Amy Chua’s Chinese “Tiger Mother” and the Myth of the Model Minority

This is from a Chinese American friend pursuing a career in psychology with a focus on Asian Americans, and is among the more thoughtful responses to Amy Chua’s now infamous book marketing ploy in which she is stridently advocating harsh, hard-core traditional Chinese parenting practices. Even for those not interested in the Amy Chua brouhaha, this is an insightful reflection on growing up as the child of Chinese immigrants.

Thoughts on Amy Chua’s “Chinese Mother” Article

Some of you have recently read a Wall Street Journal piece penned by a Yale Law School professor named Amy Chua. It’s an excerpt from her latest book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” (If you haven’t read it, it can be found here.) In it, she talks about her parenting style (shortened as the “Chinese Mother”) and how she managed to raise “successful” children.

First, a few comments. This piece has caused quite the media ruckus, landing her on talk shows and radio. It has been responded to via countless blogs, many of which state things more eloquently than I. Some are in support, and many others (Asians included) are rather appalled at her shameless bragging of authoritarian “Chinese” parenting methods. Having given this a few days and read some responses, as well as follow-ups from Chua herself, she says that if you read the book, it’s much more nuanced and actually talks about how this method failed with one of her daughters. Whatever you think of the content, this has been brilliant marketing by Penguin books; post something controversial, then watch the free marketing happen and count the benjamins from book sales as a result.

However, despite knowing these things, I still had strong visceral reactions on a multitude of levels. (I would recommend reading the article before continuing, as I refer to it frequently.)

There is so much to say I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve broken it down the section titles. Every issue brought up in the article and this response has deep cultural and psychological roots and implications. Each can be an entire book in itself. But perhaps I’ll start with a little bit of personal connection to what I read, and a disclaimer.

I grew up in the States. My peer groups consisted of mostly Caucasians for most of my life until college, and I was a psychology major in school with the intention of pursuing a doctorate in Counseling/Clinical Psych with an emphasis on Asian Americans. My training is decidedly Western (as is the discipline of Psychology in general), and my career path is motivated in large part by my experiences as a minority and child in an immigrant family. I recognize that none of us are without bias, as everything is necessarily viewed through a cultural lens. Thus, in trying to understand my own life experiences and what Amy Chua proposes as a parenting method, I have to view them in light of culture, both in its original context (China/Asia) and transplanted in America. I am also shaped heavily by Western Christianity, with deference towards what I believe are “Biblical” values such as love, albeit one that does not sit comfortably with cultural Evangelicalism. With my cards on the table, let’s continue.

Personal Experience
Really, I believe that many many Asians can at least in some way relate to Amy Chua’s parenting style. If we had first generation parents, many of these parenting tactics would seem familiar to some degree. Shaming, comparison to a neighbor or sibling, forced learning of piano or violin, high academic expectations, and restriction of social interactions and activities are probably shared experiences. I was compared to “successful” Chinese peers, questioned when I got less than a 100 on tests or lower than an A, forced to learn piano and take Tae Kwon Do, spent my Saturday mornings in Chinese school, and forbidden to date in high school (and discouraged in college). Sadly, even though my parents were not as intense, none of situations Chua detailed actually seemed that out of the ordinary to me.

A few things have happened as a result, both immediately to myself and in my relationship with my parents. I currently appreciate music and my ability to play it. I still recite my multiplication tables in Chinese after being drilled in them during the 1st grade. I speak Chinese conversationally and can pick at reading characters. I graduated Magna Cum Laude (albeit far from Valedictorian) from the “Evangelical Harvard” of America. I [God willing] will be a doctoral student in psychology come Fall. I would, by most accounts, be included in the ranks (but not top ranks) of the “Model Minority” stereotype.

However, the relationship with my parents is not as rosy. At an early age, I stopped sharing my own thoughts with my parents, feeling that I had to raise myself emotionally. Due to their potential disapproval of my peer groups, I lied about where I was going or who I spent time with. Our house was either a battleground of yelling and tears, or it was a field of silence and avoidance. Due to many factors grounded in cultural and relational issues, I suffered depression in silence during my last two years of high school.

Currently, I still have to fight desperately to keep from rejecting my parents’ suggestions simply because they are the ones suggesting it. I have a lack of emotional connection with them and have very little desire to visit them. Communication is being rebuilt, but very very slowly and not without deeply ingrained obstacles and episodes of recidivism. I used to be ashamed of all things Chinese/Asian, refused to associate with Asians, and hated the fact that I was Chinese.

But I turned out ok, didn’t I? I’m not [that] socially awkward. I’m hanging out with Asians and have embraced the culture while simultaneously being able to navigate the majority culture, I have a bright future, etc etc. Perhaps all these things are true, but at the end of the day, I attribute a lot of that to the grace of God in *spite* of my parents and experiences. In many ways, I departed greatly from the model minority stereotype to learn and experience things that have given my life greater color.

I love my parents dearly and hold no grudges. I can do this because I realize that they did the best they could with what they had, and no child can ask for more. Plenty of other Asian children have not come to the same conclusion as I have. But the fact that they are raising my little brother differently says that they too wish they could have raised me in another way.

The Myth of the Model Minority
Asians have been touted as a “model minority,” used to pit minorities against each other with ideas like, “If they can be successful, why can’t you?” Asian students are assumed to be geniuses at math and science and are expected to be smart and hardworking. I could go on and on, but I want to touch on why this myth is misleading, why it is negative, and the effects that it has on children.

To start, a quote from a summary of some research:

Orenzo et al. found that Asian American students had higher grade point averages, fewer expulsions and suspensions, and more academic awards than White students… However, Lorenzo and her colleagues found that these same Asian American students compared to White students were also reporting higher levels of depression, social isolation, as well as social and interpersonal problems such as being teased by peers. To exacerbate matters, these students also described having lower levels of social support in their lives, such as having a confidant. Moreover, Asian American students had significantly more negative perceptions of themselves relative to White students as indicated by lower levels of self-esteem, higher anxiety, and a stronger sense of being unpopular.

Furthermore, here are some statistics on high performing Asian American students:

  • Asian American women ages 15-24 have the HIGHEST rate of both contemplating and committing suicide among ALL populations.
  • In top tier universities like Cornell, 62% of the suicides between 1996-2006 were committed by Asians, despite the fact that they only made up 14% of the student body.

A response to Chua’s article on another blog paints a very unfortunate story to those statistics. The writer’s sister, after obtaining basically anything that could be considered successful, ends up committing suicide. Summarizing her mother, the writer says,

If you were to ask my mom today if this style of parenting worked for her, she’ll point to a few boxes of report cards, trophies, piano books, photo albums and Harvard degrees and gladly trade it all to have my sister back.

In addition to that, the myth of the model minority ignores diversity within the Asian communities. Certain populations (such as Southeast Asians and Hmong) have disproportionally higher levels of poverty and lower academic achievement. Multiple other problems arise from this myth. Students who are struggling psychologically are not given help because of their high academic achievement. Students who need academic help feel ashamed to ask for it for fear of not meeting parental/teacher/stereotypical expectations.

My biggest beef with this article is not that it is arrogant (because it can be understood as being tongue-in-cheek). It is not that it is un-nuanced (because apparently her book does a better job). My biggest gripe is that it perpetuates the myth of the model minority. It paints a one-dimensional and culturally transplanted idea of success that leaves much to be desired. It supports an idea that masks undercurrents of very real struggles with painful and significant consequences.

Understanding the Chinese Parents’ Perspective
What is this one-dimensional idea of success, and why do Chinese parents hold it? I believe that many immigrant parents define success as that which they were never able to have or achieve. This oftentimes means musical endeavors, higher education, and high-paying/high-status jobs. Status and respect hold an important place in Confucian cultures. Shame and pride have become primary motivators. Combine this with a communal (as opposed to individualistic) orientation, and we have a concept of shame and pride of the family, of which the children are a part.

If Chinese pride is happiness, then the happiness of the parent is tied into the performance of the children. Therefore, not only do the parents want the children to succeed for the child’s sake, but for the parents’ sake as well. Why do Chinese parents [annoyingly] brag to their peers about the success of their children (or make them perform their latest piano piece to practical strangers)? Because it affirms them as successful parents in their social circles, thereby bringing them pride and happiness. Conversely, because the aversion to shame is such a potent motivator as well, shaming the family by one’s lack of “success” is to be avoided by any means possible. Additionally, shame frequently prevents significant issues like psychological illness from being dealt with in a supportive and healthy way. Again, if the child is struggling and the community finds out, it brings shame to the parents.

If viewed in this way, the child’s own preference, immediate happiness and even psychological well-being is buried deeply under the more important and tangible symbols of success. This measurable success, in the mind of the Chinese parent, will surely make all the immediate suffering both on the part of the child and parent, worth it in the long run.

Lastly, there is research suggesting Asian immigrants believe that education is the only means of upward social mobility. Again, this has a long history in Confucian cultures, where testing (via rote memorization of information) continues to be a way to better jobs. Thus, the individualism, creativity and self-expression so valued in American culture is neglected.

If success is measured by wages, then Asian Americans as a whole (avoiding the inconveniences of “difference”) do have a higher average income than other ethnic groups. However, in a study based in California, Asians made only 63% of the salary Caucasians were making with the same level of education. There has been strong argument for an “Asian glass ceiling” in which very few Asians are found in the ranks of management or executive level positions. The reasons for that is another topic all together, but I don’t doubt some of it has to do with the results of over-emphasizing education at the cost of, oh, say, learning how to function and build relationships in a white-man’s world.

Are we really successful, even by our parents’ standards if we are making 63% of what a Caucasian makes with the same education?

Last Thoughts
This started as a response to Amy Chua’s article on WSJ, but ended up all over the place. I have no doubt that she loves her kids. Nor do I currently doubt my parents’ love and sacrifice. What I do doubt is the ultimate feasibility of wholesale transplanting strictly Asian parenting methods into a Western culture without apology or accommodation. Apparently, Amy Chua learns this the hard way when one of her kids rebels (detailed in her book). I rebelled, even if it was in silent and not-all-that-devious ways. I simply announced to my parents that I was no longer going to take Tae Kwon Do one test from being a black belt, and there was nothing they could do about it (though I do regret that now). Thankfully, they did not prevent me from going to the bathroom like Amy did to her daughter. Instead of applying to Princeton and Harvard and staying close to home, I insisted on applying to a Christian school. They compromised over Wheaton (and to my dad’s credit, it was his suggestion). I graduated 11th from my high school class and didn’t care that they weren’t thrilled. I did things without asking permission or forgiveness. However insignificant those acts of rebellion seem when compared to someone else’s rebellion, it was my way of establishing my individuality.

My parents deserve a lot of credit. I’m truly thankful for a lot of what they made me do. I do believe that there is value in some of the tenacity and high standards shown by Asian parents. I would actually say that my parents grew increasingly more progressive, and began to see the value of “balance” in social activities (so long as my grades stayed high enough). They have been a proponent of a more holistic approach to education in their Chinese community. But retrospectively, they would say that they wish our relationship were better. Watching them raise my 11 year old brother, I’m actually proud of the way they have changed. He is just as “successful,” playing piano, saxophone, and taking Chinese classes. But he plays ice hockey and watches games with my dad, and I bet that if he wanted to be in a school play, that’d be alright. My brother actually talks with my parents and knows physical affection. My parents have grown to understand that loving a child means more than providing food and opportunities.

Amy Chua sounds like a miserable, miserable woman. You cannot stay as angry and fight as much as she does without getting ulcers. Maybe she would say that it’s worth it. I would say that there are probably better ways of bringing together the best of both worlds.

Maybe there is validity to her statement that Chinese mothers assume strength, not weakness. And that is true for the most part. We humans are tenaciously hardy animals. Humans have survived holocausts and depressions, dictators and oppression… we can certainly survive a Tiger Mother. Though we are strong, we are simultaneously surprisingly fragile. Sometimes those comments shaming us do take deep root, even if they didn’t affect the author as a child. Sometimes, you can’t measure them by judging our salary or degrees. Often, we do not become strong without cost or losing something in the process. What really, is the cost of such parenting and “success” in an American context?

(There are good arguments that the Chinese Mother method isn’t working as well in China either, but, I’ll save that for someone who knows better…)

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13 thoughts on “Amy Chua’s Chinese “Tiger Mother” and the Myth of the Model Minority”

  1. I don’t think Amy sounds like a “a miserable, miserable woman”, that might be the poster getting a bit too emotionally involved. Chua does sound off-key and extreme (compared to my own views on parenting). My main problem with Chua’s article is how she defines “success”. She presents a picture of her daughter playing a piano recital at Carnegie Hall, as if “There you have it! My children are an utter success” I’d like to know how old her children are now. Are they successful emotionally (good friendships, generally happy with themselves, able to have intimate relationships despite the fact that little time was left for that kind of growth in their upbringing). Because, as you probably know, this status-success game never ends. There is always someone better than you, you will always be bypassed for a raise or promotion or not selected for the job. How do these girls take those setbacks? Or do they deprive themselves of the right to get up and go to the bathroom because if they had just worked harder they might have gotten it? Could be a lonely purgatory of self-flagellation. Or maybe as this poster suggests, it was more nuanced than Chua’s article. Only the children will know.

  2. Thanks for the post.

    I’m trying to look at the Amy Chua article from all angles, so I don’t miss a chance to challenge some of my own assumptions.

    If possible, if one were to factor out young Asians who were inclined toward depression (in other words, leaving out the issue of the isolation and lack of social connection in early life making it harder to seek help for problems later on), can you give us a sense of the scale of damage that Chua’s tough-parenting style creates? And the degree to which the cultural context determines whether her style is normative (I don’t know if this is the right term) or not?

    As an example, I have friends from the UK who were sent off to boarding school, with much less direct contact with their parents for years than someone living at home woud have, and that has always struck me as incredibly cruel (that degree of separation). But culturally, it’s something that is common there, so I only frown upon it because of my own personal reference point (as an American who attended public schools…of course, my family had its own dysfunctions, so maybe in some ways I’d have been better off out of the house – who knows?).

    So I guess what I’m getting at (sorry to be long-winded) is is it mainly a problem of Chua’s methods not translating well to another society? Is it as much a problem if the same techniques are used by parents in China?

    And I just thought of what I guess is my big question: is the incidence of depression or low self-esteem lower in China (for example, suicide rates and attempts) for children raised per Chua’s methods than it is among Asians growing up in the west who were raised that way?

    My parents used some of the themes and techniques that Chua used, but with less insistence on conformance to a specific blueprint for what constituted worthwhile pursuits and success. I also identify with your description of the paradox of the tightness of the bond with one’s parents, yet not wanting to visit them much. It’s sort of like the techniques that actualy made me pretty well-equipped to competently function in the world served me well in a way, but alienated me from them in other ways.

    I don’t have children, so I don’t have the opportunity to re-bond with my parents around the passing along of the methods I was raised by (for better or worse) to another generation. I don’t know, maybe that’s the built-in self-correcting part of human parenting: the grandparents can come in and with unconditional love correct some of the overly strict excesses of the parents.

  3. You guys raise some important questions. Her parenting makes sense to me IF you value competition over cooperation, and social status (“face”) is more important to you than anything else. Here’s a quote from Lin Yutang:

    Abstract and intangible, [face] is yet the most delicate standard by which Chinese social intercourse is regulated.
    Face cannot be translated or defined. It is like honor and is not honor. It cannot be purchased with money, and gives a man or woman a material pride. It is hollow and is what men fight for and many women die for. It is invisible and yet by definition exists by being shown to the public. It exists in the ether and yet can be heard, and sounds eminently respectable and solid. It is amenable, not to reason but to social convention. It protracts lawsuits, breaks up family fortunes, causes murders and suicides, and yet it often makes a man out of a renegade who has been insulted by his fellow townsmen, and it is prized above all earthly possessions. It is more powerful than fate or favor, and more respected than the constitution. It often decides a military victory or defeat, and can demolish a whole government ministry. It is that hollow thing which men in China live by.”

  4. Even if I try to look at the issue from different angles the approach she promotes in her book seems completely wrong to me. How can you force your children to do something they don’t like? This may cause a number of problems once they grow up and parents usually see the errors of their ways when it is too late to change it.

  5. Amy Chua, the Tiger Mom, is talking about how to achieve excellence and rise to the top. That may not be your objective. But if you want to rise to the top, you need to heed her advice. Amy Chua herself has achieved remarkable accomplishment in her own life. If you are poor, if you are an immigrant without social status, if you want to be successful, and rise up, Chua has given you the model that has proven to be successful. Keep in mind that there is no easy way. High achievement is difficult, and not obtained by the weak of heart or mind. By the way, even permissive raised children have psychological problems!

  6. Continuing to follow the saga of what may be one of the more outrageous examples – and there are similar examples aplenty! – of the child abuses of Amy Chua, I think it timely and prudent to provide a healthy, humane counterpoint by way of a much different kind of example of adult guidance to a young stranger. To wit:

    In May 1954, M. Paul Claussen, Jr, a 12-year-old boy living in Alexandria, Virginia, sent a letter to Mr Justice Felix Frankfurter in which he wrote that he was interested in “going into the law as a career” and requested advice as to “some ways to start preparing myself while still in junior high school.” This is the reply he received:

    My Dear Paul:
    No one can be a truly competent lawyer unless he is a cultivated man. If I were you I would forget about any technical preparation for the law. The best way to prepare for the law is to be a well-read person. Thus alone can one acquire the capacity to use the English language on paper and in speech and with the habits of clear thinking which only a truly liberal education can give. No less important for a lawyer is the cultivation of the imaginative faculties by reading poetry, seeing great paintings, in the original or in easily available reproductions, and listening to great music. Stock your mind with the deposit of much good reading, and widen and deepen your feelings by experiencing vicariously as much as possible the wonderful mysteries of the universe, and forget about your future career.
    With good wishes,
    Sincerely yours,[signed] Felix Frankfurter

    From THE LAW AS LITERATURE, ed. by Ephraim London, Simon and Schuster, 1960.

    I knew that a Paul Claussen had been a major figure (1972-2007) in the Office of the Historian of The United States Department of State in Washington, with an abiding interest in The Great Seal of The United States.…..101044.pdf
    An obituary of Dr Claussen is on page 47 in…../86414.pdf
    So, wishing to determine whether or not the elder Claussen was, indeed, the boy writing to Justice Frankfurter in 1954 I wrote to his former colleague at State. The reply received today follows.

    —– Original Message —–
    From: PA History Mailbox
    To: ‘Andre M. Smith’
    Sent: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 10:11 AM
    Subject: RE: Chris Morrison
    Dear Mr. Smith,
    Copied below is the response I received from one of Paul Claussen’s long-time colleagues here in the Office of the Historian.

    Yes it is. The young Paul wanted to be a lawyer and so decided to write Felix Frankfurter and ask for his advice. Frankfurter evidently was taken with his letter and wrote back at length…Frankfurter of course kept a copy and the text of the letter has been published in collections of Frankfurter’s writings.

    Please contact us of you have any additional questions.
    Best regards,
    Christopher A. Morrison, Ph.D.
    Historian, Policy Studies Division
    U.S. Department of State
    Office of the Historian (PA/HO)

    Dr Claussen did follow the advice of Justice Frankfurter. And he came out of that advice none the worse for it. The world is much bigger, richer, more tolerant, and more laden with opportunities than the blinkered view of Amy Chua would have her daughters and fellow fear-laden mothers without Ivy League tenure believe.

    For a very well-balanced alternative to the mania – and it is nothing less – to which the many Chuas of the world subscribe, read the refreshingly informed reports on…..3&id=2,…..9/28/china, and…..iberalarts

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  7. An integral amalgam of defining examples of narcissism that Professor Chua has instilled in her two daughters is self-advancement with sexual provocation. Her public signature posture is one of excessive toothiness, for a university professor exceedingly vulgar displays of long legs, and breast projections that might have won her Blue Ribbons as “Best in Show” as a candidate in any Sweater Queen contest during the 1940s or ‘50s. She never misses an opportunity to increase the image of her breast size by folding her arms under them; in one oft-reproduced photograph she actually appears to be elevating the left one nudged up by a folded arm.

    The elder Chua daughter, Sophia, has learned her lesson well. and!/photo.php?fbid=230907580253565&set=o.134679449938486&type=1&theater,

    Birds of a feather . . . A coop of nesting trophy wives!

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  8. Some words penned in response to the thoughts of a student writing elsewhere . . .

    I would not normally lock horns and try to best a junior in high school; I’m hoping you do not read my words here as such, for they are meant for you only as a provocation to further thought to your ideas well-presented.

    You’ve written that you “used to get frustrated when I had to practice violin and I really didn’t want to . . .” Do I read correctly that you no longer “get frustrated?” If so, that’s a remarkable advancement. As a musician myself I want to ask you, Why do you practice violin and not another instrument of your choosing less frustrating, for examples, flute, harpsichord, tuba, or tabla. There is a vast – and I do mean vast! – repertoire for each of those, and many other, instruments that could challenge you unendingly for the remainder of your life. Instead of spending hours at your chosen instrument (whichever it may be) in the drudgery of isolated practice, why not spend more of your time in practice with music ensembles of various kinds. This can yield a discipline and advancement of a uniquely different kind. If you are studying formally with a violin teacher I’m quite sure he will confirm the well-founded idea that, as a performer, playing an instrument is one kind of challenge but playing an instrument WITH PEOPLE is significantly more so. A musician in isolation is a musician limited. And herein lays one, only one, of the transparent contradictions of the way Professor Chua has taught her two daughters to approach their instruments; opportunistically solely for unartistic purposes.

    A fundamental flaw in the approach to music of Amy Chua – an amusical hack with no known talent for an art of any kind! – is that she has decided it’s perfectly acceptable to pervert one of the greater of the fine arts for use in ulterior purposes. In the example of the Chua family, so-so slogging through masterpieces of music was used to impress others when applying for admission to university. (Would Professor Chua dare to advocate this openly with religion, physics, good grammar, or issues of national interest?) The whole idea that her elder daughter, Sophia, played a debut recital in Carnegie Hall is an early example of the pervasive blight of résumé bloat on which social climbers like Amy Chua have advanced themselves; a blight to which the Chua daughters were introduced early by two parents who know well how to tweak the system to gain unearned personal advantage.

    Carnegie Hall,, includes three auditoria in its building: Stern Auditorium, Zankel Hall, and Weill Recital Hall It was in Weill that Sophia performed as only one among a cattle-call string of young pianists that day. Do you doubt what I write here? Compare the architectural design,, behind Sophia with that of the architectural design at the rear of the stage in Having been a performer, myself, in both Stern and Weill over many years you have my assurance that Sophia performed her piece in Weill. Debut recital in Carnegie Hall! Indeed!

    You have written about your parents that they are “less extreme than Chua I’ll admit, but a lot of her memoir is satire and exaggeration.” Don’t be deceived by quick-change artist Professor Chua. She has spent more than one year trying to convince readers of her text that she is some kind of nouveau belles-lettrist who did no more than exercise a writer’s license to engage her readers. In truth she meant what she wrote until her hypocritical posturing as an authentic Chinese mother — born in Illinois to a Filipino father, neither speaks Chinese nor writes Chinese script — came back to haunt her with a ferocity that caused this self-styled Tiger Mother to recoil into improvised doublespeak. Amy Chua is a complete fake!

    All young musicians should be given only two music instrument choices to pursue in life, Violin or Piano. All else is useless waste. Any adult giving such advice is one woefully ill-informed. As a bass trombonist, my instrument has been my first class ticket from person-to-person, school-to-school, city-to-city, studio-to-studio, and stage-to-stage. With the kinds of preparations the Chua daughters were given will they ever perform, as I have, with Richard Tucker, Birgit Nilsson, Roberta Peters, Herbert von Karajan, Leopold Stokowski, and the two-thirds of The New York Philharmonic who were my schoolmates for five years in Juilliard? Forget it!

    Mercifully, I was never besieged with a Tiger Mother or Tiger Anything to motivate me. Yes, I too sometimes was bored with scales and chords. Yes, sometimes my imagined future seemed an unattainable fantasy. Yes, I did sometimes fall flat on my face in public performance (as did my teachers before me and also their teachers before them). Life went on and continues to do so.

    You’ve written that “At this point (as a Junior in high school) about 35% of the pressure to do well comes from my parents and the other 65% is complete self-motivation.” From the subtlety of your writing I suspect you’re cutting yourself short with that 65%. You appear to be much more highly motivated than your objective perspective about yourself can show you at this early time.

    The violin? I advise you to seriously reëvaluate what you believe is your relationship to any instrument of your choice; if, indeed, the violin has been your choice and not that of someone else. If the violin has been your choice, stay with it through all the coming stormy weather of doubt and seeming incompetence. If it is not, drop it in preference to another more to your liking and its fitness for your physicality. (If it’s the tuba, tell your parents that someone other than I recommended it!)

    Good Luck!

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  9. I divide my year annually between New York and Shanghai. One of my common visitations in the latter city is to the area in and around The Shanghai Conservatory of Music. About four years back the school built a large new building on Fenyang Lu. Along the street side is a lower level with a string of music stores stocked with new instruments. In four of those stores I counted, literally, one trumpet, one horn, one trombone, no tuba, two flutes, one clarinet, one oboe, no bassoon, a handful of strings (but no string bass), and two-hundred pianos! The single trombone (my instrument) looked and felt like it had been made in an industrial arts school as a class project. I asked one of the clerks how many trombone students were
    then enrolled in the Conservatory. “Five,” he replied. I told him it would be impossible for any serious student of that instrument to plan advancement playing such useless metal and asked what brand of instruments are taught upstairs. All the trombones were imported by the school, only as needed, from Yamaha in Japan. But, why the sea of pianos?

    Most parents do not want their children spending, i.e., wasting, their time on any instrument for which a student can not enter a contest and win prizes. Prizes mean medals and certificates, which Mommy and Daddy can display as their own achievements by extension. It is the major conservatories in China (Shanghai, Beijing, Shenyang, and Wuhan) which are responsible for continuing to nurture this false status, while, visually at least, giving the external impression that China is a major cultural locus of Western classical music. Anyone who has heard the wind sections of a major symphony orchestra in China will hear just how major the cultural locus is in China for those instruments. Naïve morons; school and parent alike!

    For the serious student having neither interest nor ability to become a graduate of Harvard Medical School, this phony sequence of contest successes may lead to Juilliard in New York or Curtis in Philadelphia. “If a clown like Lang Lang can make it, then so can my little angel. Who is, of course, the most adept keyboard wizard to blossom since Lawrence Welk or Rachmaninoff.” Stage mothers: Away with them!

    All of this clap-trap nonsense has no relationship whatsoever to two very important issues: music or Asian American. It is, with the rarest of exceptions, largely Oriental in the homeland. Atavistic immigrants from those eastern cultures or those descended directly therefrom – like the ever-psychobashing Kommandant Amy Chua – have some untested, sentimental notion that music opens doors and ensures careers in whatever direction the unmusical music student chooses; which the student is free to choose, so long as it isn’t music. (Try to figure out that one. “You are free to study physics or mathematics, so long as you don’t attempt to make a career of them.”)

    For the past forty years during my own studies in medicine and music in New York I have been wedded to and worked closely with and around nurses, physicians, surgeons, and medical technicians active in all the standard disciplines. Those persons have come from all modern regions of the world. And, yes, some of my coworkers have come from the beloved Harvard Medical School. But, I can write with authority, the number of those professional persons who have had any direct contact at any times in their lives with piano or violin is insignificantly small.

    No one has ever wasted time typing me as a wimp. Nevertheless, with an Amy Chua of my own only thinly masking a contempt while ostensibly trying to encourage me before the age of ten by classing me as “garbage, “lazy,” “useless,” and a host of other niceties (a savage, a juvenile delinquent, boring, common, low, completely ordinary, a barbarian) all the while forbidding me to sit on a toilet until I can play triplets in one hand against duolets in the other mechanistically en duo with a metronome might have (likely would have) set me up both for advanced training to climb The Texas Tower and chronic constipation.

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

  10. Amy Chua has never lived in China. Her understanding of its culture, that is, the culture as it’s truly lived by the indigenous people in their dailyness, then must be that of the tourist. Here perhaps is one view of a China she may or may not have seen. [Each of the four pictures can be enlarged for clearer viewings.] In what likely is Nanning, the capitol of Guang Xi region, the boy was caught stealing money to pursue his addiction in Internet gaming. (This is a common problem in China, especially among adolescent boys. As punishment his father has publicly stripped off the boy’s clothes, lathered him with some unstated brown caking (which I shall discretely hope is mere mud), bound his hands behind his back, and then pulled him on his back and buttocks by one foot for disgrace through a very-public area of the city.

    On contemporary corporal punishment in China:

    A third of them [child respondents] said corporal punishment negatively affected their personalities, causing them to become introverted and depressed.

    Legal experts cited by the paper said China should ban corporal punishment in its marriage laws to protect children from physical and psychological harm and to protect the rights of minors.

    They blamed the common occurrence of corporal punishment in China on the traditional belief that children were a part of their parents, not individuals.

    The routine beatings allegedly given to child gymnasts in China are no different to the corporal punishment that was once part of daily life in English public schools, according to the head of the Olympic movement.

    Mr Rogge said he believed that if physical punishment is being used to train young athletes in China, then it is likely to be confined to sports such as gymnastics and swimming, where the age of competitors is much younger than in the other Olympic sports. What is not known is how widespread the practice is.

    “It was a pretty disturbing experience. I was really shocked by some of what was going on. I know it is gymnastics and that sport has to start its athletes young, but I have to say I was really shocked. I think it’s a brutal programme. They said this is what they needed to do to make them hard.

    “I do think those kids are being abused. The relationship between coach and child and parent and child is very different here. But I think it goes beyond the pale. It goes beyond what is normal behaviour. It was really chilling.”

    Anyone who thinks the Chinese are a race of genteel pacifists who, collectively, design their lives to awaken every morning wiser than they went to bed the night before is a candidate for some serious awakening of his own. As a whole person Amy Chua is a type; she is not an aberration.

    Now, for one question I have not seen asked anywhere. . . Does Professor Chua play a music instrument? If so, let’s hear some of it. If not, from what sources has she gathered her standards about music technique and style and how they might be taught to a very young child who has shown no particular affinity for any instrument? Can she play any music from what she has demanded from either of her two daughters? Can she play simultaneously triptlets in the left hand and duolets in the right? Can she perform, even modestly,, the composition she has demanded her post-toddler daughter play with assurance?

    There can be no doubt that Professor Chua likes violence, so long as it’s not directed at her, the core definition of a bully. She has said recently that there are parts of the world in which some of her parenting techniques might be considered child abuse. I do wish she could be persuaded to name (1) which some of those parts of the world are, (2) just which parenting techniques she is referring to, and (3) why she believes those same techinques should not be defined as child abuse in her home state of Connecticut.

    How did such a reprehensible woman obtain a position so high up on the feeding chain with so little prior experience in law education?

    HUSBAND, faculty of Yale Law School since 1990 : Jed Rubenfeld
    WIFE, faculty of Yale Law School since 2001 : Amy Chua

    As the lawyers may put it, Let the evidence speak for itself. The Tiger Mom has made it on her own claws.

    One last question: Who prevents Professor Chua from sitting on a toilet or eating a meal when, at any given moment, she is vexed beyond her capacity to complete an academic assignment or any other professional obligation within the proper time allocated for its completion?

    André M. Smith, Bach Mus, Mas Sci (Juilliard)
    Diploma (Lenox Hill Hospital School of Respiratory Therapy)
    Postgraduate studies in Human and Comparative Anatomy (Columbia University)
    Formerly Bass Trombonist
    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra of New York,
    Leopold Stokowski’s American Symphony Orchestra (Carnegie Hall),
    The Juilliard Orchestra, Aspen Festival Orchestra, etc.

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