War Cry of the Critical Writer; An Essay About Amy Chua

Amy Chua is an intellectual; of this there is no doubt, though, as one continues to read her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, they also learn that she is a moron and, perhaps the most interesting of all, a hypocrite. Beginning with her blatant and casual racism, to her absolute and utter misunderstanding of the subject that she herself discusses at length, concluding with her hypocritical views cultures and the one she denounces, she is, for all intents and purposes, inadequate. Yet, despite these shortcomings, Amy Chua is a law professor at Yale, a graduate of Harvard College, in addition to being a graduate of Harvard Law School. Chua is also the published author of two other books, one a novel on market dominance and its link to racial treatment and the other a discussion of seven major empires and their failures, due to their mistreatment of their own minorities. Further more, Chua is happily married and is loved, more or less, by her two daughters and her two dogs, in addition to her wide extended family. Without a doubt, she is a gifted and lucky individual, however, when it comes to releasing and accepting the individuality of others, she is harsh toned, picky, crude, simpleminded and selfish. Moreover, her single minded focus on the failures of the West and the successes of the East are more than a little biased and, more often than naught, shockingly outdated in both tone and sentiment.

Logically, it is unfair to launch these accusations without first providing detailed justification; the readers of her novel are lucky as she provides evidence of her shortcomings at almost every point, discussing her actions with both a sense of pride and a little remorse, though not because she feels guilt, but because of her upset at the failures she herself has had to endure at the hands of her youngest daughter, Louisa “Lulu” Rubenfeld. Her third novel, released in January 2011 is a pseudo memoir of the first 15 or 16 years of her life as a mother, discussing how she chose to parent using the “Chinese mother” point of view; in stark comparison to the “Western parent” model. She argues that the Chinese approach to parenting is better and works far more efficiently than its Western counterpart as it allows the child to blossom to the full extent of their ability, providing a closer relationship with their parents, in addition to having more confidence and a greater sense of self. The Western parent model, she argues, focuses more on the child’s individuality and sense of choice which, when compared to the results that are produced by the Chinese mother model, are inconsequential to the point of appearing negligible. It is more logical to raise a child by using the Chinese mother model, she states, rather than the Western parent one, as it leads the child through a path of greater success.

At this point, one must ask: to what end? It must be agreed upon that the Chinese mother model leads to a greater number of doctors, lawyers, engineers, and so forth, and it must be agreed upon that this model leads to more conditional success. This has been more than proven by the rise of China and the quality of the students and workers it has produced, yet the fact remains that the model only works when both teacher and student accept it as their sole doctrine. Should a child reject the concepts of the model, it falls apart immediately, as it becomes nothing more than a teacher expecting far too much from a student who is not interested in being taught. The fact remains that once a student rejects the model, it becomes nothing more than a screaming match between two figures; teacher and student. On one hand, an immovable object refuses to learn, while on the other, an unstoppable force constantly berates the individual for every so-called failure and lack of conditional success.

Chua herself proved this with her second child: in comparison to the elder child, Sophia, Lulu maintains her sense of self; choosing to reject the harsh tone of the Chinese mother model in favour of a more lighthearted approach, one where she is able to make her own decisions and accepts them as reasonable thoughts created by her own mind, rather than rules forced onto her by an unstable tyrant. Furthermore, during the conclusion of the novel, it is revealed that while Lulu chose to divulge from the Chinese mother teachers, her elder sister Sophia accepted the doctrine and its shortcomings in a modern Western world. Sophia details that during her youth she had no choice but to go along with her mother’s actions, however, during her adolescent and teenage years, she accepted her mother’s tyrannical behaviour because she found a sense of enjoyment in what she was accomplishing (despite the inhumane treatment inflected upon her by her own mother) and a sense of pride in being able to please her family, in addition to those around her.

Despite this rejection, however, Chua does not change her attitude regarding the model; she maintains that when it works, it truly works, though when it doesn’t, it produces failures, more often than naught. An interesting point to raise is not that her father rejected the Chinese mother model and became a successful man in his own right, but the fact continues to remain that the Chinese mother model truly only works when one has no other option; examples such as intense poverty immediately come to mind, where the entire family works as a single unit to overcome it’s difficult situations. In a stable Western world, where the family unit is capable of maintaining itself financially and is not constantly at the immediate risk of being forced into starvation or being devoid of medical care, the Chinese mother model fails almost entirely, as the child has no reason to go along with parent-inflicted hardships. The problem, once again is that in the poverty example detailed above, the child wants to help its family overcome hardship, therefore it tries its hardest to work for a better life with the greatest possible reward as the outcome. In the counter example, the child has no reason to experience unnecessary hardships as the child is not working towards a general and all encompassing familiar success. Simply put, in one example, the child must become a doctor to lead a better life and to support it’s family; on the other, the child is comfortable enough, socially, to make their own decisions and not worry about the implications of not supporting its family. Furthermore, in the counter example, the child is comfortable enough to not have to worry about the ramifications of not being successful and living up to inflated expectations.

Chua is blatantly incapable of understanding that while success and happiness is a dream for everyone, the concept of success is not the same quantifiable figure for each individual. She fails to see the pointlessness of forcing a person to practice the piano and violin for hours on end if the only desirable outcome is to have a “Respectable” hobby. Likewise, not every individual wants to be rich and bask in the glory provided to them by vast recognition. Some are content to “Squander” their talents in a way that allows them to feel self actualized. Furthermore, Chua never takes her children’s considerations to heart, until it is too late. Her eldest Sophia continues to play the piano (though by choice, later and only because her mother feels unnecessary), while her youngest outright rejects the violin for a practice that she finds more pleasurable, playing tennis for fun. This, additionally, is an added misgiving to the Chinese mother model; there is no middle ground to any particular action. Anything attempted is only done so if being number one is the outcome; playing the piano, violin, tennis, rugby, and so forth is only done to be the best, not in one area, but in the entire world. Therein lies an additional dilemma posed by the model: the teacher excepts the student to be a master of their task. Under no circumstance is the child expected, or even allowed to not be perfect; an illogical concept that becomes even more clear once one understands that attaining perfection and becoming an expert at anything is impossible, especially in a competitive field. It is physically and psychologically impossible to always be number one, and it is even more difficult to do so when the only pleasure one derives from an action is not for legacy or for divinity, but from the simple feat of being good at something; piano, violin, tennis, competitive essay writing, or otherwise. Unless, of course, a person dies as number one; a feat that many who follow the Chinese mother model would consider reasonable, as once one has became the best in the world, what more is there to live for?

This, however, leads to another of Chua’s inadequacies: due to her misunderstanding of the model, she constantly forces her own will upon her children, not out of hate or a sense of lost chances, but because she loves her two girls. This is evident from the first few pages of the novel, as she describes her relationship with her children; the reader can see that her feelings are nothing more than true and genuine love. The problem lies within that love: like a battered spouse, her children are constantly tormented by the tyrannical views of their mother, but are always reassured that they are loved and respected regardless, almost immediately afterward in most cases. Though, Chua doesn’t show that she loves her children in the way that a child would expect, not unless she has first screamed at them to be better and to live up to her own inflated expectations. An example that readily comes to mind is the story of “The Little White Donkey,” a piece that Lulu is forced to learn by her mother; one that she fails repeatedly and one that her mother threatens her into learning. The fact remains that Lulu learns the piece, and despite her mother’s rash behaviour, the child is overjoyed and hugs and cuddles with her mother afterward, due to her success. Chua reasons that despite her own behaviour, the model worked because it achieved the desired result in addition to not affecting the strong bond between her and her child, as evidenced by their shared affection following the incident.

Here, however, Chua stunningly misunderstands the dynamic between a child and parent, let alone the dynamic between mother and child. Regardless of whether the child is forced to succeed or if they succeed on their own, when they are young, they will be proud of themselves and will seek a similar reaction from those around them. Put simply, children, not unlike emotionally competent adults, desire praise when they accomplish a task or perform a good deed. Therefore, despite Chua’s intense reaction, it is only logical, and to be expected, that the young Lulu will be happy once she has learned how to play the piece. While Chua argues that the model did not damage the relationship between her and her child in the example detailed above, she fails to understand that at such a young age, it is to be expected that Lulu will not hold her mother in contempt, despite her mother’s actions. Furthermore, while she argues that no damage has been dealt, she fails to understand an added concept: in a Western world, screaming at a child needlessly does more irrevocable damage than good.

Chua’s views on the West also influence her views on parenting far more than her own traditional Chinese upbringing does. Though, that being said, if one were to outright describe her as a cultural hypocrite, she would be quick to point out the importance of understanding other cultures and respecting their differences; for example, she snaps at her children for making fun of a foreign student’s near unpronounceable name as an act of showing them the importance of accepting those from different cultural backgrounds. The irony in this statement is the fact that despite her claims of cultural sensitivity, she constantly ridicules the various cultural notions of the West and even goes as far as outright dismissing Western parents, claiming that, of those she has been privy to, what she has seen has proved to be inferior. Furthermore, near the end of the novel, she discusses the “Disney world” view of life with her children, stating that growing up along such media distorts the views of children and warps their notions of reality. While the real world is a complex and difficult place, children’s programming presents an almost perverted view of the world; providing children with perfect situations that almost never occur in real life.

She continues on to say that Western children, being raised alongside such media, find it harder to accept the harsh realities of the world and often find themselves in situations that a hardened child, parented alongside the Chinese mother model, would be able to easily overcome. Disregarding the obvious falsities behind this statement and disregarding Chua’s extremism, one must immediately be allowed to point out the truth behind her beliefs regarding the “Disney world” concept. Yes, Disney, and other children’s programming creators, produce content designed to entertain a child and keep them smiling, though under any circumstance, what other expectations would one have from the producers of a children’s entertainment division? Cartoons, and the like, are not designed to inflict an almost irrational fear of the world into a child; they are designed to tap into a child’s sense of creativity and acceptance, allowing them to not be scared of stepping outside their front door and encountering others. Even Chinese children’s programs, though near incomprehensible to a Westerner, are designed to do the same thing. It is illogical to believe that a child is bound to fail at anything because they, as children, were engaged in cartoons and so forth; just as it is illogical to believe that an adult will regress into a child like state of euphoria and innocence after being subject to a violent movie or the daily news.

Ironically, her views on Western media is not the issue to which one must take heed of; Chua favours minorities far more than she does majorities. This is reasonable and acceptable and is even fair and judicious; though it is hypocritical to claim cultural sensitivity and then proceed to ridicule the majority. One becomes culturally sensitive not by rejecting the views of the many, but by understanding and accepting all points of view, regardless of the noticeable difference.

However, it is unsurprising that Chua would resort to such extremes, as her methods and beliefs are as outdated as one would expect. The reasons listed above should provide more than enough evidence of this, though her racism and hypocrisy do also come to mind. Suffice it to say, Amy Chua is a very human individual with many flaws to her character; chief of which being the belief that outdated Eastern doctrine can survive in a modernizing world where the concepts detailed by the West are becoming more and more prominent. Perhaps, however, these are Chua’s true fears; she is afraid that her own past and ancestry will become outdated and useless and she forces her beliefs into the minds of whomever will listen, as an act of insuring her history will live on. In this case, the very children she raised are the very victims or her own fears and insecurities.

Amy Chua loves her family; she loves her husband, her parents, her siblings and, most importantly, she loves her children. That being said, there are other, far more healthy, alternatives to the Chinese mother model to show this love and if one were to raise children in such a manner in the current world, they would not be unwise to expect difficulties and a major case of culture shock. Suffice it to say, if given the choice between East and West, the logical decision, as always, would be a mix of the two. Provide spacious perimeters, be loving and disciplined, and, under any circumstance, give the child a chance to voice their opinions. On a final note, there is no expectation that Chua will ever come across this article. If she ever does, to her, this will merely be one more review of her book, criticizing her person; nothing more than one more opinion floating in a sea of many other. Ironically, this is the most important concept that Chua has failed to grasp, which becomes even more strange once one considers that she is a teacher: opinions do matter. Though, perhaps she views her students as adults and her daughters as nothing more than children. Vessels just waiting to be filled with her views, her insecurities, her opinions, and her beliefs; a very unhealthy way of viewing children from any part of this vast universe.

As always, this has been your Admin; comment, subcribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!

-EK

  1. August 31st, 2011

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