An essay about the superiority of Chinese mothers published in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month generated such a huge firestorm of controversy and rage for its perceived celebration of racist supremacist and tyrannical behavior to raise children. I read the piece and it was quite outrageous. Combined with the essay title “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” I really wondered if the writer was for real. Amy Chua, a Yale Law School professor and author of several books including one on global capitalism and poverty, comes out as a demented parent hellbent on rigidly controlling and coercing her children because that was how she was raised and because she feels Chinese culture is superior in this aspect. While a few aspects of what she described are a bit similar to how I was raised, me being (overseas) Chinese as well, I found it harsh and repulsive. Judging from the online backlash and the myriad comments for the essay, many others did as well.
Yet, the funny thing is this is actually a sham. The WSJ piece was a distortion of Chua’s experiences but whether it was a brilliant act of manipulation by the WSJ only or by both Chua and the WSJ, it remains to be seen. First, the “essay” is actually an excerpt from Chua’s new book. Second, the excerpt is not a whole passage or chapter, but actually pieced together from various parts of the book, to create the most inflammable and controversial article possible, leading most to think this is actually a full passage in the book. Third, the “essay’s” headline and the “essay’s” tense give the impression that this is an opinion or features article. And by extension, many people may think Chua’s book is a how-to book on parenting, which it is not. I mean, given that Chua’s book is not a how-to book but a memoir; why would the WSJ or Chua publish an excerpt that gives the impression of telling people what or how to do something. The irony is that if it was apparent that the WSJ piece was an excerpt from the book, a lot of people wouldn’t have gotten so worked up over it. Given the tremendous feedback and publicity over this piece and Chua’s book, then whatever the WSJ folks coined up seems to have worked.
I’m not saying don’t read the book because the book itself seems very fascinating and insightful, especially given that it is full of cross-cultural clashes involving Chua’s (overseas) Chinese heritage and conventional “Western/American” values. But I wish this piece of manufactured controversy (on the WSJ or Chua’s end, not the angry commentors) didn’t have to happen.
Some choice excerpts from the original WSJ “essay:”
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.
The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty—lose some weight.” By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of “health” and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image.
Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences. That’s why Chinese daughters can’t have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can’t go to sleepaway camp. It’s also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, “I got a part in the school play! I’m Villager Number Six. I’ll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I’ll also need a ride on weekends.” God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.