A Shanghainese woman who’s lived abroad in the U.S. recently posted a blog entry on the stereotype of “Chinese Mothers” in the West that garnered a lot of attention from netizens.
The entry questioned why it seemed like kids in America would use the term “Chinese Mother” with any sort of derision. Ironically, it fulfilled many of the stereotypes surrounding “Chinese Mothers” in the first place.
The first time I heard American high school students, especially Chinese-nationality students, using the phrase “Chinese mother,” I didn’t know its true meaning, whether it was a praise or an insult. It was after talking to some of the students that I understood why the phrase has become so popularly used.
High school students from Chinese families feel this way towards the phrase: “Chinese mothers” love to compare. If other families’ kids go learn piano, then their kid has to go learn piano too. If other families’ kids managed to get into Harvard or Yale, “Chinese mothers” will say “Look at them, you also need to get into Harvard, Yale.” In brief, when talking about a child’s education, “Chinese mothers” are always using other peoples’ achievements as a goal and forcing their own sons and daughters to achieve that goal. Because of this, these Chinese kids feel their mothers are a little contradictory. Their reasoning is very simple. Why do “Chinese mothers” always compare this and compare that? I’m me. I’m only me. Why can’t I use my own individual circumstances to structure my life?
Mainstream society – or let’s say white high school students – have a slightly different interpretation of this phrase from their Chinese counterparts. They feel that students from Chinese families lack independence and an ability to think for themselves; everything needs to go through mother first. Moms are a lot like a big mother hen, and their Chinese kids are like little chicks, always looking for protection under mother’s wing. “Chinese mothers” in white students’ vocabulary is a satirical statement, and a source of frustration for Chinese students.
For many Chinese immigrants that came to America, their “American dream” was to see their children get the best of America’s education, and so of course Harvard, Yale and the other great American schools are the goals they seek. That’s why out of all the immigrants that came to America, Chinese immigrants are the ones who value their childrens educations the most, and they’re the minorities best represented at these colleges… this is an example of “Chinese mother’s” work bearing fruit.
Despite this, under an American’s educational idea, a “Chinese mother’s” methods aren’t admirable. Nobody denies “Chinese mother’s” painstaking efforts to help their children use their strongest efforts to get into the best universities, but then why is “Chinese mother” a derogatory phrase?
Actually, by seeing the different interpretations of “Chinese mother” by Chinese students and white families, you’ll already get your answer.
Every race has their own special characteristic – ours is probably that we’re too good at comparing things. From big events to little things, we’re always seeing what our colleagues and our neighbors have in comparison. Especially when it comes to our children’s educations, from the very beginning we start to calculate – this lesson, this class, if other kids are going, then our kids can’t be dragged down even if they aren’t interested. A kid with no interests becomes a small adult.
Comparing things and helping children climb up the educational ladder are two ideals, but also the outcome of comparing is often to have less confidence in your own kids. By building your child’s education, you’re basically doing it on the basis of your own child’s conditions and constantly digging for your child’s own hidden talents, plus looking for the right college for your kid’s education.
Actually, every parent hopes that their children will enter a famous school, but the amount of students that really can enter is too small. According to Maths students, it’s not what school you go to but what major you choose. If a high school student can get into Yale’s history department, after graduation he’ll become a teacher and earn $50,000… but if he went to UCLA’s math department, he’ll be able to get a salary of $70,000. In this case, I think the parents will let their child study at UCLA. The answer is not hard.
As for “Chinese mothers,” I think the real debate is do we dare let children help themselves early, and not have our lifetime’s role become that of “mother hen?” Many Chinese high school students may agree with their white friends’ views of “Chinese mothers,” but actually during that high school stage, their independent spirit has been quietly forming. Otherwise, why would these high schoolers who went on to college feel the need to go to one far away from their parents? Because they are finally liberated and no longer need to hear the “gu gu” sounds of their old mother hen.
Interestingly enough, while the reaction in the comments section of her blog were mostly supportive – lots of which went along the lines of “Chinese mothers are the BEST mothers” or “the Chinese way produces the best children” – the reaction by certain media outlets were more cautious.
Perhaps the stance was because of the ever increasing amounts of student suicides in the country – an evening newspaper that published excerpts of the blog post also warned that “blind comparisons harm children.”
One Shanghai Jiaotong University associate professor recalled how a student had come to him begging for help, asking, “Teacher, what measures can be taken so that I’m no longer inferior to others? Help me!” While he wasn’t a bad student, his inability to be first in the class continued to erode his self esteem, Professor Liu Ye Ping said. Liu worried that it wasn’t an isolated case and students would only suffer more and more as making blind comparisons become ingrained habit.
Various experts and doctors around Shanghai warned that while there was no need to demonize their efforts, Chinese mothers needed to set realistic goals and understand that every child has unique abilities and interests.
Photo by fateless gypsy