Sumeet Jain
10 Jan 2011

On the "Chinese Mothers" Controversy

The talk of the town for the past couple days has been an excerpt from Amy Chua’s upcoming book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The excerpt, published in the Wall Street Journal with the title “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”, sparked discussions on Facebook, Reddit, Hacker News (1, 2, 3), Quora, and probably whatever website you use to keep up to date.

I won’t rehash those discussions here (Some get pretty heated and most are severely anecdotal.), but I do want to share two notes:

1. Appreciate the conversation.

As a subject of discussion, “Parenting Styles of Different Cultures” is relatively new. For the subject to break out of academia and into coffee table conversation, populations had to mix. International travel has only recently become safe, reliable, and affordable. Then the various components of a mixed population needed to achieve some similarities in socio-economic standing. Otherwise comparisons would fail due to fundamental differences before a subject like parenting nuances was breached. Finally, the subject’s reach was extended by some kind of media to kickstart a discussion.

In other words: Airplanes, digital technology, and social media came together to bring - for the first time in history - a widespread discussion about the sharp contrast between how parents from different continents raise their kids. Such a complex topic deserves all the viewpoints it can get, and today’s technological and economic achievements have made that possible.


2. Amy Chua is not the devil.

I worry about the Chua Family. People on the Internet can (and do) mobilize quickly and effectively against forces they claim to be evil. The hive mentality of Internet “pundits” has already spawned hateful blog posts blaming “mothers like Amy Chua” for the problems in the world. The best case scenario is that the backlash ends in a healthy discussion - even one containing scornful Tumblr essays. The worst case scenario entails Internet “Do-Gooders” seeking misguided real-life retribution for online controversy.

I hope it doesn’t go that far. If it does, it will have been because the excerpt from Chua’s book was taken somewhat out of context and then given a linkbait headline for the Wall Street Journal issue. Amy Chua clarifies:

I did not choose the title of the WSJ excerpt, and I don’t believe that there is only one good way of raising children. The actual book is more nuanced, and much of it is about my decision to retreat from the “strict Chinese immigrant” model.

Amy Chua’s response to Christine Lu

The broader point here is that we are all often too quick to assign blame to parties who unwittingly and unwillingly become champions of some argument’s perspective. And in assigning the blame, we lose sight of the issue itself. So the nuances of an issue fade away, and we emerge from the fight angry and bruised but only marginally smarter.