'Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior'

January 11, 2011 at 04:43 AM ·

 Amy Chua,writing for the Wall Street Journal, states (among many other things) that "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." She goes on: "Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese daughters can't have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can't go to sleepaway camp. It's also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, 'I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends.' God help any Chinese kid who tried that one."


She also tells a story "in favor of coercion," about practicing the piano. Very interesting.

Here is the article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html

Replies (96)

January 11, 2011 at 06:02 AM ·

This thread has the potential to be a doosy. So I'll start it off.

Let me just say that the following do not bode well for American children in general.

1. Lines of Yukons and Tahoes and Navigators with engines running, children safely in the back seat, waiting for the bus to come to the bus stop.

or perhaps worse:

2. Buses stopping at every driveway. Even in 25mph roads.

3. Bus service to children who live 4 blocks from school.

4. Calling snow days before it snows only to find it never snows that day. With radar clearly showing that it won't.

5. Like 4 except hurricane.

6. Like 5 except that it is windy.

7. Like 6 except that it is over 90 degrees.

8 like 7 except that it is under 0 degrees.

9. Countless other whimp-outs.

While the provocative Chinese mother is enforcing, American parents in general are hovering and arresting development. Or simply encouraging muscle weakness.

January 11, 2011 at 06:56 AM ·

Wow.  Not going near that one.

EDIT: The article could be very tongue-in-cheek.  That would be a gamble since subtlety is hard to convey in print, and although I didn't read the comments yet, it always seems like there are people who already had their sarcasm detectors surgically removed.  But this is all conjecture. 

January 11, 2011 at 08:49 AM ·

 Be sure to read the comments threads that are attached to the original WSJ article (in Laurie's link.) There have been thousands of comments but in this pc world I think that it is best for me to say nothing. 

January 11, 2011 at 01:13 PM ·

 although in principles what this yale law prof has described is prevalent in chinese culture-as well as in jewish culture according to my jewish friends-- she sounds a bit crazy and over the top.  being a mother AND a yale law prof can do wonders to the ego:)  perhaps that is a good way to get an interview with o'reilly  and sell more books in america.  

on the other hand, perhaps related to what bill is talking about, each american is currently owing china about 40 thousand dollars thanks to the escalating borrowing from china.   imo, fundamentally, the differences in lifestyle and outlook in life has a lot to do with it.   we know we should drive a honda, but driving a bimmer is more fun.

i will react to 2 comments i read:

1. one reader said, well, will the kids turn out to be musicians?

that is a weak argument, because essentially thinking like that is exactly what that chinese mother is advocating.

2. china has so many people but so few nobel laureates.  

perhaps to some the nobel label is rather important yardstick.  i think another important measure is the standard or the average of a population.   for countries like china, education standard is going up.  for america, except for pockets of high standard areas, the education system is broke and the graduates as a whole are less competitive on the global stage.


January 11, 2011 at 01:55 PM ·

It is too bad that the article has such a strident, lead-footed tone.  I think some really good discussion points could come out of more respectful dialogue:

Why does Professor Chua refer to herself as "Chinese"?  Wasn't she born in the USA? Or does she hold some sort of dual China-USA citizenship?  Would she consider her children to be Chinese? 

January 11, 2011 at 01:56 PM ·

 i think she is referring to chinese heritage, not citizenship.

January 11, 2011 at 02:30 PM · Al is right. And the essay is, of course, humor-tinged. When my kids were little my (western) friends thought I was some kind of martinet for making them practice instruments regularly and not having a TV in the house. By contrast to Asian parents, however, I was a distracted slob. One thing I can tell you is that now that they are older, all four of my kids maintain that the discipline of learning an instrument was one of the most formative things in their lives, reaching well beyond the benefits of the music itself. 

When they were growing up I facilitated their desire dabble in all kinds of art, sports (mostly weird sports, like capoeira and circus aerials, following their interests.) They had lots of time for exploring the woods and putting on full-blown homemade plays in the backyard. I never chained them to a piano or scientific calculator. If we could have a do-over (by their admission), there would have been more chaining-to-piano and fewer puppet shows. I would have also had them study Chinese and/or Korean instead of dabbling in European languages and Japanese. 


January 11, 2011 at 03:14 PM ·

Al Ku's point about the paucity of Chinese Nobelists is interesting (are there fewer than Italian Jews (4)?).  Does this form of child rearing produce technical competence at the expense of creativity?   Looking at the music world, I think you might see some of the same phenom.  The other question is what sort of adults it produces.  I wonder whether it produces well-adjusted adults.   

January 11, 2011 at 03:14 PM ·

 another aspect of this chinese phenom if there is such a thing is that in mainland china of whatever billion people there is now, most families have only one child allowed by law (i heard it is more laxed in the countryside to allow more labor).

one child means to the family there is only one hope for the future.  if you know for sure you cannot have 10 kids and have their futures paid for by a reality show, you, like those fellow chinese moms, probably will think a little deeper and wider, on ways to make your child stand out in the billion.  i know i would.  i am not even a mom:)   just human instinct.  

if lang lang is touring the world and even playing in the white house,  what message does it send to a chinese mom about taking classical music seriously?

if the mom gets hold of a chinese translation of the mozart effect, will she arrange a regimen to have her only child to benefit from it?  

if the neighbor's kid is practicing 2 hours per day, shall we do the same, or even better? 

but interestingly, all these is not really in sync with the traditional chinese thinking.  confucius has long said that the key is to have everything in moderation.  

but in modern life, does moderation lead to being mediocre? :)

e smith,,,the other sport is that long jumping stick...we had video as proof!  :)  i am so proud of you for having your violin kid (now a lady) being so grounded and level headed.  and so talented! a tribute to your wise influence and your family time. :)    you have no idea how refreshing it is for a third party to look at a violinist who can play music, but more importantly, to have her spirit and personality shine through the playing.  

tom, i think a better comparison is to pitch japan vs a western country because japan has been more of a developed country in terms of education, resources and technology.  china, despite the recent surge in its economic power which floats up everything with it,  is still developing,  so its scientific structures have been very outdated.  imo, nobel favors mature systems.

people have looked into japan on this particular point and postulated that at least in japan, perhaps due to its own asian mentality, individual accomplishments and developments may have played second fiddle (yes, the right forum for the pun! ) to bringing up the average of the entire population.  for instance,  the literacy rate in japan is very very high, for whatever it is worth. we have a reliable  honda oddyssey driving the kids around. :)


January 11, 2011 at 03:18 PM ·

The only thing I want to say is that, whether most Americans realize it or not, the way American children are reared is pretty unique to this country. There's a documentary called "900 minutes" or something like that, which follows the lives of three outstanding highschool seniors, one American, one Chinese and one from India. Pretty remarkable contrasts in my opinion.

January 11, 2011 at 03:24 PM ·

A scary scenario, but one that perhaps explains why Asian musicians win so many competitions and are increasingly found in the ranks of professional ensembles. In another life, I was the conductor of the high school orchestra in Ithaca, NY. It was (and still is) an excellent student ensemble. Ithaca is a university town with a cosmopolitan population, and it did not take me long to notice that the best players in my orchestra were often Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Jewish.

To put it bluntly, the common thread in the lives of many of my most proficient student musicians was a pushy mother. She is a prominent figure in the populations mentioned above (but one that is not limited to them alone). Ithaca was one of the first communities to have a Talent Education School using the Suzuki method. Dr. Suzuki, who developed the method, was Japanese, but he managed to find a way to provide that intensive kind of guidance without the hostility. The Suzuki method and the Pushy Mom method are two diametrically opposed  paths to the same goal (well, not quite).

Which is better is a matter for debate, but I think the judgment changes depending on the point in the process when you look. Do we want our children to grow up to be adults who are proficient musicians or adults who love music? Do the Chinese push their children too much, or do we not push ours enough? It's probably a tossup. The most difficult test for a parent is to have the power to run over your kids, but to know when not to use it. We think that pain now means gain later, but I have come to think that it is often the other way around. In our institutions of higher education here, Asians have a high rate of suicides, something that the Chinese author does not mention in her article.

January 11, 2011 at 03:40 PM ·

 Lots of different ways to do things, aren't there?

January 11, 2011 at 04:11 PM ·

 Hi violinist friends,

I can not wait to respond, not because I support this view but disapprove it.

These days a lot people borrow the "Chinese" concept to advocate their personal view. This is a totally wrong statement regardless this lady is a Yale professor or some sort of China hand.

Traditionally China lacks the opportunities or resources to its people. So they developed a competitive habit for academic, business, etc. In history, students passed exams to earn a high positions in government.

The mind set of Chinese is getting more relaxed now because they become more affluent. They are more aware that inner happiness is more important than the high achievers.

I have two boys. They learned piano for a bout one year. Then they dropped it. Then they tried saxphone and another black tube shape instrument. They stopped again. The elder never leaned any music instrument any further. The younger stated drum. He was quite enjoyed and became self-learned. He likes rocks! Recently he bought a guitar and started playing Hotel California within 3 hours.

I am glad that I did nit disciplined them to excel in something which they did not like it.

We are not expecting any of them to become high achievers in music instrument. But we do hope that they enjoy music and have fun in that.

My wife is not that type and I never have any lady friends or friends wife treated their children that way. So we can not draw the conclusion that Chinese wives are better in that sense.

I do not bother to respond to her because she has such a wrong view. But I would like to state to violinist that I and many of my friends as Chinese disapprove such a view. I would like to tell you this without any delay.

January 11, 2011 at 04:19 PM ·

This sounds scary, because I always thought that loving parents is the most important thing in my opinion, not their personal ambitions and goals... You do not push children into music. This must come naturally and you know if your child is attracted to music or not. I am thinking about Sergio Tiempo, one of the most gifted pianist now, student of Argerich, Nelson Freire and so many other great musicians. Sergio was born in a musical family. His mother is a highly gifted pianist and also a great teacher. She is a very close friend of Martha. Young Sergio was surrounded by music and already at the age of 5, was an astonishing prodigy. There are films of him playing at this age. He was already a musician, not only a mechanical digital as it is so often the case with so called prodigies. Everything seems so natural with Sergio... and he was never forced to be the famous prodigy he was and now, one of the most accomplished musician of the world. He does not have the career of Lang Lang, but truly deserves it... 

This reminds me of Milstein, another great prodigy... I am sure that if both Sergio and Nathan were forced by their parents own dreams and ambitions, they would not have make it as accomplished musicians... It is in my opinion a question of culture... Think about Kreisler, who spoke 7 languages, studied medecine, played the piano, composed, played with the greatest musicians ,conductors and pianists... He was never forced into a career and even questionned a great deal about his professional orientations while he was 17-18... Flesh commented that never he had heard in all his life such a prodigy. Kreisler was only twelve when he performed for Flesh the Wieniawski Faust Fantasia. He was studying in Paris with Lambert Massart at the time and also went to Beaux-Arts school during the same time. He was with his mother in Paris and Samuel, Fritz father, sent no less than Sigmund Freud to convince his wife to come back in Vienna because he could not cope with all the fatrie alone, and provide for their education... Kreisler was very young in a favorable environnement, met with Brahms, Schoenberg, played with famous singers and pianists , all of this at a very early age... He was not only confined to violin, but had a vast general culture...


You can force a child to become a skillful pianist of violinist, but not a great musician... and unfortunately, this is what happens most of the time. As Heifetz stated, "prodigysm" is a desease which is generally fatal...

January 11, 2011 at 04:34 PM ·

Now having read the comments...you can usually tell a lot about a piece by the way people react to it.  Whether she means to ridicule a stereotype, or those who fit it perfectly, Ms. Chua must have brass ones. ;)

January 11, 2011 at 05:13 PM ·

For fascinating, and in some cases heartbreaking, anecdotal perspectives from Asian-Americans who have direct personal experience with this topic, this comment thread from a parenting site is very revealing: 


January 11, 2011 at 05:24 PM ·

Reading it, I'm glad my family was Italian-American.  Nice and chaotic.  :-)  I wouldn't have it any other way.  My culture may not be winning all the piano and violin competitions, but we did WRITE a huge chunk of the music that's played at them, so I'd prefer that, really.

January 11, 2011 at 05:40 PM ·

marc,,,while your examples show one side of the story, something you probably advocate, i am confident, based on your extensive music history background, that you are also aware that in the classical music field there is and has been a lot of forced feeding.  and that is hardly a chinese phenom; it is an universal cultural code when perfection is the goal.  people practice insane number of hours against their true wills or musical interests. perhaps some are really interested to practice for one hour,,,what do we call the 2 hours after that?  other people's interests?

vengerov is one of the few who has openly discussed that in a youtube video.   he did not like practicing the violin.  his mom cried.  so he told his mom:  please don't cry,,,i love you,,,i will practice for you.

where do we put this story, that perhaps the end justifies the means,  in the whole scheme of things?  that a little coercion is stimulating, but a lot of coercion is suicidal?

 janis,,,are you flaunting that italian-american family is also superior? :):):)

January 11, 2011 at 05:50 PM ·

 Don't forget, one in five people on this planet are Chinese/ of Chinese origin ;) So no wonder they make a point of having a higher number of 'child prodigies' etc. But is it a higher percentage? :)

January 11, 2011 at 05:54 PM ·

Here is something I can comment on without getting too directly involved in culture wars.  Marc, you point out that these prodigies were surrounded by musical exposure from an early age.  I am not sure how that can be called very 'natural'; it seems to me like a case for nurture, that is, parental engineering.  If everybody else does it, a child takes it for a fact of life that this is what people do.  This is the essence of Suzuki's Mother Tongue approach.  Do we often hear people say, "I hate my parents for having made me learn to speak well," even if perhaps daily speech does not inspire the same widespread passion as music?  We know that not everyone who can go into music, will; but if they can't, they'll never have the option.  Options beget choice.   

Now obviously it's a question of authoritative versus authoritarian, but very young children tend to be fickle in their interests and emotions and to treat them as autonomous adults in some respects but not others just strikes me as crazy.  Autonomous decisions can be introduced little by little as it becomes developmentally appropriate.  When I have an eighth grader telling me he hates viola and has always hated viola, in spite of being fairly good at it, you can take that to the bank. 

Incidentally I would never have known I liked classical music or wanted to play the violin if my parents hadn't nagged and insisted I at least give it a try.  I got a "greatest hits"-style cassette tape (my goodness, remember those?) of Mozart as a gift.  I already didn't want much to do with the weird-looking guy in the white wig, but it was a gift and somebody's happiness required at least lip service to the idea that I had listened to it.  Boy am I glad they did that.  I look back at that as the incident that completely changed the course of my life.

One of the WSJ commenters asked why it always seems to be piano and violin, not woodwinds or brass.  Those instruments simply are not as accessible to little people with little hands.  Some people are aghast and think it's terrible to "force" instrumental music-making on kids just because they are young and tiny.  I would rather look at it democratically: is it fair for the little ones to get left out?

January 11, 2011 at 06:44 PM ·

If I recall correctly, Michael Rabin was what one might call a victim of this type of system.  I think his mother was sort of like Amy Chua, and while he became a fabulous violinist, he was one unhappy soul.  Ultimately, I think his untimely death was related to the problems from this.

January 11, 2011 at 06:48 PM ·

 @ Al: thanks, that means a lot to me.

@ Robert Spear: yes, the warrior- mother is an important factor, and not completely synonymous with the mom who badgers and pushes within the confines the house. I've had this discussion with many parents over the years. Those of us who are loathe to push and complain on behalf of our kids are definitely at a disadvantage. Whether it's cultural or simply an innate characteristic, it had always been difficult for me to do anything more than make a polite request. Hard to ask for favors, harder to complain. Unfortunately, it's also a struggle for my kids, and rather late in the game we have to talk to them about self-advocacy, which is generally suppressed by an inclination to politeness.

I have friends who are administrators who have told me about the pummeling they receive from pushy parents (no nationality of origin specified.) The squeaky wheel often does get the grease. 


January 11, 2011 at 06:51 PM ·

 @Nicole-- another reason there are fewer woodwind, brass, and vocalists in this community is that study begins at a much later age, typically 11 or 12 for wind instruments and adolescence for voice. At this age, it is not unusual for violinists and pianists to have 5 or more years of study under their belts. 

January 11, 2011 at 07:12 PM ·

Al - Lang Lang sends a very mixed message.  While he is technically astounding, they do not call him Bang Bang for nothing.  He has a limited interpretive range.  Because of his financial and popular success, I have heard from some professional pianists that all the Chinese piano students want to be like him and play like him.   Not good.  A number of them end up with technical proficiency but very little interpretive range.

The other issue, is suppose you are one of the ones who isn't quite good enough.  Most people's kids, even from families like these, do not get the brass ring.  What does that do to you?  Would Chua have written this if her kids were not turning out to be stars?

For those who are interested, I recommend the book "The Overachievers" by Alexandra Robbins, about the college admissions process in Whitman High in Bethesda, MD.  It follows about eight students through junior and senior year.  Because of the age of the kids, they were contemporaries of my daughter, and we knew one or two.  One of the kids was the son of a Korean mother who did what Chua did, only perhaps more so.  What happened in that family was not pretty.

January 11, 2011 at 07:31 PM ·

 tom, point taken.  but the question is,,,how many out there can interpret classical music like you and your pianist friends do?  not many.  therefore he has mass appeal.

i have no idea how lang lang wants to position himself, but clearly he is the chinese pride and parents with kids on classical instruments will want to emulate every move he has made to get to where he is, including how much hardship he had put up with during training.

i have said this on this forum at one time.  couple years ago i glanced through a biography of lang lang,  written in chinese.  no idea who penned it but it contains a lot of intimate if not embarassing details.  

i still remember one scene quite vividly.  his superior father (haha) and he got into a very heated argument over something, not over noodles, could be even some pushing and shoveling.  the gist was that his father gave him the ultimatum:  if you don't take this seriously and practice even harder,,,here is choice for you:  a bag of rat poison.  

i know, some of you may be nauseated just reading it.  but that is what some people have to go through to make beautiful music for you in carnegie hall.  it is all your fault,,,feeding this inferno:) 

i also want to play like him, but since i can't , i am going to home depot to get ready for the snow:)   shocks!

tom, i will look up that book, thanks!  

i guess one thing that i find to be prevalent is this: many "superior" parents feel that they know their kids the best, better than others and better than their kids know themselves, therefore, it is in their kids' best interest to do what they have in mind for them.  because they themselves (most of them)  are not that well tuned in psychologically, they make up that deficit with more determination and more strict methodology.  so dictators act as educators. as a consequence,,,the line between very helpful and becoming damaging is blurred and easily crossed.  kids often develop this ambigious mixed feeling, love/hate on parents and classical music and school work.

a few kids can survive it, thus they become role models of this style of parenting.

many others develop invisible scars that the public rarely hear about until some bad news which in fact is the just the tip of the iceberg.  

if some kids are talented to be born with, more of them can get away with this regimen.

the bad news is that many more asian kids, like the rest of the population, are simply not that genius type to begin with.  but their parents want to hear none of that and they employ a different tactic called dumb bird starts even earlier.  :)    in some cases, nurture can overcome shortcomings from nature.  in most cases,  things do not work out.  not even after 10,000 hours because the goals set by the parents are so very lofty and the timeline is so short.


January 11, 2011 at 08:07 PM ·

Whilst there is some truth in the story, and Asian and Jewish mothers can be pushy, I think it may be a little exagerated. (Menuhin, Bell and Nige Kennedy's mothers asside!)

I am neither Asian or Jewish and I did not have a poshy mother, but although a late starter on the fiddle at 12 years old I was pretty detrermined and I didn't need a pushy mother. These mothers can be off target anyway and not really have much idea apart from nagging their kids and other people - often doing more harm than good. I did everything about my career myself including finding teachers, buying strings and instruments, entering competitions and festivals, looking after my own practising, taking exams, etc., etc.

So in the end kids and young people either want to do it all with passion, or they don't.


January 11, 2011 at 08:10 PM ·

 peter, in a sense, you are talented because you can find your own path rather early independently.

other 12 yos may not be that lucky and may need guidance.

many little sheeps need the shepherd...or the wolves in sheep's skin, hahaha.

January 11, 2011 at 08:36 PM ·

I agree with the author's statement that "nothing is fun until you're good at it.  To get good at anything you have to work …."

But I challenge her assertion that "children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences."

My experience contradicts this.  Piano-playing was my parents' idea.  Violin-playing was my idea.  My parents supported my preference and didn't attempt to override it.  They didn't have to get me to work at the instrument.  I was motivated.  More on this in the parents and lessons thread.

I agree that "rote repetition is underrated in America."  I also like the way the author takes a swipe at the self-esteem movement and our sickly American brand of feel-good-ism.

"I once [called daughter] Sophia … garbage … when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me."  That's going over the top.  My parents weren't the permissive type; they knew how to draw the line and make my sisters, brother, and me respect it.  But they achieved this without stooping to name-calling.  If this mother pulled that act in front of me, be assured that she would hear from me!

A kid needs to feel loved.  Some parents are so wrapped up in their own career advancement and social-climbing ventures that proper child training and parent/child bonding take a back seat.  America is reaping the bitter harvest.  We could learn some good lessons from Asian and Asian-American parents.  Not that everything they do is right, either.  It isn't.  But they must be on to something -- the success rate of their kids says a lot.

January 11, 2011 at 08:56 PM ·

Growing up in a rather conservative Asian household, I can understand, to a certain extent, the point Chua was trying to get across in her article. Fortunately or unfortunately, my parents never thought to force the violin on me during my childhood; indeed, the pushy enthusiasm to succeed was directed solely toward my academic career.

I started taking violin lessons only six months ago, motivated by a fairly undeveloped interest in classical music. That undeveloped interest has since then morphed into a newly found love for music. Looking back on it all, I very much doubt that I would have cultivated the dedication and enthusiasm I have toward music today if I had been forced into it by my parents. 

While it may differ from person to person, I fully believe that a certain amount of latitude should be given to children with regard to certain aspects of their lives. I for one am rather certain I would have missed out on quite a bit if I learned to grow up resenting the violin.

To echo the sentiments of another poster, the WSJ article certainly had a rather arrogant and holier-than-thou inflection. While I appreciate the values my parents instilled upon me (and I truly do), some of the values of the "Chinese mother" (not my words) described by the author are certainly rather suspect in my mind's eye. 

While I believe that some of her methods are somewhat over enthusiastic (for lack of a better term), "I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.", she does raise some fairly valid points. I certainly believe that many American parents could learn from the values of the "Chinese mother", but I also believe that the latter could also learn quite a bit from the former.

January 11, 2011 at 09:00 PM ·

IME as an admittedly overachieving and self-motivated kid, when someone says "kids don't want to work," what they really mean is, "The little brats keep wanting to work at the things I dislike instead of working at the stuff I want."  Parent A pushes and shoves at their kid to play the piano, and keeps complaining that the little brat is lazy because he'd rather be playing basketball 24/7.  Meanwhile Parent B wants Michael Jordan for a son and complains that the shiftless thing wants to play guitar all day.

I've heard this attitude from adults toward adults plenty of times as well.  "She's closed-minded" is code for "I can't get her to agree with ME."  "He's a slacker," means "I can't get him to do what I want him to do instead of what he wants to do."

January 11, 2011 at 09:14 PM ·

Al, I'm flaunting the fact that I was allowed to pee when I practiced piano.  And that I grew up with a deep love of music for its beauty in my house, not brutality or status.

And yes, I'm quite proud of the fact that my culture has created an enormous amount of the music that a lot of people compete to play.  I'm sure that there are instances here and there, but if you can show me consistent evidence that bootcamp parenting can produce composers instead of only players -- consistently and with predictability -- I'll admit it might be worthwhile.  Until then, I prefer to go with Mozart's pronouncement that love is the soul of music.  Until then, the bootcamp parents are brutalizing their kids merely to excel at another culture's creative product but not to produce one of their own, which is a terrible shame.

One of the most amazing pianists in the world today is Gabriela Montero, a favorite of mine.  People compare her to Mozart, and they aren't kidding.  She was nearly run out of music by the attitude that winning competitions was the only reason to play.  For ten years, she has stated that her musical training was unrelenting misery.  And look what she can do -- she had to shake that attitude off in order to do what she does, and I'll take her flavor of creativity over the assembly-line competition winners any day of the week.  Or any other pianist on Earth for that matter.

In 20 years, we can take a look and see whether the world of classical music has benefited more from the bootcamp parents or from the celebratory style of El Sistema, and we'll be able to tell which approach is more valuable.  I have a feeling that we'll be seeing some of the best new classical music coming OUT of Venezuela ... and the bootcamp kids playing it in competitions.

I think of Montero, who used to improvise for hours as a child just on her own, because it was fun.  I think of RBP, who declared herself a violinist at the age of 3 and proceeded to knock obstacles down with her forehead to do it.  I think of Eddie Van Halen, who began playing guitar almost in the womb.  And then I read things about how children are inherently lazy and genius must be forced, and I wonder what planet those people are on.

January 11, 2011 at 09:41 PM ·

Complete rubbish.  My mother is Chinese, and I'm totally messed up :-)

January 11, 2011 at 09:48 PM ·

Apparently Lake Wobegone, where all the children are above average (thanks to their superior mothers), is in China.  And here I always thought it was in Minnesota.

I believe that superior mothers are all Hungarian immigrants to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1913, but that's just my opinion. 

January 11, 2011 at 10:08 PM ·

Al: My point is about general culture... to me it is just not enough to be very skillful like the example of Lang-Lang ...Argerich once said about him ,really, I do not see anything special about him as a musician... This statement applies to all very gifted child, not only Asian.

They are trained to play like machines, but have no general culture alike Kreisler or other truly great musicians like Rubinstein... They only know how to play the piano or the violin. I recall an early interview of a famous student of Delay where she was totally unable to express herself about culture in general... Just think about Menuhin and listen to the guy... such a vast knowledge... This is so important and most of these prodigies do not know nothing at all.

It seems that great knowledge is not important today...Well: this makes all the difference and it is very important matter to become a great musician. Human experience, history, general culture is the key to an open-minded musician. Agreat musician should be also a great intellectual...

I have seen many videos of Vengerov...He does not perform anymore... and I find him childish when he makes comments...it is ok, but I do not have the feeling that he is a great intellectual, not alike Oistrach. I like when a musician is able to be profound in his or her reflexions...

I have at home a couple of radio -interviews given by Ginette Neveu, Menuhin, Glenn Gould, Rubinstein, and the great Celibache; I mean wow, they are so amazing when they speak about music and display so much considerable knowledge...

January 11, 2011 at 10:12 PM ·

The scene with the piano the author describes, which she tries to justify by the outcome, is child abuse, nothing more, nothing less.

January 11, 2011 at 10:55 PM ·

I would like to congratulate everyone for making such well reasoned and sensible comments. It's been an education and a pleasure to read.

January 12, 2011 at 04:08 AM ·

First you have to consider that the book just got released and some articles are just written to generate noise to sell the book.

The problem i have with all the comments all over the web is that everybody is commenting but nobody has read the book yet.

Yes i find the language she used quite harsh but there is also benefit at being honest with your child and not constantly avoiding to hurt their feelings.

Her interview here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/41017904#41017904 gives a different perspective to the article which seems to take words out of context. She says that the book is not a parenting guide but more about her journey as a parent.

Everybody is different and it's important to find how as parent you can help your child. My son for instance has difficulties to focus but likes music. I found that learning Violin with him to be a practice partner was the best I could because when this is hard practice I struggle as well (ok may be even more) but i am there. So to each your own but it's important to find a way to coach your child through learning experiences. And the book apparently describes her journey and how she had to change her parenting style when her daughters became teenagers. We may not agree with everything but nobody is perfect and we can all learn from other parents and her journey might turn to be interesting.



January 12, 2011 at 04:30 AM ·

 Just gonna post a quick reply about my own personal experience.

I have a Korean mother who pushed and pushed me to play the violin.  There were periods in my life when I wanted to quit so badly (around ages 6, 10, and 13) but she forced me to practice and to continue with my studies.  Now, I am so thankful and grateful to her for making me stick with it, because the violin and classical music have become my greatest passions in life.  Looking back, I give full credit to my mother for not giving up on me when I wanted to stop or when I felt like moving on to a different instrument.  It is precisely because of her pushy or "Asian" parenting style that I have made it this far.

Also, I have many friends of many ethnicities who have expressed a feeling of regret for giving up or quitting their instrument...many have shared the sentiment that they wish their parents would have pushed them past their "I want to quit" stage during their adolescent years so that they would still be playing today.

The beauty of this article shows that there are different ways that one can raise his or her child.  There is no one "correct" way.

January 12, 2011 at 05:07 AM ·

Patrick, I do not agree with pushing, being forced or anything like this... kids by instinct know what they have to do, are aware about their desires and passions. At 4 years old, I just became wild while listening to classical music. I heard everything in the concert hall and violin was my favorite instrument. This was all natural,not an idea of my parents... Of course, there were many artists and musicians in my family, and even famous ones, and this helps I will concede...

Discipline, learning how to practice, a positive and sensitive approach are the recipy... Learning playing an instrument is like a game... you must have fun and be imaginative... not a slave...

Dictators have no place in music... sometimes I hear some performers who have been pushed, and you can feel how unhappy they are while playing... Kreisler was not pushed and loved performing in public... he always offered a bouquet of flowers on stage as stated by his illustre contemporaries...

And it is also a question of becoming a musician...not just a player... And among players today, there are very few musicians... lots of soi-disant prodigies, that have not become accomplished musicians and will not make history... we will forget about all of them...

Musicians are not a product of the trade in this very commercial world... actually we do, like all the products and material offered, and with all the publicity, consum many none accomplished artists who are victim of publicity... Yes, there is a machine and a system behind designed to choose the one that deserve a big career...how many among the past years have been compared to this one or another famous violinist of the past, but after 10 years on the road, did not offer anything outstanding finally and dissapeared in the nature...

A child does not need an ambitious mother or father. A child will by himself dedicate his entire soul to become a mature artist if his or her parents are loving, caring, well advised and interested in his success and progress... the child is self creative... most of the time, that self-creativity is banned by the system, education,  in order to be conformist to pre-established standards. The adult forgot about self-creation...he sometimes becomes destructive or despotic as so well depicted in the beautiful movie, "The prodigy"...Child are gifted or not... this, you cannot buy by practicing five hours a day...but you can become skillful with torture, because you have to defend yourself ,you have to comply, you have to survive...and in the lot, yes there will be an astonishing virtuoso... but most of the time, a poor musician... I usually feel these prodigies or child are survivors of a kind of slavery and that they are finally submissive to the system... They have lost their self-conciousness!!! 

Kremer became a non-conformist... Mutter is a non-conformist... and both had the most interesting careers  and they will make history... Why, because they have kept their self-creativity. Just take a look to their recording legacy compared to others... how many new works both have created and in the case of Kremer, how many neglected works he did put back on the trail...


That is the reason why up until the 50,s, there was a golden era... only the top musicians had a career; we used to call them geniuses...now, this word does not make any sense today, because we produce in mass pianists and violinists to become soloists and products of consumation...

This is very sad, but the cruel reality... we must be aware about these facts...

January 12, 2011 at 06:04 AM ·

 Mozart had a pushy parent, for sure. :) But one can't say he was a well-adjusted adult in most ways, even if his genius gave him a kind of musical immortality.

I think there has to be a middle road, here, where a child is supported enough to push through difficulties, but also allowed to make decisions. After all, decision-making and independence are also skills better learned in childhood than after. It's easier to shake off a fall when you are still close to the ground! No, don't let a child make an irreversibly horrible decision. But don't make every decision for them. Let them own a few of their successes, and let them own a few of their mistakes.

It creates a really weird situation when a child is forced to spend all his or her spare time doing something that doesn't interest him or her. No one forced me to play the violin, even to practice. And had they forced me to do something, it would not have been violin! It wasn't on anybody's radar.

January 12, 2011 at 07:55 AM ·

Chinese mothers may or may not be superior, but they are an endangered species. There will be many fewer of them in the next generation.

The rule (law!) about one child to the family is causing significant problems, now that it is getting closer to a generation old. Historically, the care of the elders has fallen on the daughters; now, with one child per household, there are fewer daughters, and with the reduction of the males in the workforce, those daughters have more opportunity to work away from the heritage home; this is going to cause significant social strife.

The lack of foresight for the law only allowing one child per household, without taking into account that the children are the means to care for the elderly was made without exception by children of Chinese mothers.

I'll probably catch a lot of flack for this post, but I do not mean that Chinese mothers are any less than any other mother. They are not. All humans have strengths and weaknesses, and looking at anyone with the narrow scope of only one characteristic does all of us a disservice. Polish mothers are good. French mothers are good. Mexican mothers are good. And so are Chinese mothers and American mothers.

January 12, 2011 at 08:43 AM ·

 Marc, the point of my point was to show that, in my case, I had times where I wanted to quit the violin.  I'm sure other violinists who started young had similar thoughts at one point as well.  If my mother allowed me to just quit playing the violin, then I would not be where I am today...a classical music and violin lover!  And I just pointed out that some of my friends have voiced regret over giving up studying their instrument, and that if their parents had just pushed them through that period of "I don't want to play anymore," then they could still be playing today.

I think that pushing a child to do something that he/she absolutely hates is not right.  However, if the child has shown interest in a hobby or activity such as the violin, I think giving full support and encourage, perhaps even "tough" encouragement through difficult periods, is beneficial.  Most children, at one point or another, have temporary desires to quit their instrument or whatever activity they have devoted to over the years.  And in my case, I did have feelings like this.  However, if my mom allowed me to quit the violin during my tantrums, then I would not be the classical music lover I am today.

I'm no Kreisler or Mutter...not by any means, but I still thank my mom for pushing me through the times where I wanted to give it up.  Classical music and violin playing have become important components in my life, and even though I may not be able to play the violin as well as the greats of the past, I still love it with kudos to my "pushy" mother.

January 12, 2011 at 02:28 PM ·

Patrick I understand your point and agree now in that sense...of course  for sometime I was lazy or capricious like any other kid. My parents were ferm in the sense that "you achieve it to the best of your abilities, or not... " This is what I call to be thaught self-discipline in a constructive manner... this did not apply only to music, but also to school or any activity, even cutting the grass.

I gave the example of Mutter or Kremer because both survived extremely well with their originality and creativity from their childhood. I was a gifted violinist, but not enough to become a soloist, and choose composition later... And also, this discussion refered to prodigies or artists such as Lang Lang and others.

And Patrick, you deserve to be proud of your mother  as much as I am of both my parents. Of course, they are our guide...

January 12, 2011 at 02:40 PM ·

 so chua did a karkowska to bring to the table some so called ancient chinese secrets from the bottom shelf, but in 3 words---superior chinese mother---chua captured sexism, elitism and racism and generation gap in one bold stroke.  the brilliant part is, however,  that asian women tend to get way with such absurd assertions, especially delivered in an accent:).  (imagine african or european americans or antarctica penguins make similar claims.  habitats will be lost!)   the western society immediately puts itself into self-doubt, regretting for having not paid enough attention to the confucius sayings in the fortune cookies.

me see this:  not everyone is born in love with music like marc, but everyone can benefit from the process of music education.   so marc does not need "help" but others do.  to bring up the others to the average at least.

in this "help" process, how do we educate the helpers so that they can be more helpful?   is gentle suggestion ALWAYS the way?  is there no place where the helpers need to be firm and adamant?  

let's say we want to get physically stronger and in a gym class we try to do 10 push-ups.

after doing 7, i feel i don't have the extra 3 in me.   i don't know for sure, but i certainly want to quit.

how would you help me?

would you say:  you know yourself the best and do the right thing.  listen to your inner self. converse with the athlete in you.  do you want a massage on your shaking arms?

would you say:  i think you can do better, go for it.

would you say:  you can do better you pos! 




January 12, 2011 at 02:45 PM ·

I would simply add that the responsability should not be confined only to mothers... both parents must be equally involved in the education of their children. Both must be at the side of their child in the most constructive manner...

Yes Al I was born in a musical and artistic environment... had the chance to meet with great artists at home when very young and yes, musical education should be accessible to all...

I would like to thank Laurie to having bring up that subject-matter and everyone for their thoughts... Lets set aside the case of the prodigies or soloists and general culture, which is a must in their particular case to be accomplished artists.

The standards of today are very high, orchestras are much better, and we have access to many wonderful teaching... Even the modest ones give a very important contribution, and without them, we would not have all that great excellence...

January 12, 2011 at 04:38 PM ·

If an entire community is practicing the same parenting style, the children are all in the same boat.  Going to school and socializing with the same (or very similar) cultural expectations means that *no one* is going to a sleepover, participating in a school play, etc.

On the other hand, if a child has to repeatedly say "I can't go" or "I'm not allowed" when invited to socialize with friends it can be devastating.  I wouldn't enjoy being raised by these standards while living in the U.S.

As an adult violinist, I would love a Chinese mother right now, especially for practicing proper technique.  If she could cook, even better.

January 12, 2011 at 04:46 PM ·

 Suzuki advocated the "Mother Tongue" principle. Not necessarily a "Mother tongue-lashing", presumably.

January 12, 2011 at 04:55 PM ·

There are many levels of pushing and supporting.  Not letting a kid quit when they are momentarily bored, distracted, or frustrated, is an example.  The parent's age and experience give them a long view a child doesn't have.  Sitting with a teary child struggling with word problems in math is one thing.  Not letting your child use the bathroom while struggling for hours with a piece for a piano recital is something else entirely.

What is the child to learn from this?  Self-reliance or self-discipline?  No.  Learning how to break a problem down into bite-sized pieces?  Learning what happens at the recital when you're not adequately prepared?  Nope.  That if you're not perfect at an (optional) activity, Mom won't love you?  Many of the comments in the link Karen provided speak to this.

This discussion reminds me of hearing a couple of interviews Andre Agassi gave when his book came out a year ago.  He says his father picked tennis as the family's thing, and forced his kids to play to the point of excellence.  Agassi now says he always hated the game, even when winning top tournaments.  He, of course, was plagued with drug and alcohol addiction issues, too.  What would his life have looked like if he had been allowed to find his own passion?  What if his father had invested that much time, energy, and money into supporting his son's passion for what the son loved?

January 12, 2011 at 05:08 PM ·

 agassi's father's occupation was a doorman for a hotel in vegas.  i don't know for sure but i wonder if his father (iranian immigrant?) had the capacity to let his children choose.  it is really easier said than done, if we are talking about doing it just right.  If i have to say "have a good day!" all day long, day after day, i would possibly encourage,,,scratch that,,,make my kid to develop some skills to be a star, so he can reach the height that i can only dream of while i pull the door open and push it close, repeatedly.   we have to be in the shoes of those that we try to understand.  

in the american society, many kids are perfectly happy to have their electronic gadgets and nothing else to aspire to for the time being, or forever, so it seems.  

how many here consider that okay as long as that is what the kids want?

oh come on, don't you have some passion?  yeah,,,like,  hang out.

is being too hand loose as harmful as being too hand tight?   

so confucius had it right to be moderate? :)

a compromise between kids to be kids but parents step up to be responsible parents?

i must have missed this no peeing during piano or something.  i think that is not cool.  but if the kid wants to go every min and there is no reason for it, then that is a different story.   can we teach the kids to empty their bowel and bladder before classes and practices?  is that too demanding or learning about taking care of oneself?

is not allowing a kid to go to the bathroom during piano a cruel punishment?

by that logic,  the last time you had to hold it during a train or bus ride with no stop in sight,  did you avoid cruelly punishing yourself by asking to have the vehicle stopped so you can go out to relief yourself?    

somehow i have a feeling you did not,,,  just guessing:)

January 12, 2011 at 06:37 PM ·

"… in a gym class we try to do 10 push-ups.

"after doing 7, i feel i don't have the extra 3 in me.  i don't know for sure, but i certainly want to quit.

"how would you help me?"

With a little knowledge of exercise physiology.  In push-ups, primarily a chest exercise, the smaller shoulder and triceps muscles will fail long before the bigger pectoral muscles are ready to give out.

So try lowering yourself only halfway to the floor on 8-10, not all the way down, as on 1-7.  Or, if you start to give out after 7 repetitions with 55-lb. dumbbells, rack the 55s and try reps 8-10 with 45s.

And don't directly work the same muscle group more than one session in a 48-hour period.  After you tear down the muscle with exercise, it needs time and rest to rebuild.

These basic principles carry over well to music practice.  Beyond daily warm-up and stretch routines, vary the hard-core muscle-building finger exercises from one day to the next.  And break up practice with short stretches of pleasure-playing.  The mind needs a rest and a change of pace, too.

If only more parent-coaches understood this, it would probably help a lot.  Again, I feel very strongly that the violin is an instrument no one should force on a child; but even in such an unfortunate case, the odds are that there will be at least some things the kid likes to play.

January 12, 2011 at 06:51 PM ·

Here is another old website you may have seen already.


Not related to pushy parents but it shows another aspect of Asian education. I agree that many Asian parents want to refine their children, not to brag about the kids but because we think it’s our responsibility and helps them for their future. As Laurie mentioned, I think there has to be a middle road especially if you are rearing kids in the U.S. which I’m trying with my kids.
By the way, our kids are learning both piano and violin. My second one told me yesterday that she wants to join a band and learn flute. I'll support her whatever she wants to do but frankly I was very happy that she didn't choose the brass instruments. :)

January 12, 2011 at 07:49 PM ·

 "And break up practice with short stretches of pleasure-playing.  The mind needs a rest and a change of pace, too."

i like that a lot.  esp dealing with kids with low endurance and low threshold to be distracted.

but my point about the push-up is actually not about exercise,,,but how to get the person to deliver that extra 3 in him or her.  it is more of mental than physical strength, more about empowering a person to do it willingly, with enthusiasm.  

if i ask about push-up to 100, that's another story:)

January 12, 2011 at 08:26 PM ·

Jim: sport and exercises are very important for a violinist as explained in one of my articles in French on my personal website... At 16 until now, I have been quite involved into wrestling competition.. Now, 5 feet 8 and with 210 pounds of muscles and no fat, I cannot hold the violin anymore... LOLLLLLLLL!!!

That is why I swicth to composition. Swimming is good for a violinist...

Spivakov, the famous Russian violinist likes to do muscular exercises with dum bells... and he still over 60 has his wonderful silvery tone...

January 12, 2011 at 08:38 PM ·

Al, you're absolutely right that Confucius had it right.  There has to be a middle path.  If a kid is going to play soccer, an instrument, or a role in the school play, the child and his/her parents need to honor that commitment, both in attending lessons, rehearsals, etc., and in doing the preparation and practice expected at home.  This woman's description of readying her daughter for a piano recital, though, gives me a stomach ache for the little girl.

When something like piano lessons (or soccer, or any other extracurricular activity) escalates into a power struggle of this intensity, everyone involved needs to step back and look at who wants what out of the situation.  It ain't about the stinkin' piano anymore.

January 12, 2011 at 09:35 PM ·

Absolutely, LIsa. I'm sure it never was about the piano for that mother.  I am saddened by how she treated her daughter -- and also that she seems so proud of what she did.  She actually believes that her abusive behavior was supporting her daughter and showing her confidence in her daughter's abilities.  That the poor little girl eventually mastered that piece in no way means that she was justified or that the outcome was positive.

January 13, 2011 at 12:55 AM ·

@ al ku -- Yes, I thought that was where you were coming from with the push-up illustration.

Sometimes the answer to your question could be: "None of the above" -- or, in this case, "none of the below.  I have the extra 3 in me -- just not at this moment.  Give me 10 seconds to recuperate from 1-7."  Same in music when the physical and/or mental demands are so intense that the player's present level of conditioning requires a brief pause before continuing.

I know from experience that a good spotter can make a good workout still better.  And a poor spotter can ruin a session.  What I really feel it takes, in exercise or music, to empower the trainee "to do it willingly, with enthusiasm" is a supportive trainer who sees the learner's potential but is realistic enough to know the person's present limits of physical and mental endurance.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
@ Marc -- This is true.  One personal trainer, a former state champion in Michigan, told me it's important to warm up the shoulders with a light set of dumbbell raises before starting an exercise session that involves the shoulders.  I am sure that there would be fewer shoulder complaints among violin-players if more of us would do this a few times a week -- as long as we don't do it two days in a row.

I will go back and read the article on your site that you mentioned.  My high school French is a bit rusty, but I can still use it to read and get the gist of things.

January 13, 2011 at 01:02 AM ·


A few dumbell raises? I have some 2 pound dumbells; would those work? Can I substitute 4 pints instead? A bit of Stout would go a good way to gettin' me warmed up!

January 13, 2011 at 01:19 AM ·

Jim: I always start with light weights for everything I do... But I do most of the time dead-lifts , squats and bench press with heavy weights , because that is the basic training for an olympic wrestler... AND THIS IS NOT COMPATIBLE WITH THE VIOLIN, because brutal, tyrannic and it does give pain... For all these years I have been very tyrannic towards myself.

The article is a short one... I believe that tenors who have a tendency to be huge and fat should do heavy weight wrestling... it is so good for the cardio and will improve their physical appearance, especially in Wagner's operas...

January 13, 2011 at 01:30 AM ·

Roland, I'll have to take your word for it -- no experience here with Stout.  I found my cure at age 7 -- see my input in the 8-25-2010 boozing thread.

4 pints?  Yikes -- I guess that would warm you up; but -- oh, man -- wouldn't that really make your practice session go to pieces soon afterward?

I guess 2-lb. dumbbells are better than nothing.  Before I start a chest workout, I use 10-lb. dumbbells for one set of 8-10 reps, since the shoulders are secondarily involved in these workouts.  But then I don't do a direct shoulder workout till 2-4 days afterward -- to give the delts time to recover and rebuild stronger from the chest workout before I hit them directly.

January 13, 2011 at 01:45 AM ·

Marc, so far, thank goodness, my workouts and violin-playing haven't hampered each other.  Back in 1993-1994, I had some amateur bodybuilder ambitions; but I soon realized that I didn't have the time -- or the stomach -- for the extreme pre-contest training and crazy diets.

It's a bit like the way I felt about the music business.  I knew I wouldn't have the stomach for that, either, but now I enjoy the music-making a lot more.

Speaking of Wagner: It's ironic that the character of Siegfried, who is maybe 17-18 y/o, requires a singer-actor about 25-30 years older than this to portray him -- the part would be ruinous for a younger, less-seasoned voice.  The conditioning you refer to could at least help him look better toned and more convincing on stage.

January 13, 2011 at 02:01 AM ·

In her reply to a reader, Amy Chua reportedly said

... I did not choose the title of the WSJ excerpt, and I don't believe that there is only one good way of raising children.  The actual book is more nuanced, and much of it is about my decision to retreat from the "strict Chinese immigrant" model...

It sounds like the WSJ excerpt is a skewed sampling of her book, intended to tease and provoke.  I will reserve judgement until I read the whole book.

January 13, 2011 at 03:20 AM ·


I actually nave some 2, 3, 5, and 8 pounders next to the treadmill. The 8YO grandson plays with some of them, and when I did more treadmill work, I used to exercise the upper body with them while walking/jogging. Now my feet and knees have gone to &*(^%*, so most of my exercise is on a Total Gym instead of the treadmill.

January 13, 2011 at 05:17 AM ·

Y Cheung, I believe you're on to something.  Between the headline and the pictures of her, arms folded, smugly leading her children into success-land, and the war story of what sounded like an abusive piano practice session, we have taken the bait.  Score one for the book-tour marketing geniuses, even if they do march under the banner of the prestigious Wall Street Journal. 

But we're not getting the whole story.  When I watched a clip of her on the Today show I thought she was trying to back-pedal a bit...but not too much...it was awkward, as though it were her first attempt at riding a unicycle.  She was trying to say what you quoted in your post but, of course, the TV host was there to ask the tough questions.  Amy was in a tough spot.

So I re-read the WSJ article as closely and carefully as I could, trying to sort this all out, and now see a whole other side of her story.  I'm not too worried about her kids.  They certainly do not feel abandoned, nor belittled.  I suspect that they feel they have parents who believe in them.  I'm pretty sure they can handle themselves, and even their mother. I will admit that some of my confidence in them just comes from the clear-eyed expressions on their faces in the picture in the article.

Criticising the parenting skills of the entire western world is a pretty gutsy thing to do, and it's no wonder that if there are any nuances there, you can't really hear them for all the artillery fire.





January 13, 2011 at 03:50 PM ·

if i am not mistaken on the time line, here is a lesson on either make or break, actually violin related for a change:  

first we have this (i chuckled when one prof wittry stated: "I am sure these young students will be successful in anything they set their heart on later in life."  quite prescient, with the operative word being "later", when out of mom's control:)


January 13, 2011 at 03:55 PM ·

 sorry for the double post,,,i cannot manage to put 2 links into one "window".

and then this, something i dread to read but not unexpected:

" The younger daughter, Lulu, whose instrument of Chua's choice was a violin, was a different story. The turning point came when, after years of practicing and performing, Lulu expressed her hatred of the violin, her mother and of being Chinese. Chua imagined a Western parents' take on Lulu's rebellion: "Why torture yourself and your child? What's the point? ... I knew as a Chinese mother I could never give in to that way of thinking." But she nevertheless allowed Lulu to abandon the violin."


one thing i have to give to prof chua is that it seems that the tigress has walked the walk and talked the talk.  she did not seem to hold back, probably does not know how:)

if amy chua is a docile, submissive pussycat instead, she will certainly not have found success in her chosen field of career.  she reached the height because of her personality.

"At night, Chua would read up on violin technique and fret about the children in China who were practicing 10 hours a day."

i did, too, the reading up on violin part! :)



January 13, 2011 at 05:05 PM ·

 Al-- wow, good investigative reporting. All of this leaves me speechless and sad, but I can't put a finger on the root of the sadness. I've heard persistent rumors, esp with regard to Jyard precollege, that there are kids there who are being forced by their parents and hate their music. But it's hard to wrap one's mind around the idea when witnessing such a high degree of proficiency-- how can someone play so well and not feel some kind of joy, if not in the accomplishment, then in the music? But after reading all of this, I'm particularly amazed that Lulu was allowed to quit.  

Unrelated, or only tangentially-- did you notice that Louisa's name is mis-spelled in the 3rd paragraph of the Hopkins School article? How did that get by her mom, who would have the webmaster for breakfast?

January 13, 2011 at 05:11 PM ·

 yeah, i saw that.  actually 2 mistakes?   you mean you spelled my family's surname wrong after all my work?  it is certainly against chinese tradition :)  

you will be served,,,chinese scallion pancake!

but seriously,,,since i don't know personally about violin studying at the highest level (in nyc, etc), i can only imagine.  my suspicion is that people really take this talent means hard work too literally if you know what i mean:)

on the other hand, since my kids play golf competitively against kids from all over, i have seen my share of excessive parenting.  but if i recollect a list of the offenders, the top 5 in 2010 all happen to be asian parents related.   they may not speak good english, but boy do they know how to milk the system:) 

January 13, 2011 at 05:30 PM ·

 "What`s a sleepover?"  is that a question directed at a chinese parent?  :)

i suspect the old school european and old school american are similar, with sparing use of sticks and belts:)  

but the new age asian tends to get into your head, within invisible scars and high marks in recitals:)

ps.  john, i think british lad needs to know his islands in case the days of colonization are back:)


January 13, 2011 at 05:56 PM ·

Al, if Chineese skaliun pankackes are the punihsmnet for misssspeling, I'll owtdoo Buree arond heer! 

January 13, 2011 at 11:51 PM ·

I'm also surprised that mom backed down (partially) when her daughter finally rebelled. Not surprised the daughter rebelled, though.  Just idly wondering if perhaps it was a tactial retreat...or redirection on mom's part.  I mean, what if her daughter wasn't playing at the highest level (in her mom's estimation, at least), despite her ceaseless pushing,...so a mid-course alteration into tennis -- a high-profile sport -- could be a good face-saving tactic for a woman who demands that her children be the best at everything...,  anyway, no disrespect to Lulu's playing intended here...I've only heard her play a snippet of music...idle speculation not about Lulu but about mom...

I watched the interview as well.  Strange.  And yes, saddening...even more than reading the article, for some reason... She presents such a complex and conflicted picture... confident at times...more timid and and almost childlike at others....seemingly surprised by the backlash that one would think she had to know was coming...at times backpedaling, admitting that she wasn't the same mom at the end of the book as she was at the beginning...but also rationalizing and defensive...(paraphrasing) "yes, I said those things, but you had to be there, and you need to know the loving context of my remarks"... uhmm...okay,....a telling moment when she described how her father told her never "to shame the family" again after she'd received a second place prize in a science competition....rushing to dad's defense, insisting that it didn't impact her at all negatively....and then repeating the phrase "to be perfectly honest" enough times to raise an eyebrow...ugh..a face full of so many expressions, though dominated by frowns, that an entire season of "Lie to Me" could be written about her....a therapist's dream gig, but then she would surely scoff at the notion....perhaps her daughters will avail themselves......



January 14, 2011 at 12:05 AM ·

While i have some definite issues with a lot of the  methodology, i will say that the article has had an impact for the better on my teaching this week.  Key word: expectations.  If you really have expectations, not just hopes or bluffing ultimatums, but "you can and you will"--most of the time kids will rise to them. (well, not just kids at that!).  If you don't set expectations some of the kids will set their own.  Those are the go-getters.  Others will sit back and let life drift by and get used to settling for less, either because they don't know there's a higher possiblity, or because they don't care and nobody's making them care.  for me, some of my students need higher expecatitons from me.  Not--oh, it's wrong again, let me help you fix it.  Sometimes they need that.  But sometimes they need:  you know how to do this.  Do it, and that's not an option.  so they do it, and they realize they can, and they get a taste of how much more exciting it is to work and succeed than sit around like a mediocre bump on a log.    Probably where the questions arise is: how far am i willing to back up my expectations if the kid refuses to rise to them--where is the line? And when do my expectations need to bow to a different reality, such as in the case of a real impossibility or that the expectations are unfair to the one i'm expecting from? 

January 14, 2011 at 01:26 AM ·

lisa, i swear on my first quick glance, i thought you wrote about ordering another round of beer, perhaps to wash down the pancakes. then i read it again. darn!

sean brought up the issues of familial and cultural influences, that we tend to pass down what we have "learned" from the previous generation. prof chua, so highly educated in the west, still cannot escape the shadow, or is it shackle, of the past. chinese heritage came from china, but don't be surprised that people in china have since moved on to newer customs, while some oversea chinese still hold onto the older values. quite ironic.

my kid is on violin and i do wonder at times when and under what circumstances she may quit the violin. is it when school gets too busy? competing interests? growing bigger and becoming independent enough to just say no thanks? she doesn't love it, she does not hate it. so we are just lamely floating on our little pad. i know if i had sent her to an intense pre-college program, or non-stop high level competitions, the water in our little pond will be turbulent:) it is indeed a tough call,,,how to weigh the risks and benefits in the long run with our choices...

January 14, 2011 at 04:37 AM ·

I think this whole discussion goes far beyond moms and dads.  It illustrates a fundamental difference between the Chinese and American mind set.  Chinese are focussed on the end result, while Americans are caught up in the protocol, things like proper etiquette, policies, procedures, red tape.  In China, they refer to this stuff as B.S.  Basically, they say to heck with it, let's just get the job done. 

I'm not arguing whether Chinese methodologies are right or wrong, but it's hard to argue with the end result.  China is the fastest growing economy in the world.  The US has dug itself into a huge hole of debt, and China is holding most of it.  Being a highly developed nation, one would think that the US would produce smart kids.  On the contrary, US kids are not in the top 10 for math and science, not even the top 20.  Guess who's number 1?

I am currently involved in 3 frivolous law suits.  They will cost me many, many thousands of dollars in legal fees.  The judges know the cases are frivolous, but they are bound by legal protocol.  They'd like to throw the cases out, but they can't.  Guess what a Chinese judge would do?  Yes, I know it's a slipperly slope, but where does it say in the US legal system that common sense cannot be used by the judge? 

It's no wonder that China is kicking our butts (speaking as an American).  We spend our entire lives walking on egg shells. We'd rather be prim and proper, than get the job done. 


January 14, 2011 at 05:43 AM ·


There are values to both systems; although the Chinese economy is the fastest growing, it is also having a problem managing a problem with smoking, as the tobacco company is part of government. I don't think that either side can win in a debate over which is better.

Even with the serious problems with our environmental controls, I don't think China would compare favorably.

January 14, 2011 at 06:54 AM ·

Better to have a lawsuit someone might consider "frivolous" than to not have *any* due process whatsoever.

January 14, 2011 at 01:38 PM ·

 i think to most people in the west and some in china, the masterpiece-- other than strads or good moderns:)-- is the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.   

it sets america apart from the old world, from the rest of the world, from history.

there are people in china who want to change america and there are people in america who want to change china.  for the most part, out of our control.

but the question is,,,as individuals (parents, students, teachers)  or individual family unit, when we are born or living  inside usa,,have we done our best under this enviable system? similarly, when we are born inside china, can we make the most of our environment?

have we properly controlled things that are supposed to be under our control?  

can chinese tradition-for that matter, jewish tradition, work ethics from old time america and europe- do america some good right now?

gene,,,i hope i am wrong, but it will be a matter of time before some ambulance chasers put into the heads of violin students that they should consider suing violin teachers for their not reaching their dreams...it seems that the word "abuse" takes on a different meaning in america vs in china.

January 14, 2011 at 02:43 PM ·

Better to have a lawsuit someone might consider "frivolous" than to not have *any* due process whatsoever.


Right or wrong, your comment does illustrate exactly my point.  Here in the US, we are obsessed with "THE PROCESS."  Common sense does not factor into the equation.  I never said there was no legal system in China.  But the cost of "due process" in China is an afternoon of your time in court.  Common sense presides, and Smiley goes home a happy camper.  But here in the US, it can be tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees.  No problem, I'll just tell my kid to go to a cheaper college, right?

Let me give a little background on one of the legal cases I am fighting and you decide whether so called "due process" is a good or bad thing.  Several years ago, the US enacted a law that prohibits printing the credit card expiration date on credit card receipts.  The law was intended to prevent identity theft, although there is no way someone can steal your identity if they have your credit card expiry.  I have a credit card that expires in 08/2013.  Go ahead, steal my identity if you can.

I am in the Restaurant software business and as such, my software handles credit cards and prints receipts.  Several years ago, before the above law went into effect, we updated our software so it conforms to the federal law (e.g., we DO NOT print the expiration on receipts).  We also notified all our users to urge them to upgrade their software.  So far so good right?

Well, I have about 15,000 restaurants using my software and despite our mailings and warnings, some of them did not upgrade so they were still printing expiration dates on the receipts.  Along comes the ambulance chaser.  They make a living by finding these "non-compliant" merchants and file law suits against the restaurant.  To raise the stakes, they file for class action status.  This can increase the legal fees by a factor of 10.  Why do they do this?  They want to make it so expensive for the defendants to fight the case, that they will settle for a higher amount.

The moment the law went into effect in 2007, thousands of class action law suits were filed against non-compliant merchants. The sleezebag lawyer that is suing us us, has filed over 60 such cases.  Their business model revolves around this federal law.  Keep in mind that there are ZERO DAMAGES.  No one even attempts to claim that damages have occurred.  But, because the restaurant is printing the expiry date, they are breaking a federal law.  Judges are well aware that these cases have no merit, but their hands are tied by "THE PROCESS."  They are doing whatever they can to get rid of these cases because they are clogging the legal system, but they have to play by the rules.  Where does common sense factor in these cases?  It doesn't. 

Perhaps you have never been sued before.  But after sitting on the "defending" side of a few of these cases, it might change your perspective of the benefit of "due process."

BTW, Gene, I am glad you posted, because it reminded me, I have to call my attorney (just added it to my to-do list for today). 


January 14, 2011 at 05:37 PM ·


Ah, tort law. Never voted on, but created as it goes. That is one of our glaring weaknesses.


I agree the Constitution is a wonderful ideal, however it was created by people, that were without exception, citizens of another country (but not for much longer!!!).

My point is that we should be enjoying the good things of ALL cultures, and glorifying in the mix they can bring at their best, rather than identifying why one is superior (and by inference, the other(s) is(are) inferior.

What about the pentatonic scale as a good counterpoint to a heptatonic scale?

January 14, 2011 at 06:00 PM ·

what about the metric system? :)

roland, i agree that we need to be open minded and should try to pick out the best elements to suit our purposes, so that each child, each student has an individualized program to study, taking into consideration the psy profile and family heritage, etc.  i think teaching anything effectively is fundamentally about the practice of psychology and diplomacy:  how to entice the student to look forward to things that were previously considered to be impossible or too scary. if my kids did not follow my direction or suggestion, it is because kids want to be kids but i have failed with my previous attempt and time to try something else, more effective and convincing, perhaps to go into chinese heritage, perhaps to go out of chinese heritage.

to broad stroke that one entire system is superior is simply silly.  that is why we are reacting to this superior- chinese- mother thesis with a laughing uproar.  but then, you and i do not know how to sell books...:)


January 14, 2011 at 06:51 PM ·

Smiley - your point about Chinese parents focusing on end result is interesting. I think of parenting as consisting of focusing partly on end result and partly on the growing up process.  A total end result focus may get the child into Harvard or Julliard but at the cost of leaving the child with few life/coping/social skills because they have been so insulated from the rest of the world and the messiness that is life.  The other problem with end result focus is that a particular result -- getting into an Ivy or a great music school - tends to gratify the parent's desire for status but may not be the right choice for the child.  I suspect that Tiger Mother type parents tend not to think all that much about what is right for the child, but rather to assume that one size -- the high status one such as Harvard or Julliard -- fits all.  

January 14, 2011 at 07:24 PM ·

Tom, point taken.  My main point about the differences between the cultures has to do with personal freedom versus progress.  The US enjoys tremendous benefits in civil rights, gun rights, freedom of speech, etc, etc.  Democracy has served us well for 200+ years, but it seems the US is stuck in a rut, gridlocked by the very Democracy that made us what we are.  Methods used in China (and by Chinese mothers) may seem draconian by US standards, and there are certainly many disadvantages.  However, one cannot argue with the results.  In a nutshell, good or bad, I see progress in China.  But in the US, nothing but gridlock. 

January 14, 2011 at 07:51 PM ·

Just adding onto Tom's excellent post. What end-results-oriented parents can fail to realize is that there is more than one end result in the quest for the single end result that they (not necessarily their children, who aren't consulted) care about.  And those end results can be devastating to healthy child development.  Deciding on a long-term educational and professional path for a child, and then forcing the child down that path -- with no regard for anything except getting them down that path at any and all costs -- is not skipping the BS, as Smiley would have it. it's a bizarrely narrow view of what constitutes true success, it's prescriptive and one-size-fits-all, it's shortsighted, and it has absolutely nothing to do with "protocol" or "red tape" or being "prim and proper" -- let alone the weaknesses of "due process" and the U.S. legal system. 

Smiley compares this (tenuously,in my view) to China's economic development -- but okay, even here, one can definitely see that the exclusive focus on the end result of rapid economic growth brings along with it a lax attitude toward workers' and general civil rights, unheard of pollution and damage to the natural environment, and a host of other issues that are going to have to be addressed at some point, or they will threaten the very end result that created them.  Shortsighted.

 p.s. just saw Smiley's most recent post.  I think we have different notions of what constitutes progress; for me, GDP numbers don't tell the whole story.  If only.  Certainly, I would be the last to say that our political and legal system doesn't have its faults, but to say that there is and has been no progress in many areas in recent years...that's a whole different discussion topic...but I disagree.


January 14, 2011 at 08:11 PM ·

Tom and Sean,

You might be hard pressed to find real examples of ruined lives in the student body of Harvard and Julliard.  If you do, I doubt those students will detest their parents for being too pushy.  As a naive 17 year old, I am glad my father chose my college major for me.  He knew me, and he knew what would lie ahead.  If I told him I really wanted to work at McDonald's for the rest of my life, he would have said NO WAY!  I use that as an example because one of my high school classmates actually chose that route.  He didn't have draconian Chinese parents like I did.  He's also making a lot less than I am now.

You make some good points about personal choice and letting people do what they really want.  But, at least from my limited personal experience, high achieving kids tend to appreciate their pushy parents in spite of the pain and suffering along the way.  If statistics show that Chinese kids commit suicide at a far higher rate than Western kids, that might be another matter, but I don't believe that is true.

At any rate, this is an interesting discussion.  And right or wrong, the Chinese methodologies have produced a different result than those in the US.  I have to commend Ms Chua for raising the topic and getting us all to ponder it a bit.


January 14, 2011 at 08:31 PM ·

Your father chose your major for you?  I would NEVER presume such a thing for my children.  For me, the right to choose is sacred. It's what makes my life my own.  And I want my daughters to own their own lives, to choose their own path -- whether it turns out to right or wrong (by their lights, not mine) and necessitates a later change of course doesn't matter.  And I'm pretty sure that their success would have to be measured by more than their salaries and their net worth.  You seem to be saying that since you earn more money than your friend, that obviously means your choice (I mean, your father's) was better than his. For me, it's just not that simple.  It's like what I said about progress in my previous post -- it's not only about dollars, perhaps not even mostly.   

As for your points about children at Juilliard and Harvard, I wouldn't be so sure.  Lives can be damaged in many ways that don't show up in suicide statistics, in ways that those young people may not even be aware of right now.... it's hard to measure what might have been if situations had been different...it's like trying to imagine the children you never had...


January 14, 2011 at 09:22 PM ·

Actually, Smiley, if you look at the link Karen posted several miles back, one respondant has statistics showing that, in the US, young (15 to 24) Asian women have the highest suicide rate.  See the response by Suzan Song- she talks about other adjustment issues among young Asian-Americans.

January 14, 2011 at 09:37 PM ·

Smiley - the last decision I made for my children was to send them to a magnet elementary school when they were eight years old.  They are now 28 and 23 and doing quite well.  Along the way, they made plenty of decisions with which my wife and I disagreed.  We kept quiet, occasionally giving advice when requested, and very occasionally giving unsollicited advice.   They did not turn out the way we might have envisioned when they were five or eight or 12 or 15, but we are quite pleased with the ultimate choices they made and how they got there.

January 14, 2011 at 09:43 PM ·


Yes, my father chose my major.  Or shall I say, he was highly persuasive, and because I respected his opinion, I agreed.  Strong coercion was not required.  And, here's the most important part (are you listening?), I am happy for it.  And as you correctly point out success is not measured purely by salary, but it sure doesn't hurt. 

I am not advocating that parents should dictate everything in their children's lives, but I do believe that as we go through life, we gain life experiences that make us wiser.  The longer you live, the wiser you get.  At least one would hope.  In many cases, children will choose a path that leads to future hardship.  They do not realize what's in store.  I for one am thankful that my parents helped me find my way.

You can disagree as we are all entitled to our own opinions.  But I would appreciate if you left out the personal attacks.  This is simply a discussion of different parenting styles and philosophies.  Neither of us can prove right or wrong, because there is no right or wrong.  Just different approaches.

January 14, 2011 at 09:45 PM ·


Congratulations!  You've done a good job.  I hope my son does as well as your kids.  Like I said, there is no right or wrong, just different approaches.

BTW, I would classify myself as more of a western parent.  Even though I was raised by Chinese parents, I grew up in the US, and am more American than most.  That's why I am so disturbed by the current trend in the US. 

January 14, 2011 at 10:08 PM ·

Tom and Sean,

If your kids started doing drugs, or engaged in risky sexual activity, or drove the car recklessly, would you intervene? 


January 14, 2011 at 10:19 PM ·

I'm sorry if you felt I was attacking you personally, Smiley.  I was, I confess, surprised by your disclosure, by how different our values are, and how differently we see things, but that's really  it. Looking at my last post now, that parenthetical in the middle about your dad choosing your major and not you could be read as a bit snarky, if accurate, but it didn't really sound that way in my head when I was dashing it off (somewhat similar to your "are you listening" parenthetical in your last post perhaps?). I also prefer civil discourse.  My apologies.  

January 14, 2011 at 10:23 PM ·

The parents' motivation is probably the most important factor.  A loving parent, who knows and respects his child, will make different decisions than a rigid parent, who has the Harvard-med-school-or-death mindset.  When the only instruments allowed are piano and violin, that's rigid and short-sighted.  Oboe and cello are also lovely, demanding, virtuosic instruments.  Harvard is a good school.  So are Williams, Cornell, and Northwestern.

Most Americans are baffled that couples in arranged marriages report a higher level of marital satisfaction than couples who chose for themselves.  Wise parents with thier children's best interests at heart can often make good decisions for their kids.  (These studies probably didn't interview the 14-year-old "bride" basically sold to a 75-year-old husband by an impoverished family.)  What concerns me about the excerpt from Ms. Chua's book is the lack of wisdom she displays, the failure to admit that the world is made up of shades of grey.

January 14, 2011 at 10:28 PM ·

 Its interesting watching this from a somewhat outsider perspective.  A culture develops its own norms and the behaviours that come from those norms are what is tolerated and expected.  I have often marveled that I don't have the capacity to force my will on my children, I negotiate, trade, support, but I don't seem to have the consistency or authoritarianism to impose.  Does this make me a better parent than the one who can do that? I don't think it makes the imposing parent necessarily worse.  Many critics are saying that the parent is doing this only to achieve their own status - but that isn't what I read.  I read that they are determined because they want success for the child - how is that bad? "I expect and I demand that you make the most of every opportunity and you work hard and harder to achieve" is not equal to child abuse. 

 I had an "American MOM" in the other day with her child.  Child probably is intellectually delayed, is certainly delayed in development of a number of key skills.  The MOM kept reiterating how she works from a strengths perspective, that means you never say to a child that something is hard for them, that they aren't attempting a task in the best way/right way, that they can't do something yet because they don't have the skills to do the thing before that.  You reflect back on what they CAN do. To my thinking, that is denying the child an opportunity to know that someone else recognises and acknowledges your struggle.  The kids I deal with aren't interested in knowing that they are a real character, that they have a lovely singing voice, that they are careful with their books - when what they want to do is be able to get a few points on the handball court. 



January 14, 2011 at 10:34 PM ·

You know the answer to that one already, Smiley.  And it's clear where the discussion is going to go now.  Skipping through all the obvious responses, I guess I'll just say that we as parents draw our lines, set boundaries, establish expectations where we think best....along a continuum from the nonparenting parent who abdicates all parenting responsibilities and gives full responsibility and freedom to the child, to the steamroller parent who gives no responsibility or freedom to the child at all and - in Ms. Chua's case, utlizes coercion and insults (she calls it love) to get what she wants.  We all find our place on that continuum as best we can, in keeping with our values..   

January 14, 2011 at 11:06 PM ·

 oh come on smiley,,,where is the chinese heritage in you when you said " I hope my son does as well as your kids. "   shouldn't it be " i hope my son does better? "   prof chua will be very disappointed:)

listen guys.  i find smiley to be a very balanced poster, even though i don't know him personally nor whatever heritage he has.  if his family dynamic is such that his father could make a strong suggestion about his major and smiley willingly found that suggestion to be acceptable,  then what is the problem here?  isn't each family unique???

why can't we acknowledge that if we go to the extreme with either excessive parenting or barely any parenting then problems will arise down the road?  chua's book has made us focused on the problems from excessive parenting.  but to be fair and balanced, barely any parenting is not "superior" either.   is barely any parenting less harmful?

when many young people regretfully and  truthfully relate that they wish their parents have MADE them practice violins a little harder, or studied their sat a little harder, or strived to get into a better school,,,facing the complaints,,,do we ever look back and realize that possibly they have been neglected in some ways?

clearly sean and tom are reasonable people who do not advocate barely any parenting.  but,  for many,  this distinction between barely any parenting and thoughtful parenting with emphasis on children's own initiative can be a fine line, thus many fall through the cracks.


January 14, 2011 at 11:34 PM ·

Smiley, you throw around the concept of "common sense" like it is an absolute factor that everyone understands. It's neither "common" nor does every society on this planet share the same views.

As for the businesses that you mention that have not updated their software and continue to compromise customer privacy, willingly or not, they contribute to a huge problem we have with the theft and misuse of personal information. If they'd done the right thing and purchased the required updates through your company, then wouldn't have this problem wouldn't they? 

Obviously our legal system is exploited left and right for all sorts of things...but for a good number of people in China, the legal system might as well not exist. So while in your view it might be fantastic in your particular life bubble, that can't be universally applied to everyone else.

January 15, 2011 at 12:36 AM ·


A few more examples of her behavior- throwing homemade birthday cards the girls made for her when they were little at them, because they could have put more work into them?  Enough with her.

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