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Posted on Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 6:12 p.m.

There are other ways of being a Chinese mother than Amy Chua's Tiger Mother

By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang


A different kind of Chinese mother unlike Amy Chua's Tiger Mother: Frances Kai-Hwa Wang with children Niu Niu and Little Brother lion dancing at Detroit Tigers' opening baseball game last year.

Photograph courtesy of Andrew Fang -

On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from Yale law professor Amy Chua’s upcoming book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” entitled, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior—Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids? And what happens when they fight back?”

Let me just say I think this article is completely over-the-top self-satisfied and insane (although I hear the book is more nuanced and conflicted).

Amy Chua’s hard-core parenting style which she provokingly calls “Chinese” parenting (when really what it is is incredibly hard-core, strict, high expectations parenting, common but by no means definitive of Chinese and Asian immigrant parents) includes a draconian regimen of no sleepovers, no playdates, no school plays, no TV or computer games, no choosing their own extracurricular activities, no grades less than an A, no being less than the number one student in every subject except gym and drama (now how would they even do that in all of China? It is not Lake Wobegon.), no instruments other than piano or violin, no not playing piano or violin.

I did all those things. My kids do all those things. In my writing, I recommend many of those things (especially school plays). Chua dismisses us — we are not really Chinese.

Chua is irresponsibly feeding into the current atmosphere of China-baiting and xenophobia, while also missing the other indicators that might have contributed to her success like education, wealth, class, etc. She appears unconscious of the Asian American history wrapped around her life as well as the social and economic realities facing other less-privileged Asian American families.

Thanks a lot for perpetuating the racist stereotypes so many of us work so hard to dispel.

It was only two weeks ago that Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, irritated that the NFL postponed the Philadelphia Eagles’ home game against the Minnesota Vikings because of a huge incoming blizzard, complained:

"We've become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything…If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down."

Calculus? Honestly! Some people think we are all robots.

There are many truths in her approach — practice, rote repetition, firmness, high expectations, success breeds confidence — but those all get lost in the horror of the emotional abuse she justifies as “Chinese” shame. By the end of the article, she is no longer a strict high expectations parent, she is a parent out of control, calling her 7-year-old daughter all sorts of terrible names and desperately threatening her “with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years”… over a piano piece.

Blogger Byron Wong writes: “Yes, there are abusive Asian assholes who are parents, but these parents abuse their kids because they’re assholes, not because they’re Asian.”

Chua writes: “If a Chinese child gets a B — which would never happen — there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion.” Actually, since her article came out, that screaming explosion has been in the Asian American blogosphere. Asian Americans all know lots of hard-core Asian parents like her, parents who beat and browbeat their children into perfection and whose children graduate valedictorian in their class but then never go home again, or after dutifully and miserably completing medical or engineering school then change professions to become artists and actors, or who self-destruct completely. Asian American women have the highest depression and suicide rate in the country.

More than anyone else, Asian Americans know the cost of her hard-core parenting style. Blogger Betty Ming Liu writes the perfectly titled, “Parents like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian-Americans like me are in therapy.”

Certainly there are cultural differences between Chinese/Asian and Western priorities and practices that need explaining. However, academic excellence and nurturing children’s spirit need not be an either-or proposition. My teenage daughter Hao Hao and her friends have light-hearted competitions to see who has the “meanest Chinese mom” while also groaning when they receive an “Asian Fail” on an exam (A-).

For a taste of Frances Kai-Hwa Wang’s “Asian American” parenting style, which other than high expectations is pretty much the opposite of Amy Chua’s approach, check out this article, “APA Girl Power! Raising Strong and Confident Asian Pacific American Daughters.” Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is also a popular speaker available to speak to parenting, teacher and community groups on “Multicultural Toolbox: Raising our children with culture(s), languages, and pride” and other parenting issues.

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang is a second-generation Chinese American from California who now divides her time between Ann Arbor and the Big Island of Hawaii. She is an editor of Asian American Village, lead multicultural contributor for and a contributor for New America Media's Ethnoblog. She is on the Advisory Board of American Citizens for Justice. She team-teaches "Asian Pacific American History and the Law" at University of Michigan and University of Michigan Dearborn. She is a popular speaker on Asian Pacific American and multicultural issues. Check out her website at, her blog at, and she can be reached at


Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Tue, Jan 25, 2011 : 10:16 p.m.

A third and hopefully final response: <a href=""></a>

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Tue, Jan 18, 2011 : 10:17 p.m.

followup article and lots more links here <a href=""></a>

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Tue, Jan 18, 2011 : 9:52 p.m.

That's great! here's my favorite part of David Brooks' &quot;Amy Chua is a wimp&quot; &quot;Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.&quot;

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Tue, Jan 18, 2011 : 9:51 p.m.

That's great! here's my favorite part of David Brooks' &quot;Amy Chua is a wimp&quot; &gt;

Ed Kimball

Tue, Jan 18, 2011 : 6:14 p.m.

I recommend this commentary on Chua's book by David Brooks of the NY Times: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Mon, Jan 17, 2011 : 6:57 a.m.

A follow up article

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Sun, Jan 16, 2011 : 11:30 a.m.

Allthanks! Mimiyes! A2parentof4: Amy Chua is writing more about copying her experience of Asian immigrant parenting with her third-generation children, rather than anything about current China. There is a big difference between Chinese and Chinese American, Asian and Asian American. Yes, many Asian cultures value education. However the issue here is that many Asian immigrants, esp those who came in the 1960s like Amy Chuas parents, first came to America for graduate school and so hold advanced degrees; others would not have been allowed into America without their advanced degrees or medical training; still others know how difficult it is to succeed in America and so encourage their children to use education as the path out of poverty. Because of language barriers, it makes sense that it is easier for immigrants trained in math, science, computers, and medicine to succeed here. It also makes sense that parents highly educated in math and science would encourage their children in the same. So it does not say anything about inherent abilities of Asians, but rather about who US immigration policy allowed into this country. Thus the beginnings of the model minority myth Also, contemporary Chinese art is hot right now on the international art scene! Westsidereaderyou are not the only one who wonders what could have been Also, Chua seems to have backpedaled quite a bit. The Associated Press article also interviews Chua (and quotes me and Betty Ming Liu) Thanks all! More coming soon.


Sun, Jan 16, 2011 : 10:12 a.m.

Thanks for directing us to Jeff Yang's post. That was a good message you give to everyone: "Get more information before you go on your own 'take' on the article." Another reason your articles are thoughtful, well-crafted, and give good insight. And they're fun to read. Jeff seems to be the only one who thought to talk directly to the author and ask her thoughts. I wasn't the Tiger Dad raising my son as a single Asian American parent. If I were, would he be in medical school by now? Would he want to be? Will he be successful enough to take care of me when I retire? Will he want to?

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Thu, Jan 13, 2011 : 7:47 a.m.

Update: Another roundup of Asian American reponses to Amy Chua Tiger Mother at

Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Thu, Jan 13, 2011 : 7:32 a.m.

Update: Writer Jeff Yang has read the book and interviewed Amy Chua, as well as many other parenting writers in the Asian American community, and offers his take here:

Jonathan J.-W.

Wed, Jan 12, 2011 : 9:32 p.m.

I am a Chinese-American junior with two Chinese parents, one foreign-born and the other American-born. My mother was born in California, my father in Hong Kong. I read Professor Amy Chua's article in the Wall Street Journal, and I came away amused and impressed by her succinct eloquence. Her writing was so profound and vividly full of truth to me, from my experience with Chinese parents. I am a passionate theater fanatic, but my involvement is severely limited. On the other hand... my mother can't get me to do enough orchestra activities! My friends used to get grounded or given time-outs when I was 6 and 7. Instead, I got "behavior essays", in which I had to write a 5-paragraph reflection essay on what I did wrong, why it was wrong, and what I have to do to improve my behavior. In fact, I had to write those for years and I still have notebooks filled with them. Of course, writing these papers for my mother was in the "free time" I had when I wasn't filling out math/history/government/SAT-prep workbooks (I took the SAT in 6th grade). Or when I wasn't reading high school lit reading lists and writing book reports on them. And of course I wouldn't be writing these essays when I was practicing violin (8 years) or piano. Almost all of my Chinese peers at Skyline High have parents who have similar demands and parenting styles described by Professor Chua. Not all Chinese parents parent the way that Prof. Chua describes, but I think she really nailed the philosophy and rationalizations behind the stereotypical "Chinese parenting." It's only the severity and strictness that differs.


Wed, Jan 12, 2011 : 8:41 a.m.

thank you for writing this. I grew up in a family with similar characteristics/values but it was a Mexican immigrant family. I could speak volumes on the pros and cons of that experience. I really appreciate reading the voice of an Asian American writer on this book and will check out the other blogs you have here.


Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 10:12 p.m.

Thank you so much for your response. When I read the article this weekend I thought I was either in a time warp or it was going to turn out to be distasteful satire. Looking at the amazing contributions in the whole art world from China over the centuries, it just didn't add up. Is this focus on grades, particularly math and science a newer generational issue or a shift in cultural/governmental priorties?


Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 10:11 p.m.

Thank you! I resent the arrogance of this woman, that she thinks she can portray all Chinese mothers. I was the typical over-achieving AA, obtained 2 Ivy degrees and went to Juilliard where I studied piano and violin. But the only concern my mom had was to make sure I had an outstanding piano and violin teacher. Everything else I did myself. My mom never spoke much to me, nor my dad. They were too busy trying to make enough money to feed four kids. The whole basis for the Chinese emphasis on scholarship lies in their history. People have to understand that in order to get ahead in the Chinese society, it was all about passing the main exam and becoming recognized as a 'scholar.' So yes, there is a concern about academic excellence, but my mom was never pushy about it. I think it was because as a kid, I didn't have any friends so the only thing to do was study. We didn't have cell phones or internet, but I did watch ALOT of TV. And I let my kids watch TV, play video games and participate in musical theater. They are doing fine. This woman is just showing a certain upper class snobbery of 'my kids are better than yours.' I'll wait and see if they ever get to be CEO's of any company they work for. I doubt it.


Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 9:20 p.m.

Thank you for this article. I read the WSJ piece a few days ago and at first I actually couldn't decide whether it portrayed a more positive view or more negative. On one hand it speaks of the capabilities and successes of "chinese," but then all the extreme stories you mentioned are... ridiculous. Whatever the intent of the original article, yours is beautifully written :)


Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 9:15 p.m.

Amy Chua has a point though-we let our kids feel great about doing nothing. My nieces take ballet and one barely practices but gets high praise from her parents for "doing well" when her sister is kicking butt and exceeding everyone and gets the same "doing well". Same niece gets Bs and Cs in school but is on the Honor Roll. Why? The school sets the bar low in order to raise confident kids. When a child thinks they are doing well while not working very hard, they are not going to push themselves to excel and they will not excel. These kids will be in for a shock in high school and in college when awards, praises, positions, and scholarships are not awarded to average students. My niece's excuse is that she's doing as well as most kids. She accepts being average but expects she will be highly placed later in life and plans on attending a good university. Her expectations are not warranted but they have been set high because she expects that her average work will be good enough to get her there. She and her parents like many in society, just don't get it.


Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 8:57 p.m.

This is just a response to the WSJ article run earlier in the week. These are the only two articles I've seen on the site regarding Asian parenting.

Somewhat Concerned

Tue, Jan 11, 2011 : 7:58 p.m.

What is driving's fascination with Chinese mothers?