortunate to be in therapy. It is certainly a process. Recently I realized that I am a shopaholic who uses material goods as a way to compensate for the nurturing and love I never received growing up. There are days where I stew over how my parents behaved – even to this day, they still don’t realize how much it hurts me and how rude I find it that they talk of my brother’s accolades and nothing else; as if my life were meaningless. I know that I don’t want to be a victim all my life, that the time has come to step out of that role and into being Me. I waffle back and forth though – I do very well on my own but go to pieces most times I talk to them on the phone. I am blessed to have a very caring, supportive boyfriend and am working on strengthening my relationships with my friends.

In reading these comments, I find the depth and intensity of these issues (and the tragic repercussions for some) takes my breath away. It touches upon my identity as an Asian American woman as well. Despite my shopaholic tendencies, I am not by nature a materalistic, narrow person – something I find common to most of my Asian peers. Neither am I a racist who only wants to hang out with other Chinese and Korean people.

Let’s hope that Amy Chua’s book continues to open both dialogue and minds about what it means to be the children of immigrant parents that we may hold on to the positive aspects of their values and transcend the negative behaviour patterns.


Shirley Bubbles January 12, 2011 at 12:00 am

Hi! Jennifer,

We came from different background but I can totally understand about your shopaholic issues. When I looked back, I think I used “shopping, dine out, traveling and spending money” as my therapy instead of going to the real therapy.
Also I have some long time friends who will constantly listening to my whine and I will say they are my therapists with a lot of patience. Thanks for their endless support when I am down.

I don’t buy Amy Chua’s defense on her today show. She is just another liar in parenting!


badbadwebbis January 12, 2011 at 12:32 am

Excellent response. I heard a review of this book on ‘Fresh Aire’ this afternoon, and it immediately reminded me of a student that I had last semester – she is a first-generation American of Chinese parents, and her research topic was the problems with the Suzuki method. She is a piano-perfomance major, and she hates the piano. When I asked her why, she said it’s because of her mother’s attitude towards it: ‘When your mother stands behind you shouting at you for 2 or 3 hours every day for 17 years, it takes the joy out of playing.’

Chua may be congratulating herself now for her outstanding parenting techniques, but I’d like to talk to her daughters in about 5 years and see how they’re holding up. For their sakes, I hope they can rise above this particular technique.


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