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The Jewishness of the ‘Chinese Mother’

Controversial author’s daughters are being raised in their father’s faith

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Amy Chua and her daughters.(WSJ)

Last week, the Wall Street Journal published an immediately controversial excerpt from Amy Chua’s new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She describes forcing her two children to practice musical instruments several hours per day; insisting, but strictly, that they always finish at the top of their classes; forbidding sleepovers; and generally being a “Chinese mother,” in contrast with coddling “Western mothers.” “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it,” Chua wrote. “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.”

The essay struck some readers (this one included) as cold and just plain shocking. (And the common defense that Chua’s book is much more nuanced than the Journal excerpt isn’t really exculpatory, since Chua presumably crafted and at the very least approved of the excerpt; those are her words, too.)

However, here are two notes that may be of interest to Tablet Magazine readers. First, the most eloquent response to the excerpt—and it is a rebuttal, but it cedes some interesting ground—was penned by contributor Ayelet Waldman, and explicitly establishes the “Jewish mother” as the opposite of, or at least the prime alternative to, of the “Chinese mother.” And second, not only is Chua’s husband, Jed Rubenfeld, Jewish, but, reportedly, their two daughters—the objects of Chua’s parenting and the subjects of her book—are being raised Jewish. So maybe Chua is a “Chinese-Jewish mother”? I have a feeling that Jews who grew up in earlier generations might see plenty of their own mothers in her.

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior [WSJ]
In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom [WSJ]

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I wonder if jewish mothers are jealous that they’re no longer the most strict and annoying mom. Portnoy, who was always trying to date asians would now cringe his own mother was outdone!

Daniel says:

The Op-Ed mentioned that Mom threatened to take away the daughters’ Christmas AND Chanukah. So it would seem from the piece that the daughters are being raised in both faiths – which is really to say, in no faith at all.

I think most commentators have not read the full book.

What I like about the book is its manic honesty.

I also point out to friends that Amy graduated first in her high school class, was Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard, Executive Editor at Harvard Law, a clerk to a federal judge, an Associate at a top Manhattan firm, an author, and a professor at Yale Law. She was raised by her China-born parents, who came to America in the early Sixties. She got a taste for parenting when she helped guide her youngest sister who adored her.

But at the same time, her husband went to Princeton, also graduated from Harvard Law, also clerked for a federal judge, worked for a top Manhattan firm, and is a Yale Law professor. But he also spent two years at Julliard to hone and develop his artistic skills. He succeeded just as much as she, but was raised a Jewish and Western way. Oh, and he is also an author of a celebrated mystery.

I also like the chapters on the dogs, one of which is slightly impaired, and LuLu’s Bat Mitzvah (or was it a vioin recital). It is in these sections that Amy’s parents, who were born in China and not America, tell her that she is being overly strident and to tone it down.

She is much more self aware than several commentators think.

No parenting techniques, Chinese or Jewish can significantly make the path that the kid(s) are on. Certain parenting techniques don’t make your kids successful.

The concept of the “Jewish mother”, who ends up with kids in law school and/or med school, only applies to Ashkenazi mothers, not Sephardi or Mizrachi mothers. It’s because of intelligence differences. East Asians and Ashkenazi Jews have higher average IQs than whites. Read the paper “The natural history of Ashkenazi intelligence” by Gregory Cochran et al. to find out what I’m talking about.

Eliezer says:

What about the father? For all the discussion Tiger’s and Matza Balls, this seems to be just another family shaped by Jews.

The first thing to ask about Chua’s rap is whether the regime she proposes actually works — compared to other styles.

The obvious comparison would be to Jews’.

While it appears that Asians are leading everyone in achievement at youth levels (high school, college) it seems fair to say that Jews ar no slouches at over-achievement. And by no means do Jewish parents deny children the sports, sleep-overs, flutes and oboes, and so on which Chua thinks is so important.

Before I’d criticize Chua’s approach is to ask her whether there are any alternatives.

What worries me about many parenting discussions going on these days (tiger moms, soccer moms, etc.) is the lack of a discussion of values. Why are we all so focused on Ivy League schools anyway? Why aren’t we teaching our kids to be good people first and foremost? (Jews are as guilty of this as the most fierce “Chinese” mom.) I talk about this in my post on Chua’s WSJ piece:

I do not begrudge Chua’s right to make money off her “AHA” moment, but I do resent the way she has further propagated the stereotypical image of the “pushy” Asian parent.

I am truly fortunate to have an academically successful daughter who achieved near perfect SAT scores, and received offers from HYP. I will take credit for having given her a whole lot of support, but I am certain my parenting skills had little to do with her college acceptances. In truth, I suspect race and gender played major roles.

And yet, I was always perceived as the pushy Asian mother by her teachers, and her counselors, and by other parents as well, Asian and non-Asian alike.

I feel that most people, including Asians, simply refuse to believe that a young Asian woman can be extremely motivated on her own.

Chua and her publishers have every right to publicize her book, and they did a very good job, but it came at the expense of all the academically successful Asian students who will have an even harder time of shaking off the perception they could not have accomplished much without their tiger mothers pushing them.

Chua’s book has merely given an old stereotype a new name. Out with the pushy Asian mother. In with the roaring tiger mother. Somehow, I do not feel better.


You made some first rate points there. I looked on the internet for the issue and located most people will go along with along with your website.


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The Jewishness of the ‘Chinese Mother’

Controversial author’s daughters are being raised in their father’s faith

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