Monday, January 10, 2011

WSJ: Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

This from the Wall Street Journal:
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I'm also using the term "Western parents" loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.

Read the full story


  1. What a sad story. I'm not sure what the motivation is for posting it here. The author knows that she is right and for her there is no possibility of doubt. Despite her thoughtlessness children do vary in their abilities and one size does not fit all.

  2. Well, for each successful minority kid subjected to that level of abuse, there's probably one Seung-Hui Cho (, maybe not all of them running around shooting people but many of them likely to nurse some form of mental disorder/neurotic personality distortion. There is middle ground somewhere between self-defining over the success of one's kids and being laissez-faire to the point of neglect...

  3. I feel so sad for the children with such type-A parents.

  4. A great response to that awful article:

  5. Hey 4:36 pm - thanks for posting.

  6. SFUSD said that Chinese students made the most suicide attempts. Also, Chinese teen girls score the highest on the depression scale. This is why I KNOW this type of parenting is not right. There is a good article on NPR website on the pressure put on these kids and some asian american websites that warn of the dangers of this style pf parenting.

  7. Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior?

    It wasn't easy to get through this article in its entirety. I decided to read it as satire and that helped.

  8. That is a great response, 4:36.

    I teach at a heavily Asian and Asian-American college. The number of rage-filled, passive-aggressive, or worse, just depressed girls is not to be believed. Because I teach in the humanities, I get the so-called failures who dropped out of the sciences. I consider it a triumph when I can get them excited about anything at all beyond a grade.

  9. 6:05, you made me look.

    Page 27:
    While white youth have the lowest percentage of suicide attempts (7 percent), they have the highest actual suicide rate (15 percent).

    African-American youth report the highest rate of suicide attempts (15 percent), followed by youth of multiple races (14 percent), Filipino (12 percent), Latino (12 percent), and Chinese (9 percent).

    Page 29:
    Figure 13: Percent of Student Reporting Sad or Hopeless Feelings by Race/Ethnicity and Gender

    Black: 26%
    White: 29%
    Hispanic/Latino: 34%
    Filipino: 33%
    Chinese: 22%

    I am not saying that I support the educational methods in that article, but I have to see that there is a lot of stereotype against Chinese. Actually, I have to admit that I also disliked Chinese way of education and supported all the above posts, until I read that link and saw some real data.

  10. A San Francisco woman responds on

    "I can tell you that the notion of the "superior Chinese mother" that my mom carried with her also died with my sister on October 28, 2004. 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."

    Christine Lu, Co-Founder & CEO, Affinity China...

  11. I know plenty of Asian families with brilliant kids who meet the "stereotype" who were not subjected to the kind of abuse described by this parent. It's not the only path to success. (I'm curious how she would explain the successes of those like Bill Gates, even Mark Zuckerberg who excelled in Math by being given great free reign in their educations.)

    Her children sound to me to be having a joyless childhood. They may be able to perform piano or violin flawlessly on cue, and excel on paper through rote memorization, but what thoughts, passions, expressions of their own do they offer. They sound like little puppets for their mother's amusement and self-aggrandizement.

    I think it's interesting that her methods worked on her kids to get them to excel, at least for the time being. She's fortunate she wasn't given a gift of a kid with Aspergers or ADHD or god forbid a child with a more serious disability. Some things can be beat into a capable child, but other children, sometimes especially those who are remarkably capable, will crumble under abusive demands.

    This article left me quite satisfied that I am doing well for my own kids by emphasizing academics, music, drama, and sports. They will have the tools they need to choose their life's path in whatever field. I still expect them to excel. But, their field of excellence will be their decision.

    On that note, I feel strongly that excellence in a field of practice without passion for it is a recipe for a life bereft of joy. (But, I suppose this writer would assume that's just another white American's excuse for failure.)

  12. We parents can be so judgmental. I honestly think that just b/c someone has a different parenting philosophy, doesn't mean that yours is right and theirs is wrong. I find it funny how parents in SF pride themselves in being so open-minded but yet are the most critical.

    This mother obviously loves her children and understands them quite well. She knows the potential of her children and helps them attain their fullest potential. I see nothing wrong with that.

    Of course, I don't agree with her entire parenting philosophy, but I'd be surprised if I did. I don't believe any of us parent exactly the same way.

    I've lived in SF long enough to drink the kool-aid. I know this article hits a nerve with many parents here. But this article has given me some thought. Perhaps I AM doing a disservice to my child by underestimating him and not challenging him enough.

    I think there's a middle ground. Personally, I don't believe in extreme parenting..whether it be for academics, sports, art, drama, or what have you. But perhaps parents who have olympic level kids may feel differently. I wouldn't know but to achieve that type of success, I'm sure requires a lot of parents "encouragement."

    I do find 3:32's comments absurd. There are mentally ill and really psycho ppl out there in every race, from every income bracket. Take Tuscon for example. You don't see headlines for Asians committing violent crimes as much as other races. Yet, when it does occur, people automatically assume it's because of the "overbearing" and "traditional" upbringing.

    The NPR statistics that someone posted above is food for thought too.

    I would love to hear the author's childrens' perspective. I would not automatically assume they had a "joyless childhood" though.

  13. while i applaud the chinese for getting a disproportionate number of their children to carnegie hall to play beautiful classical music, i am hard pressed to come up with any chinese composers who actually wrote that beautiful music.

    you get an A in imitation and and F in creativity.

  14. I wonder if part of the difference stems from religious culture (which I mean as a distinct thing from passionate or indifferent religious belief). Judeo-Christian culture seems to me to have a strong focus on spiritual welfare (personal happiness, relationships, etc.) as what we want to achieve as human beings: "What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?" kinds of stuff. Also there is more emphasis on the individual. Chinese and other Asian cultures seem to me as an outsider much more focused on measurable material success like grades, trophies, salaries and prestigious jobs, and on fitting into and bringing pride to the community. I'm not saying it's "either/or," black and white in either Judeo-Christian or Asian cultures, but more a matter of emphasis.

  15. There isa a very interesting chapet in Malcolm Gladwell book Outsides: The Story of Success (chapter 8 - Rice Patties and Math Tests). The premise is about the difference in work ethic between eastern and western cultures due to the difference in the work needed to cultivate rice patties (every day) and the western style of farming that have harvests and time off for the field to be fallow.

    link google books:

  16. oops - here is the full link - also the book (incredably interesting) is at the public library

  17. Whether you agree to her way of parenting, I think the most important point is that people get self-esteem and self-confidence from accomplishment, not from parents' praises.

    You can tell a kid one thousand times "you can do it", it cannot compare to him/her successfully doing it herself, even just once.

  18. Enlightened Western parents of San Francisco believe formal instruction is for the feeble-minded.

  19. FYI - I read an article on this book and author and apparently the WSJ editor responsible for publishing this piece picked the most controversial and extreme sections of the book and failed to show the learning curve that developed. The book actually shows how the author learned over time from her youngest strong-willed daughter that this method of parenting was not the way to go. The WSJ failed to get approval for the publication of this article, or even run it past the author, who herself objected to the piece as kind of missing the point of the whole book. Not to mention the horrible tagline it gave the story.

    WSJ: Score one for sensationalism, zero for giving people the whole story. Sad that the WSJ stooped so low.

  20. The Journal has really gone downhill since Murdoch bought it.

  21. Why white mothers are superior.

  22. Check out her interview on the Today show (google it). This woman seems to be a bubbling cauldron of neuroses. There is something to be said for giving your kids opportunities to develop discipline, even excel and feel an intrinsic sense of accomplishment. There is a way to do it that honors your children as human beings and not little widgets to stamp out and mold into whatever you think they should be.
    From the looks of it, this woman\ is crazy and controlling. Her kids might end up normal (ie. just your run of the mill issues) or filled with rage. Or somewhere in between. Crazy parenting can yield interesting results.

  23. Don't buy her awful book, buy this one:

    I Love Yous Are for White People: A Memoir