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

betty ming liu Inspiration, Relationships 411 Comments

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 Wikipedia.org 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 Zappos.com 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.

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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.”

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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.

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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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Comments 411

  1. lina lee

    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.

  2. Shirley Bubbles

    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!

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  3. Shirley Bubbles

    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.

  4. Shirley Bubbles

    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! :(

  5. Diane

    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!

  6. Elizabeth W

    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!

  7. Laura Madden

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

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    betty

    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: http://bettymingliu.com/2010/02/my-mom-death-and-burial-family-love/

    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: http://bettymingliu.com/2009/10/good-writing-skills-for-work-it-vs-they/

    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.

  9. Noel

    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.

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      betty

      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.

  10. June

    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.

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