Amy Chua: Tiger Mother—Or Market-Dominant Minority?
January 2011, has been
month of great divisiveness. Yet one individual has
unified America: Amy Chua.
For the last few weeks, it has sometimes
seemed as if everybody
hated (and/or envied) the
School professor [Email
her] whose third book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, recounts the hyperambitious
she used to nag her two daughters into being straight A
students and classical music prodigies.
example, Chua writes that her daughter can remember:
"… three things I
actually said to her at the piano as I supervised her
1. "Oh my
God, you`re just getting worse and worse."
2. "I`m going to count to three, then I want
3. "If the
next time`s not PERFECT, I`m going to TAKE ALL YOUR STUFFED
ANIMALS AND BURN THEM!"
Ever since an excerpt was published in the
Wall Street Journal
under the title
Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior January 8, 2011,
the public can`t get enough of the mom they love to hate.
She`s even been a superstar at
Davos last week, among the global uberclass.
Yet, remarkably little attention has been
devoted to the big picture: how Chua`s new memoir relates to
her first book, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, which I
here in VDARE.com exactly eight years ago.
Before I get to the deepthink part of my
review of Battle Hymn
of the Tiger Mother, let me cover a couple of issues.
was the first to
point out (and most people still haven`t noticed), Chua
can be an (intentionally) hilarious writer. I read
Tiger Mother in
about four hours and laughed out loud for maybe half of the
Chua isn`t just telling you exactly how
she feels: she`s also playing a character who is funny
because you know she`s going to tell you exactly how she feels. When satirist
Evelyn Waugh tottered around mid-century London with a
trumpet clamped to his head (which, when a postprandial
oration began to bore him, he would ostentatiously unstrap
and set on the table), he wasn`t just expressing his
reactionary curmudgeonlyness. He was also gleefully playing
his chosen role as
England`s leading curmudgeonly reactionary.
Similarly, Chua works hard in her writing
to make herself the face of an increasingly important type:
the flamboyantly Asian mother who forces her children to
practice piano or violin endlessly to
good a decade from now on their
Ivy League applications.
instance, she commiserates with her prize-winning pianist
daughter about how American pop culture doesn`t validate her
child`s Oriental docility:
"In Disney movies,
the `good daughter` always has to have a breakdown and
realize that life is not all about following rules and
winning prizes, and then takes off her clothes and runs into
the ocean … But that`s just Disney`s way of appealing to all
the people who never win any prizes. …
who is her own best audience, observes:
"I was deeply moved
by my oration."
higher-testosterone younger daughter wants to drop violin
for tennis, Chua recounts:
"I compared her to
Amy Jiang, Amy Wang, Amy Liu, and Harvard Wong‒all
first-generation Asian kids‒none of whom ever talked back to
their parents. … I told her I was thinking of adopting a
third child from China, one who would practice when I told
her to, and maybe even play the cello in addition to the
violin and piano."
This looks artless, but notice how amusing
the Sino-American names sound when read out loud in that
precise order in a tone of mounting hysteria: Amy Jiang, Amy
Wang, Amy Liu, and
Harvard Wong. Or consider how much the author gets our
hopes up momentarily that she might just be crazy enough to
carry out her threatened adoption experiment. Wouldn`t you
like to know how that
would turn out?
Granted, Chua`s character in
Tiger Mom isn`t original. Many East Asian women feel as Chua does
about all the politically correct rationalizations that
whites tell each other to make America`s status climbing /
mating market games seem less Darwinian. To Chua, happy talk
is for losers. If you tell too many
genteel lies, your children might start believing them.
And then your descendants will be
know what happens to the weak …
Chua`s semi-self-parody is an up-market
version of the brilliant British comedienne
Tracey Ullman`s character
Noh Nang Ning, the brutally frank
donut shop owner. Here`s a
from HBO`s 1990s sketch comedy show
Tracey Takes On of
Mrs. N coaching her nine-year-old niece at the figure
Nice white mom [sententiously]:
we don`t care about Henie winning … The important thing is
that my daughter go out there and have a good time."
Mrs. Noh Nang Ning [fiercely]:
"Me, too. I want niece to have
good time. You know what good time is? Winning! …"
Mrs. Noh Nang Ning [encouraging her
"You lose, you no come home!"
Nice white mom [aghast]:
can you SAY that to a child?"
Mrs. Noh Nang Ning [dismissively]:
"Good motivation. Kid no want to
sleep in box on street. … You don`t win, you nothing!"
"The next generation
[i.e., her daughters` children]
is the one I spend nights lying awake worrying about. …
Finally and most problematically, they will feel that they
have individual rights
guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and therefore be
much more likely to disobey their parents and ignore career
advice. In short, all factors point to this generation being
headed straight for decline.
not on my watch."
shares happy family memories:
"One jarring thing that many Chinese
people do is openly compare their children. I never thought
this was so bad when I was growing up because … my Dragon
Lady grandmother … egregiously favored me over all my
sisters. `Look how flat that one`s nose is,` she would
cackle at family gatherings, pointing at one of my siblings.
`Not like Amy, who has a fine, high-bridged nose. … That one
takes after her mother`s side of the family and looks like a
way, her hugely creative father is only a minor, dissonant
character in her book. She mentions toward the end that he
wound up loathing his Dragon Lady mother for her Chinese
for Chua`s humor. Secondly, what I`m sure you are all dying
to know: What`s my opinion of Chua`s childrearing
Like both Prof. Chua and many of her
detractors, I myself don`t have a large enough sample size
of children reared to generalize wildly from my own personal
experiences. Unlike both, however, I`m rather humbled by my
ignorance. So, I`m going to skip the advice-giving (other
than to say that you should
never write a
memoir featuring your children as major characters,
especially if you have more than one.)
David Brooks, and a host of other sages have explained
that differences in natural ability are largely irrelevant
to success. The only thing that really matters is having
your child put in
10,000 hours of focused practice.
Battle Hymn of the
Tiger Mother shows you what The
10,000 Hour Rule looks like in the real world. It`s not
a pretty sight.
As an obvious aside, let me point out that
Chua`s two high-achieving daughters chose their ancestors
wisely. Amy Chua`s paternal grandmother got rich opening
factories in the Philippines. Her father,
Chua, Professor of Electrical Engineering at UC
Berkeley, inventor of
Circuit and the concept of the
memristor (Hewlett-Packard is currently gearing up for
mass production of them, four decades after he dreamed them
up) has received
doctorates. Her mother, a chemical engineering major,
was valedictorian of her college class in Manila. The author
herself holds an endowed chair at the nation`s most
intellectually elite law school, Yale.
You would expect less
regression toward the mean in the offspring of family
trees with these levels of IQ, energy, and Attention Surplus
Disorder. (As Ms. Chua notes,
"As a purely mathematical fact, people who sleep less, live more.")
Chua notes that her
Chinese-Jewish-American children represent
"an ethnic group that
may sound exotic but actually forms a majority in certain
circles, especially in university towns." It would be
interesting to try to quantify how much of the rage against
Chua in the women`s` press is motivated by inchoate feelings
that Chinese women, with their naturally straight hair, are
Stealing Our Men. (Before going to Harvard Law School,
handsome husband studied drama at Julliard alongside Val
likes to portray herself as the stereotypical Chinese,
diligent, conventional, and uncreative:
"As the eldest
daughter of Chinese immigrants, I don`t have time to
improvise or make up my own rules. I have a family name to
uphold, aging parents to make proud. I like clear goals, and
clear ways of measuring success."
sounds like the last person to become controversial:
"I did well at
[Harvard] law school, by working psychotically hard. … But I always worried that
law really wasn`t my calling. I
didn`t care about the rights of criminals … I also
wasn`t naturally skeptical and questioning; I just wanted to
write down everything the professor said and memorize it."
don`t have to be extremely creative to make important
contributions to public understanding—as long as you have
the courage to tell truths that other people won`t. At the
end, Chua rants to her daughters:
these Western parents with the same party line about what`s
good for children and what`s not‒I`m not sure they are
making choices at all. They just do what everyone else does.
They`re not questioning anything, either, which is what
Westerners are supposed to be so good at doing. They just
keep repeating things like `You have to give your children
the freedom to pursue their
it`s obvious that the `passion` is just going to turn out to
be Facebook for ten hours …"
Chua deals with the
kind of subjects that everybody thinks about, but we`re not
supposed to talk about. For example, Chua`s 2003 book
World on Fire was the first to acquaint me with one of the key facts
of the history of the
1990s. Chua wrote:
THE spring of 2000, a professor whom I`ll call
Jerry White was furiously trying to finish an article on
the debacle of Russian privatization. … It seemed to me that
most of the
key players in the privatization of Russia were Jewish.
“`Oh, no,` Jerry
replied instantly. `I don`t think so.`
“`Are you sure?` I
pressed him. `If you look at their names . . . `
“`You can`t tell
anything from names,` Jerry snapped, clearly not wanting to
discuss the topic any further.
“As it turns out, six out of seven of
Russia`s wealthiest and, at least until recently, most
powerful oligarchs are Jewish."
finds 1,570 recent news articles about
"Amy Chua". Yet
only two of those go on to
mention the crucial term she coined in
World on Fire—"market-dominant
minorities"—to describe groups like her own
Overseas Chinese and
Ashkenazis in Yeltsin`s Russia.
think I`m just dragging the topic of the day around to my
own area of interest, but Chua explains in her new memoir
the origin of her first book:
"Combining my law degree with my own
family`s background, I would write about law and ethnicity
in the developing world. Ethnicity was my favorite thing to
talk about anyway".
Chua`s ancestors were from southeastern
province "which is
famous for producing scholars and scientists".
Traditionally, Fujianese led in the mandarin civil service
exams and today in China`s college admission test.
Chua`s parents grew up in the
Philippines, where a small number of Chinese own most of
that country`s business assets. The population of the
Philippines has grown from 28 million a half century ago to
92 million in 2009, so there`s not all that much to go
In Southeast Asia, the Chinese have most
of the money, but the
natives have most of the guns. So, when Chua`s aunt in
Manila was murdered by her Filipino chauffeur who then fled,
the Filipino policemen made only derisory efforts to find
and arrest their co-ethnic. Sure, he`s a murderer, the
Filipino cops seem to have reasoned, but he`s our murderer.
And that rich Chinese woman probably had it coming.
rich family comes from a poor world where there`s room for
only a few at the top to live well. They do what it takes to
stay on top. She has inherited these worries:
"One of my greatest
fears is family decline. There`s an old Chinese saying that
`prosperity can never last for three generations.`"
Of course, 19th Century Americans had a
saying a century ago: From shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves
in three generations.
American version never had quite such a Malthusian ring to
it. If a 19th Century American family fell out of riches,
they weren`t in danger of Oriental poverty. They were still
a 19th Century American family—with a giant new country to
try their luck in.
life in America generally been less stressed-out than in
other parts of the world?
America has traditionally been a lot nicer
place than China or the Philippines. We Americans like to
dream up self-congratulatory reasons for this. Some of them
might even be true. But a big reason is simply that
America is less crowded—and thus less competitive.
Back in 1751, the highest achiever of all
Americans, Benjamin Franklin,
greater happiness of life in America: because a
middle-class life is more affordable for the average person
in empty America than elsewhere.
Unfortunately, our elites have been working to erase that