Sunday, July 10, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother - Part 2

Chinese families do not discuss family matters to outsiders.  Chinese people do not get involved in other people's domestic affairs and if other people know their place.  Then they too will not interfere.  The matter of how to bring up children is therefore something that is, each to their own.  Sure, we all have our own ideas and we might feel our methods are correct.  The book Tiger Mother was originally intended to be about one women's quest to bring up her two daughters and how she was humbled by them.  However, a lot of people saw it has a manual for bring up children in the traditional way.

The opening chapters really did set the tone.  Chua was forthright with her views, they were strong words that told the readers, she does not back down.  However, the more you read into it, you will see that it isn't a manual for bringing up children.  She has admitted she has made mistakes and she knew she wasn't always right.  But what is important is that her daughters don't hate her.  They acknowledge the fact that Chua's efforts made them who they are.

It is rather strange that Chua chosen to raise her daughters this way.  Sure, she was raised in a traditional household and had strict parents.  But her parents came over from overseas, so of course they would have these values.  As she is of a different generation, one might have assumed that she would at least have a slightly more liberal way of dealing with things.  I have noticed that she did have a narrow way of thinking.  A lot of things are assumed, such as Western parent methods, where there are few rules and children are rewarded for underachieving.  Also how classical music is important in the development of a person.  Her opinions were wrong and it shows how little she understood and appreciated the arts.

The good thing about this book is that it has opened up a debate.  There are some things in Chinese society that need to be thrown into the open and only when we look at the pros and the cons, do we understand what is good and what is bad.  The world can have a glimpse of what traditional Chinese parenting is about.  It is about time Chinese people themselves look at themselves.  People will come to agree and disagree and that is good.  People will need to understand that Western parenting is not just about liberal attitudes and rewarding the underachiever or the non-achievers.  There are reasons why Westerns parents might do this, such as having children that aren't easily motivated.  Moreover, some children just aren't gifted academically.  It would be wrong to force children to do something that is not possible.  Perhaps they have other gifts and talents in practical matters.  Then there are the strict Western parents, who put their children through just as much and expect excellent grades.  Children are expected to conform to certain standards and master discipline.  If Chua measured success of Westerners by simply her own benchmark, then all Westerners would have failed in life.  There would be Oxbridge or Ivy League.  Success can be measured in many ways.  Academic success does not necessarily mean success in life.  Those who don't do well at school, end up doing well in other fields and until somebody has truly made it in their profession, we simply can't judge.

Considering how Westerners see Chinese people, they will find that there are actually liberal Chinese parents as well.  Are these parents breeding failure?  They hope that isn't the case.  Chua asserted the importance of education, whilst few parents will disagree.  They will argue that there are other things in childhood that are just as important.  Things like a happy, stable family life influences how children see life.  Yes, we should study hard, but children are not robots, they need time to rest and do something different.  There is nothing wrong with a little time to play computer games or participate in sporting activities.  There has to be balance and Chua did not factor this into her parenting approach.  We have to be realistic here, not all children are academically gifted and no amount of extra-curricular coaching or beating will squeeze the few marks that lead to excellent grades.  So long as they grow up into decent human beings, lead happy lives and earn a decent living.  Chinese parents would be happy enough.  In reality, some of the most successful Chinese people were not grade A students at school and some probably never read at university.  They became successful because they worked hard.  They probably also had understanding, broad-minded parents and lived in the kind of environment that encouraged rather than forced progress.

Westerners often have a lot of misconceptions regarding Chinese people.  Whilst Confucianism came form China, Confucianism does not live everywhere where Chinese people breath.  Often a corruption of Confucianism is seen, which is taken for the real thing.  Confucius believed in education and cultivating benevolence.  Making children's lives hell is not a Confucian concept.  Westerners often include Daoism and Buddhism into the mix.  Many misinformed Chinese people tend to say such beliefs are Confucian, Daoist and Buddhist influences in Chinese culture.  This is actually far from the truth.  Confucianism teaches about benevolence and duty.  Daoist preach about balance and goodness and Buddhist teaches us about liberating ourselves.  The three should mean Chinese people would live in a spiritual paradise.  But it is not so.  None of the books of the three religions mention anything to promote strict parenting as the way.  Yes, there are rules and discipline, but there is also common sense.

Its might surprise people that there are mothers that are far stricter than Amy Chua.  I am not surprised at all.  There are some that push children to the extreme.  These children, I have much sorrow for.  They spend every waking moment studying and practising their music.  Everything has been planned for them.  By the time they have reached adulthood, they find they can't relate to other people.  They have never experienced what others have.  They lack personality and people skills, which will hinder them in certain circles.  That's fine in a science lab, but that's hardly going to well on a date or social events.  On the whole, the rote learning and constant drilling on musical instruments have turned out a lot of people who have excellent technique, but lack the ability to express themselves or the music.  I don't think these types of parents understand that money spent on holidays (besides visiting relatives) actually help cultivate somebody's personality and perception.  Technique isn't everything, without the ability to express oneself, good technique only produces a nice sound.  This isn't artistic interpretation and perhaps that is why many Chinese people fail in the arts.  Chua's two daughters were special, not because of quantity of practice, but because they were artistically gifted also.  I could see that this gift came from the father and not Chua herself.

There is a lot of crassness in Chinese parenting, in Hong Kong alone, the level of stupidity begs belief.  In any balance society, you will have people doing different things.  This produces the kind of talent to fill every niche in society.  You can't have everybody being doctors and lawyers alone.  If you did, who will fulfil the other roles in society.  Not so in Hong Kong where the myopia is rife.  Parents are pushing their children to the same narrow fields, which then result in course become over subscribed.  The education are also proving their wisdom by concentrating  their resources in promoting these profitable vocations.  As usual the arts and sports suffer, then people wonder why Hong Kong doesn't produce talent in these areas.  Children in normal societies don't start studying until they reach primary school.  In order to get children into the mindset, Children will be packed off to nurseries to learn to interact with other children, long before they can crawl.  They will be learning to French, before they can mutter anything in Cantonese, but English is the other official and commonly used language right?  By putting a French book in front of a dribbling baby, the baby is not going to absorb any French at all.  I suppose babies will learn by osmosis.  Putting a laptop in front of a baby won't help either.  It won't by chance start writing programming codes for Apple or Microsoft, any time soon.  By the time they start kindergarten,  they will live a life of school, after school classes and non-stop extracurricular activities.  They end up doing so much, they became jack of all trades, yet master of none.  All the while, parents will be forcing their children to work harder and harder.  Did anybody every tell them, that in the West, nobody goes through this kind of nonsensical hell to get into Oxbridge or Ivy League.  Its all about aptitude and character... 

End of part 2...