Why Amy Chua’s WSJ Article is Not Entirely What It Seems
Yale Law professor Amy Chua’s recent Wall Street Journal article, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” is clearly designed to shock. Anytime the word “superior” is unironically included in a work’s title, you know something’s up. Nevertheless, Chua’s piece is stirring up tons of controversy and striking plenty a nerve among people of all ethnicities.
The most glaringly obvious problem is that the entire thing is built on stereotypes, plain and simple. One family’s experience—Chua’s—is used to represent that of an entire race and culture. This is “balanced” with a similarly stereotypical but even more vague depiction of Western parenting. The whole thing is described in an unnecessarily polarized fashion. The analysis presents a false dichotomy—as is stated in the beginning, there are strict Western parents and lax Chinese parents and plenty in between out there. In the article, this serves as more of a begrudging disclaimer than anything else, but it’s important for readers to remember outside of that context.
What adds insult to injury is the fact that Chinese people in America are consistently and exclusively referred to as simply “Chinese.” This lack of the term “Chinese American” is quite disconcerting for two reasons: (1) It puts all this information about how extreme and strict Chinese mothers can be in an even more alienating context; (2) It serves to completely eradicate the common denominator of Americanness. The message we subconsciously receive is that this Chinese style of parenting is just that—Chinese, rather than truly American. It also implies that the dominant, more prevalent style of “American” (read: Western) parenting isn’t good enough for America either. No one wins.
This is ironic given that Chua was entirely born and bred in the US. By emulating her own parents’ style of childrearing so fully, she seems to be completely ignoring any other aspects of her American upbringing, of which there must be many aside from growing up in a Chinese family.
Basically, Chua manages to portray everyone in a negative light, including herself. Or does she? As Betty Ming Liu aptly points out,” she writes: ‘I’m happy to be the one hated.’ Poor thing. It’s the only time the word ‘happy’ appears in this excerpt from her book.”
But wait! Apparently that’s not her doing. According to Jeff Yang, “[The excerpt] had been edited without her input.” Chua explains, “The Journal basically strung together the most controversial sections of the book. And I had no idea they’d put that kind of a title on it. But the worst thing was, they didn’t even hint that the book is about a journey, and that the person at beginning of the book is different from the person at the end — that I get my comeuppance and retreat from this very strict Chinese parenting model.”
So, the shock factor of the piece may not be a product of Chua’s work, nor, perhaps, is the prevalence of “Chinese” rather than “Chinese American,” nor is the apparent disregard for anything outside of one line of thought. Well! That changes everything. What do the Wall Street Journal’s editing choices say about the way they perceive Asian Americans? The model minority stereotype and “foreign-born as Other” show up between the lines. (Ed.: Or, it may be the WSJ’s/Chua’s irresponsible ploy to increase sales and readership.) It’s unfortunate, but I think we’re all familiar with how rampant ignorance is.
So what should we extract from all of this? Common sense should tell us that one person’s word isn’t law, even if that person is a professor of law (ha ha) at an elite institute of higher education whose words have been twisted by a major publication. If you feel so inclined, read Chua’s book for the whole story, and if you still don’t agree with her extreme ways, well, she has as much of a right as anybody else to share her story, just like the WSJ has the right to sensationalize it. To each her own, no? At the end of the day, it’s up to us to be smart and follow our own judgment. It’s great that so many people are responding to this; as a friend of mine says, without controversy, nothing really moves forward. That being said, though, let’s not go so far as to lose sleep over one mutilated piece of writing. As Chua’s article makes clear, it’s all about finding a happy medium.
[via SF Gate]
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TAGS: Amy Chua • Asian stereotypes • Chinese American • Chinese Mothers • Depictions of Asians • Parenting culture • Wall Street Journal
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