Thursday, January 27, 2011

More on Amy Chua

The Asian blogosphere is still buzzing about Yale law professor and author Amy Chua following her controversial article in the Wall Street Journal which appeared to boast of the superiority of Chinese parenting. My previous blog post about it is here.

She appeared last night on The Colbert Report to discuss her book, as well as the way its intent has been misinterpreted. (The WSJ article consisted of excerpts of her book Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother, stitched together by the paper's editors without context, seemingly in order to generate controversy.)
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Amy Chua
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

(As an aside, Chua is also a great advertisement for Asian genes. She's 49 years old!)

I've recently been having an occasionally heated discussion over at another blog about Chua. Now I haven't read her book (although I'll be seeking it out), and have no personal interest in defending her, but I've been less than impressed by a rush by some people across the Asian-American blogosphere to label her a bitch, a sellout or a fraud. Again, I don't know her so it's possible she could be all of those things. But I would prefer to give her the benefit of the doubt, since those accusations seem to be based on spurious reasoning. And I tend to believe that people don't always fit neatly into the categories that others wish to define for them.

For example, much of the criticism of Chua and her parenting style appears to be based on how the WSJ article has presented her, rather than the more nuanced content of the book, which is apparently a memoir of a journey into and then away from the uber-strict Chinese parenting style which the WSJ article seems to celebrate.
Here are a couple of other complaints that have come up:

"Chua talks about Chinese parenting, yet she's not even Chinese - she's Filipino."
"Chua talks about Chinese parenting, yet she married a white Jewish guy. Her kids are being raised Jewish. So clearly she's not really very Chinese at all."

Firstly, she is born in the US, to ethnic Chinese parents who were from the Philippines. To say that she is not culturally Chinese is akin to saying that only people born in China are culturally Chinese.

To the second point; is culture carried by genes? Because personally I fail to see how the ethnicity of her husband impacts on Chua's own ethno-cultural identity. Raising her kids Jewish was apparently a deal made with her husband - the trade-off was that they would become fluent in Chinese. And remember that Jewishness is a religious identity as well as a cultural identity; if Chua herself is not overtly religious, which seems likely, then it makes sense to raise her daughters according to the religious tradition of her partner.

We all make judgments about others, let's not deny it. But it's important to make those judgements based on reality, rather than erroneous interpretations, lazy assumptions and stereotypes.


  1. As an aside, Chua is also a great advertisement for Asian genes. She's 49 years old!)

    Genes? I thought she used Pearl Cream! :)

    By the way, I haven't yet read through all the comments on my own blog in depth (was more focused on that whole HBD thing when someone whose-name-won't-be-mentioned said that HBD was just another term for evolution), but I've always been a big fan of Amy Chua--loved her first book. And yes, she's definitely Chinese. And her kids are definitely half Chinese.

  2. Upbringing only partly explains the high achievement of her kids..the other may be genes. You marry your cousins, kids more often than not have all kinds of sickness..the further you move away from your ethnic background when choosing a marriage partner, the healthier and smarter the kids!

  3. Eurasian,
    Here's the problem I have with this lady. The no parties, sleepovers, only piano/violin doesn't bother me much. But threatening to withhold lunches and dinners from a 7-year old or giving aways her possessions until she gets a piano piece correctly seems quite abusive to me. Witholding sustenance can seem very intimidating and scary to a little child. I'm an Asian myself (Indian to be specific) and I think both my kids are on a successful path in life. One is completing his Ph.D. in Physics and the other has admission to several top-ranked medical schools. More importantly, they are responsible adults that don't do drugs or drink and drive and treat elders with deference and have respect for and exhibit kindness to all living beings. Neither my husband nor I had to any of the things that Chua advocates. All we did was create a climate at home that emphasized education. We did this by being tutoring children, volunteering at school, attending every school function, etc. We also were foster parents and I was a volunteer Guardian Ad Litem for many years in our community.

    I'm not sure if you had a chance to browse through the comment section of the WSJ article, but there were many Chinese/Korean adults who were raised in similar circumstances as Chua and now resented their parents and talked about how traumatic the experience was for them. And what happens to all those children that never live up to their parents' expectations? Surely not every Chinese child will be an A+ student who goes off to Yale or Harvard.

  4. @ George: Genes probably do play a significant role, given Chua and her husband are obviously intlligent people. Don't agree though with your implication that the difference in ethnicity has anything to do with it though. I'm mixed, and I'm an underachieving dumbass.

    @ Anonymous: I agree with everything you say. But here's the thing: Amy Chua may actually agree with you as well. From everything I hear about the book, she has moved away from those more extreme parenting methods. The WSJ article doesn't acknowledge that, and apparently was edited to sound more controversial.

    Check Jeff Yang's article about it, he actually read the book, which in my eyes gives him a lot more credibility than most of the people around the nets who are weighing in on Chua.