Chinese Mentality

The following are selected excerpts from a Wall Street Journal article titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior."
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.

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, "You're lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you." By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they're not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.

As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.

Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.
This was my response I posted on a forum.

This article was extremely disturbing to me. I'm not saying that this mother doesn't truly love her children or that everything she's saying is wrong, but I am saying that there are significant disagreements I have with this woman. Basically, I have three criticisms of her beliefs.

The first criticism is that I believe her understanding of human nature is false. This woman seems to believe in the importance of coercion in the development of her children, but she doesn't understand that that's not how people become happy. In order for people to be happy, they must develop themselves freely. True development cannot be forced. Here is a good quote from Wilhelm von Humboldt which I believe is extremely suitable:

“Whatever does not spring from a man's free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does not enter into his very being, but still remains alien to his true nature; he does not perform it with truly human energies, but merely with mechanical exactness.”

Very wise words I believe. Now to be clear, it is possible for children to be first forced into something and then freely choose to continue because they like it. I'm not saying that you can't force your children to do anything, but I am saying that the woman doesn't understand the value of free choice and the role it plays in the development of humans.

The second criticism I have is her apparent acceptance of the education system (in fact, this is a criticism that applies to most people, I think). The woman wants her children to get good grades and that's understandable, who wouldn't? But I believe she overvalues that importance. We should understand that the education system is flawed in that it only values certain types of intelligence. People are born naturally with different types of intelligence, but because the education system does not value all of them, many people who are truly intelligent go about living their lives thinking that they're not. And it's a shame. It is very possible that her daughters are intelligent in different ways, but will never realize their potential.

Again, it's understandable that the mother wants her daughters to get straight A's. Even if she were aware of the flaws of the education system, it would be difficult for her not to want good grades from her children because society rewards people who obey, and of course she wants her children to have easy lives. Nevertheless, I believe she overvalues the importance of grades.

A good book to read about this topic is "The Element" by Sir Ken Robinson. He does research on the flaws of our current education system. You can also watch a speech that he gave here: ken...kill_creativity.html

The third criticism I have is more of a pure disagreement; a disagreement of ideals. If you were to ask the typical Chinese parent of what they want their children to be, I expect the answer will be that they want their children to be rich and have a prestigious job. Again, it's understandable. Most people would want that. I, on the other hand, would want my children to be happy. Of course Chinese parents want that too, but they don't seem to truly understand that you don't need to be rich or have a prestigious job to be happy.

I want my children to be humanitarians. Chinese parents don't really care much if their children help the poor.

I want my children to be environmentalists. Chinese parents don't really care about that either.

In fact, if I were to sum up what a typical Chinese parent wants their children to be, I would say they want them to be elites. That in itself is fine, but elites tend to be elitists, and that I have a problem with. I don't think it's good when people think that they're superior to other people. In contrast, Chinese people don't really have a problem with it. In fact, through my observations, I think most Chinese people are elitists.

I hope I didn't offend anyone with my comments, I didn't mean to. My goal was to express my beliefs in order to contribute something of value and to start a meaningful discussion.