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US author stirs ‘Chinese’ child-rearing values debate

By Dan Martin

BEIJING, January 18, 2011 (AFP) – A book by a Chinese-American woman about her no-nonsense child-rearing has sparked an online flurry of criticism and debate over strict “Chinese” parenting methods versus more relaxed Western ways.

In “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” Yale University law professor Amy Chua recounts the ultra-strict regime of piano lessons and homework favored by some Asian immigrant families in the United States as the key to future success.

Links to an excerpt published this month in the Wall Street Journal have been shared countless times on Facebook and Twitter, triggering a debate over cultural values at a time of concern in the West about falling behind China.

Chua, who says she has received death threats via email, has defended herself in subsequent media interviews, saying the excerpt did not include later passages on how she learned to strike a softer balance in her parenting.

“There are death threats. And, ‘Go back to China, you abusive monster.’ It’s much more overwhelming than I thought it would be,” Chua told Newsweek magazine.

In the book, Chua, who was born and raised in the United States to ethnic Chinese parents who emigrated from the Philippines, tells how she and her husband elected to raise their two daughters the “Chinese” way.

That meant heavy pressure for nothing less than top school marks, no sleep-overs or watching television, and mandatory piano or violin study.

In one incident, she makes one of her daughters stand out in the cold for falling short on piano practice, while in another she tells guests at a dinner party how she once called her daughter “garbage” – shocking the room.

In the book excerpt published by the Wall Street Journal, Chua says for “Chinese” parents, “the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child”.

“All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that,” she writes.

Reactions have been vicious, with Chua being called a “monster” and “Mommie Dearest” – a reference to late movie star and accused child-abuser Joan Crawford. On Facebook, a “community” account called “Amy Chua Article Fail” has been set up, drawing mostly negative comments against Chua from users.

There has been comparatively little comment so far in China, where children study intensely for make-or-break exams to enter high school and college. A Mandarin version of the book has only just been released.

Lao Kaisheng, an education professor at Capital Normal University in Beijing, said the book could eventually strike a chord in China where parenting for many is in a state of flux as society transforms.

China’s so-called “one-child policy” has created a generation of only children widely viewed as spoiled, but rising competition in a more market-based economy has upped the pressure, he told AFP.

“In the cities, conditions are better but the pressure is also greater now. The extended family of parents and grandparents now pins all of its hopes on one child,” Lao said.

“In the past, parents were more tolerant of bad grades.”

Chinese Internet users both lauded Chua’s commitment to pushing her children – and criticized her for going too far.

“It is incorrect to call these ‘Chinese’ parenting methods,” said tangshihuang, a user of the micro-blog service of top portal Sina.com.

“I am a parent. You must ensure a good future for your children but throughout Chinese history the concept of balance has also been important. China is evolving and it may no longer be accurate to apply the ‘Chinese’ tag as before.”

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