Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Year of The Cat

Kung Hei Fat Choi! Or at least that's the Happy Chinese New Year that Cantonese speakers worldwide will be embracing.

It's been quite interesting reading the stir that excerpts from 'Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mom' have engendered. This is the book written by Amy Chua, Yale law professor and self-described "tiger mother". Amy was born and raised in the US but was given what she terms as traditional "Chinese parenting". It is a form of authoritarian parenthood that she has used on her own daughters that is quite shocking to some observers: never accepting a grade lower than an A, insisting on hours of maths and spelling drills and violin and piano practice of up to six hours each day until they got pieces right, calling her daughter "garbage" when she acted disrespectfully, and not allowing television or computer games or even school plays.

The backlash has been very vocal. Critics in the US call her a "monster" and ask "where is the love, the acceptance?". Amy insists that she is doing it out of love, positioning her children for the "tough world", where Western/US parenting creates weak-willed children less geared towards hard work, with less focus.

I think Amy's approach is certainly an extreme one and not one that encourages the development of free-spirited individuals. But I have to say, having lived in both Asian and a US cultures, I do see some things I want to glean from it. I'm looking at it more from the angle of focus and discipline, keeping the eye on the prize, repetition and practice to achieve goals, praising hard work rather than simple success, better utilisation of time and so on.

Her tone and approach may have a lot to be desired but a less extreme version has its merits and we'll see whether this is reflected in more of an the economic shift from West to East in coming decades. In hindsight (and it is pure hindsight), I kind of wish that I'd been given more of a push at different times in my life.

So as we enter the Chinese year of the rabbit, it's worth thinking about some of the messages from the "big cat mothers" - a bit more focus and diligence could make this your year as well.


  1. Discipline and strictness I think are important in bringing up a child. However there is a line, and the example you have given is one where the line has been crossed. That makes robots, not individuals.

    A very happy Chinese new year to you

  2. Nas, I agree that the extremes of the approach definitely can create robots - and I've worked with too many products of that set up over the years. Finding some semblance of value out of the excessiveness, though, is the charm.

    Happy Chinese new year to you too.