Writer Wesley Yang has been the talk of town this week for his 11-page piece in New York magazine questioning why Chinese and other Asians don’t succeed once they’re out of school and much of his intriguing piece doesn’t just simply apply to Asian-Americans–the same could be said of Chinese who remain in China.
…[I]f the armies of Chinese factory workers who make our fast fashion and iPads terrify us, and if the collective mass of high-achieving Asian-American students arouse an anxiety about the laxity of American parenting, what of the Asian-American who obeyed everything his parents told him? Does this person really scare anyone? Publication of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother incited a collective airing out of many varieties of race-based hysteria. But absent from the millions of words written in response to the book was any serious consideration of whether Asian-Americans were in fact taking over this country. If it is true that they are collectively dominating in elite high schools and universities, is it also true that Asian-Americans are dominating in the real world?…If we are a collective juggernaut that inspires such awe and fear, why does it seem that so many Asians are so readily perceived to be, as I myself have felt most of my life, the products of a timid culture, easily pushed around by more assertive people, and thus basically invisible?
He points out the large discrepancy between numbers of Asian students in elite schools, the “incubators” for high-powered, high-paying careers, and the number of Asians who actually make it to the top echelons of the working world.
According to a recent study, Asian-Americans represent roughly 5 percent of the population but only 0.3 percent of corporate officers, less than 1 percent of corporate board members, and around 2 percent of college presidents. There are nine Asian-American CEOs in the Fortune 500. In specific fields where Asian-Americans are heavily represented, there is a similar asymmetry. A third of all software engineers in Silicon Valley are Asian, and yet they make up only 6 percent of board members and about 10 percent of corporate officers of the Bay Area’s 25 largest companies. At the National Institutes of Health, where 21.5 percent of tenure-track scientists are Asians, only 4.7 percent of the lab or branch directors are, according to a study conducted in 2005.
The problem Yang says could simply be with a “traditionally Asian upbringing”–that Chinese or Asian cultures produce great leagues of diligent ant workers but not creative or thinking leaders. Amy Chua’s lil one has got herself into Harvard and Yale as many other high-achieving Asian students do, but it remains to be seen whether she can translate that into success in the real world. Tiger Mom parenting, according to Yang, can’t get you past the “bamboo ceiling.”
Also, in semi-related news ABC has an interesting video as part of their “What Would You Do?” segment where they stage a scene straight out of Amy Chua’s book. They get an actress Asian Tiger Mom who yells at her kid in a diner for getting an A-, enraging strangers to varying degrees. Doesn’t prove much, but it’s sorta satisfying to see other customers to give Tiger Mom a piece of their mind.