Tiger Mom, we hardly knew ye.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the recently-published book by Yale Law School professor Amy Chua about how she successfully raised her two daughters by relying on being a ‘Chinese mother’ and not giving in to the touchy-feely ‘child-led’ practices Western-style parenting, has already found its way into bookstores in Beijing. As today’s Wall Street Journal reports, in an interesting twist, Chua’s book, which is based on the premise that there’s something about Chinese culture that makes for superior parenting, has been translated into Chinese with a title that suggests something quite the opposite from what she herself argues. Here’s the Chinese title:
Woo tzai mei guo tsuoh ma ma
Woo (I) tzai (in) mei guo (America) tsuoh (work, make, act) ma ma (Mom)
And here’s my really rough translation:
‘I do Mom in America.’
This title suggests that whatever Chua has to say about raising her two daughters is due to her being an American mother—which is quite the opposite of what Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother argues.
a Chinese-language version of Ms. Chua’s book, whose English title is “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” has hit the shelves in Beijing. As Xinhua notes, the cover of the Chinese edition of the book is substantially different from the original, featuring a photo of a smiling Ms. Chua standing against a red, white and blue map of the United States.
The Chinese edition’s title translates to “Being a Mom in America,” or, as Xinhua rendered it, “Being an American Mum.”
What’s especially of interest are some of the reactions of (actual) Chinese parents to Chua’s book. From Xinhua:
Yu Shasha, a doctor at Beijing Shijitan Hospital, says she was not a tiger mother because her daughter, a graduate of Imperial College London, had enough stress.
“With so many children competing for limited first-class schools, Chinese kids must get accustomed to the test-oriented education system and stand out in exams. As a result, they must sacrifice their spare time to a range of training classes,” says Yu. “Most parents, including myself, are more concerned now about how to ease their burden rather than giving them more stress.”
A survey jointly released by the Beijing Times and the Education Channel of the Sina.com last week shows that about 50.1 percent of Chinese students are sleep-derived and stay up past 10 p.m on school days. The situation was worse than 2004, when a survey by the China Youth and Children Research Center found the proportion was roughly 47 percent.
Zhao Hua, a former journalist who emigrated to the United States, says Chinese parents hate to see their kids burning the candle at both ends in order to deal with fierce competition.
“The Western parenting philosophy of letting kids be kids, develop their own hobbies and make their own decisions is gaining credence in China. Financially-capable parents would rather encourage their kids to study abroad in a relaxed environment,” says Zhao.
Indeed, it can be said that Chua’s version of ‘Chinese parenting’ is one that is increasingly outdated in China.
Lu Jun, executive director of a Beijing English Education Group, says China’s comparative advantages in basic education were “paradoxical.”
“It is exciting to see so many Chinese kids excelling in math tests, but so far China has no Nobel laureates. By contrast, more than 70 percent the global Nobel laureates are Americans whose population is less than 5 percent of the world,” says Lu.
“A key reason is that the teaching methods of Chinese schools and parents are test-oriented, which fails to inspire kids to use their knowledge in real life.”
All of this suggests that Chua’s claims that she drew on Chinese culture to raise her daughters ‘tiger mother’ style is potentially inaccurate and even in danger of reinforcing stereotypes of Asian Americans and Chinese women. Chua says that it was all right for her to use the ‘extreme parenting’ techniques she describes (calling her children ‘garbage’; threatening to destroy their stuffed animals; chiding her younger daughter for not following what a famous violin teacher requests, even after the teacher hits her daughter’s hand with a pencil) because they are based in Chinese tradition. Chinese people, Chua claims, use a kind of ‘tough love’ that suggests the depth of their commitment to their children, as they are willing to put themselves through so much (supervising hours and hours of practice time on two instruments with two different children): No flaky, wussy, ‘I feel your pain’ American-style parenting here.
But more and more, I think it’s becoming clear that Chua’s ‘extreme parenting’ is idiosyncratic to her. Chua’s claim that such parenting is ‘Chinese’ is a strategy to exonerate herself for being, well, so extreme.
Photo by digitalART2.