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

betty ming liu Inspiration, Relationships 444 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 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.

Parent's like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian Americans like me are in therapy

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.”

Parent's like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian Americans like me are in therapy

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!

Parent's like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian Americans like me are in therapy

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.


Lastly, If you’re interested in getting help for yourself, check out my post on how to find a good shrink.

Comments 444

  1. Post

    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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.


  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. Post

    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.

  8. Post

    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.)

  9. Betty,

    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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Post

    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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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!

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