Sample Essay Of Responding To Amy Chua Article
Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
In the article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” by Amy Chua, we hear about her experiences with the Chinese way of bringing up your children, and how this has affected her and her family. In the beginning of the text, we are told that the writer, Amy Chua, is a professor at Yale Law School and that she has two daughters. Furthermore, we hear that she sees herself as a so-called “Chinese mother” (l.22). Chinese mothers do not necessarily need to be Chinese, but it is a term to describe a very strict parent with unusual ways of educating their child. A Chinese mother is, in contrast to a “Western parent” (l.25), very focused on their children’s behavior and academic level, and therefore they devote more time to educating their children, compared to Western parents. This type of parenting is what Amy Chua describes throughout the article. In this paper, I am going to analyze and comment on her article. Part of the paper’s focus will be on how the writer engages the reader and on possible consequences of Amy Chua’s methods of upbringing.
Amy Chua has two daughters, Sophia and Louisa, and their childhood is very different to many of their friends’ and classmates’. They are not allowed to have play dates, attend sleepovers, watch TV and other things considered fun. Instead, they have to focus on academic skills such as playing the piano and being the number one student in class. At first, this might seem strict and a bit harsh, but Chua argues that when children get good at something the tasks and exercises become fun and exciting to do. Furthermore, she claims that by making children work hard and long on something, and with success, it builds up their self-esteem and confidence more than anything else does, “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”(l.52-53). So as a result of this coercion, her children are not only happy about what they have to do right now, but also what they have to do in the future.
Another point Amy Chua mentions in her article is the way that Chinese mothers are able to talk to their kids. According to her, Chinese mothers can get away with saying things that Western parents cannot. To exemplify this point, she uses an example from her own childhood, which seems similar to Sophia and Louisa’s. Apparently, Amy Chua was disrespectful toward her mother, which resulted in her father calling her “garbage.” This caused Chua to be ashamed and regretful of what she had done. Because of this experience, the writer also used this word with her own daughter when she acted without respect. To Amy Chua this is perfectly normal, and it seems that she is very happy about the fact that she is able to say exactly what she means, “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…”(l.66.68)
Amy Chua explains why Chinese mothers are able to get away with this way of bringing up their children. She argues that the general understanding in the Chinese families is that the children owe their parents everything. Therefore, they have to make a great effort to “repay” their parents by making them proud and happy. Moreover, the Chinese mothers believe that they know what is best for their children, which is the reason why they cannot do “normal” kid activities. This is what Amy Chua has based her method of upbringing on, and she really does believe that this is the best way to act towards your children. However, her husband, Jed, is of another belief. He is, what Chua calls, a Western parent, and he actually does not believe that the children need to repay their parents. “They don’t even choose to be born. It’s parents who foist life on their kids, so it’s the parents’ responsibility to provide for them. Kids don’t owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids” (l.108-110), he once told her. Nevertheless, it seems that Amy Chua has the last word when it is about the kids.
Amy Chua is successful at engaging the reader and she manages to capture the readers. This is done by creating a contrast between the Chinese mothers and the Western parents, where the assumed audience, as primarily Western, gets a little provoked by her critique of Western child rearing. However, this is not enough to make the reader hate or dislike the writer, but it is enough to pique the reader’s interest. Furthermore, she is good at using attention-grabbing examples that emphasize her postulates. All in all, this makes the article very exciting to read, and you do not get bored in the reading process.
When reading this article, the reader, on one side, gets a feeling of a very cold and military like home, where they do not care about each other’s feelings and interests. This feeling is emphasized by the way that the writer speaks to and acts towards her children, which, as mentioned earlier, is very different from the “normal” or Western way. On the other side, Amy Chua does actually seem to have a sensible reason to her method of upbringing. When talking about how her youngest daughter had a hard time learning a new piece on the piano because her fingers could not handle two different patterns, she proves that the “Chinese method” can be successful in some situations. By forcing her to play the piece over and over again, she actually becomes able to play it to perfection, and she gets so excited about it that she forgets all about the hard and excruciating work. It says in the text, “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. Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it” (l.153-155) and “Mommy, look—it’s easy!” After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn’t leave the piano.”(l.161-162). These quotes are examples of two things that are in favor of the Chinese method of upbringing. The first thing is that Chinese mothers are willing to make a huge effort in the process of helping their children. To Amy Chua, this meant to work day and night in order to have her daughter play that piece. The second thing is that Chinese mothers believe that “not-fun” activities become “fun” when you are good at them. In this case, Louisa, understandably, hated the learning process, but she loved it when she mastered the piece. It made her want to play it again and again. Furthermore, you should remember that the writer is a professor at one of the best universities in the United States, and therefore you should think that her methods, in some way, were scientifically proved.
Even though there are parts of Amy Chua’s method that seem reasonable, it is easy to find other parts that are much more illogical and unreasonable. Moreover, it is possible that some of the methods and tricks would have a negative effect on the children in the future. A consequence could be that the children’s mind is so controlled and delimited that they do not want to pursue their own dreams and ideas. In many of these Chinese families, the parents choose the occupation of their children, and it is very unlikely that the children have a say in their futures.
As far as I can see, Amy Chua certainly has some interesting points, but overall I really do believe that it is the Western method of upbringing that suits children best. In this method, children are able to fulfill their dreams, and they are allowed to experience all sorts of activities and thereby learn new things every day. On the other side, reports show that Chinese school kids on average are doing better in school than for example European kids. If this is reason enough to treat your children like “garbage,” I do not know. Yet, one thing I am sure of; every parent does whatever he or she thinks is best for his or her child.
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Amy Chua was in a restaurant, celebrating her birthday with her husband and daughters, Sophia, seven, and Lulu, four. "Lulu handed me her 'surprise', which turned out to be a card," writes Chua in her explosive new memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. "More accurately, it was a piece of paper folded crookedly in half, with a big happy face on the front. Inside, 'Happy Birthday, Mummy! Love, Lulu' was scrawled in crayon above another happy face. I gave the card back to Lulu. 'I don't want this,' I said. 'I want a better one – one that you've put some thought and effort into. I have a special box, where I keep all my cards from you and Sophia, and this one can't go in there.' I grabbed the card again and flipped it over. I pulled out a pen and scrawled 'Happy Birthday Lulu Whoopee!' I added a big sour face. … 'I reject this.'"
What kind of a mother throws her four-year-old daughter's homemade birthday cards back at them? A "Chinese" one, that's who, says Chua.
When Lulu turns in a poor practice session on the piano, Chua hauls her doll's house to the car and tells her she'll donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she doesn't have The Little White Donkey mastered by the next day. When Sophia does the same, she screams: "If the next time's not perfect, I'm going to take all your stuffed animals and burn them."
In Battle Hymn, Chua rips open the curtain on what she calls the "Chinese" method of rearing children, and it makes for a jaw-dropping read. Asian households make up the demographic group most likely to produce stereotypically successful kids. How do they produce all those maths whizzes and musical prodigies? Can it really be by carrying on as Chua does?
The book bares all about how the parenting model worked for her older daughter Sophia, now 17 and heading off to an Ivy League college, but backfired dramatically for her younger girl, Louisa, or Lulu, who is now 14. Chua spares no detail in recounting her early methods: banning television and computer games, refusing sleepovers and playdates, drilling academic activities for hours, insisting on lengthy daily practice of the piano (Sophia) and violin (Louisa), including weekends, high days and holidays. Even travelling abroad, Chua would book a practice room near their hotel. With missionary zeal, Chua spurned the permissive style of "western parents" (she uses the term loosely), the tendency to underplay academic achievement (no rote learning!) and emphasise nurturing, play and self-esteem (overfetishised!). The result is that at times Battle Hymn reads like an American-Asian version of Mommie Dearest.
Dominant throughout is the powerful figure of Chua herself, a larger-than-life matriarch: draconian, emotionally volatile, loving, often verbally cruel, hard-working, always devoted. Chua herself was raised on the Chinese parenting model, and her view is simple: "Childhood is a training period, a time to build character and invest in the future." As a result, both daughters are straight-A students, over-achieving and musically accomplished. By the time Sophia is 14 she has performed Prokofiev's Juliet as a Young Girl at the Carnegie Hall in New York while Lulu, aged 11, auditions for the pre-college programme at the world-famous Juilliard School.
But the cracks beneath the surface begin to show. Toothmarks are found on the piano (the culprit is Sophia, who gnaws on it during practice), and Lulu becomes rebellious, openly defying her teacher and her mother and bitterly complaining in public about her home life. By the age of 13, writes Chua, "[Lulu] wore a constant apathetic look on her face, and every other word out of her mouth was 'no' or 'I don't care'."
What brings the situation to an end is two horrifying incidents. First, Lulu hacks off her hair with a pair of scissors; then, on a family holiday to Moscow, she and Chua get into a public argument that culminates in Lulu smashing a glass in a cafe, screaming, "I'm not what you want – I'm not Chinese! I don't want to be Chinese. Why can't you get that through your head? I hate the violin. I hate my life. I hate you, and I hate this family!" Her relationship with Lulu in crisis, Chua, finally, thankfully, raises the white flag.
Now that Battle Hymn is about to be published (in the US and UK rights were sold at auction, and have now sold in 11 other countries), the public reaction seeping on to internet sites and into newspapers is one of shock and outrage. How could she be such a mother? In publicly owning up to her conduct, Chua has broken a taboo because in print, at least, this territory has so rarely been charted.
At its heart, Battle Hymn is an account of the psychological warfare between a "Chinese" mother and her "western" daughter and in telling it, Chua raises an interesting set of questions about bringing up children, cultural norms and the confessional mode: namely, why expose herself? Why choose to open her mouth at all? At what point does confessing in print that you called your child "garbage" to her face cease to be a comment on Chinese parenting and resume its traditional function as a sign that you are two cards short of a deck?
Chua, 46, is a professor of law at Yale Law School who writes critically acclaimed books on free-market democracy and global instability. Her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, 51, also a law professor at Yale (they met as students at Harvard Law School), is a well-known Jewish-American academic. On the morning I meet her, on a freezing day in New York, she has travelled into Manhattan by train from New Haven, Connecticut, where the family lives.
Sitting opposite me sipping water in Norwood, an arts club in Chelsea, in a black sweater and miniskirt with silver hoops in her ears, she is petite and pretty and much softer looking than in her book-jacket photograph ("She doesn't look very mean," my son said.) If on the page she can come across as a little unhinged, in person she is charming, warm, down to earth, and quick to laugh. The truth is, we are definitely in a monster-free zone.
"I think I know what's to come," Chua says with a wry smile. "When I show this book to immigrants and immigrants' kids, they were like, exactly, this is how it is. It's funny, they relate, it's not controversial for them. Now among my western friends it provokes extremely intense reactions in all directions. Some, including my closest friends, are shocked and aghast." Did she anticipate this reaction? "I do now. My husband kept warning me and my sisters kept warning me. But I guess it's part of my personality. A little bit rash. For me, so much of my book is making fun of myself through the words of my children. And some people get that. Other people read it straight. My older daughter said, 'Mummy, you put only the most extreme stories in. People don't realise how much fun we had'."
What Chua didn't put in the memoir, she says with a hint of regret, is all the good times. "All the way through, Jed was bringing balance to the family, insisting that we were going to go on family bike rides and to Yankees games and apple-picking and water slides and bowling and mini-golfing, so we socialised a lot actually …" ("My mum has a touch of the dramatic, and she's much nicer in real life," Sophia says to me later by email. "She lets me go to rap concerts with my friends and do archaeological digs in our backyard – not very 'Chinese' activities!")
She'd had no idea that she was going to write her testimonial to "Chinese" mothering and its dangers, but in the black, bleak summer of 2009 that followed her beloved sister Katrin's diagnosis of leukaemia, when her 13-year-old daughter Lulu was in full rebellion, she began to put pen to paper. "I wrote this in a moment of crisis. I tend to be over-confident but I really felt that the whole family was falling apart, I thought, have I done every single thing wrong? Have I wrecked everything? So after one terrible blow-up [with Lulu], I got on my computer and the words just poured out."
Over a period of two months she wrote, revised, edited, all the while consulting Jed, Sophia and Lulu, showing them "every single page", she says proudly. "It was like family therapy." When she had finished the remembering, she showed it to her parents and close friends, all of whom told her not to publish. "[They] said, 'Oh you're going to get in such trouble, you can't talk about this in the west.' And that kind of got my back up. I thought, why should we not be able to talk about this? It's not just me. Millions of people raise their kids this way and their kids come out pretty well."
Really? What about the child who will never be a straight-A student? "I get this question, what if they have dyslexia or autism?" she says. "The answer to that is, of course you have to know your child, of course you have to adjust. It would be a ridiculous parenting programme to say that no matter what, you have to get an A-plus. And my best example is that my younger sister has Down's syndrome and I know for a fact that my mother applied Chinese parenting with her. I know that when she was little my mother spent hours teaching her how to tie her own shoelaces and people said, look she can't do it, she doesn't have the muscle co-ordination.
"Nobody expected my sister to get a PhD or to get As, but I think it's a very nice story. Today my sister has a wonderful relationship with my mother."
For Chua, who grew up with her two sisters in the midwest, the daughter of first-generation immigrants from the Philippines, a straight-A student, graduating first in a class of 350, the Chinese method is the one towards which she instinctively gravitates. "For my senior prom, my father finally said I could go – as long as I was home by 9pm! That was around the time that most people were heading out," she recalls. "When I was little I was so mad at them all the time. Why can't I do this? Why are there so many rules? But looking back now, my parents gave me the foundation to have so many choices in life. After I left home I had a choice of who I could be, a choice of careers, a choice of schools, so I deeply believe in the model."
Nevertheless, fact, and her own telling of it, shows that the way she brought up her children nearly wrecked her relationship with Lulu, and in some ways Battle Hymn can been seen as her atonement for that. "I think I stopped just in time," she says. "Right now it seems OK, but I have many regrets … I have a head full of regrets. I worry that by losing my temper so much and being so harsh and yelling so much that, by example, I will have taught my daughters to be that way, and I'm now constantly telling them not to do that."
Did she ever consider family therapy? "I was very Chinese in a way. I went for help to my family – so I went to my mother and to my sisters and just extended family on both sides." All gave the same advice: pull back. So Chua stopped making all the decisions for Lulu, allowing her to leave the orchestra and take up tennis instead, allowing her to practise the violin only when she felt like it. When I ask Lulu if she feels her mother understands her more since that period, she emails, "She has always understood me better than anyone, but she definitely listens more now. That doesn't necessarily mean she'll like what I'm saying."
Chua's memoir raises more questions than it answers, not least of which is, where was her husband – who was raised in a liberal, Jewish household – in all of this? Why didn't he intervene? "A couple of things. Jed always favoured strict parenting … and in my household I did most of the parenting. It was my choice; it wasn't an argument at all. For him it was like, look, if she's willing to put in three hours with these instruments and I just get to go to the recital and you have the refreshments, why not?"
Also, she says, the early results were, in both their views, "hard to argue with". When I ask Sophia the same question, by email, her answer is revealing: "It would have been so easy for my dad to 'score points' with us by undermining my mum's draconian parenting – but he never did. In retrospect, I have immense respect for how he stood by her through everything."
Was her husband against her writing the book? Chua hesitates for the first time. "It wasn't so much that he objected but that he has such a strong voice himself – he's an author in his own right – that for me to put quotes of him speaking as a father always sounded wrong to him. He said, 'Look, this is your book. I supported you but you were the one that had a strong world-view about how to raise your kids. It's your world-view, it's your book.'"
Ironically, in writing her book, Chua has done the most western thing imaginable: she has exposed herself, warts and all, at risk of misunderstanding and vilification. "I think that writing this book is an extremely western thing to do. I don't think Chinese people would do it. I disobeyed my mum. My mum said, 'Don't write it!'"
Whether she has made a mistake in revealing her parenting style remains to be seen, but perhaps the last word should go to her older daughter, Sophia. "When we were younger, I thought my mum favoured Lulu, but as I've got older, we've become so close. It's not really the focus of the book, but my mum and I are incredibly similar. She understands me and always knows what I'm thinking. We crack up at each other's jokes and ask each other for advice. Most importantly, I can tell she wants me to be happy. The other day, I messed up a math test. I texted my mom that I got an A- and she replied, 'Who cares! Mummy loves u!'
"It made my day."
The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua, is published by Bloomsbury, £16.99. To order a copy for £13.59 (with free UK P&P) go to theguardian.com/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846
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