sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

January 17, 2011

Somebody Please Explain Chinese Motherhood to Me

Filed under: society — Tags: , , , — edge of the sandbox @ 10:36 pm

I liked Amy Chua better as a polemicist.  Her Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother is an easy read, but not very rewarding.  Miss Chua, who says she fetishizes complexity, should forgive me for saying that (not that she’d ever see my little screeds).  The book is page-turner, which is nice in hard to focus circumstances, like when toddlers are running around the living room, but I just didn’t get that much out of it.

Amy Chua obviously cares about her reputation.  The word got out that she’s a meanie, and now she feels compelled to put the following message in large letters on the dust cover:

This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs.

This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones.

But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.

The thing is, Chua obscures Chinese parenting.  In one of her better passages she says:

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 often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

So it sounds like initially a child will need a good push.  Sounds like a good idea.  But Chua spend a whole decade hollering at her daughter Lulu.  Chua eventually gave up, but not before investing much time, effort and money into her reluctant child, and not before Lulu started breaking glass objects in public.  Obviously talented Lulu is quoted saying that her mother “ruined” violin for her.  It appears that Chua’s goal of raising a virtuoso violinist was undercut by power struggles.  In any case, the parenting philosophy described above doesn’t explain Chua’s behavior.  I want to know about Chinese parenting philosophy.

As for  Chua’s behavior, I’m curious what her father-in-law, who is a shrink, thinks of it.  Also, what does Chua’s father-in-law thinks of Lulu getting a mysterious food poisoning on the day of her sister’s Carnegie performance and the day before her own Juilliard audition? Her mother doesn’t think much of it.  On the subject of psychoanalysis, how about this Freudian goldmine with respect to Chua’s “good” daughter Sophia:

The summer after Florence’s passing was a difficult one.  To begin with, I ran over Sophia’s foot.  She jumped out of my car to grab a tennis racket while I was still backing up, and her left uncle got caught in the front wheel.  Sophia and I both fainted.  She ended up having surgery under full anesthesia and two big screws put in.  Then she had a wear a huge boot and use crutches for the rest of the summer, which put her in a bad mood but at least gave her a lot of time to practice piano.

This castrating mother passage has to be intentional.  Not only the author’s father-in-law is a psychiatrist, her husband Jed wrote some sort of a Freudian mystery novel.  Jed doesn’t come out too good in the book.  To be sure, she attempts to rehabilitate his masculinity here and there, but reader is still left with the question, how he allowed to transform his house into a battlefield.

I leaned more than I will ever need to know about samoyeds…  In any event, my like new copy of the Tiger Mother is now for sale.  Better get rid of it now then when it’s worth $.01.

UPDATE: Book sold!

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3 Comments »

  1. Sounds like we got the best of the book when we read the article.

    Comment by nooneofanyimport — January 18, 2011 @ 4:24 pm

  2. […] edgeofthesandbox @ 10:29 pm …just have to note that this kid probably didn’t have food poisoning on the day of his Juilliard audition.  It was probably nothing but fun for him.  I doubt his […]

    Pingback by I Promise I’ll Shut up about Chua Already « sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue — January 18, 2011 @ 10:29 pm


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