January 8, 2011

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.