What Amy Chua is actually guilty of

Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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125 Responses

  1. Brandon Berg says:

    Pft! You’re just saying that because you made the list.Report

  2. Brandon Berg says:

    By the way, I probably wouldn’t have read it, but I preordered a copy in response to the smear campaign.Report

    • greginak in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Wow controversy really sells. Its almost like saying deliberately provocative things is a gold mine.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to greginak says:

        No, I think she genuinely wanted Justice Stevens dead.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to greginak says:

        There is a new book about this called The Outrage Machine and generally yes. I think we have been primed to like to be outraged. Nuance is a difficult and requires footnotes. Umbrage and outrage can be reduced to a bunch of a cruel, crude, but highly charged and emotional memes.

        This is not to say that there is no place for outrage* but it does hurt nuance and a balance of arguments.

        *Though what deserves outrage and does not often goes to politics/ideology and the eye of the beholder.Report

    • I’ll be reading it. Mostly because I believe you should read a book before you criticize it.Report

  3. aaron david says:

    Excellent post Vikram.Report

  4. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    Everyone knows the Chinese are racist! The French are merely white with a nasty case of cultural superiority complex.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    It seems somewhat obvious to me that some cultures are preferable to others. From there, it’s not hard to jump to “better”. One can certainly get to “if you want to X, culture Y produces more Xers than culture Z”.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Jaybird says:

      But a culture can be personally preferable without necessarily being superior. It depends on what you want in life and think life is good for.

      You can talk about the Protestant Work Ethic and how it makes for wealthier countries or you can say that the Italians have nicer weather and why would you want to work 90 hours a week and spend all Sunday in church when the temperature is 70 and sunny with a nice breeze and you can sit outside with a bottle of wine, bread, cheese, fresh fruit and friends? Especially if you only have one life to live and all that.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        And if your culture involves keeping women inside, hey, wouldn’t that make life a lot more pleasant too? It depends on your point of view.

        I’m assuming the people having this discussion are men, of course.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to NewDealer says:

        Yes there are cultures like that and they don’t have any place in Western liberal democracy but there are plenty of cultures where they are both fine and equal.

        Look how Tod sees this battle as more being West Coast v. East Coast. My mom would agree. She wanted to live in the Bay Area for 40 years and she admits the Bay Area is competitive but she thinks Californians are nicer, more laid back, less intense with their child-rearing, etc. She moved to the Bay Area in 2011.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to NewDealer says:

        Well, so long as we assume a certain cultural baseline between the cultures we’re comparing, of course it would be barbaric to say that one was better than another.Report

    • Kim in reply to Jaybird says:

      Really? Do the people who have that culture think so?
      If so, can you cite some examples?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

        I’d like to think that we can come up with a definition of measurability that is, pretty much, culture-independent.

        If we want to start the science wars again, I suppose that’s an option… but the against side in that argument sort of has an implicit bias against certain cultures too.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kim says:

        I honestly would have trouble coming up with that metric.
        Maybe I’m too much of a softie?
        But I see myself caring a lot about the 1%…
        (rape/incest/brutality, etc.)
        I evaluate cultures based on how the worst of ’em is allowed
        to treat their friends/family.

        And then I blasted well have to answer questions like:
        Is it worse to allow sibling incest, than to promulgate
        the acceptability of father/daughter incest?

        And those questions really, really make my head hurt.

        On a more utilitarian basis: are we looking at best
        “happiness” or “success” or “shiny things”?
        I think we can quantify that…Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

        Are there cultures in which women are treated better than in other cultures or are they all treated poorly in all cultures, just in different ways?

        Like, say, in Saudi they make women wear burkhas and in Canada they make women think about having to look good in a bikini?Report

      • Kim in reply to Kim says:

        Suicidal girls are still suicidal in both cases, whether they’re being shunned from their families for having been raped, or whether they’re starving to death because of anorexia.

        [Which is to say: yes, but look at where I’m looking. Everyone may be happy the same way, but misery has a trillion flavors]Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Kim says:

        I’d like to think that we can come up with a definition of measurability that is, pretty much, culture-independent.

        Measurability, as we use the term (or at least you and I) is by definition defined in culture independent terms. But even if something is measurable, it doesn’t follow that the conclusions following from measured evidence in the context we’re talking about tell us anything about courses of action or policies or morality or preferences or anything like that.

        It’ll perhaps – at best, it seems – tell us that certain types of actions/beliefs/norms/practices/etc are correlated with certain types of outcomes. It doesn’t get to causation, it seems to me, and it doesn’t settle normative issues (like: Is the correlation between cultural practice X and outcome Y mething we ought to pursue, especially given some other considerations which might be defeaters?).Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

        it doesn’t follow that the conclusions following from measured evidence in the context we’re talking about tell us anything about courses of action or policies or morality or preferences or anything like that.

        Perhaps not. But if (this over here) consistently produces more X than (that over there), can we even assume that there *IS* a reason?Report

      • Kim in reply to Kim says:

        There’s always a reason. Statistics always have something behind them, some hidden variable.
        It’s not always cultural in nature.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Kim says:

        Perhaps not. But if (this over here) consistently produces more X than (that over there), can we even assume that there *IS* a reason?

        Good point.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

        Do cultures that consistently assume that there are reproducable causes tend to be better at creating desired outcomes than cultures that assume chaos and correlation (but never causation)?Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:


      I think there is a big difference between saying, “Culture X is better at Y,” and saying, “Culture X is better.”

      Ultimately, it comes down to the question: better by what standard.

      My anecdotal experiences tells me that there exists a subset of Chinese-American parents who employ a parenting style that is remarkably effective at turning out musical virtuosos. However, this same parenting style — in my experience — tends to limit creativity and autonomy. For me, personally, I value creativity and autonomy more than I value being a musical virtuoso. So I would not consider the style employed by those parents as superior. It might be superior at producing musical virtuosos. But it might also be inferior at promoting creativity and autonomy. Depending on how you value those things, you’re assessment of that style as a whole is going to vary. And I don’t know that there is any way of getting around that.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        So is a culture that is intolerant to gays better than, equal to, or worse than a culture that is tolerant to gays?

        Or do you not know?

        Is the general consensus that we don’t know and that there’s no way that we can know?Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        To people who value tolerating gay people, the latter will be better with regards to that singular metric than the former. That is not to say it is necessarily better overall. If the latter “tolerates” gays by saying, “We will include you in our slave class instead of just killing you,” while the “intolerant” culture says, “Sorry, gays, you only get free pizza on odd days while everyone else gets free pizza every day. Oh, and we’ll include you in all the other wonderful things we do for one another,” than I would argue that, on the whole, the latter would be a preferable culture for me because there would be more metrics along which I find it preferable.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        But others mileage may vary. If someone puts little value on tolerating gays and a lot of value on traditional sexual mores… well, they might feel otherwise.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        And so while we can say “this culture might be preferable TO MINORITIES but that doesn’t make it better than another culture”, we can’t say “this culture here today is better than the one that was here in the 40’s” (though we’d probably add something like “I can see why some minorities might like it better”?)

        I have to admit that I’m not a fan of this degree of open-mindedness.

        (Though I admit suspicion that this degree of open-mindedness is embraced for anything other than this conversation where it is shelved until the next time this conversation rolls around.)Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I fear you are being a bit deliberately obtuse and I risk tumbling down a rabbit hole, but I’m going to try one more time anyway…

        Generally speaking, X can be defined as better than Y provided the criteria for determining “betterness” is defined AND it can be demonstrated that X meets this criteria more/better than Y does.

        So, if we want to compare Culture X to Culture Y along metrics A, B, and C and Culture X has better outcomes along metrics A, B, and C, and A, B, and C are things we value, we can say that Culture X is better than Culture Y with respect to metrics A, B, and C. What we cannot say is that Culture X is objectively superior to Culture Y nor can we say that everyone should value A, B, and C as we do.

        Basically, if you want to define something as “better”, you have to define or qualify what it means to be better and then prove it. And recognize the limitations of such a comparison.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        All this said, I’ve noticed over the years a correlation between folks who assert “Some cultures are better” and folks who are racists, bigots, or otherwise quite intolerant. Likewise, I have noticed a correlation between folks who say “We should not assert cultural superiority” and folks who are in fact quite accepting and tolerant. I suspect there is a connection.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        yeah, re my above comments, the “imaginary zic in my head” is laughing at me and calling me names. Because I am a sillykins.Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Kazzy says:

        Furthermore, it is not too difficult to step away from the “Culture X is Y” and “Culture Z is Q” discourse and instead restrict ourselves to the Ys and Qs themselves. What I mean is, I can say “Homophobia is bad” without going “And look at those darn Muslims.”

        Which is to say, I can criticize homophobic policies without painting any culture as homophobic. The reason I do this is not to ignore the obvious: some places have better human rights records than others. Instead, the reason is to be constantly aware of how cultural chauvinism is its own trap, and how little we should trust ourselves with broad cultural judgement, since we have such a long history of getting it so wrong.Report

      • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

        So is a culture that is intolerant to gays better than, equal to, or worse than a culture that is tolerant to gays?

        Imagine a culture that is intolerant of homosexuality and treats women as second class citizens, but values peace above all else, and never goes to war (except, possibly, when invaded). Now imagine a second culture that is highly tolerant of homosexuality and treats women as persons with the same rights, freedoms, and responsibilities as men, values fairness and equality, but celebrates violence and as a result frequently starts wars abroad that result in thousands and thousands of unnecessary deaths, and at home suffers from a high level of violent crime. Which culture is better? How do you weigh these things? Is it not better to say, “Treating gays, women, as well as racial, ethnic, and religious minorities as equal citizens, and valuing equality and fairness are good things. Valuing peace highly is also a good thing. It is better for cultures to do these things, and it is bad when they do not” than to say, “This culture does x, y, and z, and therefore it is better than that culture, which does not do x, y, and z”?Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        It’s dangerous – even if not always false – to make assertions about Culture A being superior, in a broad sense, to Culture B. Even though you may be right in some sense, or just stating an opinion, the history of such assertions should give you pause.

        That’s not the same as trying to appraise how Culture A and Culture B are different in more specific ways. Culture A is more accepting of homosexuality than Culture B, or Culture A encourages acceptance while Culture B discourages it. Nor is it out of bounds to say that “I feel more comfortable in Culture A than in Culture B…” so long as we’re not moving towards “Culture A rules, Culture B drools.”Report

      • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

        Put differently, is there any point to rank ordering cultures as opposed to promoting specific values directly? If the goal is to promote values that we consider higher and better, then does ranking cultures help to accomplish that goal? I’m fine with pointing out that certain cultures have particularly bad approaches to or records on certain values, but that’s different from rank ordering entire cultures.Report

      • trizzlor in reply to Kazzy says:


        Let’s not forget that Chua is talking about parenting. If you’re raising kids and have to choose between living in the community of homophobes or the community of warmongers then such ranking could be useful as a blunt instrument. Realistically, though, I feel like such a choice is very rare and perhaps one of the faults of this parenting method is to pretend like such a choice is common.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

        That seems to depend partly on what sort of culture we’re talking about. You can look at the LDS Church, for example, and see the pros and cons of the culture. And you can make decisions on whether to join or not (which few people do) and how intertwined you wish to be in that culture, or how distant you choose to be. If you genuinely believe the Book of Mormon maybe you can’t exactly leave the church, but you can either embrace or resist the cultural trappings of it.

        The same applies to some extent to geography. My wife and I will be looking at various points across the country whenever we leave this place. There are some places we will avoid in large part due to the culture question. Partially for ourselves, but also partially for concern over what our kids will pick up. Arguably, half of the “choosing the right neighborhood to live in” is a choice of culture (among other things, obviously).Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        My being obtuse has to do with the fact that nobody, absolutely *NOBODY* uses the argument that you can’t judge other cultures except during this very argument.

        The second another culture (or sub-culture) does something racist, or classist, or bigoted, we see exactly how much one culture can judge another as being inferior. Even if it’s one where we’ve got Culture X with discrimination against homosexuals and Culture Y that is identical to Culture X only without the homosexual discrimination, we have no problem telling people from Culture X that they need to change to be Culture Y.

        I’m certain you’ve seen this phenomenon too.

        Though, of course, *I* am the one who is being “obtuse”.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        I firmly and securely where my “cultural relativist” hat. The extent to which I do judge cultures, I do my best to establish the criteria upon which I am judging them. I don’t think you’ll catch me saying, “The south sucks.” You are far more likely to catch me saying, “The south has a poorer record with regards to civil rights when we consider these metrics.”

        So, maybe others demonstrate the phenomenon you discuss, but I am careful to avoid it. I don’t bat 1.000, but I try. I’m pretty sure I’m the one who argued that Iran should have access to nukes and that Benghazi was not terrorism precisely because we could not and should not simply rely on logic based on the inherent superiority/inferiority of certain cultures.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        That’s never been my point, though.
        My point is that some things that may seem culturally maladaptive (like bullying)
        can actually be culturally adaptive (promoting conformity).

        And that we don’t get to judge from the outside, without at least considering that something that looks stupid might actually be a GOOD idea.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        And that we don’t get to judge from the outside, without at least considering that something that looks stupid might actually be a GOOD idea.

        And if we consider?Report

      • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        if you can definitively show something as being maladaptive, then yeah, ya get to bitch about it.
        “Um, guys, maybe killing your firstborn child is not such the greatest plan?”Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Jaybird says:

      One of the questions asked on politicalcompass.org is whether you agree or disagree with the following statement: “There are no savage and civilised peoples; there are only different cultures.”

      It’s the how-much-of-a-relativist-are-you question. Not being a relativist myself, I strongly disagree with the statement. If you identify any real culture on the planet now and form a fake culture that is exactly the same in all ways except it has double the murder rate, then the real culture is both better and more civilized than the constructed one.

      But the fact that the question is being asked means however obvious the answer might be to me, others might feel differently.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        “If you identify any real culture on the planet now and form a fake culture that is exactly the same in all ways except it has double the murder rate, then the real culture is both better and more civilized than the constructed one.”

        It appears you are conflating “culture” and “society”. If one culture is such that is has values, beliefs, and/or practices that cause double the murder rate, it is by definition different than one that lacks those and has half the murder rate.

        Now, if all values, beliefs, practices, etc. are identical and you still have double the murder rate, it may be for reasons unrelated to the culture. Does one society have food scarcity or other heightened competition for resources due to geographic issues? Would we call that a cultural issue? Or a societal issue?Report

      • veronica dire in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        One thing frequently done in math and science is to create very simple models of a situation. Often this can help us gain insight into complex situations, since trying to understand them in all their messiness is cognitively impossible. This makes total sense and is an obvious approach. However, the ways it can fail are equally obvious.

        A culture that is in all ways the same but with double the murder rate — assume a spherical cow.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Likewise, if you consider two companies that are exactly alike except that one earns twice the profits, obviously the second one is run better, even through they’re otherwise exactly alike.Report

  6. Fnord says:

    I don’t recall any accusations of racism back when Chua was peddling The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. All the examples you link to relate to the more recent book. Tiger Mother got plenty of criticism, sure, but it was aimed at the specifics of the book, not at the entire concept of praising one particular style of parenting.Report

    • Chris in reply to Fnord says:

      Right. At the very least Vikram is comparing apples to lawn mowers. It is, I think, a not so subtle sophistry: “Chua wrote a book praising Chinese parenting explicitly, and got criticized but not called a racist. Chua then wrote a book ranking cultures and was called a racist. Notice how people praising the French parenting style but not ranking cultures aren’t called racists? Something is fishy!”

      Now that I look at it, I think it’s too blatant for him to have wanted us not to catch it. The point must be in there somewhere.Report

      • Vikram Bath in reply to Chris says:

        I don’t think any of the people I linked to have read the book (though please correct me if I’m wrong). I know from reading Battle Hymn myself that the Callahan for the NY Post either hasn’t read the book or is misrepresenting it to her readers.Report

      • Chris in reply to Chris says:

        That very well may be. I believe Tod was using statements coming from Chua or her publisher about the book, was he not? Statements clearly designed to create a buzz via controversy. But I would rather wait for the book itself to dig into whatever issues it may have.

        That said, the French thing was still a not-so-subtle conflation of two things that are different on the relevant dimensions.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

        I agree with @chris more broadly here, but think there might be some fire behind the smoke that @vikram-bath is discussing.

        Were we to have a Chinese writer and a French writer write the exact same books about the supposed superiority of their parenting styles, I do think more folks would label the Chinese writer as racist than the French writer. I think this is because we tend to conflate Chinese with Asian and recognize Asian as a race. Conversely, we do not conflate French with white and we tend not to recognize white as a race. Were someone to stand up and say, “White culture is superior,” they’d likely (and rightly) be labeled a racist. But if they stand up and say, “French culture is superior,” they’d likely be labeled a Francophile.

        So, I do think there is something to the different ways we think about nationality and ethnicity and race and racism, though it is often functioning on a subconscious level.

        Again, all that said, I still think Vikram’s comparisons are off base.Report

  7. Mike Schilling says:

    I marvel at the audacity of a post based on the assertion that the French are likable.Report

  8. LeeEsq says:

    I’ve seen plenty of criticism of the fad over French-parenting styles, the main one being that it ignores how non-upper middle class French people raise their kids. A lot of these books about parenting, whether it be Brining up Bebe or The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom are of a class phenomena than a cultural or national phenomena. Its about upper-middle class to upper class parents wanting their kids to be the perfect upper-middle class or upper class kids and trying to find the best way to ensure that. If the parents aren’t high bourgeoisie, they probably have aspirations in that direction for their kids at least.Report

    • greginak in reply to LeeEsq says:

      There has been a fad over french parenting styles??? I’m clearly out of touch. In general there are a whole bunch of ways to raise kids well. In the child therapy crowd there is a phrase, you just have to be “good enough” parent to raise your kids fine. There has never been one way to do it except in the minds of ideologues and richity rich folks.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I’ve seen plenty of criticism of the fad over French-parenting styles, the main one being that it ignores how non-upper middle class French people raise their kids.

      That isn’t exactly the same as criticizing it for being racist. Actually, it’d be a good defense against a racism charge: “It can’t be racist because it only praises upper-middle-class French, not all French.”

      I don’t think Battle Hymn really qualifies for the same criticism. There are plenty of very poor immigrants from China, and I think Chua meant to include them in her umbrella.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        From professional experience, Chua doesn’t know what she is talking about. I represent a lot of working-class Chinese-American clients. A lot of them have their kids very young by American standards. More than a few clients have had their kids in the late teens or early twenties. They aren’t helicopter parents at all. Most of them do not have the time, money, and inclination to be so. It is not uncommon to even send young kids back to the grandparents until they are toddlers so their parents have more time to work.Report

      • Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        No one is criticizing Chu for praising Chinese or Chinese-American or upper middle class Chinese American parenting styles. They’re criticizing her for something else. You’re still conflating two unlike things. It’s at best misleading, at worst manipulative. Now, if you can find an author writing about how the French and several other cultures are superior, and find that people don’t criticize that author for being racist, then you’ll have a point.Report

      • Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        That is, no one is calling her a racist for celebrating one culture’s parenting style (of course they’ve criticized her other book, but as far as I can tell, on entirely different grounds, grounds that are not exclusive to that parenting book and might even be the grounds for criticisms of the French ones).Report

      • Chris,
        I have to admit I don’t see a clear divide between claiming one’s parenting style is great relative to others (the first book) and the claims the publisher claims are in the second book. The sharp distinction is lost on me.Report

      • Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Vikram: I haven’t read the second book, and I don’t plan on doing so, so I can’t offer specific criticisms of it. However, from Tod’s post, it seemed quite clear that Chua set about in the second book to rank cultures, and not only on (though directed towards) parenting. In her first book, which I also haven’t read, but at least know several people who have, she promotes a particular parenting style without suggesting that it makes her culture and these other cultures that parent similarly, better. To me, the difference is pretty plain: “Yay, this method is really good, and it happens to be something I get from my culture” vs. “This method is really good, and it, along with similar methods, make my culture and other cultures that I’ve highlighted superior.”Report

      • Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        To ignore this difference is to say, in essence, that we can’t associate anything, good or bad, with a culture without implicitly saying that all other cultures suck ass.Report

      • Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Or again, as has been pointed out: when Chua wrote a book about her parenting, culturally-influenced as it was, people didn’t get all huffy about racism. So it makes no sense to suggest that not getting all huffy about racism because people have written similar books about French parenting styles to the one Chua wrote about Chinese styles. If someone wrote a book ranking French culture above all others and no one called them out for it the way they’re calling out Chua for her cultural rankings, then your post would make sense.Report

      • @chris

        To ignore this difference is to say, in essence, that we can’t associate anything, good or bad, with a culture without implicitly saying that all other cultures suck ass.

        In my culture, family is very important. 🙂Report

      • (Sorry. I hear that claim so much about someone’s culture valuing family, that I roll my eyes. What culture doesn’t value family? That said, my comment was at best tangential to the point you were making, and I agree with you.)Report

      • greginak in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        I’ll chip in +100 to your comment Pierre. I have that same feeling whenever anyone says their culture values family. It is like people who say food/eating is important to their culture….well yeah, it is part of every culture.Report

      • Chris in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        We don’t eat in my culture.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        We eat only yogurt while listening to Boy George in my culture, so we are thrice as cultured as you.Report

      • “Value family” is vague, though it does seem to me that different cultures do value family with different weights. I’d argue that this is one area where American cultures often fall short compared to other cultures. But it’s part of a tradeoff to value other things.

        The same applies to food. Idahoans and Louisianians both eat, but don’t value food equally, in my opinion.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Vikram Bath says:


        While watching the Dick Van Dyke show received via a dish.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        @mike-schilling – that one took me a sec, but then I tripped right over it just like I oughta, man.Report

  9. I thought she made some excellent points in her first book.

    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.

    In Disney movies the [studious kid] always has to have a breakdown and realize that life is not all about following rules and winning prizes, and then take off her clothes and run into the ocean or something like that. But that’s just Disney’s way of appealing to all the people who never win any prizes. Winning prizes gives you opportunities, and that’s freedom — not running into the ocean.

    Those are sound precepts. Reward achievement, and you get winners. Reward potential, and you get special snowflakes.Report

    • trizzlor in reply to The Sanity Inspector says:

      Chua’s advice is broadly sound – show your kids that joy comes from hard work and they’ll be happy and successful. But that doesn’t sell books. Where her argument becomes problematic is in the specific recommendations. Some are just based on ignorant cliches: no instruments except violin or piano (“playing the drums leads to drugs”). While others – like calling your child “garbage” and a “fatty” to get them motivated – ignore the high risks associated with that kind of no-holds barred parenting. Given the serious problem of performance-related suicides in the Asian community, that’s a big caveat to omit.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to trizzlor says:

        Another problem is that a significant amount of emotional abuse could get you in legal trouble or at least have social services look into you.Report

      • trizzlor in reply to trizzlor says:

        Chua mentions this in passing but doesn’t really consider the impact of a DSS call. This chapter about parenting through shame and insults just reads like an awful comedy sketch: Americans parent like this, but the Chinese parent like this.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to trizzlor says:

        An advantage to being upper class, of course, is that you don’t have to worry as much about social services. Not a luxury everyone shares.

        Chua seems to really border on self-parody sometimes. Enough so that I actually remember this Onion bit from a while back.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to trizzlor says:

        In fact, it sounds like a thousand bad YouTube sketches that my kids love. (“You got 98? What happen the other 2?”)Report

      • My children excel in their piano lessons, and for the past three years have been invited to a state-wide “audition”, really a competition to get into an upper-tier competition. They are among the four or five percent of students at this event, seemingly, who are non-Chinese. Certainly all the top spots are swept by Chinese kids. (And yes, I can tell the difference between Chinese names and Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai names.) So apparently musical proficiency is very much valued by quite a lot of Chinese immigrants, and not just in the Northeast or on the coasts, either.Report

      • Kim in reply to trizzlor says:

        Piano lessons seem like another of those “things people do” that nobody has bothered to actually think about.
        What sort of bloody opportunities do you get, as a pianist?
        Certainly you don’t get much money, if you’re going to be a concert pianist…

        I mean, sure, there are always child prodigies (like Tori Amos)… but, really?Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to The Sanity Inspector says:

      no instruments except violin or piano

      The Chinese version of Bach’s sonata for unaccompanied cello was arranged by John Cage.Report

    • Kim in reply to The Sanity Inspector says:

      This would all be great and good advice… if high school prizes ever
      resembled real life.

      The Chinese way of parenting (as done by actual chinese people in china)
      doesn’t seem to actually create terribly good free-thinkers at the high end
      of the IQ scale (at least measured by scientists recruiting for grad schools).Report

  10. At a minimum, she is guilty of drumming up racial controversy by referring to the style as Chinese parenting, which is sort of like saying the best way to practice basketball is to practice like a black American.

    Vikram, how would the last part of that sentence not be considered racist?Report

    • Good question! It might be actually. It does indulge in stereotypes. However, it isn’t *obviously* racist to me yet (though I could be convinced that it is).

      Growing up, the black kids I knew who were good at basketball seemed to live at the court, which actually does seem to be a good thing to do if you want to become a better player.

      Saying “spend a lot of time practicing” would be more accurate than “practice like a black American.” The only advantage of the latter is that it is controversial. It’s a disingenuous way to put the point, but I haven’t done the thinking required to label it racist.Report

      • RTod in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        Yeah, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that regardless of your intent, if you go around using the phrase “practice the way a black person does” it is not going be assumed you mean “really hard and disciplined.”

        As a longtime roundball fan, I can tell you that amongst most fans it’s common-sense knowledge that a white player that averages 1.3 pts 2.0 rbs a game is a hard working, cerebral player, and a black player with those same stats is a guy whose lack of work ethic meant he never lived up to his potential.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        It’s just a fact that black people are missing the gene for scrappiness.Report

  11. Patrick says:

    This is one of those, “humans are weird” moments for me.

    Speaking as someone who has parented, and who is still in the process of parenting, the astounding thing to me is that anybody reads any of these books at all. And they sell like hotcakes, which means there’s a whole bunch of people out there that are incomprehensible to me.

    Because lordy lordy, there ain’t no pile of bullshit in the world that’s bigger or stinkier than the pile of bullshit that is unsolicited parenting advice. And parenting books are almost uniformly just the written word of someone who wants to offer a bunch of unsolicited parenting advice.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Patrick says:

      Yeah, but unlike neighbors or in-laws, they’re people who don’t know you, your kids, or your family’s history, current situation, and goals, so their advice is much more valuable.


    • Mike Schilling in reply to Patrick says:

      Also, you should teach your son to throw junk left-handed, so he’ll be making good money well into his 30s. All those other sports are a waste of time.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Patrick says:

      For what it’s worth, Battle Hymn wasn’t really an advise book. It’s more of a memoir. She explains what she did in enough detail that I guess someone could follow the advice, but much of the conflict in the book is about her strategy backfiring on her.

      Actually, I think if it had been written as a parenting book, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get through it.Report

      • Patrick in reply to Vikram Bath says:

        “I did this stuff and it failed miserably and/or worked in these ways” can be interesting, as a journey of exploration on behalf of the person talking about their experience. It’s not normally my cup of tea for leisure reading, but certain types of craft learning books can be interesting (I really like Mike’s posts about hunting, for example). So maybe Battle Hymn would amuse me on those grounds.

        Probably this new book would make me want to erase the expenditure of time that I put into reading the first one, though.Report

  12. j r says:

    Not to pooh-pooh on this post, but on the way to offering a response, I have to say that questions about whether or not someone is a racist are spectacularly uninteresting. Is Chua a racist? Probably, to the extent that most everyone is a racist. For instance, there is a good chance that she was particularly sensitive to racial makeup of the schools and programs in which she enrolled her kids. So, yes, absolutely there is a racial undertone to this type of cultural supremacy conversation. This is America, there is a racial undertone to just about everything. And that is really only interesting if you are viewing this through the lens of the eternal left-right culture wars.

    What Chua is writing is neither primarily about racialism nor even parenting advice (though she invokes both). What Chua is writing is success porn.

    Ostensible success porn is about highlighting some individual or group and offering sober analysis of everything they have done right to glean some larger lesson about how to be successful. And to some extent, success porn does this. However, what the genre is really about is giving people a vicarious experience of being good at something and a trite understanding of the dynamics of success.

    A book by a wealthy Chinese-American woman married to a wealthy Jewish-American man about how Chinese and Jewish culture is really good at creating wealth is kind of like a authorized celebrity biography. It’s PR copy, not history or sociology or economics.

    You could read a book called Beyonce on Beyonce and it will likely contain an interesting narrative about how she got where she is, some semi-interesting anecdotes to drop in cocktail party conversation, and maybe even a few legitimate pieces of insight into the entertainment industry. It will not, however, explain how to hit a high C or choreograph a dance routine or show you how to get your demo into the hands of someone at a record label.Report

  13. Before I got married, I had six theories about bringing up children. Now I have six children and no theories. -John WilmotReport

  14. Burt Likko says:

    Well, this guy doesn’t claim to have all the answers but he doesn’t dress up his parenting style in the trappings of a specific “culture.” Nor does it sound like the sort of helicoptering Ms. Chula has made a name for herself for.

    … Still, I suspect she’d approve.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Burt Likko says:

      He waited until his kids were twelve to demand that they figure out how to put together a computer? Spoilage right there, I tell you.

      I actually like the piece. I like some of the things, reject others. The comment section is… interesting.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Will Truman says:

        It’s a really funny piece if you picture it as spoken by Ron Swanson.

        We went camping and backpacking. If it rained, then we would figure out how to backpack in the rain and survive.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Burt Likko says:


      Ugh. That sounded overly pompous. Too many people think of their parenting styles as being the one true way.

      here is a huge range of differences between spoiling your children and creating a long list of overly strict rules and requirements and taking pleasure in how strict and rule-bound they are. He seems lucky that all his kids did not escape this without becoming psychological messes. There are plenty of successful people who become stable and adjusted adults without this list of rules and requirements.

      I am not very good at sports but in high school I was in the Drama club, the Government Club (Model Congress and UN), Literary Magazine (Art Editor during my senior year), Band, Chorus, and volunteering, and Hebrew School until 12th grade. Drama had three productions a year and I also worked on my school’s opera. Sports and drama met almost everyday after school until 5 or 6 PM. It was one or the other.

      Is it really so bad that my parents did not make me play a sport? Did this ruin me?

      Taking pride in being able to pay for college but not doing so is also incredibly boorish. Scholarships and financial aid should be reserved for kids who are sincerely in economic need.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        I’m a believer in paying for college, if you can (public school, in-state unless there is a really good reason otherwise – other strings attached, too), but not all scholarships are need-based.

        I, too, wouldn’t have any difficulty substituting in “theater” for “sports”… sports will probably be encouraged, but there are alternatives for those not-so-inclined.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      The subtitle to that essay is important… “A dad’s lessons on raising independent children.”

      If you do not value independence in your children (and not all people do), then his lessons are useless to you. If you do value independence in your child, then they might be very useful to you. The usefulness… the value… the superiority of his style remains relative because it can only be measured against a specific set of goals.

      As I’ve discussed, I sometimes have people ask me if they should do A or B. “What’s your goal?” I respond. “What do you mean?” “Well, the action you should take is dependent on the goal you are seeking.” “I don’t have a goal.” “Get a goal. Then come back to me.”

      People want to believe there is one true way, but there rarely is.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        Some people want to raise children that never get married and never stop living at home. Who can judge them?

        It seems to me that there is a point at which we pretty much have to say “this isn’t a matter of taste anymore… this is actually a matter of morality and, thus, this particular instance here is a matter of doing something *WRONG*.”

        And it seems that raising children to not be independent is a decent place to draw the line.Report

      • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well, then go tell the Hasids they’re wrong. And the Muslims, and a bunch of other folks that really, really dislike the idea of independent thought from women (or independent action. Women are to be married with all due haste, and obey their husbands).Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:


        The extent to which “harm” can be measured, I agree that there are behaviors/practices which may constitute harm. Of course, that is really hard to do. The road to independence is often paved with struggle. Is refusing to insulate your children from struggle — or even actively cultivating struggle — is that harm? Yes and no.

        And when I say some folks don’t want their children to be independent, I don’t necessarily mean they want them to be forever infants. I mean that they have no problem with their children learning to and needing to rely on others.

        I also think the word “judge” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        Well, then go tell the Hasids they’re wrong. And the Muslims, and a bunch of other folks that really, really dislike the idea of independent thought from women

        I’m the one who is arguing that it’s possible to do that, Kim. I’m getting pushback because there are a lot of unpleasant examples of people who believed that cultures could be superior/inferior.

        Kazzy, part of my problem with the pushback against someone arguing that “this is a good way to do it” is not the idea that there are dozens (hundreds! thousands! millions!) of ways to do it and get a “good enough” result. Of course there are!

        It’s the seeming distaste at the idea that one can be better than another that has me flabbergasted.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Kazzy says:


        How are we defining independence?

        I pay my own rent and bills and for my own recreation. I work. I clean and do chores. My parents are not arranging dates or potential wives for me. We did not go on camping trips and my education was debt-free via grandparent savings and I do not know car repair and I have never built my own computer.

        There are interviews and there are “interviews”. He said that he gave his kids connections to jobs and corporations but they had to interview. I want to know if this was a normal interview or a “this is your job to lose” kind of interview.Report

  15. zic says:

    I like culture.

    It does crazy stuff like this.

    (And it deserves embedding.)