Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

Written by Amy Chau, a law professor at Yale, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior will definitely draw different reactions from parents, both Eastern and Western. Though I first saw the article posted online, I also received it as a link from my cousin Jenny, who copied me and all of the other cousins as well. I’m sure more than one of us read through this with a few nods of recognition.

Using her own children as an example, Chau highlights the stark differences between Chinese parents and “Western” parents. Particularly, she focuses on areas like schoolwork, grades, and music.

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it.

It’s interesting to me to hear this parenting approach articulated in such a way. I grew up in a Chinese household, but I never felt like I was shamed, per se. Don’t get me wrong – it was strict, and our family took grades very seriously. But I don’t recall excoriation or punishment due to performance.

I remember doing a lot of homework with my mom, at the kitchen table. And exercises too, in addition to the regular coursework. Thankfully, though, it was never anywhere near what Chau describes in her article.

The sentiment I recognize is that one can always be doing better. My parents never expected perfection from me, but whenever I came home with grades less than an A… I understood that they felt I could do better. Inevitably, I was asked about my friends’ grades. How did Aaron do? What did Eugene get? They were smarter than me, and always had better grades… but to my parents, it wasn’t about that. If others could attain those grades, then naturally so could I.

Here’s another interesting bit from Chau:

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.

This is me and my sister Stacey, practicing in the living room circa 1983.

I wouldn’t say that my mother matched Chau’s approach to music, but I know music was an important thing to my parents. My sister and I both took piano at an early age, and then we also picked up violin as well. I remember practicing a lot, and still recall moments where I could see friends playing outside while I was inside, memorizing songs.

When I complained about having to practice, I distinctly remember my parents saying You’ll thank us one day. I’m pretty sure I had a good response for that, at the time. But lo and behold, sometime around my sophomore year of college, I came home and said those very words. I thanked my parents for forcing me to practice so much, when I was younger.

I didn’t like it when it happened, and I wouldn’t choose to go through it again. But I’m glad I was “forced” to learn music. Though it’s not a direct part of my life today, it definitely influenced the person I became.

If I ever have kids, I’m certain I’d insist on them learning piano at the very least. Whether they wanted to or not. Learning music at an early age to me is a bit like learning Science – it’s not an option or choice, it’s a part of what you need to learn. Music to me is just like another language, and a necessary one at that.

Some of Chau’s stories are a bit… brutal. While I definitely felt the importance of doing well in school and getting good grades, I’m very glad that I can look back see a childhood that wasn’t entirely defined by schoolwork or music. I had my fair share of slumber parties and school plays, thank you very much.

I’m looking forward to meeting up with my cousins again, and matching notes. For all the other kids I knew who grew up in a slightly stricter Asian family… I’m curious to hear what they think now, as adults. Especially my friends who are now parents themselves, with kids of their own.

Presumably, with kids playing violin or piano.

High Expectations Asian Father

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Funny…I just read the review of her book in Entertainment Weekly. http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20455695,00.htmlThe book sounds really interesting, but she sounds a little nuts. I think my parents were like yours in that it was always understood that I could do better, but my mother certainly didn’t reject my homemade cards or threaten to burn my stuffed animals. Geesh. They gave the book a B though, and I’m still inclined to read it. I may link to this post…really good topic, particularly since it seems like half of my readers are now having kids. It’d be fascinating to hear what soon-to-be or current parents think about the topic.

    Marty J. Reply

  2. I *love* the fact that she got a “B” for her book review.

    avoision Reply

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