Comfortable and Furious

Chinese Moms: A Rant

Let’s start with the popular view of China and its role in the future. This whole ‘Chinese Moms’ controversy was only possible because this is what we actually believe:

It seems to be a common enough view that this race of pitiless automatons will come to dominate us all. But really, this baroque showcase is evidence of why China isn’t much of threat to become a global hegemon. Yes, the display was impressive, but that’s all it is. The Chinese probably raised everyone who participated in the opening ceremony from birth to complete a simple robot task for the purpose of impressing all of the other countries, then killed them and harvested their organs for military rations the minute the international circus left town. Why is that threatening’ Why is that a model for success’ It’s like a nerd trying to impress the cool girls by renting a massive limo and blowing a year’s babysitting money.

How would, say, England achieve the same effect’ England is a superpower of the past, of course, but they’re still in with the cool crowd and get their fair share of the action. England is McConaughey in Dazed and Confused. And how would they wow the world if they put on such a ceremony’ Not by reducing thousands of their citizens to parts in an amusing cuckoo clock that only works once. No need to try so hard. They’d trot out The Stones, Elton John, The Who (nobody would care that the good members are dead) Gary Glitter and Subhumans. And everybody would swoon. That China relies on elaborate contrivances to impress, rather than the natural byproducts of their culture, evidences the fact we don’t need to fear them. Every totalitarian society compels its people to participate in these ridiculous displays. They have no choice because they stifle the individualism and creativity that generates stuff that is actually worthwhile in itself.

Awe of China is rooted almost entirely in the fantasies of bean counters who look at the massive population and just assume that… ””= Profit!!! If China is ever even half as wealthy (per capita) as the U.S., imagine how many pairs of Dockers we would sell there! Billionaires will become multi-billionaires! China is the conduit for the continued growth of capitalism. Therefore, China is, THE FUTURE!

But China’s always been enormous, repressive and had great resources and it’s never really been a first team all-pro on the world stage. And Western imperialism doesn’t explain why they’ve been eating Japanese and Korean dust for some time or why the enclaves of Chinese success in Hong Kong and Taiwan happened to occur in segregation from the mainland. Yes, the raw tools are there. But China is Shawn Kemp to Japan’s John Stockton and America’s Magic Johnson. And there’s no real reason to think that will ever change. Even if the big Western economies collapse, that will just mean the whole world turns into the D-League. A lengthy preamble, I know, but I think that is important to understand the baselessness of the robophobia it exploits, before taking a look Amy Chua’s Wall Street Journal article, ‘I Am A Hideous Cunt.’

I’m not going to give this the full Hack Watch treatment because Chua obviously just makes a bunch of shit up and I don’t want to spend too much time commenting on material written to draw comment. Like, in the beginning of her article, she goes through the obligatory song and dance about how moms of any nationality can be ‘Chinese Moms,’ so that she can pretend that she isn’t race bating when she says stuff like, ‘if a Chinese child gets a B which would never happen ‘there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion.’

But let’s run through the core points, because I do think Chua believes in her underlying message and the response to the piece is embarrassing either way. She does believe that it is acceptable to replace the pleasures of privileged childhood with a program for destroying individuality. She is consumed by impressing other people (perhaps one reason she’s willing to use dishonesty to add ‘bestselling author’ to her CV). And… she is horrible. Let’s just dive in.

Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

‘ attend a sleepover

‘ have a playdate

‘ be in a school play

‘ complain about not being in a school play

‘ watch TV or play computer games

‘ choose their own extracurricular activities

‘ get any grade less than an A

‘ not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

‘ play any instrument other than the piano or violin

‘ not play the piano or violin.

Is all of this true’ Well, when supporting the book on ‘The Colbert Report,’ Chua clarified. Apparently, when she said ‘never’ she meant ‘between the ages of nine and thirteen.’ Maybe she went back to her original story for Fox News appearances. I don’t know. But I do think that she honestly favors this kind of deprivation and it’s clear that many readers are willing to fall in line with’ such a program, or at least admire it from afar as an example of Chinese superiority, real or imagined (it’s imagined).

That leads me to my first Tarantino quote in about twelve years: “Are you such a loser that you can’t tell when you’ve won’” In other words, the fact that your kids can attend sleepovers and play video games as opposed to say, die of malaria or be raped by the soldiers of a local warlord, makes up a large portion of the spoils of victory. To struggle so that your children might one day be in a position to view Shrek with pure pleasure or stay up all night eating candy with their friends, only to gleefully deny them that and turn your home into a boot camp seems not only sadistic, but perhaps self-defeating. They could have practiced the violin for three hours a day if they’d been born in China.

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. 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.

I know Chua is basically trolling here, but I still think that this has to come from a pretty warped mind. Like, how does one dream up such a twisted notion of fun’ Water slides can’t be fun unless you figure out some way of proving you are better at going down them than everybody else’ What a great way to go through life.

Here’s an excerpt from her book, I’m An Even Bigger Cunt Than You Thought. It’s about rejecting her child’s birthday card because it wasn’t good enough.

I grabbed the card again and flipped it over. I pulled out a pen from my purse and scrawled ‘Happy Birthday Lulu Whoopee!’ I added a big sour face. ‘What if I gave you this for your birthday Lulu- would you like that’ But I would never do that, Lulu. No ‘ I get you magicians and giant slides that cost me hundreds of dollars. I get you huge ice cream cakes shaped like penguins, and I spend half my salary on stupid sticker and erase party favors that everyone just throws away. I work so hard to give you good birthdays! I deserve better than this. So I reject this.’ I threw the card back.

Personally, I don’t mind rejecting the card if it really was half-assed. But the hysterical overreaction is telling. Chua simply cannot be faking the rudeness and imperiousness that drips from every word.’ If I woke up in Bill Gates’ body tomorrow, my first order of business would be to be to pay her daughters $1 Billion each to star in a porno. It would be called Chua Chua Train and it would be filmed in a box car with a bunch of hobos.

As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.

Confucius say, follow the path of righteousness and you too can become an obnoxious asshole who takes pride in ruining dinner parties. I’m sure the story is grossly exaggerated, but we still get a clear picture of a woman who delights in imposing herself on others and can’t wait to flaunt her misdeeds to as many as possible. “Hey, guess what, guess what, guess what… I threatened to lock my child outside in the snow once because she didn’t want to practice the piano! Can you believe it’ I totally did! Does that upset you’ Does it, does it, does it’”

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)

Third, 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.

Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

I just want to go back to the idea that it’s OK to drain childhood of fun and crush the interests of your kids under your combat boot so that one day they reflect the blinding rays of your megalomania… um, I mean so that they can be happy one day in the future. Even if you’re not a utilitarian, some light utilitarian reasoning is a good way to identify really bad ideas. If something creates a gaping deficit in utility, it’s usually not good.

Quite a lot of people who are lucky enough to be working class or higher in the first world and unmolested would identify childhood as their happiest time. This includes many people who are considered successful adults. This is because stuff like sleepovers and getting Mike Tyson’s Punchout might be more fun than you could possibly have as an adult. I’ve been in some pretty great spots since growing up and it seems like I still have to remind myself of how much fun I should be having and not to worry about if I forgot to pay the gas bill and to enjoy the moment and it never completely works. Discovering that my collection of Star Wars toys had doubled on Christmas morning’ Unadulterated joy.

So, erasing all of those experiences (to say nothing of the intentional infliction of humiliation and shame) should eventually be outweighed by future gains. Chua doesn’t even really make that argument, because she can’t. Like, suppose her kids could have their own interests, do sleepovers, watch a reasonable amount of TV and still were expected to do their homework and maintain a high GPA. Would they be much worse off in the future’ Even if Chua’s sadism meant they got into Harvard instead of Virginia, and that meant they wound up making like 15% more money, it’s not clear that they would see improvements in utility later in life at all, let alone improvements so great that they would make up for a difficult childhood when they could have had a wonderful one.

Plus, you’re talking about expected (hoped for) future gains, as opposed to gains you can realize now. Maybe the inability to grasp this is related to 100% of Chinese being gambling addicts. But obviously, certain utility now is worth more than possible utility in the future because you could go to Harvard and be hit by a bus. Yeah, you could be hit by a bus at community college as well, but even if these tactics tend to make people happy in the future, you have to discount that result because it’s just a possibility. The economy could get worse and you could wind up begging to drive a bus after Harvard. You could become disfigured and never get over it. Or, you could have some windfall of cash and not need to work at a job you hate to obtain status and thus feel like you wasted your childhood preparing to do so.

I think you have to discount whatever future happiness Chua’s methods might create even more because of memories. If you have very happy, unwarped times as a child, you get to look back on them your whole life. If you postpone happiness till you are 40, you’ll be lucky to look back on happiness for half your life. And even that is offset by remembering how your mom used to call you a fat piece of garbage, or when people you know express nostalgia for ‘The Simpsons’ and you flash back to being forced to carve perfect Bernini models out of turnips.

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids’ true interests.


Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear…

Well, don’t let that stop you. But for the purposes of an editorial, you probably want to avoid stances like, ‘nobody can really think of a good justification for my position, but it is supported by some fortune cookie garbage that you’d never accept in any other context.

…but it’s probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it’s true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

Wonderful. If you think I’m stretching the totalitarian thing a bit thin, here we have Amy choosing to say that she spies on her kids. And not only that, spying on them is a sacrifice on the part of the authority. The subjects should be grateful that Kim Mom Il is so magnanimous with her resources as to use them for spying on the subjects to facilitate their own personal betterment towards their end purpose: glorifying Kim Mom Il!

Here’s a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called “The Little White Donkey” by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute’ you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master’ but it’s also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.

You’ve probably read the original article already and if you haven’t you can probably guess where it is going. Chua electrocutes her daughter’s eyeballs until she can play the piece without mistakes. Then, when the daughter is asleep, Chua goes into her room and, while reading through her diary and changing any negative mentions of Tiger Mom to positive ones, gently slides the blade of a knife across the girl’s throat whispering, ‘you only live because I allow it,’ over and over again with different intonations. Also, I was taught when I was a kid that this use of ‘schizophrenic’ should be avoided because it’s based on a misunderstanding of what schizophrenia is and therefore makes you sound ignorant.

Anyway, here is how the readers of the Wall Street Journal responded in poll form.

I hate to make too much of an internet poll asking a loaded question, particularly as I hate internet polls and would abolish them from my own totalitarian state. But the appeal of this position to WSJ readers and other ‘conservatives’ hints at the authoritarian heart beneath their superficial love of ‘liberty,’ ‘freedom’ and ‘individualism.’ I realize that children of parents do not hold the same status of citizens of a country, but there should be some consistency between your views on those relationships. If you really have a fondness for freedom and individualism, it doesn’t make sense that you’d favor blanket censorship, the suffocation of individuality and free will and blind allegiance to authority for children and teens. Like, if you are a Black Panther, you don’t have your kids on a strict diet of Pat Boone and until they are 18 and then suddenly introduce them to James Brown. And I’d raise the same criticism of the WSJ for running the article. It’s pretty amazing that this whole crew can so quickly embrace Chinese authoritarianism, even when represented to a cartoonish extreme. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I can’t imagine the WSJ of the past running, ‘Weak American Piglets Will Be Crushed By Soviet Superiority,’ by Nikolai Volkoff. Maybe they’ll be celebrating the virtues of command economies as extolled by an animated monkey by the end of the decade.





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