Why Desi Mothers are Superior (Or Not)

If you haven’t already, I suggest you take a good, long look at the article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” which appeared last Sunday in the WSJ by Amy Chua, a Yale Law School professor. The piece, an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir, describes Chinese parenting techniques in relation to those of “Western parents.” Chua cites her personal experiences with her two daughters, Sophia and Louisa, and all the activities she doesn’t allow them to do– like “have a playdate” or “choose their own extracurricular activities.” Sound familiar? If you grew up in a desi household, it probably does. And Chua’s recollection of a particular situation, where her seven-year old daughter Lulu had trouble learning a difficult piano piece, may also strike a chord, no pun intended:

I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

Now, I consider my own mother to be a very good mother. Edit. I consider my mother to be an excellent mother. As a childhood elementary education major, my mother could be quite rigid when it came to rules, but she gave us siblings room to pursue our own interests. As long as I pulled in semi-respectable grades, I was free to audition for the school play, write for the school paper, etc. But as I read Chua’s piece, particularly the piano piece story, I instantly recalled the time when I was a nine-year old struggling with fractions and my mother, who home-schooled us, might as well have been a “Chinese parent.” Perhaps my mother was particularly frustrated or stressed that day, but my failure to comprehend adding and subtracting fractions turned her into a banshee. She yelled. She screamed. She threatened. She beat. And sobbing, I spent the entire day by her side, learning fractions. Like Lulu, I did finally make that breakthrough. I learned how to add and subtract fractions. I got it. But 16 years later, if I find myself in the slightest bit of a stressful situation involving numbers, I still freeze. Even though I’ve actually taught math to high school students, if you ask me calculate tip at a crowded table with a waiter hovering over my shoulder, I start to stutter and fumble. My heart races. I feel my hands start to shake. I’ve gotten better at controlling my nervousness when confronted with numbers, but it’s never going to go away.

Chua describes her story as a win for Chinese parenting:

Western parents worry a lot about their children’s self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.

And no doubt many of you appreciate your parents for pushing you into learning the basics necessary for your academic and professional success. I’ve heard any number of desi folks tell me, (and I’m paraphrasing here) “If my mother/father hadn’t beat learning into me, I wouldn’t be the person I am now.” But they go on to ask, “But at what cost?” Chua mocks Western notions of self-esteem in relation to children, but I refuse to believe that bullying and browbeating a child promotes a healthy intellectual curiosity. Sure, Chua is right in saying that children of a certain age may need to be persuaded to accomplish certain milestones. But I worry about parents who can only accomplish this through threats or bribes–which Chua apparently promotes. And Chua never mentions the beatings that usually accompany such disciplining. Many were the times that I saw my Asian peers get thrashed by their parents for failing to produce less than perfect results. I’m not anti-corporal punishment, per se, but parents with Chua’s mindset often teeter over the border between abuse and discipline.

I hope some of you parents and parents-to be will join me in condemning this kind of parenting. I love my parents, I do. And I know that compared with the kinds of punishments they and their classmates received in Pakistan, their way of raising us was relatively tame. But I’d never even considering using the shaming, belittling methods spelled out by Chua and used in so many desi households. And I’m sure neither would most of you.

Note: Thanks to Nila for editing this post.

UPDATED: Take a look at this great piece from Slate that emphasizes that Amy Chua’s parenting techniques represent one kind of “Chinese mother.”

125 thoughts on “Why Desi Mothers are Superior (Or Not)

  1. Yeah, Chua is being really weird. That kind of parenting leads to good grades in grade school, maybe an Ivy League college admission if you’re lucky, but not a Nobel prize–just look at the freaking statistics! Also, it’s crazy to think this is somehow “desi.” It’s freaking low-on-self-esteem middle class striver drone, is what it is. You won’t find this kind of parenting among the clubbable, South Bombay/Stephanians crowd, LOL!

  2. Your fractions story could be my multiplication tables story, and I know exactly what you mean about that brain-freezing panic that starts up as soon as any calculations need to be done. I’ve tried slowing down and taking my time, but I still have to go through the panic first, and sometimes you can’t slow down because there are people looking at you waiting for an answer. I’m not a fainter, but I’ve considered letting myself pass out just to avoid the issue.

    I do think that ‘western’ methods of parenting are too lenient and there’s way too much emphasis on what a precious little snowflake each kid is, but this kind of bullying is not the only alternative. My father’s method was reason and respect and somehow it worked. I do acknowledge that it may only have worked because I knew full well what the alternative was, but it was certainly a more useful approach and nothing my dad taught me/helped me with causes me to break out into a cold sweat.

  3. “It’s freaking low-on-self-esteem middle class striver drone”

    EXACTLY! Nice one Seema. My parents were extremely lenient. Provided my grades were above a B+: I had no curfew, could host parties at my house and my girlfriends could stay over. Good times!
    

    “beat learning into me..” that’s some pathetic shit right there.

    Most desi parents are just one hair short of mental completely fucking their kids up turning them into….yes you guessed it “middle class striver drones.” Don’t end up like one of them.

  4. There is the problem of time–the quantified basis for Chua’s article and book are likely based on test scores, income and other mostly inarguably quantifiable phenomenon. What it doesn’t measure is how many of those kids will enter therapy and think of their childhood as a hellish proving ground for developing only the character traits their parents found most desirable. That said, ‘middle class striver drones,” are legion and the lifestyle and consumption habits associated with them are still considered desirable. However ‘alterna-desi’ you may be it’s not going to make up for the lack of SWPL lifestyle.

  5. Nandalal, You pose a false dichotomy. The point is to do better than middle class striver drone (e.g., win a Nobel prize, start a company, be an actor, make movies) not worse (slacker Gen X type).

  6. I actually saw a very interesting comment on Matt Yglesias’ blog about this. Someone mentioned that immigrant parents lack the kind of social capital when they move to this country, so the only reliable route to success is basically to join the holy trifecta of professions (doctor, lawyer, engineer.) Stuff that requires creativity and entrepreneurship is a high risk/high gain proposition where the risk gets immeasurably higher when you can’t schmooze and can’t have your parents pull your ass out of the fire when you screw up by sweet talking the sheriff.

    It’s probably a slightly more fearful an interpretation than is necessary, but it gave me some insight into why my parents were as protective as they were. Granted my parents were never as bad as this lady. They fostered a great deal of respect for the arts and actually berated me for not being involved in enough extracurricular activities rather than having too few and not having enough of a social life rather than staying home too much.

    The point is to do *better* than middle class striver drone

    Nobel prize winning generally has a career backing it up (although tenure is basically a lottery these days), but entrepreneurship or a career in showbiz is an extremely high risk proposition. You might succeed, but for every 1 that does there are 20 that crashed and burned. If you’re lucky they got a fallback. If you’re unlucky they’re unhappy and have fallen into some pretty hard times. You don’t hear those stories because it interferes with America’s Horatio Alger mythos.

    I understand and agree that self-fulfillment and expression are more important than money, but financial security is a pretty basic foundation before you can have those things. You don’t get to leapfrog your way across Maslow’s pyramid.

    • “I understand and agree that self-fulfillment and expression are more important than money, but financial security is a pretty basic foundation before you can have those things. You don’t get to leapfrog your way across Maslow’s pyramid.”

      Yep, again the timing matters. I sometimes think that intervention before Junior gets a college degree in the humanities is worth far more in financial security than beating Junior for not adding fractions.

  7. If you grew up in a desi household

    i think this is somewhat true, but it has to be the right kind of desi. south asia has the highest number of illiterate people in the world in absolute terms, and the academic outcomes of punjabis in BC and pakistanis in the UK aren’t exactly stellar. so yes, chua’s attitudes apply to a particular subset of south asian, those who read this weblog may have had such parents, or they may be such parents, but it’s not a “desi” thing going by the numbers.

    also, chua’s method has problems when the whole society goes in that direction. thing korea of the cram schools. yes, south korea is wealthy, but east asian nations have some serious problems when it comes to creative innovation. the most “outside-the-box” east asian thinkers often find more congenial environs in silicon valley or in american universities. when everyone tries to be #1 by the book, they often don’t follow oddball paths.

  8. Yoga Fire, There’s something to what you’re saying, but look at the Greeks in America–as long as you get a good education, no field is really that risky! They have full-spectrum dominance, unlike the Chinese that Chua is so fond of. Much better model for desis.

  9. I sometimes think that intervention before Junior gets a college degree in the humanities is worth far more in financial security than beating Junior for not adding fractions.


    Yeah, smarty, too bad Lloyd Blanfein’s parents didn’t intervene and prevent him from getting that B.A. degree. A B.S. would have been far better for his career. . . .

  10. @Razib East Asia innovation – Samsung, Sony, Toyota, Baidu…..

    @Seema What difference does/did parenting ever make for your prospects? In India don’t you get a free education & minimum 50% of the places in the top colleges, scholarships to go abroad, and top jobs just because you’re “lower” caste? Totally irrespective of your income or your aptitude/achievements of course, all when Brahmins (poorest in society) receive nothing not even food/income support. Nobel Prizes, space program, breaking sporting records, starting businesses, that’s just for the casteist oppressors eh?

    And what are you “desis” banging on about entrepreneurship for? Indian immigrants founded more companies than Chinese, Taiwanese and British immigrants put together. Almost 25% of the immigrants who founded companies in the innovation/manufacturing-related services field are from India, followed at a distance by Taiwan and China at 6% each. Within the software field, Indian immigrants established 34% of the software companies founded by immigrants from 1995 to 2005.

    Acting? Have you heard of Bollywood? Greeks LOL.

  11. all when Brahmins (poorest in society)


    I’m naive enough not to fully understand your agenda, but that assertion is flat-out false. Have you any acquaintance with the tribals? Or, urban Muslims? I could go on. . . .

  12. @Seema

    I see you’ve offered no factual rebuttal to my description of the Indian apartheid system where minimum 50-70% of education, jobs is DENIED to Brahmins and other “upper” castes in FAVOUR of RICH so-called “lower” castes.

    Want statistics about the Indian apartheid system against “upper” castes? Per capita income of various communities as stated by the Karnataka Finance Minister in the State Assembly: Christian Rs.1562, Vokkaligas Rs.914, Muslims Rs.794, Scheduled caste Rs.680, Scheduled Tribes Rs.577 and Brahmins Rs.537.

    55 per cent of all Brahmins live below the poverty line (Rs. 650 per month).

    Hundreds of families that are surviving on just Rs. 500 per month as priests in various temples (Department of Endowments statistics) Priests are under tremendous difficulty today, sometimes even forced to beg for alms for survival. At Tamil Nadu’s Ranganathaswamy Temple, a priest’s monthly salary is Rs.300 (Census Department studies) and a daily allowance of one measure of rice. The government staff (“lower” castes) at the same temples receive Rs.2500 plus per month. The Indian Govt gives 1000 crores for salaries of imams in mosques and 200 crores as Haj subsidies. But no such help is available to Brahmins and upper castes.

    You thing they can change this when only 5 seats out 600 in the combined UP and Bihar assembly are held by Brahmins? BRAVO Democracy!

  13. Yeah, I think the beating/teaching method that Phillygrrl is taking about isn’t limited to just school work or being a “middle class drone” per se. My dada used the cane he walked on to teach us pretty much anything. Often just to teach us tameez.

    I think desis in general find it more socially acceptable to haze or mock each other. Just watch a Punjabi stage show, the entire script consists of characters berating each other. Last time I was in Lahore I met this girl who was pet named “moti” by her friends. Combine that kind of frankness with corporal punishment and you could end up with a humiliated kid who will habitually sink into pits of guilt.

  14. I grew up in a western household and mutual respect between my parents and I was enough to motivate me to strive academically, extracurricularly, and socially. Sure, there were consequences if I was out of line, but it was knowing I could earn respect from my parents, that they expected me to succeed, that encouraged me to do so. It didn’t take bribes or concessions, just honesty.

  15. Now taking bets on when Sophia comes home with five tattoos and a drug-dealing biker dude or, worse, ends up middle management at a Wall Street bank or oil company with all the other western “losers” (and I base the over-under on friends’ and personal experiences).

    The first one in my family to marry a non-Indian, for a while I feared that question the Indian aunties LOVE to ask, “What will your children be?” Let me see. They will hopefully:

    a) not be assholes, b) be socially well-rounded, c) be capable of dealing with life’s certain curveballs, d) not be general nervous wrecks, who flinch and suffer chest pains before authority figures because they think they’re going to be hit, and e) do math to solve actual problems, change their own oil and tires, grow and hunt their own food, and come up with practical solutions to real life challenges.

    “Western” parents do indulge or over-indulge their kids and are, to an extent, afraid of them. There could be an increased sense of educational and cultural achievement, and some more pushing will not hurt at all. But not at the Stage 5 levels of cultural pathology – notions of personal failure, socio-cultural inferiority/competition and traditional authority (and the sadism that brings with it) – confused as love on the part of Asian parents. You want your kid to make it, and that’s no crime, but at what expense? If you end up as your parents did mentally and emotionally, but are slightly farther ahead financially, was this all worth it?

    There is an area between spoiled, over-indulged loser and serious, disciplined “winner.” In fact, there are a lot of American (Asian and non-Asian) kids in that space, and they are doing just fine.

  16. I grew up in one of those households where there was a lot of pressure to succeed academically. That was not a uniquely Indian thing in my neighborhood. But, what made it problematic in my case is that my parents were unable to see what the interests and strengths of their kids were. My brother was strong in math and science, so I was forced to follow in his footsteps, despite the fact that history was my strong suit. I wasted many days in math clubs and science fairs. When I could not replicate my brother’s success, I was berated and yeah, occasionally smacked around. The beatings became less frequent as I grew, as I showed no hesitancy to hit them back. It was something I used to feel guilty about, but not anymore. On the other hand, my own successes in areas such a history, journalism, etc. were largely dismissed as teenage folly, with no “real world” application.

    What was particularly galling was that with the increased prominence of Indians in the media, my mom had the nerve to ask me, with a straight face, “Why didn’t you pursue a career in journalism?” It was as if all those years of hearing her say, “Journalism is a dead end.” never happened.

    Needless to say, those years had a lasting effect. I don’t call home unless it’s a birthday. When the units call me, I keep the conversation to under 2 minutes. I do spend Thanksgiving and Christmas at their house, but the interaction is minimal. I’m there to spend time with extended family, not them.

    I should mention that my brother and sister got treated like crap too. As adults, we all moved away.

  17. I grew up in a white midwestern household and I think the key was that my parents instilled in us simply a love of learning that then had the side-consequence of academic success. That will probably take you further in life than a parent trying to beat a particular piece of knowledge into you. Am I as financially well off as they were? No, but many of our generation aren’t. Do I enjoy what I do for a living? Yes. I would like to think that I would raise a kid in a similar way — introduce them to as many ideas and experiences as possible, encourage their natural curiosity and let them find the strengths that will allow them to pay their own bills as an adult and enjoy life. What more success do you need?

  18. Just a counter-intuitive experience – I grew up in India, and my parents never stopped me from watching Beverly Hills 90210, while my Irish-American fiancée grew up in a ‘western’ household in S. Carolina, and was not allowed to watch that show. More recently, my parents and grandparents have expressed bewilderment at our decision not to move in together, while my fiancée’s parents have made clear that if we did move in together we were looking at an apocalypse.

  19. There is a HUGE difference between challenging a child and holding them to high standards vs. coercing or forcing them to participate in certain activities. This lady comes close to child-abuse.

    And, yes, I have seen desi parents with similar attitudes. Their kids grow up with a lot of fear, often have difficulty stepping our on their own. One US desi person I know used similar techniques on her daughter (often the girls suffer the most) – ultimately the daughter got into stanford. And never spoke to or ever saw the mother again.

  20. Western self-expression and “fulfillment” are overrated.

    That’s one of the reasons the American economy is in the position its in right now.

  21. Sam makes good points. I never got how the meme “Brahmins are wealthiest caste in India” got started. I’m not a Brahmin so I don’t have a stake in this, but if you travel through small town and rural Indian, Brahmins are amongst the most poorest and often the most backward as well in terms of education and general awareness of the world – what to speak of their outdated customs and cleanliness habits based on ritual purity rather than science and hygeine.

    • I never got how the meme “Brahmins are wealthiest caste in India” got started.

      Half-educated blowhards who take facts about India from books written during the early days of the British Raj as being both accurate and relevant to the modern world.

  22. The first one in my family to marry a non-Indian, for a while I feared that question the Indian aunties LOVE to ask, “What will your children be?” Let me see. They will hopefully:

    Human?! Anyone with half-a-brain shouldn’t be asking such a stupid question!

    Chua is talking about E.Asian parenting, a very different thing from IA or other than IA SA parenting. In my neck of the woods, a v.diverse community (whose efforts at school integration pre-date Brown v.) the American-American families tend to be more concerned with academic+extra-curricular excellence the wealthier they are. The brown-yellow families (I mean Suez to Tsukuba) are obsessed with excellence regardless. But the brown families (such as mine) know to shake a leg and are not given to strictness a la Prof.Chua. Outcomes are about the same, so I believe the brown way is superior if not at least as good!

    And I can’t understand this obsession with the piano, flute and violin (yuk to all three!). I wonder why hardly any E.Asian kid excels at the guitar, unless they have rebelled. I am smugly happy about how Indian-American familes give the finger to Western Classical Music and instead get their children trained in Indian Classical Music and Dance.

    I would rather have a talking walking genius like Rajna Swaminathan, or Rohan Krishnamurthy, or a Sumita Pennathur (OK she learnt WC saxophone but also spent time learning the sax Indian style.

    “Well, in addition to being a professor, I’m a jazz musician—I play the alto saxophone, and I feel like it really balances me. I had an all-female jazz trio, Ambika, in San Francisco when I was doing my Ph.D. at…”

    Before the flame war starts one more bone to fight over. My friends in a big city have twin girls who play the violin with the youth orchestra of the local philharmonic. They watch about an hour of TV everyday and argue the heck out of their parents. They are doing fine Prof.Chua. Thank you!

  23. And I can’t understand this obsession with the piano, flute and violin (yuk to all three!). I wonder why hardly any E.Asian kid excels at the guitar, unless they have rebelled. I am smugly happy about how Indian-American familes give the finger to Western Classical Music and instead get their children trained in Indian Classical Music and Dance.

    I’ve often wondered about this. At first one might say East Asians are just more assimilationist, but even the ones in China, Japan, and Korea are like this. European classics get drilled more than local ones there too.

    India we do tend to underrate local literature and theater. But most of the other fine arts we tend to stress are strictly Indic. Anyone have theories on the division?

  24. I wondered about the East Asian interest in Western classical music too. I do enjoy it, particularly when I am working at the office. But few of my Indian contemporaries pursued it. There were some who took piano & violin lessons, but no one continued after high school. OTOH, we were required to partake in Bengali plays, singing recitals, and almost every Bengali girl I grew up with had to take dance at one time or another.

    Perhaps it’s my limited exposure, but I do not think traditional East Asian music has made inroads into American audiences to the degree that Indian music has. Indeed, when I go to Indian classical concerts, it seems a healthy percentage of the audience, and a fair number of the performing musicians, are not of South Asian background. OTOH, East Asian films, such as Bruce Lee classics or films from the golden age of Hong Kong cinema, seem to be more widely viewed by American audiences than Indian films.

  25. “‘I’ve often wondered about this. At first one might say East Asians are just more assimilationist, but even the ones in China, Japan, and Korea are like this. European classics get drilled more than local ones there too.” Indian Classical music and dance are awesome and admired around the world. Chinese and Japanese classical music and dance – not so great.

  26. Chua sounds like a real life South Park character – a caricature-on-crack of the stereotypical Asian mom. None of my asian friends have parents who are this overbearing. I wonder if the Chinese American community thinks she is really representative of the average mother?

    I kind of had a similar experience with math…my dad really, really pushed me to do well in math from a young age. What’s funny is I was never bad at it in the first place – I was always in the advanced classes and all that fluff, and I liked school as a kid. But years of being screamed at, hit, and punished for getting less than perfect grades in math made me hate the subject. In college I initially picked a liberal arts major because I thought I hated math. Then I switched to science after realizing I actually kinda like math when it’s not being forcibly beaten into me.

    Indian Classical music and dance are awesome and admired around the world. Chinese and Japanese classical music and dance – not so great.

    Hmm maybe we can thank the beatles for the western interest in indian classical music? I’ve always thought indian music/dance is a lot better than other Asian music i’ve heard too, but we’re both obviously biased here since we were exposed to it at an early age.

  27. My parents were certainly ‘stricter’ than most ‘western’ parents I knew, in that I think they had very consistently high expectations and there was an unspoken understanding that I wasn’t going to party a lot or go out on school nights. I was always amazed when my friends’ parents would let them go to a movie on a school night, for instance. Really, that was b^c I had to get up at 6am and never had enough sleep anyway. But my rxn to that piece was ‘holy shit, I hope everyone doesn’t think my mother was like that, b/c that woman is INSANE’. No water? No bathroom break? Are you kidding? That scene felt like it bordered on child abuse to me. And who makes their kid take lessons in some random thing they didn’t choose? Does the world really need more unhappy violinists? Also, I can’t imagine any desi parent, or at least any Bengali. Parent, being so opposed to theater. Quite the opposite, they are always getting together and making plays for their kids to be in.

    I know I’m lucky in that my mother always encouraged me to persue my interests, and there were desi parents out there who were far less understanding. But Chua really sounds super crazy to me.

  28. I think Chua is cynically trying to ride the China bubble. But, she’s jumped the shark. Just like mainland China, “testing” their fake stealth-jet while Gates is visiting. What a bunch of self-congratulatory nonsense–all proud just because the stupid country has cheap labor so can make stuff cheaply because they displace people willy-nilly to make factories and pollute the whole world.

  29. let’s just remember that amy chua is a yale law professor. her husband is a yale law professor. i suspect her daughters will do well, but, i think perhaps amy should read judith rich harris’ the nurture assumption for a big reason why.

    as for balance, it isn’t as if the ‘golden mean’ isn’t unknown to chinese. the principle is alluded to in the analects. chua sounds less chinese, and more ivy league meritocrat.

    kxb’s point about aptitudes is also one i wish more parents would take into account. would save a lot of heart ache and stress. both sides of my family are mathematically oriented. i’m actually the least mathematically oriented brother. but my sister doesn’t have those strengths, and my parents encouraged her to do something outside the natural sciences. she’s getting straight A’s at college, instead of the C’s which i suspect she’d get if she was trying to work through organic chem or linear algebra.

  30. I wonder if Chua’s Chinese mother taught her that the best way to get a job teaching at Yale Law was to marry a non-Chinese Yale Law professor??

  31. “I think Chua is cynically trying to ride the China bubble. “

    The odd thing is, Chua is not from China. She was born into an elite Chinese family in the Philippines, and that is where she spent most of her childhood. Her first book “World on Fire” was very good and examined the role that “market dominant minorities” play in different countries, such as the Chinese in SE Asia, Jews in Eastern Europe, and Indians in East Africa.

  32. The odd thing is

    odd? the overseas chinese are amongst the biggest surfers on the bubble, no?

  33. KXB–huh? That she’s from the Phil’s but ethnically Chinese doesn’t mean she can’t try to ride the China bubble! She calls herself a Chinese mom, not a Filipina one!

  34. Why are people saying that Chua’s actions are “close to” child abuse? Isn’t denying bathroom usage per se abuse? The “accomodationist” view (that is, because Chua is an Ivy League professor, what she’s doing must be ok, even if “close to” the line) is the same sort of bs that allows our fathers and brothers to commit domestic violence against us in the desi community, so long as they are “pillars of the community” like doctors.

    • The “accomodationist” view (that is, because Chua is an Ivy League professor, what she’s doing must be ok, even if “close to” the line)

      I have yet to see anyone espousing this view.

      is the same sort of bs that allows our fathers and brothers to commit domestic violence against us in the desi community, so long as they are “pillars of the community” like doctors.

      I have also yet to see anyone say that domestic violence is “okay” from anyone.

      I do wonder about your word choice there though. Why specifically say “fathers and brothers” rather than “people?” Is there supposed to be some implication that we’re just prone to beating women up for shits and giggles?

      • Yoga Fire, what I’m saying is that calling denial of bathroom usage “close to” abuse is crazy. And, that’s been asserted upthread. Why? It’s indicative of “letting it go” if the abuser has social capital. And, it’s flat-out wrong.

        • You were not there. Chua knows her kids better than you and I’m willing to bet that she cares about her kids more than you do. I get really annoyed at people pretending that reading a hearsay account of something and then filling in the details with their own imaginations somehow constitutes a God’s eye view of what was actually happening and then proceeding to judge people based on it. Presumably the girl’s mother knows what her daughter’s bladder limits are. Presumably she also knows how close she is to getting the piece and what kind of temperament the kid has.

          I’ll agree she played it wrong. Primarily because for things like music, problem solving, athletics, etc. your best performance comes when you’re in a state of total focus that you can’t get if you’re stressed and being screamed at from the sidelines. But if a kid is trying to ask for a break just because they don’t feel like practicing it’s not “abusive” to say “no.” Accusations of evils like child abuse or racism or whathaveyou get thrown around way too easily with far too little direct information on the internet.

          It’s “close to abuse” because it skirts a line. But it’s not your place to decide whether it crosses it because you don’t know the details.

  35. It is true that the Chinese in SE Asia often use the “bamboo-network” to make inroads into the booming Chinese market. Such Chinese are often viewed with suspicion and jealousy by their Filipino, Indonesian, or Malaysian neighbors. Before he went to college, my Filipino friend was warned by his mother, “Don’t date a Chinese girl!”

    But as others have pointed out, Chua seems oblivious to the fact that she ignores her & her husband’s Ivy League jobs, and the opportunities that such jobs open up for their own children. I have a hunch that a Chinese couple working 8 days a week at a corner grocery to pay off a snakehead will have a different outlook.

    But, to step back from Chua, and find some humor in the issue of Asian study habits, I’m reminded of Chris Rock’s dismissal of Babe Ruth’s career. Pointing out that Babe Ruth never playing against black players, he joked, “That’s like saying I got the highest SAT score, but no Asians took the test!”

  36. There’s a Q & A with Amy Chua today at TIME.com. A little bit from it:

    How have your children felt about all the controversy? They’ve been really really supportive. The thing that hurts me most is this idea that if you practice this strict parenting you’re going to get robots. My children are not robots. They have the biggest personalities. They’re always putting me in my place. What did your parents think? They were cautious, but completely supportive. We’re very close. But I want to spare them any pain, so I hope they don’t know how to use the internet.
  37. “The “accomodationist” view (that is, because Chua is an Ivy League professor, what she’s doing must be ok, even if “close to” the line) is the same sort of bs that allows our fathers and brothers to commit domestic violence against us in the desi community, so long as they are “pillars of the community” like doctors.”

    TOUCHE!

  38. re: chua, chinese vs. filipina. isn’t she technically a chinese filipina? the philippines is multi-ethnic even among the malayan speaking peoples, and includes mestizos such as enrique iglesias’ mother. also, a huge number of “non-chinese” filipino people have chinese ancestry. ferdinand marcos and corazon aquino for example both had chinese ancestry.

    i think chua’s piece is really more informative of class than ethnicity or culture.

  39. One reader posting at Quora about the WSJ piece shared an email response she got from Chua over the weekend:

    Dear Christine: Thank you for taking the time to write me, and I’m so sorry about your sister. I did not choose the title of the WSJ excerpt, and I don’t believe that there is only one good way of raising children. The actual book is more nuanced, and much of it is about my decision to retreat from the “strict Chinese immigrant” model. Best of luck to you, Amy Chua

    If the WSJ piece is an “excerpt” then I can see how it’s being used as bookbait to get people to want to read more. Unless it brings up such painful personal memories that they wouldn’t touch the book with a ten-foot pole. In which case, maybe they aren’t the intended audience anyway.

  40. “I get really annoyed at people pretending that reading a hearsay account of something and then filling in the details with their own imaginations”

    It isn’t hearsay..the mother HERSELF wrote the account of what she does…based on that we say she is bonkers.

    And frankly many times parents know the least about their children and their limits. We wouldn’t have such a thriving mental health industry were that not the case.

    "you don't know the details."
    

    We know enough. Amy Chua is a bully who lives through her children…case closed

  41. True, we don’t know the exact details, but based on what she wrote:

    I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic. I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

    She threatened her with “no lunch”and then made her work through dinner. Assuming lunch is around 12pm-2pm and dinner is between 6-8pm, she worked a 7 year old for 6-8 hours straight at the piano and forbid her to eat, drink, or even use the bathroom. And then she’s surprised when there’s “negative progress”? Haha

    We can debate all day if she’s abusive, but I don’t think there’s any argument as to whether or not the lady is nuts.

  42. but I don’t think there’s any argument as to whether or not the lady is nuts.

    just sounds korean to me :-)

  43. Western self-expression and “fulfillment” are overrated. That’s one of the reasons the American economy is in the position its in right now.

    Despite renowned Asian work ethic, most of Asia is poverty-stricken and lags severely behind the West in terms of economy, innovation, education, healthcare, etc…in almost all quantifiable ways. Hard work and diligence are important, but creativity and self-expression are needed for innovation. Traits like diligence aren’t strangers to western cultures either (although modern day Americans could probably use some help in this regard). My point is, we don’t want a nation of depressed, miserable grinds all fiddling away with their violins. When you look at people who are unusually successful (outliers of society) they’re often those who have combined their intelligence and diligence with creativity.

    I don’t really see Chua as being anti-Western at all. She may force her daughters to play piano and violin half the day, but it’s likely Beethoven, Mozart, Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky they’re playing, not….hmm I can’t think of any Chinese musical geniuses off the top of my head. She moved to the US to study American law and teach at our universities, she chose to marry a White American guy, she chose to adopt his religion (Judaism) for her family, and she is raising his children, who are culturally Western, whether or not she forces them to go to Mandarin school on weekends. I really doubt she restricts her children from participating in sports/theatre/etc though. I mean Harvard must get, what, thousands of Asian applicants a year who were first violinist in the string ensemble and participated in Intel Siemens research…hey, the clever Asian parents are probably trying to get ahead of the curve by pushing Junior into trying out for sports and the school play too.

    • Yo-Yo Ma?

      The cello is neither a violin nor a piano. Therefore he is a miserable failure in life according to Chua.

  44. Desis are big time into socialization. I couldn’t see too many desis denying their child an opportunity to mix with other children or pursue some extracirricular. The desis I knew, growing up, have all been free to have a social life and pursue hobbies……. but only as long as the fun was parent-supervised and the kid was making grades in anticipation of college. There is a lot of time devoted to academics, but desis believe in some play too.
    Compared to East Asians and Chinese, I think desis are a little bit softer and less single minded in some ways, but both groups push their pretty really hard academically. Both groups also have an expectation that the child will obey the parents and fufill their wishes, even if it brings the child some level of unhapiness.

    Hitting a kid to teach him academics is pretty commonly done in India, especially in the villages. From what I hear, it’s not done so much in the cities these days, but is still standard elsewhere.

    As for “indulgence” and “self-esteem”, I think you’re right that middle and upper class (important to note that class distinction) Westerners tend to value that a lot. However, I’ve seen a lot of more assimilated and affluent desis do that too, especially with sons. I have a hard time believing I’m the only one here who knows a bunch of spoiled, overindulged desi mama’s boys. You know, the type that were the kings of the household and whose parents catered to their every whim. Usually come from a more settled and financially upscale family. Even if he screws up in life and makes trouble for everyone around him, his parents, especially mom, continue to pamper him. If you don’t know these type, I suggest taking a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia or Toronto….. Well to do desis can be very indulgent with their boys, but no so much girls.

    East Asian parents are more hardcore with a son or daughter that shamed them.