Why are Asian mothers so much better at raising high-performing children?

Consider this article in the Wall Street Journal.

But first – a little bit about Amy Chua, the author of the article:

Amy Chua is the John M. Duff Professor of Law at Yale Law School. Her first book World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability was a New York Times bestseller, was selected by both the Economist and the Guardian as one of the Best Books of 2003 and translated into eight languages. Her second book, Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance – and Why They Fall was a critically acclaimed Foreign Affairs bestseller. Amy Chua has appeared frequently on radio and television on programs such CNN Headline News, C-Span, The Lehrer News Hour, Bloomberg Television, and Air America. Her writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, and the Wilson Quarterly. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and two Samoyeds in New Haven, Connecticut.

And now, an excerpt from the piece itself:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it.

[…]Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that “stressing academic success is not good for children” or that “parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun.” By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be “the best” students, that “academic achievement reflects successful parenting,” and that if children did not excel at school then there was “a problem” and parents “were not doing their job.” Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.

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. 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. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

And here are her three main points:

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.)

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

[…]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.

[…]Here’s a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style.

Now you go read the whole article to find out the three differences and read the coercion story. Read the coercion story now!

And what do we learn from it? Well, what I learned is that if we Christians want to have any hope of having an influence in the public square, then we will have to marry well, and we will have to train our children like Amy does. We should not be thinking of marriage as a way to have feelings and to gain happiness and fulfillment. Marriage should be about service to God. And one of the ways we serve is by producing children who will have an influence. I think that parents in the West tend to have the idea that the world is a safe place, and that we should try to please our children and make them like us – so that everyone will be happy. But there is one person who will not be happy if we focus on ourselves instead of serving God. Do you know who that might be?

One thing I would say in criticism of Amy is that she seems to only care about grades – which are assigned by teachers who are not necessarily going to have the same goals as a Christian parent. Teachers have their own agenda, and will happily give a child an F for espousing a belief in abstinence, or for talking about the Big Bang or protein sequence specificity, or for mentioning Climategate and dissent from man-made catastrophic global warming. If the class is math or computer science, then the children should be required to be the best. If the class is on hating America, then maybe the child should be going to a different school or being homeschooled. (Assuming that the Democrats have not banned all private schooling and homeschooling, which their masters in the teacher unions would dearly love to do).

My advice for men is this: Have a plan for marriage and parenting. Make decisions your whole life to implement that plan. Choose a wife based on the criteria of the job of marriage. And raise your children to have an influence for Christ.

If you cannot find a wife who actually puts serving God over her own feelings and desires, remain chaste and do not marry. There is no point in getting married unless marriage and parenting can serve God. The point of marriage is not to have a big wedding. The point of marriage is not to make women happy and fulfilled. The point of marriage is not for the woman to neglect her children while focusing on her career. The point of marriage is not to blindly hand children off to the schools to be indoctrinated as they obtain non-STEM degrees.

6 thoughts on “Why are Asian mothers so much better at raising high-performing children?”

  1. Chinese and japanese any other asians do put a lot of effort into their children to do good in school and such but how is that gonna affect them later? My friend in high school had some serious stress issues when it came to her test. She would have panic attacks if she didnt get a 100 on every single test. I mean getting rreally really good grades is nice but im concerned about the stress and other effects this may have have mentally.


  2. Factors in suicide include unemployment (due to the economic recession in the 1990s and the in the late 2000s/early 2010s), depression, and social pressures.[4] In 2007, the National Police Agency (NPA) revised the categorization of motives for suicide into a division of 50 reasons with up to three reasons listed for each suicide.[6] Suicides traced to losing jobs surged 65.3 percent, while those attributed to hardships in life increased 34.3 percent. Depression remained at the top of the list for the third year in a row, rising 7.1 percent from the previous year.[6]




  3. I appreciate the article, but I live and work in the education environment of the Far East. I wish it were pretty and neat and always successful. It rarely is. Children have a tremendous amount of homework, tests scores are heavily stressed, and there is very-little-to-zero stress on creativity, only rote memorization and copying (writing Chinese characters, for example, where each stroke must be written in the proper order [writing them in the wrong order, regardless of the result is considered wrong]).

    My own children have between 4 and 11 homework assignments every night — and they are not even in middle school yet. Kids are made to do so much homework that when you give too little some parents complain. And many rarely read any books outside of assignments, if ever. Many have even lost any motivation to study on their own. Desire for high test scores leads to rampant cheating.

    So we take a little from the West and a little from the East and strive daily to find a nice middle. It doesn’t always work, but God gave us our precious kids and we’re doing our best.

    Just wanted to stick that in there.


  4. I’d also like everyone to notice what is missing from the WSJ article: the father.

    I live in Taiwan. Absentee fathers are notorious. “Busy working” is the excuse. The problem got so bad that a few years ago the government paid to have advertisements telling dads to go home and spend time with their children!

    And their absence has a tremendous affect on the level of discipline and respect of the kids towards not only their parents, but toward teachers and everyone else. (And the government is trying to follow the “progressive” West and legalize same-sex “marriage”, a move which will further damage marriage and the kids of the future.)

    Yeah, Xiaoming (Chinese generic equivalent of little Johnny) is a math wizard and can speak three languages, but he’s an emotional basket case who can’t think outside the box, has very little creativity, and has to contend with a vast amount of superstition that further negatively impacts his mind.


    1. The father is a Yale university law professor. She is married to him:

      Jed Rubenfeld (born 1959 in Washington, D.C.), is the Robert R. Slaughter Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He is an expert on constitutional law, privacy, and the First Amendment. He joined the Yale Law School faculty in 1990 and was appointed to a full professorship in 1994. Rubenfeld has also taught as a visiting professor at both the Stanford Law School and the Duke University School of Law.[1] He is also the author of two novels.

      Rubenfeld’s parents emigrated to the US from Poland.[2] His father was a psychotherapist and his mother was an art critic.[3] He graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University with an A.B. in philosophy in 1980 and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School with a J.D. in 1986.[1][3][4]

      He also studied theater in the Drama Division of the Juilliard School between 1980-1982. Rubenfeld clerked for Judge Joseph T. Sneed on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1986-1987.[1]

      After his clerkship, he worked as an associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York.[1]

      This article is interesting:


      1. Sorry. A slight miscommunication. I just meant Chinese fathers in general. There is a quote from Jeb, but all the specific child-rearing examples are of mothers. And the article sometimes says “Chinese parents”, but the reality over here outside the US is actually just “Taiwanese mothers” or, worse but true, “Taiwanese grandmothers” since many kids are being raised by their grandparents so that the parents can go earn a living.

        Anyway, thanks for your time. I’l leave it at that.


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