Monday, January 10, 2011

Kiasu Mothers

"Can a regimen of no playdates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids?" asks Amy Chua, in an article that's creating quite a stir — Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior. (I confess to having had to look up the word "playdate," a neologism I did not understand; in my day, kids played. Play date refers to "an arranged appointment for children to get together for a few hours to play.")

The authoress notes that "compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children," while "Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams." The most valid of her points is this one:
    I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.
Other than that, the assumption that one's kids must "be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama" is not very realistic or humane, and not all Chinese (or Koreans) subscribe to it; Malaysian-Chinese used to deride Singaporean-Chinese for their attitude known as Kiasu (驚輸), or "fear of losing," a term appropriately from Ms. Chua's ancestral Hokkien dialect.

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Blogger papabear said...

Yes, having reasonable expectations about a child's intellectual abilities may elude some Chinese parents. And there is a marked ignorance about what constitutes a real education...

9:46 AM  
Blogger xavier said...

I was going to send youy the link and ask for your comments.

My wife isn't kiasu and she's Sinapôrean Chinese. In fact, while she'll be demanmding, she'll also be realistic. In fact, she doesn't want our son to go to school in Singapore precisely because of the kiasu attitude. She doesn't want his spirit to be crushed and his creativity stunted just to be a super bright office drone

My only comment is that the Chinese parents define success too narrowly:
you have to be a doctor, scientist, accountant, engineer maybe a musician but only of you play violin or piano.

When I read the article, I agreed in parts with Amy but I was struck that the differences aren't cultural but theological. Whatever faults, I think the Western respect for the person as imago dei doesn't preclude self-discipline, perserverance and excellence just look at the Catholic pre unuversity schools
By contrast, I sopmetimes find the Chiense approach to parenting to consist of insufferable nagging to the point that the kids comply if only to preserve their sanity but sometimes would love to wonder off the reservation.

4:09 PM  
Blogger love the girls said...

"What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it."

Which is just how we do it. And fortunately for them, my daughters are by nature very good at cute little bunny snowmen, because otherwise, I would stomp those cute little bunnies down while demanding of my daughters to spend from dawn to dusk in the snow perfecting their art.

They also happen to be very good at playdates and the like.

4:51 AM  
Blogger love the girls said...

Adding on. I look at the regiment and wonder, but what of the highest of all arts?. The art of conversation? Whether it be conversing with others, or with one's self.

But then again, I suppose that option is to passe for consideration by any side of the discussion. But it is what I hope most for my own children, and one or the reasons I'm very happy where my oldest daughter is in school. Because the liberal arts teach us how to be live as men.

5:09 AM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Looks like Chinese kids might not be as grateful as Ms. Chua hopes -- Proposed Chinese Law Would Require Adult Children to Visit Elderly Parents Regularly.

8:31 AM  
Blogger xavier said...


Yup. I saw that article in the local paper. Amy Chua can write about how demanding Chinese parents but it's for those who live in the West and didn't suffer through the Cultural revolution which completely destroyed the foundations of Chinese culture. So what Mao and his comrades succeded in doing was to atomize Chinese society without any alternative other than Mao worship.

When he died, Deng Xiao Peng realized just how close to the brink China teetered and his solution is to adopt capitalism without restoring China's cultural foundations. So what China gets is a atomistized society full of anomie coupled with the 1 chile policy. Is it any wonder that everyone's out for himself.

Singapore is also having some problems with filial piety as well.

5:24 PM  
Blogger The Western Confucian said...

Xavier, interesting that she would ban the "play[ing of] any instrument other than the piano or violin." That would limit music to a relatively limited sphere within the Western canon, not mention eliminating Chinese music altogether.

That thought led me for the first time to make a connection between Chinese thinking and the Cultural Revolution, which I had seen before as some kind of foreign intoxication.

Instead, it was the Amy Chuas, and their belief in human perfectibility (stating with their own children), who spawned the Cultural Revolution.

6:20 PM  
Blogger xavier said...


Agreed. Frankly I've never understood this fetish for the piano and violin that some Asian parents have.
Is the clarinet, cello or flute any less worthy to learn?

I tend to agree with you, Marxism posits a false anthropology and we've seen how it plays out with stunning regularity regardless of time, space and culture. So the Cultural revolution is nothing more than the same metronomic beat of destroying all of society so that the new man can emerge under the aegis of the supreme leader.

12:00 AM  

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