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You must be joking, Professor Chua: An open letter to the Chinese Tiger Mom
Dear Professor Chua,
By now, your Wall Street Journal article Why Chinese Mothers are Superior has circled around the globe and you have appeared on many media outlets. Undoubtedly you are aware of the firestorm the article has created everywhere. Frankly I was at first appalled by your article because I have read your book Days of Empire, in which you suggest that tolerance is the force that helped build great empires. But in this article, you seem to suggest otherwise—that a totalitarian, authoritarian, and dictatorial approach will produce a successful person. This contradiction helped to realize that you must be joking, just like this YouTube video by Eric Liang that makes fun of how “crazy Asian moms” react when their children get a B.
I am sure, as a well-educated Professor of Yale, you must know that even in China only “garbage parents” call their children garbage. And those who call their children garbage or similar things are generally looked down upon and considered uncivilized by their neighbors and colleagues. I grew up in China and came to the US when I was 27. In all those 27 years, I don’t remember being called garbage by my parents nor have I ever called my children garbage.
I am also sure that you are aware that your strict method, while quite commonly practiced in Chinese families, does not always (and quite often do not) lead to a virtuous cycle or produce successful people. There is this running joke that supports your argument. Surprised by the fact that an uneducated peasant family were able to have all three of their children achieve high test scores to be admitted to college in China, reporters asked the father for his parenting secret that produced this miracle. The father went inside the house and took out a huge club behind the door. But this club did not do any wonders in my village. When I was growing up, my father was among the few who did not have such a club hanging on the wall. But I became the only one in the village who graduated from high school and went on to college.
Furthermore, I am sure you, as a Chinese American who seems to be familiar with China, are aware of the psychological damages your method has caused in China. As I have documented in my book, Catching Up or Leading the Way, the high suicide rates, wide-spread depression, and rebellious behaviors due to parent and school pressure in China have already caused the government and society to take drastic actions to reform its education system. The Asian students in the U.S., the so-called “model minority,” have also been found to have more psychological issues due to family pressure by researchers because their academic excellence is “forced” rather than chosen (read the book by a number of Asian American researchers Model Minority Myth Revisited: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Demystify Asian American Education Experience).
Moreover, I am sure you are aware that what you were doing to your children is simply serving as a taskmaster whose only job is to ensure that they do what the authority or the “successful” sector of the society values. In other words, you externalize the value of individual human beings as what others think important. You do not have an independent view of human value so you just rent the view of the society. When you force your children to get As in school, without necessarily even know what lies behind the As, you are no different from carrying out an order of an agency without ever questioning why. This, by the way, is the reason behind the misperception that somehow Chinese parents care more about their children’s education than Americans because they put a lot more pressure on their children to do school work and judge their children by school grades. I believe American parents care as much but they have different definitions of education—sports, music, art, independence, creativity, passion, a well-rounded education, or simply a happy childhood!
Lastly, I am sure you know that your children’s success—Carnegie Hall performance and other kudos and trophies—may have more to do with you as a Yale professor, the community you live in, the friends and colleagues you have, the schools they attend, the friends they have (oh, I forgot, they are not allowed to have friends, well in this case, the classmates they have), than your parenting style. There are at least 100 million Chinese parents who practiced your way of parenting but were unable to send their children to Carnegie Hall.
So I think you are joking. You are not really saying that your Chinese tiger mom approach is a great way to educating our children. Or at least, I hope!
And to conclude, I want to share a quote by Paulo Freire:
The struggle for humanization, breaking the cycles of injustice, exploitation and oppression lies in the perpetuation of oppressor versus oppressed. In these roles, those who commit the injustice, the oppressors, do not only deny freedom to those they oppress, they also risk their own humanity, because oppressor consciousness "tends to transform everything surrounding it into an object of its domination.”
Please tell me, Professor Chua, that you are joking.
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