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January 26, 2011

Tiger Hostility (Or: A Swipe at the Read Chinese)

I can’t help wondering if this cover is less about “tough love meets Dr. Spock” than it is about immigrant bashing and a back-handed swipe at China. Sure, Amy Chua was born and raised in the U.S., but the cover and the parenting controversy, as named (compared to, and evocative of the domestic-brand “soccer moms”), is all too focused on an “imported” child-rearing ethic.

Focusing on the image, the outsized “Tiger” seems as much to symbolize an authoritative and dominating (geopolitical) regime, the scale, pose and expression of the child serving as a corresponding amplifier for various associations and memes, such as: we’re trying/appealing but not being recognized; we’re being schooled, we’re being abused, we’re being turned into little girls.  There is also more aggression built-in here than one would assume on first pass, the composition not just reflecting an impersonal monolith but also the cutting off of its head.

  • tardigrade

    I read the article. The picture illustrates what is written. I don’t think this is a good model for families. Creativity very rarely comes from severe treatment of young minds – unless it is the creation methodologies for escaping such treatment. At the end of the story, it is disclosed that one daughter rebelled successfully.

  • FriendNdeed

    As a Yank who married into a traditional Asian family, I know the Tiger Mom pattern well. It is marvelous and terrible, from my perspective. Marvelous because kids often rise to be better than “good enough”. Sad because even the high-achieving kids forever get the fixed idea that nothing (including themselves) is ever good enough.

  • susan

    A Korean kid I know used to get the top of his head wacked by his mom while he practiced if she didn’t think he was working hard enough. Not being able to leave the piano, the son would bite the keyboard cover in an effort to vent his anger. This was okay with his mom as long as the practicing improved.

    Today that kid is a successful cardiologist and a very accomplished pianist. And, he appears to be a happy man who loves his mom.

    His children also take piano lessons and while they are expected to practice diligently, they are not allowed to bite the instrument; they practice on an expensive Steinway.

    • Jonah

      Sounds like you agree with this way of raising your kids. If so, you might want to rethink that… The only way to raise your children should be through endless love and respect, comfort and safety. I’m sure he would have been a very successful man even without the obvious abuse from his mother, and then he could have had a happy childhood to look back at as well.

      How anyone can abuse their kids in ever what way is beyond me.

  • cmac

    Among my daughter’s friends I have seen how contentious that Chinese mother/daughter relationship can be. My daughter wouldn’t trade ours for the world. She didn’t get straight As, but she’s not anorexic, suicidal, or compulsive; and we crack each other up. She’s 19.

  • Karen H.

    having raised young children in a majority Asian US city, I find this characterization glibly panders to stereotypes that have little basis in truth. Academic and accomplishment stage moms come in every stripe and color, although not giant size, as the photo suggests. And having listened to several interviews with the author, I find she’s doing a lot of back pedaling on the “tiger mom” aspect (the book is actually a critique of this way of raising children). Feels like she accidentally capitalized on a money-making characterization of the Chinese. Perhaps she’s embarrassed all the way to the bank.

    But the easy acceptance of the stereotype and imagery by media and media consumers is a little startling.

    • cmac

      Two of my daughter’s closest friends were born in China and came to this country as 4- or 5-year-olds. My observation is directed at their families, and not at families featuring American-born parents of Chinese extraction. I find the latter to be more similar to mainstream American families than they are to Chinese-born families. This isn’t surprising; cultures vary, and Americans – no matter their extraction – reflect American culture.

  • thomas

    It’s obviously and oversimplification, but I agree that there is some geopolitical tension that can be extrapolated from the image and the impact of Chua’s book.

    As an aside, I think Chua is doing a bit of back-pedaling largely because people aren’t getting her very dry humor or the affection that is entwined with the discipline. But what really gets under everybody’s skin on this issue is her thoroughly conventional notion of success. It’s prizes. Money. Be a lawyer, be a doctor. Play violin, play piano. It’s not just about achievement, it’s about a received and particularly narrow, establishment sort of achievement that relies on pre-existing mechanisms of recognition. The stereotypes she’s reinforcing are as much about Ivy League law professors as they are about Chinese culture.

    And perhaps that sort of read is reflected in the official anxiety over China’s (and India’s) awesome economic performance. Do families, national identities, cultures really rest on just an unforgiving matter of economic superiority, just the numbers, size, sheer headless brute force? It’s not something winners worry about. So it’s amusing to think that the great American gospel of Winning Is The Only Thing That Matters suddenly becomes so sinister when amplified through the global economy.

  • susan

    I think Karen is right. In any ethnic group one can find parents who are ambitious for their kids.

    I once read that people who consider themselves outside mainstream America tend to work very hard to get their children accepted and respected. They, too, are chasing the American Dream for their kids and, for awhile, they have to run faster.

    Once mainstreamed, they slow down.

  • Herbert

    Too much “rewarding” for very little effort that is deteriorating kids in America, in many countries kids work hard to go sleep and go work harder next day and so on, doing what we have to do it no need to be reward with so many fringe benefits of our society, at some point in life we will be working for a Company or open a business….. Shall we learn the principle of excellence early in life or the hard way when we find out that hard work take us to success? We are creating lazy and dependable society
    Luk 17:10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, we are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.
    Of course we can have some fun but we have to teach kids to earn fringe benefits, … then we can see school problem will go away.

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