Chinese mothers: Perfect grades or else. And you’re fat.

The rigorous approach to education in China begins at home with parents.

The rigorous approach to education in China begins at home with parents.

I don’t think I have ever read such a provocative piece on parenting as this Wall Street Journal op-ed on “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.

I am not sure how many American parents are going to rush to adopt Chinese-style parenting, which is far more Oliver Twist than Benjamin Spock.

After reading this piece by super mama grizzly Amy Chua, I wasn’t sure if I should congratulate her for raising two accomplished daughters or help the poor girls escape through a bedroom window.

Chua, a professor at Yale Law School, credits the academic success of Chinese students to a take-no-prisoners parenting style that has zero tolerance for sleepovers, playdates, TV or computer games or even school plays. Chua says her highly successful daughters could not bring home less than an A, could not choose their own extracurricular activities, could not play an instrument other than piano or violin and could not be anything but the No. 1 student in every class except the unimportant ones, gym and drama.

As Chua notes:  “For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It’s hours two and three that get tough.”

Chua cites a personal example. When her 7-year-old daughter Lulu insisted she could not play a complex piano piece, Chua forced the little girl to keep at it, dragging the child’s dollhouse to the car and threatening to give it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t nail “The Little White Donkey.”  Chua also threatened no lunch or dinner or presents for holidays or birthdays. She made the child practice, refusing her even water or bathroom breaks. And finally, Lulu played it perfectly. And both mother and daughter rejoiced and all was well.

Among her comments in the piece, which I urge you to read in full:

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.

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty—lose some weight.” By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of “health” and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her “beautiful and incredibly competent.” She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)

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.”

– From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

98 comments Add your comment


January 11th, 2011
12:18 am

I would like for all the teachers who will join the “blame the parents chorus” here, to explain how you can legislate, or make policy, about how a parent should raise their child.

I look forward to the eloquent answers.


January 11th, 2011
12:48 am

Here is your eloquent answer. Tow the line at home and our jobs will be easier AND the students will be better served on both fronts! Demand that students take ownership of their successes and failures. Have consequences for actions that demonstrate a lack of effort or respect on their part. Value family and education above all else. Parents who don’t do these things are the problem. You are right…you can’t legislate that, but school systems could grow a set and not cave every time a parent moans about some injustice the devil in the classroom has perpetrated against his/her child. The parents have a voice, and they can use that voice when they cast their votes for their area board member. Other than that, that voice should be used to support their schools. The more the parents moan, the more distractions will be allowed in school, the more disrespect will be tolerated in the schools, the less learning will take place in the classroom, and the more grade inflation you will see across the board. Gooooo parents.


January 11th, 2011
12:57 am

@mirror. Did you even read the article?

D. Wong

January 11th, 2011
2:41 am

Amy Chua is not your average Chinese parent but an extreme example. I’m Chinese and my parents were never like that.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Larry Major

January 11th, 2011
4:49 am

It takes no talent at all to do what this woman is doing.

With the exception of one B several years ago, my daughter has earned all A’s her entire time in school. She plays viola, learned to read both Alto and Treble clefs, and made second chair when she had to fill in for a Second Violin. Last week, she brought home a 203 PSAT score.

The big difference is, my daughter did these things because SHE wanted them, not because I held a gun to her head.

Ms. Chua is selling out her girls’ potential greatness by restricting them to her notion of success. Unless these girls developed a true love for music, which seems unlikely under the circumstances, they will become very good, but not great. They may play notes with technical perfection, but they will never play music.

ScienceTeacher671 at

January 11th, 2011
6:05 am

I thought this was the key paragraph:

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

In my opinion, this is part of the problem with American education. Early childhood majors are taught that education should be fun, but in the early years (such as learning multiplication tables) is when much of the drill must take place for students to be competent later.

“Back in the day,” I don’t recall our teachers being concerned about whether or not we were having fun or whether or not our self-esteem was high. We were drilled – on spelling, math facts, handwriting, you name it. And we learned.

No, it wasn’t as extreme as Ms. Chua’s examples, but it was much stricter than most classes today, and it worked.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

36 years in education

January 11th, 2011
6:48 am

This article certainly has given me something to think about….


January 11th, 2011
7:45 am

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Asian American women, ages 15-24.

Please read Ms. Chua’s description of teaching her 7-year-old to play piano “”I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic…. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom.”

Is this what good parents do? No.


January 11th, 2011
8:24 am

That woman is SICK! She’s not a mother-she’s a drill sergeant working toward her own personal goals with absolutely no regard for her child’s personality, needs or talents. Our goal is to raise human beings, not little soldiers and robots! All American children are not unaccomplished…there are great kids being raised today and tremendously talented ones, at that. All American parents are not bad parents and surely all teachers are not this jaded and disrespectful of their students and their parents!

Moving Fast

January 11th, 2011
8:34 am

My sister-in-law is Asian American. She is brilliant and so are her brothers. She excelled in private school because her parents believed in Education. She swam. She played the piano. She went to Harvard. She went to medical school. She is now a surgeon. Her mother was always “offering” strident advice. Not as bad as Ms. Chua comes across in her book. My sister-in-law’s sons are polite, they study hard and play instruments in the private school orchestra. They are expected to study and read books everyday. They also have every video game. They have friends. My own boys went to public school and did well. They ended up doing very well in college and do not seemed harmed because they cannot play an instrument and they had sleepovers. They are polite, have lots of friends, pay their taxes and they all have jobs. I faced a tough time in high school with some of my boys’ friends’ parents who allowed their children to rule. The children were talking back to their parents and demanding things at 5 and by 15 they were out of control. The parents had no backbone. So there should be a happy medium between Ms. Chua and lazy American parents who let their children rule. Face it Ms. Chua’s daughters will be writing about surviving the Tiger Mother later. Where would Pat Conroy’s career be without his father? I believe that parents should expect more from their children. Have them study and strive for A’s and when they don’t make it – place the responsibility on on the child – not the teacher.

Doris M

January 11th, 2011
8:37 am

Pushing your child to excel is a necessity. Most children do not want to put forth the required effort. If you do push, in the end the child appreciates what you have made them accomplish. But, there is the thing of going too far. And that’s just what the chinese have done. Their kids commit suicide at alarming rates. They do not feel accomplished unless they have perfected, mastered the subject. And what about those kids who, for whatever reason, cannot master the subject? Are they just cast aside? God put us here with all kinds of talents. why not nuture?

[...] Parents Learn from Amy Chua's "Chinese Mother" Parenting?CBS NewsAtlanta Journal Constitution (blog) -CBC.caall 81 news [...]


January 11th, 2011
8:58 am

The truth is- placating parents and students will yield the sorry results we get now on assessments. Until the onus of responsibility is placed on that student- whether they like it or not- we will yield the same results irregardless of how many teacher report cards you put out for the public. Students often want to be entertained as opposed to educated. It is an opportunity that other cultures appreciate and know how to take full advantage of. Maybe more parents should spend more time making it a priority at home. My parents did. This generation will live at home with their parents well into their 30’s and it will not be due to any recession.

performance teacher

January 11th, 2011
9:02 am

Well, if my pay is linked to how well my students do on a test, please give me all students with parents like Mrs. Chau!


January 11th, 2011
9:03 am

@Doris M- are we over-nurturing our students to the point that we are paralyzing their intellectual and social growth? I think we spend too much time trying to shield them from the very failures which can be pivotal to their personal growth.

William Casey

January 11th, 2011
9:05 am

It is often said here in America that “Freedom isn’t Free.” This is usually said in the context of supporting some military endeavor. However, there is another way in which “Freedom isn’t Free”: freedom tolerates mediocrity. Americans have also raised blaming others for our (or our childrens’) own shortcomings. It’s a cultural thing. I, for one, am not willing to trade away our freedom. It’s a cultural thing.


January 11th, 2011
9:07 am

I’m full blooded American. My parents are American. This is the type of discipline that existed in my household growing up. I am now a successful and happy 38 year old.

I commend the discipline of Asian parents. This is not just in China, but I have experienced it in South Korea as well. It doesn’t exist in every household, but overall, Asians are very disciplined. If American parents would quit worrying about being the kid’s BFF, we would not be so low on the totem pole of education.


January 11th, 2011
9:08 am

Interesting that Georgia ranks at or near the bottom for test scores in the country but is 2nd (only behind Mississippi)in childhood obesity (ages 13-19). If you think there isn’t a corelation between the two…wake up!

Write Your Board Members

January 11th, 2011
9:19 am

The book ends while her girls are still teenagers, one of whom has quit music. In interviews, Chua admits that perhaps her methods only worked with one of her girls.

Gloria Dugger

January 11th, 2011
9:32 am

Excellent article in that it shows how incompetent many parents are. While we may not agree with all of the article, it does point out just how much time and effort on the part of parents it takes on a daily basis to insure that a child is well-educated. The mother in this article actually spends time with her daughters seeing to it that they do what is expected of them. Sleepovers provide nothing in the way of education except for those things that we wish our children would not learn until older! While one shoe does not fit everyone, everyone who is a parent should ask themselves if they have the self-discipline required to really parent. Look around you: are we raising a generation of accomplishers or idiots?


January 11th, 2011
9:33 am



January 11th, 2011
9:35 am

First of all, it will be a good idea to read the entire article, not just the section Marueen chose, before you make comments. The article is not about Chinese being superior parents. The author is trying to sell books and she is doing it by using our insecurity about Chinese.

The article is about how to be an effective parent. The author’s approach makes a lot sense. The reality is that it is not going to work for most parents. The approach requires dedication and sacrifice. Take the example she gave and that was cited by Maureen: when her child refused to practice piano, the author worked through with her child, albeit with some very strong language and tough methods. At the end, the result was good and hopefully, her child learned to be confident when facing a difficult task next time and also learned to be focused (no water break, no bath room break etc) when needed. The truth is that very few parents are willing or able to spend a lot time with kids to follow through on their good-for-kids demands like the author.


January 11th, 2011
9:37 am

The Chinese methods of parenting results in their kids doing well whether they are in “good” or “bad” schools. Some American parents just need to “up their game.”

You can legislate parental responsibilty in many ways: Link a parent’s tax credit for dependents to the standardized test performance of the child(ren) in the household. If a child fails a grade, the parent should be required to pay tuition for the year the child repeats. If the government is paying welfare benefits to the parent (Section 8, food stamps, free/reduced lunch, day-care subsidies, etc.) the amount should be based on the child(ren)’s performance level(s). If the child is suspended for being disruptive, fighting, etc., the parent and/or child (depending on age) should be required to take a course emphasizing academic responsibility or be fined or assigned community service.

If we want to really change education, we have to start with the attitudes and behaviors allowed in the home. We need to make parents as well as teachers accountable.


January 11th, 2011
9:42 am

@PracticalWiz- I agree. If the US is so emboldened as to link student performance to teacher pay with little interest in the student and their attitudes towards education, than I feel that what you propose falls right in line with their warped way of thinking. Why not legislate parental influence on student achievement in economic terms. It will certainly get the attention of many lax parents.


January 11th, 2011
9:44 am

To ScienceTeacher671, you are absolutely right about this:
“To get good at anything you have to work, … things are always hardest at the beginning, … Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America.”

Extremes make me scream...

January 11th, 2011
10:11 am

This lady’s approach to child rearing is an extreme as is a parent’s obsession with a child’s self esteem.


January 11th, 2011
10:14 am

“nothing is fun until you are good at it”

i like that



January 11th, 2011
10:16 am

Most of us would agree that Ms. Chau is extreme, butt wouldn’t it be great if our students’ parents spent half that amount of time focused on their achievement, and putting the emphasis right where it belongs–on the learner? Our schools would be a far different place if every child had a parent even a quarter that involved in their lives. Instead, we have angry, belligerant, irresponsible kids who don’t get enough parental interest, time, involvement, energy, or focus. They come to school and take their lack of parenting out on their classmates and teacher.

And, the powers that be see that it is reinforced. We are not allowed to demand respect,homework, responsibility, mastery of material, money for lunch, correct use of school facilities, completion of assignments, or accountability. And look what the results are!

it's about time

January 11th, 2011
10:16 am

@ PracticalWhiz… I am in total agreement with your idea. It is apparent that some parents do not take education seriously. Link their childrens’ education to their government subsidies, and I can guarantee that attitudes will change. Parens must be held accountable for their childrens’ successes and lack thereof. Stop blaming teachers for everything that goes wrong. Teachers do not teach children how to rob, kill, and steal.


January 11th, 2011
10:19 am

It is absolutely imperative that children in the early grades strive to learn all the spelling words, all the math facts, all the vocabulary, not just most of it. The early grades are the building blocks for later learning. It doesn’t take that much time each day to go over spelling, arithmetic, etc. with a first or second grader. The successes and work ethic learned here can help them achieve for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t have to be like Ms Chua’s approach, but parents need to pick up the ball. It’s their child, their child’s future. Nobody ever looked back and wished they have made poorer grades. But plenty of people look back and wish they had worked harder in school. And they learn that hard work from their parents.

NWGA teacher

January 11th, 2011
10:20 am

I agree that rote repetition is undervalued. Many of my 5th grade students have encountered problems with fractions because they’ve never internalized multiplication facts. They can multiply, laboriously, but this has put them at a severe disadvantage. Parents could rectify this with flash card drills. It would take time, and it would not be fun, but it would work.


January 11th, 2011
10:41 am

As a classroom teacher, I began my remedial math class with a timed fact drill … EVERY day. I did get complaints, but at the end of the year, test scores showed significant measurable gains in all areas on the math portion of the ITBS. Even minor successes were celebrated. It worked year after year. I am not sure that the new math curriculum teaches much but frustration.


January 11th, 2011
10:50 am

Saw this lady on the Today Show this morning…..I would take a classroom full of kids raised by her! You could teach 50 of them.


January 11th, 2011
10:55 am

She sounds a bit like Michael Jackson’s dad. He produced a brilliant and successful offspring as well through incredibly strict discipline and single minded effort.


January 11th, 2011
11:11 am

catlady and ScienceTeacher671 should be running things!!! Most of what you say could’ve come out of many intelligent, dedicated, and forward-thinking teachers I know…Cobb’s looking for a new Superintendent ;)


January 11th, 2011
11:14 am

Although Chua seems extreme, too many parents want to be friends with their children. In fact, too many teachers want to be friends with their students. Parents and teachers have important and numerous responsibilities that are not consistent with whether their children or students consider them to be friends. But not being a friend does not mean that they become enemies. Parents and teachers are authority figures. They must make the rules, set the guidelines, and yes, enforce the consequences of not abiding by those rules and adhering to those guidelines. It’s a difficult job and only they can do it.


January 11th, 2011
11:34 am

Here in the good old USA we have adopted a strategy of edutainment in our classrooms and we are seeing the result when compared to the rest of the world. With little or no consequences for behavior, students see this as a free pass to wallyworld. Thank the Lord we have some students that have learned self-motivation and are able to accomplish personal goals and achieve “real” self-esteem. Students need direction and boundaries to assimilate and we allowing them to be on autopilot.


January 11th, 2011
11:35 am

This piece cuts to the heart of one of our society’s biggest ills – too many people expect something for nothing. In fact, only the very best will do, but too few want to actually do the hard work that it takes to earn the things they want.

We can play games with teacher evaluations, students’ test scores, and other factors. But the truth is that we are not dealing with the harshest reality – kids have to work to learn.

Too many people want to be entertained rather than learn. We hear criticisms of “too much homework”, “the teacher expects too much”, “my child is ADD and shouldn’t be expected to sit down and be quiet”, or “I’m worried about my child’s self-esteem.” I have been in too many parent-teacher conferences where these excuses were offered when it was painfully obvious that Junior simply needed to behave and do his work.

What’s it going to take for people to realize that these are root causes of what’s wrong with education? When teachers bring up these issues, we are immediately bashed over the head for blaming parents.

The United States still has an educational system that knocks the socks off the rest of the world. The missing component is the work ethic from the students.

East Cobb Parent

January 11th, 2011
12:04 pm

I would encourage everyone to read the entire article. The last paragraph eases the tone somewhat.

Rote memory/drills sore spot, one 3rd grade teacher in East Cobb announced to her students no need to memorize their multiplication tables she never did. My question is why is she teaching? For all of those overly concerned with self-esteem, the jails are full of people with very high self-esteem. Not nearly as many understand grammar or math hence their residence.

January 11th, 2011
1:57 pm

Great article. Although Professor Chua employs some extreme methods she gets results. American parents for the most part are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Too many parents allow their kids to do what they want to do, and allow their kids to be disrespectful to them. Then when they fail in school and get into trouble they want to blame teachers, administrators, superintendents, or whomever else they can use to deflect attention from bad parenting. I am not into parent bashing, there is enough blame to go around for our dismal state of public education. However as a 24 year educator I have seen a lot more examples of poor parenting than I have of poor teaching. We need to revamp our entire education system, beginning with lying politicians and misguided board members.

Of course it is

January 11th, 2011
2:17 pm

This is how the Hitler Youth were raised, and they turned out just fine.

Don’t see a problem.

Pot (no not the drug) stirrer

January 11th, 2011
2:50 pm

What I would like to know is if Mrs. Chau had had a child with learning disabilities or autism or adhd, what her parenting style would be like? Could/would she still be this demanding of that child? NCLB-everyone must pass the test by 2014…doesn’t matter what their special needs are. Is this humanly possible?


January 11th, 2011
2:54 pm

Chua’s daughters will be forever thankful.

My Two Cents

January 11th, 2011
3:05 pm

Students with disabilities can be successfully pushed to excel just like their peers. Methods for instruction and managing behaviors may have to be adapted, but I can say that the right combination of structure, discipline, and accountability can work wonders.


January 11th, 2011
3:16 pm

Is academic success of a child really the measure of “great parenting?” Is there nothing more to measure someone by than the arbitrary letter someone else rewards them with? What about having developed a strong sense of individuality (not a character trait held in high esteem in totalitarian regimes)? What about a great appreciation for the activity of learning itself (rather than fear of failure)? What about entrepreneurship or the success in starting one’s own business rather than gaining an education to advance the cause of someone else’s business as a worker bee?

Allowing the cultural priorities of others to become a standard for yourself is no better than the collectivist thinking that fostered the communist revolution in the first place.

Plenty of A students kill themselves over their perceived failures and their depression. Plenty of C students start businesses, are tremendously happy, retain a perpetual interest in growing their knowledge and do much to advance the human condition.

Not havin' it.

January 11th, 2011
3:27 pm

Please… all you parents who think this woman is nuts need to look at your own brats. You have let your kids go soft, stuffed them with fast food, and think they can can do no wrong… no matter how much wrong they do. Get over yourselves… you’re lousy parents and your kids are jerks.

Still a Child on the Inside

January 11th, 2011
4:02 pm

It will be a cold day in Hades before I take parenting advice from the Chinese. Do a google on child labor in China. Or better yet, behold the shoddy construction of products labelled “Made in China.” Perhaps its this indoctrinated idea of parental infallibility that has the Chinese afraid to overthrow their oppressive government and improve their stature as a model of civilization.

Getting all A’s, a whoop-de-fricking do!!! Once these children are grown, they will assimilate. All A’s mean nothing when all that is being learned is how to follow directions. If the Chinese are so thick-skinned to being called things like “fatty,” then why did Marta have to change its NE line from the Yellow line to the Gold line?

If I’m going to look for an example of effective parenting, the last place I would look is China. When their students protested, they were met by gunfire. If their workers dissent, they are taken out back to have their kidneys removed and sold on the open market. I’ve seen my Chinese neighbors pop their kids in the mouth for no apparent reason and their children beg me not to tell their mothers they got dirt on their pants at the playground.

This isn’t China. In American, it shouldn’t hurt to be a child. Children will have plenty of time to be traumatized as adults. And this lady’s a Yale law professor? No wonder our country is so troubled, but at least it isn’t China, yet.

God Bless the Teacher!

January 11th, 2011
4:28 pm

I find it ironic that education policy makers keep comparing our international test results to Asian and other countries, yet we refuse to admit how our country has devolved into one that caters too much to children and what they want. Until the roles of parent and child are switched in perceived importance in our society, we will NEVER regain the “#1″ spot in the international arena in any area.