Chinese mum can raise her kids how she likes - just don't tell the rest of us what to do.
Uh, China, we have a problem. I am feeling trepidatious about China's impending world domination after reading Amy Chua's terrifying piece "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior". This essay in the Wall Street Journal caused a global gulp of indignation from Western mothers.
Chua boasts about how she didn't allow her two daughters, now teenagers, to ever have play dates, sleepovers, to watch television or act in school plays, play sport or get anything less than an A-plus at school. They had to practise their piano or violin for two to three hours every day and be obedient girly swot robots. This is the way Chinese "Tiger mothers" bring up their children, Chua said.
Reading it was chilling. The anecdote about how Chua forced her young daughter to persevere at a difficult piano piece late into the night without even being allowed a toilet break was horrid - not just for the child's discomfort but for Chua's self-obsession bordering on mania and her own lack of insight. She has since published another piece complaining that the original essay, which was an excerpt from her book, was taken out of context.
I have some sympathy with the view that liberal Western parenting has got too namby pamby and concerned about bruising a child's delicate self-esteem to the point where we have forgotten character develops from doing virtuous things - you don't feel good about yourself if you play Angry Birds on the couch eating Cheezels in your jarmies every day. I get that. And I can see that parents can help children learn the rewards of deferring instant gratification to reap greater benefits later on.
But there is a price to be paid when parents stamp on their child's autonomy to gratify their own egos. Maybe Chua's children would prefer to ride dirt bikes than playing Chopin at Carnegie Hall: who would know? Learning who you are is a vital part of becoming human - poor Chua's children aren't getting a chance to find out who they are.
Which is not to say parents shouldn't make children stick at what they start. I studied ballet for 12 years as a child and when I wanted to give up, my parents said sure, but I would have to stick it out until the end of the term. By then I loved it again.
There is one school of thought that the next great human rights movement - after civil rights and feminism - will be the fight for the rights of children not to be emotionally stuffed up by their parents. Remember, it was only about 100 years ago that Freud came up with the newfangled concept that what happens to us as kids has an impact on us as adults. Wacky. Before that children were treated as property.
In years to come it is quite feasible that people like Chua who use their children to feed their own emotional needs - it's known as "emotional incest" - will be considered like Michael Jackson's parents: oppressive child abusers.
But Chua's essay was not really just about parenting. It was a revealing, if caricatured, glimpse of Chinese cultural attitudes. Chua is a pathological control freak and I just hope her attitude to her children is not China's attitude to the world in microcosm.
The great thing about the liberal Western tradition is its adherence to that very useful edict "Each to their own". So Chua can bring up her children however she likes - as long as China's increasing power here, there and everywhere, doesn't mean she wants to inflict her "superior" ideas on me.
firstname.lastname@example.orgBy Deborah Hill Cone Email Deborah