A Chinese tiger mom explains why being a hard-ass Asian parent is better for your kids than Western coddling

My mom, brother and me at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, eayly 1960sWow, the WSJ has a book excerpt today, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” written by Amy Chua, a Yale law school professor that boggles my mind and sends a chill down my spine. It’s her blunt declaration that the values of Chinese (and I’m telescoping it out to include all Asian) mothers are better for raising kids than “Western” parenting style.

She acknowledges the stereotype that Asian moms are hard-asses and then goes on to say that being tough on your kids is a Chinese mom’s way of showing they know the kids can a) get an A in the class, b) learn that difficult piece on the piano c) excel at everything the Chinese mom says is important. It’s just a different way of showing your children you love them, she says. She states her case so emphatically that this essay really just fortifies those American stereotypes. I can hear parents in conservative households murmuring their agreement: “See Martha, I knew there’s a reason why those Chinese are always so damned good at math and science!”

Here’s how the article starts:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• have a playdate
• attend a sleepover
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.

This has to be a joke, I thought, except the Wall Street Journal probably doesn’t have a sense of humor and doesn’t run satire pieces. Take this line, for instance: “If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion.”

Nope, Chua, who was born in 1962 a year after her parents immigrated to the US, is serious. In fact, this essay is an excerpt from a book being published this week, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”

She explains that Asian culture and Western culture have completely different approaches to child-rearing. She proudly recounts how she yelled at her daughter and didn’t let her eat, drink or even go to the bathroom until she got the complicated syncopation between her hands on one difficult piece correct, even though her daughter fought back. Then her daughter found it easy to play the piece, and they snuggled and laughed together in bed that night. Sounds like the mom from hell to me.

I’d be the first to agree that Asian and Western societies aren’t the same. In one study, she points out:

In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that “stressing academic success is not good for children” or that “parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun.” By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be “the best” students, that “academic achievement reflects successful parenting,” and that if children did not excel at school then there was “a problem” and parents “were not doing their job.”

Well duh. I grew up with a strict Asian mom (shown above with me and my older brother Gary, when my family lived in Japan). I know all about being yelled at over a B instead of an A. God forbid my brothers and I should ever get a C or lower. I got a “D” on handwriting in 3rd grade, the only grade lower than a B that I ever got. I concocted a scam to get my dad’s signature on the report card and when the scam unraveled I was punished at a level that’s illegal today, though it was as much for the scam as the grade.

Chua blithely proffers that the Chinese moms’ approach is more effective, and that Western parents spend too much time worrying about their kids’ self-esteem and nurturing them at every step, and ultimately, “seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly.”

As an Asian American kid who was born in Japan and raised very much with the values Chua extolls, I have to say that I’m glad my mom wasn’t quite as hard-assed as Chua. I was allowed to pursue my passions, including music and art, and though it disappointed my parents when I turned down studying journalism at Columbia, they let me go to art school (and reminded me afterwards, when I became a journalist after all). I have no doubt Chua’s daughters are destined for Yale or Harvard, and will go into law like their mom, or engineering, medicine or accounting, the career paths approved by all Asian immigrant parents.

I have to wonder how much trauma her kids have swallowed during their young lives, and if they’ll grow up really — really — appreciating their mom’s tough love when they raise their own kids.

I hope not. I rebelled against my upbringing, and I’d like to think I turned out all right.

(Thanks to Dean Dauphinais for forwarding the URL to the essay!)

UPDATES: There’s been a lot of chatter in the AAPI community about Chua’s book. Here’s a terrific response from blogger Betty Ming Liu, who says “Parents like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian Americans like me are in therapy.”

More related links worth checking out:

Jen Kwok’s response, “Amy Chua Is Not Superior

WSJ article, “Not All Practice Tough Love

Blogger Byron Wong: Amy Chua: Chinese Conceit, Chinese Ignorance, and the $24,000 question

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang’s older piece about raising Asian American daughters: APA Girl Power! (Updated): Raising Strong and Confident Asian Pacific American Daughters

Response from the Contrapuntal Platypus (it’s worth reading her About page): Asian vs. Western Education: A Third Way? (My response to Amy Chua, Part 1)

(Please note the comments below; there are a couple of Asian Americans who agree with Amy Chua.)

Here’s Shangahiist’s take, “Tales of a Chinese daughter: On the superiority or not of Amy Chua’s Chinese mothers.”

And here’s Hyphen’s response: “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior: We’ll See.”

Jan. 11: Amy Chua appeared on the “Today” show and mellowed out her message a bit.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang also wrote a piece in AnnArbor.com about Amy Chua’s book. (And here’s another older piece she wrote for Asian American Village about education and Asian kids.)

Cynthia Liu on the K12 News Network: “Dear Asian America: Forget Chua’s Book, This is Our “It Gets Better” Moment

Anderson on YouOffendMeYouOffendMyFamily: “xxx

Philip on YouOffendMeYouOffendMyFamily: “In Defense of Amy Chua a.k.a. MILF-y, Angry, Overachieving Chinese Mother

Other voices to check out on this topic:

Angry Asian Man


Users on Quora (an up-and-coming Q&A site)

Keith Chow on the Rice Daddies blog

Zahira, guest-blogging on 8Asians


Model Minority

Channel APA

Why no one is calling child protective services on Amy Chua” is an interesting take on the Sotah blog that raises the question, “what if Chua wasn’t a Yale law professor but a woman on public assistance?” Instead of just race, Sotah questions the privileges of social rank and class that play into Chua’s parenting.

Awesome: James Fallows on Atlantic.com comments briefly on the WSJ piece (saying he think Chua wrote it as a joke, because if so, “the author comes across as slyly Swiftian rather than as an incredible asshole”) and then embeds the requisite Taiwanese computer animated take on Western moms vs. Chinese moms. Here’s the video:

Jeff Yang’s Asian Pop column: “Mother, superior?

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

Bao Phi’s response on his Facebook page: “My late and messy reaction to this whole Chinese Mothers Are Superior Hubbub

The Associated Press interviewed some AAPI bloggers (and Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos) on their reaction to the WSJ piece, and Chua gives more context. So is the WSJ at fault for running the excerpt without the context of the rest of the book? Or were we all duped by a brilliant PR campaign? At the least, I think this conversation has been a good one to air out publicly: “Tiger mom’s memoir meets ferocious roar

The final word: And the best and most well-rounded look at the book and the WSJ excerpt, as well as a talk with Chua comes from Jeff Yang in his SF Chronicle “Asian Pop” column. He points out the good stuff in the essay (the fundamental Asian values) and the bad (the implementation of those values), speaks with people who both agree and disagree with Chua, then gets the larger context from Cha herself: That her book is about she evolves away from the hard-ass Asian mom at the end of the book, thanks to her rebellious 13-year-old daughter; that she did allow playdates for her daughters; that she herself rebelled against her parents (by marrying a white guy, which I thought was notable in her original essay; and most notably, that the WSJ edited passages together and presented the whole as an “excerpt” that became more inflammatory than the parts in the book, and slapped on a confrontational title. Here’s Jeff’s take: “Mother, superior?

OK, one postscript, a cartoon by Gene Luen Yang, in… WSJ.com: “Are You Tiger Dad Material?

PS #2: On bigWOWO, Byron posted a response from a reader who thinks Chua is right and who idolizes her father: “Battle Hymn of the Kitten Daughter.”

PS #3: The Good Chinese Mother appears to be a brand-new blog that was created as a response to Chua’s book. See her comment below….

PS #4: OK, OK, I know this is ridiculous. But I’ve been waiting for Disgrasian — the originator of the phrase “hard-ass Asian parent” — to jump in the fray, and Jen Wang has written a thoughtful essay, “‘Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother’: You Hated The Excerpt, Now Read The Book,” after reading the entire book. It’s looking more and more like the Wall Street Journal (or the publisher’s PR flack) is to blame for this week’s crazy level of conversation about Chua’s book, by publishing an “excerpt” that isn’t an excerpt in the traditional sense.

PS #4.5: In case you just can’t get enough Chua-ness, here’s Angry Asian Man’s list of links to blog posts, including this one (thanks, Phil!). There are some that I haven’t added here, so go for it….

PS #5: “Guest Offender” Teresa Wu, the author of her own recent book about Asian parenting, “My Mom Is a Fob: Earnest Advice in Broken English from Your Asian American Mom” writes “I can’t Eat In-N-Out anymore.”

PS #6: Also on You Offend Me, You Offend My Family, Elaine’s post “Double Happiness: Why Amy Chua is The Panda Express of Chinese Moms

PS #7: Follow-up by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang, “So what’s the big deal about sleepovers, anyhow? It is in the nuances – more on Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother

Geez, going on a week and a half, and there’s more:

Via Angry Asian Man, “Tiger Mom Says” is a clever new Tumblr blog worth chuckling over.

Also via Angry Asian Man, “Tiger Cub Speaks!” — Amy Chua’s 18-year-old daughter Sophia in the New York Post.

The Economist’s “Banyan” column looks at how views on parenting aren’t so uniform even in China.

Erin K. Ninh’s on both Hyphen and HuffPost with “Amy Chua and the Externalized Cost of Book Sales,” about the ripple effect of the bogus “excerpt” as it spreads without the context of all this discussion.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang wraps it up on New American Media with “Hey Amy Chua—There Are Other Ways of Being a Chinese Mother.”

May Lee Chai puts it all in a larger context on her blog post, “Mother Tiger Trope Masks Class Privilege

Lac Su addresses the issue in a powerful, undeniable AOL News opinion essay, “Opinion: My Life as the Child of a Tiger Mother

Frances posts yet another (final, I hope) piece.

And a last word from 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors:

OK, last laugh: via Angry Asian Man, comedian/musician Jen Kwok’s “Tiger Mom Rap” MP3.

Are we done now?

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59 Responses to A Chinese tiger mom explains why being a hard-ass Asian parent is better for your kids than Western coddling

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  2. RCruz says:

    Regrettably, Ms. Chua’s exaggerated remarks are an embarrassment to her wonderful family (nice photos), Chinese culture, the Wall Street Journal, my alma mater (Yale) as well as to her. It is as if she was never served a slice of Americana despite her success here in America. Is the Wall Street Journal a proponent of material success at any cost? Perhaps the idea that there can be no real commitment without choice should be rewritten – there can be no real commitment without coercion. I will not be reading any of Ms. Chua’s books anytime soon.

  3. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks for the comment — it’s weird to me that Chua is U.S-born and raised (her parents were immigrants — but she writes as f she’s an immigrant herself. She certainly has immigrant values. It remains to be seen how her “happy” daughters turn out. I guess one part of her book covers her 13-year-old’s current rebellion. Wait til the girl decides boys are cooler than mom.

  4. zeng says:

    The article is a not so good introduction of the book, or perhaps the book has some shortcomings.

    People easily fall into a black and white judgement on parenting, and on other things.

    Mrs. Amy Chua may not be perfect, but she certainly shows ownership of the raising of the children, not just cheer-leading, and shows faith in children’s capabilities. It is totally up to the readers to determine whether or not they want to learn from Mrs. Amy Chua of the “ownership and faith” approach or not. You do not have to be cruel to have ownership.

    In striving to be the best, one take the best from all the sources, including from Mrs. Amy Chua.

  5. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thank you for your comment, Zeng. Ia gree that Chua’s style has it’s good aspects, as most Asian Americans can agree since we were all raised by strict parents. But I think most of our parents weren’t that strict and we still turned out fine.

  6. bettymingliu says:

    oh no, gil — you got the tough love treatment too?! it’s helpful for me to hear your story. we all need to keep talking about this issue so that everyone knows that there are other options to the hardline approach to family. thanks for sharing – and for linking to my blog!

  7. Gil Asakawa says:

    That upbringing is how I developed the habit of saying “yes” to something and then not really doing it. Like when my mom yelled at me to clean my room before I go out with friends I’d say “yes” but of course I didn’t, and went out anyway. Same with homework, except I got away with that because I still got good grade on my slapdash homework I finished right before class, and did well on the report cards.

  8. Jan Morrill says:

    Good commentary, and I agree with zeng. I wonder about the long term consequences of parents today, who raise their children with too much coddling and too little expectation. Good blog, Gil!

  9. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks for posting the comment, Jan! I’d like to see a balance. Chua is way too much on the side of total control.

  10. Joshua Shi says:

    There is nothing wrong with this method of upbringing. I was raised this way and I still have friends and the ability to be socially outward. Westerners to me still have the idea that their way of raising their children is the only right way. Every day I see ridiculous products being marketed to parents who have extreme paranoia when it comes to their child turning out dumb; they buy their children TV shows, colorful flash cards, and do everything but make sure their children use what they have purchased for them. If the child gets tired, they’ll just let them go without finishing the work. This is not effective parenting: teaching the child that he can give up whenever he feels like it without consequences does not a good child make. Teaching the child that he must push himself for anything he wants in life is a much better way to raise a self-sufficient, smart, and eventually successful child.

  11. james ho says:

    im an asian american. My parents were born and raised in asia and sacrificed everything to come here to give me a better future. My parents are pretty much like Chua’s. I remember being worked as a child. But me and my brother turned out better than ever. My brother is a doctor and i am a pharmacist. AND WE BOTH APPRECIATE AND UNDERSTAND WHY THEY RAISED US THAT WAY. our peers on the other hand who had parents who cared so much about their self-esteem…unemployed and single, living at home where they feel most comfortable and protected. At an early age, kids cannot choose whats best for them and have a narrow view of the future. If we cater to their every want, you will be completed “wipped” by your kids and in turn they will not be prepared for when life gives you lemons. and trust me there’s many lemons. thats why i see “western” parents being yelled at by their kids and yelled their firsts names. thats why america right now is not innovating anything. we USED to be a good country.

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  13. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi Joshua and James. It’s good to see young Asian Americans raised in the traditional way like Chua raised her daughters, and see that you both think it’s effective. I’m sure it works for some people and it may have even worked for me if my parents were a little stricter, but frankly, I’m glad they “Americanized” and let me go my own way in the end. I thin the ideal balance is to have the Asian sense of discipline and purpose, but with Western-style creative freedom and a sense of choice. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective!

  14. Gail S. says:

    “the ideal balance is to have the Asian sense of discipline and purpose, but with Western-style creative freedom and a sense of choice.”


    The closest I am to Asian is my Japanese-Anglo nephew. I’m pretty much Southern WASP. But our kids were raised with expectations of excellence in the classroom. We weren’t anywhere near as strict as Chua, but they knew they were expected to do their very best. And for the most part, they did.

    Our older son, the second child, had a personality where I’m not sure it would have done much good to threaten and berate him more than we already did. His personality–and it DOES make a difference–would likely have had him rebelling much, much more than he did. He was the type who would say “Yes, I did it,” but he hadn’t. Especially when he reached high school.

    He had no interest in doing anything at all unless it was his idea. Unless HE wanted to do it–and you could not berate, scold, or even beat him into doing it if he didn’t. He was one of those who didn’t “let his schooling interfere with his education,” as Mark Twain put it. And when he got to college, right after high school, he crashed and burned.

    So he went to work. He got married, had two kids, got divorced-and has turned out to be the disciplinarian of the two parents. He decided several years ago that he wanted to do something besides sell cars, and that would require a college degree, so he has gone back to college (HIS idea) and made an A average, while working full time and having joint custody of his sons. It’s taken longer, but he should graduate next May.
    We had expectations, but until he wanted it, it just wasn’t happening.

    Our parenting philosophy was that they had better do their very best, and if it wasn’t their best, we were going to sit over them and make sure it got there. They were to treat their parents–and others–with respect. I don’t think that’s Eastern or Western. It’s parenting.

    And yes, I’ve lived long enough to know how they’ve turned out. The daughter is about to finish her PhD in statistics, after starting college at 16 (her idea, not ours). I imagine she’ll stay in the academic realm–her personality’s better suited to it. (And she’s a good teacher.)

    The younger son has just graduated with a degree in marine engineering technology–still job-hunting in this economy. But they’ve succeeded. And they’re great people.

    Helicopter parents are the ones I worry about–those who hover, so that their children never learn how to make their own decisions, and how to get back up after they make bad ones. Big part of parenting is teaching your kids how to survive without you. ‘Cause face it, sweetpeas, nobody gets out of here alive!

  15. Kalani says:

    Ok…. really fascinating excerpt. As a lot of people have pointed out, it’s not all black-and-white. For example, a parent can expect the best out of their child and spend the time with them to study or to practice, but still let them choose what instrument they want and not call them names when they are less than the best. The sad part of the article is when the woman says she calls her daughter “lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent, and pathetic” and then flat-out denies that she’s insulting her. This is a warped sense of reality (as in “It doesn’t matter what you are observing, I am telling you what is going on.”) that the child will have a hard time growing out of. And not only is she teaching her daughter that she really can learn anything, be the best at something, and get results (a good lesson for anyone), she is also teaching her that it’s ok to yell, insult, take someone’s belongings, and impose ridiculous and impossible demands on someone to get what you want. So many thoughts… so little comment space. Thank you for sharing the article.

  16. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks for your perspective, Gail!

  17. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks, Kalani! Hope you’re well….

  18. gar says:

    Great links, Gil!

    The TV interview is a bit more informative.

  19. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks, Gar — it’s true, the Today show appearance helps just to hear her in person.

  20. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks for the link! 🙂

  21. shingabis says:

    America not innovating anything? The west? Really? When was the last time China came up with an entire information age?

  22. Gil Asakawa says:

    Yeah, that wsa a bit of an overstatement… Thanks, shingabis!

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  24. good chinese mother says:

    Like Chua, I am Chinese, born in Manila from Chinese parents like hers, raised like her…

    Unlike Chua, I vowed not to parent like my parents. I encouraged my daughter to enjoy all the things my parents prohibited, sleepovers and play dates, and school plays.

    I let my daughter miss school to watch the Oscars, and we bonded by playing Nintendo.

    I never said, “I am right because I am your mother”.

    I taught myself to say, “Mother does not know,” and “I am sorry. Mother is wrong.”

    My daughter can only play The Carpenters on the piano, but she can do it really well!

    And she is still one heck of an academic superstar! Near-perfect SAT scores and admission to Harvard, Princeton and Yale. No doubt in my mind about good fortune playing a major role in that.

    I did not push. I encouraged. And I loved unconditionally.


  25. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks for your comment, Good Chinese other! I’ll add your blog to my list of blogs….

  26. pseudo-Asian Mama says:

    My best friend in high school was Chinese-American, whose mother could have been the inspiration for Amy Chua. They were not on speaking terms for over a decade, until the mother was diagnosed with cancer.

    We used to compare our mothers, as they were very similar–except my mother is Jewish. We called her the “closet Chinese mother.”

    Oddly enough, my best friend remained single, while I married a Japanese-American man and became a closet Japanese mother. Hmmm.

    What I wonder at is how LONG it finally took Ms. Chua to hear and respect what her younger daughter was telling her–that she ruined the violin for her daughter. Why was Ms. Chua so unaware of the fact that there is a line that not even a Chinese mother should cross, beyond which the mother is no longer helping the child develop but having a destructive effect?.

    I also wonder if Ms. Chua is even aware how she was making her daughters’ work and personal success her own success? This is something I don’t quite understand, as she obviously had her own very successful career. Where does she draw the line between her own success and that of her children?

    But my biggest question is, does she actually understand the philosophy behind the Suzuki method? The whole point of Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy is to nurture the child, to help the child enjoy everything about the instrument, including the practicing. The parent is never supposed to be adversarial or even negative in the practice sessions, nor is the teacher. Suzuki-trained teachers are even trained to start every comment with a complement (“I really liked how you remembered to keep your bow straight”), and then only work on one technical concept per lesson.

    There’s a story told about Dr. Suzuki, where he was listening to students at a master class (sort of a public lesson, where several students play and receive instruction in front of an audience). A boy was having such a very difficult time performing that the assistant teachers and teaching students were all nudging each other, wondering how Dr. Suzuki would come up with his trademark positive comment to begin his instruction. The poor kid couldn’t play in tune, had a scratchy tone, kept having memory slips and making mistakes.

    Finally, the kid reached the end of the piece, and bowed to the requisite applause. The teachers-in-training looked at Dr. Suzuki, who smiled at the student at said, “Bravo! You made it all the way through to the very end!”

  27. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi Pseudo-Asian Mother! Thanks for your comment, and the anecdote about the Suzuki method….

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  29. Sumoni says:

    While I cannot say from an Asian perspective, I can say from an african american perspective I hear, “Don’t treat your kid like a white person.” I agree with some points culturally. Overall I believe it varies, by social status and how THEY were raised. I’m pretty sure there are some, oh let’s say, rich asian kids in other countries that are spoiled rotten and free from responsibility.

    I think in Western society the freedom to tell other people what to do gets out of hand. Which is why parenting can be difficult here. So many are are afraid of the child protective services and not being “progressive”. CPS gets taken advantage of by busy bodies who want them to focus on others who spank their kids in public, rather than those who abuse them at home. Kids aren’t as ignorant as many want you to believe. A lot of them KNOW they’re in public and try out temper tantrums. It’s progressive to let them scream in public or give them what they want.

    To the point, despite how much I disagree with the things she’s said and done. She has as much right to give her “eastern solution” as any new-age-all-kids-are-special-snowflakes-parent or the random black person yelling, “Don’t let them do that, spank their behind!” here in America.

  30. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks for commenting, Sumoni. It’s important to remember that these parenting styles aren’t just an “East vs West” issue…. And you’re right. Amy Chua has every right to write what she believes (and of curse,it looks like the “excerpt” didn’t really represent what her book is about anyway!).

  31. Sumoni says:

    @Gil Asakawa You’re welcome! You’re right it isn’t just east vs west.

  32. Liz says:

    Hi Gil,
    I’m a little late to the game on this hot topic, but honestly, that Chua is getting so much attention is really pretty awesome. She’s giving a slice of the Asian American experience visibility, and stunning not just her white peers but also the AA community. Too often, culturally induced perhaps, we don’t always turn inwards to examine our own feelings, but when we read about this woman’s household a part of us are like, “Yeah…I get that!” Even at its worst moments, Chua’s story speaks to our latent convictions.

  33. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi Liz, I guess a lot of AAPIs are concernbed that the original excerpt in the WSJ just reinforced stereotypes. But yeah, it’s actually very cool to have an Asian American have such high visibility in the national consciousness!

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  35. Andrea Watts says:

    I found your article totally liberating. My mom immigrated from Korea when she was 16 – you’d think that spending almost her whole life here in the states would change her state of mind when it came to raising her child, but no. I definitely was raised with the same principles as Chua’s kids. Now, at 20, my mom and I don’t speak, and I’m pursuing my passion (I was supposed to be a professional golfer – cue the stereotype), in the corporate world. Regardless of our current situation, I am grateful for the way she raised me because I am disciplined, have a good work ethic, etc. I just wonder if that’s totally due to my upbringing or my personality. Maybe both. I’m sure a lot of AA kids are wondering the same thing.

  36. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi Andrea, I think it’s your upbringing and personality both, but also the deep Asian (Confucian) values that Asian societies share. It’s not just acculturation or training; it’s like this way of thinking and acting is in our DNA. Thanks for commenting, and good luck and much success with your corporate career! 🙂

  37. gmwilliams says:

    This is a great article. I concur completely. My West Indian father believed in the same principles of education, education, education. My West Indian father was strict. He did not believe in any socialization. He ever said that social life was a waste of time. He believed that people should focus on education and career.

    When I was going up in Harlem, most of the children played in the street. No No was the motto of my West Indian father. I had to make As which I did in elementary school. However in high school and college, I made Bs which did not please my father one bit. He wanted As and nothing less. Most West Indian parents are the same wasy and that is why Blacks of West Indian parents outsucceed and out earn Black Americans who do not value education as highly but value socialization and being popular.

  38. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks for the different cultural perspective of someone from the West Indies!

  39. mikey says:

    It’s funny how Amy Chua boasts about her superior parenting skills and yet she opted for a Jewish father.
    There’s obvious insecurities about being Chinese and her book is just her own selfish way of deflecting guilt away from herself and not having any true Chinese pride. She will always be labeled as the asian girl who hates herself and her upbringing.

  40. Veronica Li says:

    My Chinese mom was so great that I wrote a book about her. It’s called JOURNEY ACROSS THE FOUR SEAS.
    She was a tiger mom without the roar. She raised the five of us to be high achievers, but she did it through encouragement and providing the opportunities. We don’t bear scars from her claws!
    The book is available at:

  41. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks, Veronica! I’ll check out your book….

  42. Rafa says:

    I agree that all parents should teach their children strong ethical and moral values…but I don’t think this kind of discipline is more important than true love. It’s control, and might make the parent feel more at ease or comfortable, but I’m not so sure honestly whether it’s best for ALL families…

  43. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks Rafa. I agree….

  44. Shih says:

    My Asian mom threw me out of the house when I was a baby, and my Asian dad kept quiet. My Asian dad married a second wife (illegally) and had a daughter he loves so much more than his own two sons. My Asian mom flirted with a doctor, and my Asian dad slept with my girlfriend. I’ve never gotten myself drunk, never smoked a cigarette, never went to night-club, never karaoke, and very damn good at my work. To me world is black and white, good is good, bad is bad, lie is a lie, truth is the truth, meant what I said and said what I meant. Now they’re telling me I’m an idealist, a modern western son, and I need to understand they are traditional Asian parents. In other words, I have no choice but to listen and agree to everything they said. I’m now 36 and my dad has been teaching Human Resources and Quality Management subjects for over twenty years. WTF!?!?!?!

  45. Andre M. Smith says:

    Why is the art of music required to endure the ill-informed antics of such inartistic imbeciles as Amy Chua? Her lust for fame as an old-fashioned stage mother of either a famous violinist (yet another mechanical Sarah Chang?) or a famous pianist (yet another mechanical Lang Lang?) shines through what she perceives as devotion to the cultivation of the cultural sensitivities of her two unfortunate daughters.

    Daughter Lulu at age 7 is unable to play compound rhythms from Jacques Ibert with both hands coordinated? Leonard Bernstein couldn’t conduct this at age 50! And he isn’t the only musician of achievement with this-or-that shortcoming. We all have our closets with doors that are not always fully opened.

    And why all this Chinese obsession unthinkingly dumped on violin and piano? What do the parents with such insistence know of violin and piano repertoire? Further, what do they know of the great body of literature for flute? For French horn? For organ? For trumpet? Usually, nothing!

    For pressure-driven (not professionally-driven!) parents like Amy Chua their children, with few exceptions, will remain little more than mechanical sidebars to the core of classical music as it’s practiced by musicians with a humanistic foundation.

    Professor Chua better be socking away a hefty psychoreserve fund in preparation for the care and feeding of her two little lambs once it becomes clear to them both just how empty and ill-defined with pseudo-thorough grounding their emphasis has been on so-called achievement.

    Read more about this widespread, continuing problem in Forbidden Childhood (N.Y., 1957) by Ruth Slenczynska.


    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  46. Andre M. Smith says:

    Continuing to follow the saga of what may be one of the more outrageous examples – and there are similar examples aplenty! – of the child abuses of Amy Chua, I think it timely and prudent to provide a healthy, humane counterpoint by way of a much different kind of example of adult guidance to a young stranger. To wit:


    In May 1954, M. Paul Claussen, Jr, a 12-year-old boy living in Alexandria, Virginia, sent a letter to Mr Justice Felix Frankfurter in which he wrote that he was interested in “going into the law as a career” and requested advice as to “some ways to start preparing myself while still in junior high school.” This is the reply he received:

    My Dear Paul:
    No one can be a truly competent lawyer unless he is a cultivated man. If I were you I would forget about any technical preparation for the law. The best way to prepare for the law is to be a well-read person. Thus alone can one acquire the capacity to use the English language on paper and in speech and with the habits of clear thinking which only a truly liberal education can give. No less important for a lawyer is the cultivation of the imaginative faculties by reading poetry, seeing great paintings, in the original or in easily available reproductions, and listening to great music. Stock your mind with the deposit of much good reading, and widen and deepen your feelings by experiencing vicariously as much as possible the wonderful mysteries of the universe, and forget about your future career.
    With good wishes,
    Sincerely yours,
    [signed] Felix Frankfurter

    From THE LAW AS LITERATURE, ed. by Ephraim London, Simon and Schuster, 1960.

    I knew that a Paul Claussen had been a major figure (1972-2007) in the Office of the Historian of The United States Department of State in Washington, with an abiding interest in The Great Seal of The United States. http://diplomacy.state.gov/documents/organization/101044.pdf
    An obituary of Dr Claussen is on page 47 in http://2001-2009.state.gov/documents/organization/86414.pdf
    and http://www.thefreelibrary.com/M.+Paul+Claussen,+history's+friend%3A+office+of+the+historian+suffers+a…-a0167843232

    So, wishing to determine whether or not the elder Claussen was, indeed, the boy writing to Justice Frankfurter in 1954 I wrote to his former colleague at State. The reply received today follows.

    —– Original Message —–
    From: PA History Mailbox
    To: ‘Andre M. Smith’
    Sent: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 10:11 AM
    Subject: RE: Chris Morrison

    Dear Mr. Smith,

    Copied below is the response I received from one of Paul Claussen’s long-time colleagues here in the Office of the Historian.

    Yes it is. The young Paul wanted to be a lawyer and so decided to write Felix Frankfurter and ask for his advice. Frankfurter evidently was taken with his letter and wrote back at length…Frankfurter of course kept a copy and the text of the letter has been published in collections of Frankfurter’s writings.

    Please contact us of you have any additional questions.

    Best regards,

    Christopher A. Morrison, Ph.D.
    Historian, Policy Studies Division
    U.S. Department of State
    Office of the Historian (PA/HO)

    Dr Claussen did follow the advice of Justice Frankfurter. And he came out of that advice none the worse for it. The world is much bigger, richer, more tolerant, and more laden with opportunities than the blinkered view of Amy Chua would have her daughters and fellow fear-laden mothers without Ivy League tenure believe.

    For a very well-balanced alternative to the mania – and it is nothing less – to which the many Chuas of the world subscribe, read the refreshingly informed reports on http://orient.bowdoin.edu/orient/article.php?date=2009-12-04&section=3&id=2, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/09/28/china, and http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/10/16/liberalarts

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  47. Andre M. Smith says:

    I believe some useful purpose will be served by offering here, what the lawyers might like to call, but will seldom welcome, a healthy second opinion; a collective opinion that will demonstrate in abbreviated form the absolute folly of any attempt to teach music to children in the manner advocated by Amy Chua and her supporters.

    These titles, with a few accompanying comments, should be read only as an introduction to a vast, interesting subject. There is one observation one can make about them all, and many more on this same subject, if needed to prove the point: Their attempt at an inherent humane understanding. I shall let the individual writers speak for themselves. To wit:

    C. C. Liu [fellow at the Centre of Asian Studies, The University of Hong Kong]: A Critical History of New Music in China, Columbia University Press, 2010.
    By the end of the nineteenth century, Chinese culture had fallen into a stasis, and intellectuals began to go abroad for new ideas. What emerged was an exciting musical genre that C. C. Liu terms “new music. With no direct ties to traditional Chinese music, “new music” reflects the compositional techniques and musical idioms of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European styles. Liu traces the genesis and development of “new music” throughout the twentieth century, deftly examining the social and political forces that shaped “new music” and its uses by political activists and the government. http://cup.columbia.edu/book/978-962-996-360-6/a-critical-history-of-new-music-in-china

    Brahmstedt’s China travels bring recognition: TTU [Tennessee Technical University] trumpet professor “Outstanding foreigner.” http://www.tntech.edu/pressreleases/brahmstedts-china-travels-bring-recognition-ttu-trumpet-professor-qoutstanding-foreignerq/

    Music Education in China: A look at primary school music education in China reveals numerous recent developments in general music, band and string programs, and private lessons. Music Educators Journal May 1997 83:28-52, doi:10.2307/3399021. Full Text (PDF)

    Howard Brahmstedt and Patricia Brahmstedt: Music education in China. Music Educators Journal 83(6):28-30, 52. May 1997.

    Joseph Kahn and Daniel J. Wakin: Classical music looks toward China with hope. The New York Time, 3 April 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/03/arts/music/03class1.htm?pagewanted=all

    Ho Wai-Ching: A comparative study of music education in Shanghai and Taipei: Westernization and nationalization. A Journal of Comparative and International Education 34:2, 2004.

    Yuri Ishii and Mari Shiobara: Teachers’ role in the transition and transmission of culture. Journal of Education for Teaching 34(4):245-9, November 2008.
    There are some common trends, which indicate that certain values are now shared among music education policies of many Asian countries. These are an emphasis on the purpose of education as the development of children’s total human quality rather than mere transmission of skills and knowledge by rote learning, the encouragement of a learner-centered approach, the introduction of authentic assessment, the integration of existing subjects, and the assertion of cultural specificity.

    Chee-Hoo Lim: An historical perspective on the Chinese Americans in American music education. Research in Music Education May 2009 vol. 27 no. 2 27-37.

    Howard Brahmstedt: Trumpet playing in China. P. 29. International Trumpet Guild Journal, February 1993.

    Richard Curt Kraus: Pianos and politics in China. Middle-class ambitions and the struggle over Western music. Oxford University Press. New York, 1989.

    From Shanghai Conservatory to Temple University
    Yiyue Zhang holds both Bachelors and Masters in Music Education from Shanghai Conservatory of Music in China. Currently, she is pursuing a Master’s degree in Music Education at Temple University. Ms. Zhang is from a family of music. She first learned Chinese classic dance from her father at the age of 3. She then started to learn accordion at the age of 5 and piano at the age of 6. During the close to 20 years of piano training and education, she has also been learning saxophone, cello, vocal music and percussion instrument of Chinese ethnic nationalities. In addition to piano solo, Ms. Zhang has rich experiences as a piano accompanist for vocal and chorus performances. When she served as the accompanist for the female choir of Shanghai Conservatory in 2006, they participated in the Fourth World Chorus Competition and won the gold medal for female choir, silver medal for contemporary music and another silver medal for theological music. Before came the United States, Ms. Zhang taught general music at Shanghai Hongqiao Middle School and Shanghai North Fujian Rd. Primary School as her internship in 2006. From 2006 to 2008, she taught piano and music class in Shanghai Tong-de-meng Kindergarten while held Chinese Teacher Qualification Certificate. Ms. Zhang is currently the piano accompanist of Chinese Musical Voices located at Cherry Hill, NJ as well as the assistant conductor of Guanghua Chorus located at Blue Bell, PA. While holding Early Childhood Music Master Certification (Level 1) from The Gordon Institute for Music Learning, she is also actively engaged in the educational and cultural activities with the networks of local Chinese schools in the Philadelphia area. http://www.temple.edu/boyer/music/programs/musiced/MusicEducationGraduateAssistants.htm

    Li Ying-ling: Essential study on the function of children’s music education.
    Music education is beneficial in the comprehensive development of children’s healthy personality, helpful to enlighten the children’s creative thinking, helpful to educate the regulation senses of children, helpful to develop the children’s language and good emotion. It has certain social effect and realistic meaning for the growth of children. Every teacher should pay attention to the functional character of children music education, consciously meet the demands for music education of the children nowadays, strengthen the socialization function of music education, promote socialization proceeding of children. Music Department of Kunming University. Journal of Kunming University 2:2009.

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  48. Andre M. Smith says:

    Professor Chua is a woefully ill-informed parent, one ignorant of just what is happening in some parts of education in America. Fully confident in her presumed success as a writer with an editorial staff at Penguin shadow boxing for her and unapologetically wearing her signature plastic smile for public appearances, the Lawyer Chua is trying to persuade and convince; on both counts controversially, but with enough negative reactions to cause her subsequently to attempt a dilution of the intensity in her initial self-congratulatory tirade by latterly asserting that her writing is merely one person’s experiences of some trying times in motherhood. To gain working points among the Old-Boy network, the prime lubricant of Yale, Professor Chua initially claimed that she is a Tiger Mom as Chinese maternal type; Fierce! When that showpiece veneer didn’t sit well with mothers who are the real thing, i.e., mothers from China, this faux cat altered the validity of her claim to violence by stating that she is a Tiger Mom because she was born in 1962, a Year of the Tiger. That a tenured Professor of Yale can – must? – openly justify her self-classification with superstitious underpinning should provide anyone what is needed to draw a conclusion about the level of intellect afoot in Yale Law School. Professor? Indeed!

    Any of Chua’s public statements of the purposes of her work evolve to fit the tenor of the evolving criticisms directed at it. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/10/amy-chua-tiger-mom-book-one-year-later_n_1197066.html It has passed, in her own words, from (1) practical handbook for parenting to (2) tongue-in-cheek (whatever that’s supposed to mean), to (3) memoir, (4) satire, (5) parody, (6) “a coming of age book for parents” (7) “the book is about a journey”; and who knows what else as she makes the rounds of the book circuit trying to snare yet more unsuspecting purchasers into her net. That she can, without blushing, class a single work with such a range causes me to wonder what kind of grade she got at Harvard for her command of the English language. She’s Trollope (the author), Pope (the author), The Wicked Witch in Hansel und Gretel and Gullible’s Travels all penned together into one oversized Pamper. Anyone who can’t read the monetary cynicism driving the kaleidoscope of this whole Tiger Mom scam and its spurious, unproven claimed insights into parenting, with variant latter-day reflections by the author herself, deserves to have paid full retail price for this book.

    “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” http://bettymingliu.com/2011/01/parents-like-amy-chua-are-the-reason-why-asian-americans-like-me-are-in-therapy/
    Stamp collecting, fishing, lazing about on a summer day, science club, Brownie Scouting, baseball, birthday parties, church annual picnic, kite flying, visiting relatives, kissing, jumping rope, student council, insect classification . . . Away with this woman! “Fun” must be one of the more overused, misunderstood words in the American lexicon. Chinese parent = The Model Minority? In China?

    “I’m happy to be the one hated.” http://bettymingliu.com/2011/01/parents-like-amy-chua-are-the-reason-why-asian-americans-like-me-are-in-therapy/

    “If I could push a magic button and choose either happiness or success for my children, I’d choose happiness in a second. http://amychua.com/

    That’s it perfectly stated in Tigerese: Either / Or; not both. Amy Chua is a chameleonic con artist. PT. Barnum certainly was right, one “. . . born every minute!”

  49. Andre M. Smith says:

    I divide my year annually between New York and Shanghai. One of my common visitations in the latter city is to the area in and around The Shanghai Conservatory of Music. About four years back the school built a large new building on Fenyang Lu. Along the street side is a lower level with a string of music stores stocked with new instruments. In four of those stores I counted, literally, one trumpet, one horn, one trombone, no tuba, two flutes, one clarinet, one oboe, no bassoon, a handful of strings (but no string bass), and two-hundred pianos! The single trombone (my instrument) looked and felt like it had been made in an industrial arts school as a class project. I asked one of the clerks how many trombone students were then enrolled in the Conservatory. “Five,” he replied. I told him it would be impossible for any serious student of that instrument to plan advancement playing such useless metal and asked what brand of instruments are taught upstairs. All the trombones were imported by the school, only as needed, from Yamaha in Japan. But, why the sea of pianos?

    Most parents do not want their children spending, i.e., wasting, their time on any instrument for which a student can not enter a contest and win prizes. Prizes mean medals and certificates, which Mommy and Daddy can display as their own achievements by extension. It is the major conservatories in China (Shanghai, Beijing, Shenyang, and Wuhan) which are responsible for continuing to nurture this false status, while, visually at least, giving the external impression that China is a major cultural locus of Western classical music. Anyone who has heard the wind sections of a major symphony orchestra in China will hear just how major the cultural locus is in China for those instruments. Naïve morons; school and parent alike!

    For the serious student having neither interest nor ability to become a graduate of Harvard Medical School, this phony sequence of contest successes may lead to Juilliard in New York or Curtis in Philadelphia. “If a clown like Lang Lang can make it, then so can my little angel. Who is, of course, the most adept keyboard wizard to blossom since Lawrence Welk or Rachmaninoff.” Stage mothers . . . !

    All of this clap-trap nonsense has no relationship whatsoever to two very important issues: music or Asian American. It is, with the rarest of exceptions, largely Oriental in the homeland. Atavistic immigrants from those eastern cultures or those descended directly therefrom – like the ever-psychobashing Kommandant Amy Chua – have some untested, sentimental notion that music opens doors and ensures careers in whatever direction the unmusical music student chooses; which the student is free to choose, so long as it isn’t music. (Try to figure out that one. “You are free to study physics or mathematics, so long as you don’t attempt to make a career of them.”)

    For the past forty years during my own studies in medicine and music in New York I have been wedded to and worked closely with and around nurses, physicians, surgeons, and medical technicians active in all the standard disciplines. Those persons have come from all modern regions of the world. And, yes, some of my coworkers have come from the beloved Harvard Medical School. But, I can write with authority, the number of those professional persons who have had any direct contact at any times in their lives with piano or violin is insignificantly small.

    No one has ever wasted time typing me as a wimp. Nevertheless, with an Amy Chua of my own only thinly masking a contempt while ostensibly trying to encourage me before the age of ten by classing me as “garbage, “lazy,” “useless,” and a host of other niceties (a savage, a juvenile delinquent, boring, common, low, completely ordinary, a barbarian) all the while forbidding me to sit on a toilet until I can play triplets in one hand against duolets in the other mechanistically en duo with a metronome might have (likely would have) set me up both for advanced training to climb The Texas Tower and chronic constipation.

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

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