Comment 2 on “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom”: Not Respecting Daughter and In Turn Allowing Daughter to Disrespect Mom

(First, I must say to Amy Chua and her family members: I apologize for passing judgment and making comments on your family’s private affairs in public – outsiders should not pass judgment and comment on how others raise and teach their children in a manner that those children can hear or read about it. I feel bad, but it can’t be helped in your case, because the Mom in your family has published this book about your family’s private affairs, a book that has shaken the world and is affecting the whole of humanity. Therefore, many people in this world now have an obligation to take a position on many things in this book and that means publicly passing judgment and commenting on how the Mom in your family raises and teaches her children.)


In the book “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom” written by Amy Chua, which, according to the Wall Street Journal, supposedly represents “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”, Amy Chua does not respect her daughter’s basic personal dignity, and in turn also allows the daughter to disrespect mother. This is completely opposite to what traditional Chinese thought advocates for bringing up children.


In Chapter 11 of the book, Amy Chua describes how, when her second daughter Lulu is seven and has been unable, despite practicing on the piano many hours a day for many days, to play a certain difficult tune well, Amy Chua condemns her daughter severely. Ms. Chua accuses her daughter of “purposely working herself into a frenzy”, and of being “lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent, and pathetic”, and threatens her with no meals, no Christmas presents or birthday parties for 3, 4 years, etc. This kind of insulting condemnation and threat with punishment shows complete disrespect for the daughter’s basic personal dignify: she is only a seven-year-old who temporarily cannot attain a certain level of skill in piano; she actually has practiced for hours every day; she has not committed any serious trespasses, nor has she committed any crimes against humanity!


In turn, having received treatment that disrespects her personal dignity over and over, the daughter gradually begins to hit back. It starts with contradicting mother, and then evolves into returning the insulting rebukes, into shows of complete disrespect for mother. Perversely, this kind of behavior, which is considered a severe trespass in Chinese culture, Amy Chua does not stop at all, but instead tolerates and allows to go on, and even seems to take pride in her daughter displaying such behavior.


In page 48 of the book, while describing how the second daughter resists the severe music practice schedule, Amy Chua says that she and her daughter form a pair who are “simultaneously incompatible and inextricably bound”. Then Ms. Chua rather proudly recounts how, in talking with her seven-year-old daughter, they conclude that they are “good buddies” in a “weird, terrible way”, and then daughter hugs mother. This lets us understand the real picture: Amy Chua, like so many parents who lack knowledge of the Chinese intellectual heritage, thinks that no matter how disrespectful of the offspring a parent is, as long as the parent lets the offspring also in turn show disrespect for the parent, then the parent has not mistreated the offspring!


Sigh! Respect for one’s parents is actually the most basic form of respect for others, and for Amy Chua to not infuse that most basic form of respect for others into her offspring is actually considered by Chinese culture to be one of the greatest mistreatments by parents of their offspring! It is “to raise but not teach”.


Of course, according to traditional Chinese culture, offspring may express differing opinions to their parents, since offspring should be able to discuss anything and everything with their parents, and also, after all, offspring have the duty to dissuade and dispute parents when they are morally wrong, but the opinions must be expressed in a respectful manner, with politeness and courtesy.


In the name of some kind of “achievement”, and in this case it is the playing of musical instruments, to both disrespect the children and then also allow the children in turn to disrespect their parents, even to the point of loud argument and throwing things in public, can such farces represent the fine Chinese tradition of bringing up children? Absolutely not. And not only for the Chinese tradition – such farces cannot represent the tradition of any civilization for bringing up children.


The Chinese tradition for bringing up children puts the greatest emphasis on respect, and first and foremost on respect for parents. Why is respect for parents so important? Long ago Confucius has answered this question: it is because those who respect their parents won’t disrespect others (see The Classic of Xiao, p. 5, Chapter 2, “The Son of Heaven”)! And in the Chinese intellectual tradition, respect for others is the guarantee of civil society. This is because traditional Chinese culture advocates using Li or courtesy and etiquette to bring harmony and order to society, and what is the essence of this Li or courtesy and etiquette? It is respect, nothing more. Confucius has said, “Li – it is nothing other than respect.” (See The Classic of Xiao, p. 25, Chapter 12, “A Broad and Crucial Doctrine”.) Therefore, in the Chinese intellectual heritage, respect for parents is the fundamental foundation of civil society.


Therefore, to raise children according to the Chinese intellectual heritage, the parents must set an example by showing respect for the personal dignity of the children, and at the same time, must firmly uphold the requirement that the children show respect for, and courtesy and politeness to, their parents. Parents must strictly prohibit all words and acts that show disrespect and must absolutely not tolerate them.


Feng Xin-ming 冯欣明

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