But first, let us go through some caveats. First of all, we must be fair to Prof. Chua. If you still do not know, the original Wall Street Journal article is an excerpt from Prof. Chua’s memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It is a memoir, not a parenting manual. Prof. Chua did not select the Journal article’s salacious title, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.” In fact, it was not even an excerpt in a normal sense -- the article is a selection of the most sensational pieces of the book, scissored and stitched together to depict the most incendiary picture of Prof. Chua’s parenting, while the rest of the book actually discusses Prof. Chua’s movement away from such parenting.
Second, I am not trying to discuss exactly what Prof. Chua did with her daughters. Too many people were so outraged and distracted by Prof. Chua’s precise tactics (e.g. calling her child “garbage”) that they failed to see the point that Prof. Chua was making. I actually want to discuss what the Wall Street Journal headline provocatively suggested -- that is, are Chinese mothers superior?
(For the record, I found exactly nothing wrong in Prof. Chua’s methodology. It is hard to be outraged at calling a child “garbage” when I had several mop handles broken into my legs by the time I was 16, when I emigrated from Korea. The reaction of my wife was equally nonchalant: “I used to be thrown out of the house in a T-shirt in the middle of the winter if I didn’t practice violin. It didn’t scar me. People need to get over themselves.” But you don’t have to agree with us to buy into the rest of the post. Please read on.)
But let’s get our terminology straight first, because the term “Chinese mother” is misleading. In fact, Prof. Chua recognizes that she is using the term “Chinese mother” loosely. “Chinese mother” is not about the Chinese ethnicity; it is about a certain mindset present across all different races. But term is still misleading, if only because Americans, to their credit, are very concerned with remaining neutral with different races. So instead of “Chinese mother,” let’s use the other term that Prof. Chua uses -- the “Tiger Mother.”
Again, Tiger Mother can be from any country. Tiger Mothers are found in China, but also in Korea, Japan, Europe, Caribbean Islands and Africa. Most importantly, by all accounts Tiger Mothers used to be abundant in the U.S.
But here, I must give an apology for all non-Asian Tiger Moms, because I will use Asian Americans as my primary example throughout this post. The reason for this is twofold. One, I know Asian Americans well. I would love to discuss African Americans from the West Indies -- whose success is well-chronicled -- but unfortunately, I do not know enough to discuss. Two, Asian American parents tend to be homogeneous when it comes to parenting -- virtually all of them are Tiger Moms. This makes for a neat natural experiment. There are plenty of white American Tiger Moms, but it is difficult to isolate their population and examine their Tiger Cubs.
What are the characteristics of Tiger Mother? Koreans share an apocryphal myth about how mother Tigers push their cub down the cliff, electing to raise only the ones that climb back up. This is a good way of thinking about Tiger Parenting. Under a Tiger Mother, the Tiger Cub will go through what appears to be hellish, almost always against his own desire. Tiger Parenting demands excellence -- almost exclusively academic excellence, punctuated by high-brow hobby such as classical music -- from Tiger Cubs.
The precise extent to which Tiger Moms define excellence is worth mentioning. To Tiger Moms, the word “excellence” means its purest definition, not the watered-down “mark of excellence” given out for simply showing up. Excellence means perfection, or as close to it as humanly possible. Excellence means all A’s. Excellence means top awards, first place.
It must be noted that this demand for excellence is not out of some sadistic desire, but out of a staunch belief that excellence CAN be achieved. Prof. Chua described it well in her book: “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.”
Because excellence is constantly within reach, failure to achieve excellence always reduced to a single reason: laziness. And laziness is the greatest sin for Tiger Mothers. Prof. Chua explains: “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.” Many people are aghast at this, because they lack the imagination to think that parents who love their children would act this way. But for Tiger Moms, not treating your child this way is a sign that they do not love their children. It means that they quit believing in their children, as there is no more potential to mine. This last point is very important. All the toughness of Tiger Moms is backstopped by love and nothing else. All the pain inflicted is not designed to kill. They are designed to strengthen.
Having said all this, let us ask the million dollar question. Are Tiger Moms superior?
Of course they are. And I will show you why, after the jump.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at email@example.com.
Can Any Parenting Method be Superior?
We have to deal with a threshold question first. Is it possible to say one parenting method is superior over another? This is, in fact, one of the most common objections over Prof. Chua’s story I have seen. “Every child is different,” the objection would go. “It makes no sense to have a single hard-and-fast rule for a myriad of different children and a myriad of different situations. Discussing what method is superior is pointless -- individuals must be treated like individuals.”
This objection seems to make intuitive sense. It also feeds right into American society’s desire for individuality. We all want ourselves, and our children even more so, to be the “special snowflake” -- different from everyone else, unable to be reduced to a formula.
But this objection is wrong. It is eminently possible for us to decide which method among many is superior. In fact, we do it all the time. Take, for example, the speed limit of 55 miles per hour for most freeways. Let’s have two radically different drivers -- NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon, and my 94-year-old grandmother who, despite being possibly the most energetic nonagenarian ever (still can walk on her own, has clear memory and carries a conversation without any problem,) would be unbelievably dangerous behind the wheel. Now, suppose Gordon drives on the freeway at 85 mph, my grandmother at 55 mph. Jeff Gordon makes a living by routinely driving faster than 100 mph without causing any injury to himself or others. He is far safer at 85 mph than my grandmother at 55 mph, who might be driving straight but may doze off and cause a fatal accident at any moment.
But if Jeff Gordon and my grandmother were both on the road, there is no question that the police would pull over and ticket Gordon for speeding while my grandmother gets a free pass. In doing so, the police failed to take into account Gordon’s individual brilliance at driving, or my grandmother’s miserable lack of it. The speed limit just caused a suboptimal result because it failed to take individuality into account.
So, is the speed limit pointless? Should we get rid of speed limit, which holds Jeff Gordon back from getting to where he wants to be as quickly as he can, while failing to eliminate the ticking time bomb that is my grandmother on the road? (I should tell you at this point that thankfully, my grandmother has never driven anything in her life -- except for her children, who respectively turned out to be school principal, successful businesswoman, professor, nurse and doctor.) Is it futile to discuss whether having a speed limit is superior to not having it, because individual results may vary?
Of course not. Whether or not you are a fan of a 55 mph speed limit, you can still rationally and reasonably discuss whether having a speed limit is superior to not having it. And the reason for your ability to do so is simple: superior systems create superior results. They may not create superior results for every single individual instances. Occasionally the Jeff Gordons of the world might be shortchanged. But the overall trend is undeniable -- having a speed limit is superior to not having one, because the speeding cars are generally more dangerous. Our streets are safer with speed limits. That makes having speed limits superior.
Truly, this is how it works for assessing any system in the world. Winston Churchill famously said, ““It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government -- except all the others that have been tried.” Churchill’s point is that while democracy may not be perfect in all situations, it still does a better job approximating perfection than all other governing systems thus tried. (And history proved him right.) Assessing any system or method -- public policy, dieting system, medical treatment method -- all depends on assessing the overall results, not individual results. It makes no sense to say that all such assessment must stop because they fail to take individuality into account. If we were to demand that every system and method cater to every last one of our individual quirks, we would paralyze ourselves from even following a cooking recipe. (“The recipe calls for a stick of butter, but I only have half a stick of butter! This recipe is terrible!”)
The Case for Tiger Moms
If we can accept the premise that a system that yields superior results is superior, the case for Tiger Moms becomes clear: Tiger Moms create superior results.
(As I said earlier, I will focus on Asian Americans because Asian Americans form a relatively homogeneous group in which Tiger Moms are prevalent.)
The relevant numbers for Asian Americans might be an old hat for some readers, but staggering nonetheless. Put simply, Asian Americans go to better schools, get better jobs and live a more stable life. Based on 2000 census, nearly 50 percent of Asian Americans have college and graduate degree, double of Caucasians who is the next highest group broken down by ethnicity. Despite being less than 5 percent of Americans, Asian Americans make up 17% of incoming Harvard freshmen. (And 29% of Harvard medical school.) Despite being less than 15 percent of Californians, Asian Americans make up 45 percent of incoming UC Berkeley freshmen. Asian Americans are most likely to be in a high-skill occupation -- the quintessential Asian doctorlawyerengineer. The median Asian American household income leads all ethnic groups of America. Asian Americans are more likely to be married, and live with their spouses.
This is a great achievement by any measure, but consider the degree of difficulty -- Tiger Moms achieved all this, despite battling still-present race-based discrimination, xenophobia against immigrants, and significant language barriers. And this is before getting into the general state of poverty and dearth of cultural capital of the first generation immigrants. Asian American parents did not have the luxury of sending their children to summer camp or the ability to read and comprehend Dr. Spock’s child-rearing techniques. They were raising their children while often putting in 100-plus hours per week in their jobs. They only had the Tiger Parenthood, and it worked.
(Aside: A commenter on this blog made this very astute observation: “[O]ne of the things about "Asian-style" parenting that I think is overlooked quite often by others is that it is an extraordinary tool for upward mobility from poorer backgrounds. Often people talk about how they're just as successful as someone else even though they didn't have as strict parents, but usually these people come from upper middle-class homes and had access to resources many of their Asian counter-parts didn't possess.” The claim “I was a successful product of laissez-faire upbringing” is modern America’s equivalent of “Let them eat cake.”)
The analogy with speed limits provides insight as to why Tiger Parenting is superior. Having speed limits is superior because in most cases, a car traveling at a high speed is far more dangerous than a car traveling at a low speed. Even Jeff Gordon traveling at 85 mph is more dangerous than Jeff Gordon traveling at 55 mph. Similarly, Tiger Parenting is superior because in most cases, giving relentless effort while squelching own desire to get lazy and quit creates the best result.
This is absolutely not to say that Tiger Parenting is perfect. It is superior, but superior is not the same thing as perfect. In fact, off the top of my head, I can suggest three improvements to Tiger Parenting:
1. I think Tiger Moms should be educated about mental health issues, in particular learning disabilities. Not every mental health issue is the namby-pamby bullshit about self-esteem. Tiger Parenting is about maximizing potential. Then it is a good idea to have a reasonable expectation on where the maximum line is. This can be done at the same time as demanding from children a lot more than what they would demand out of themselves. (Prof. Chua has a sister with a Down Syndrome who was a two-time gold medalist in swimming in the Special Olympics. It is entirely possible for Tiger Moms to maximize the potential of those who are not naturally "gifted.")
2. Tiger Moms could put more emphasis on sports. (And in fact many do, judging from young Asian American tennis and golf players.) Often, physical toughness begets mental toughness. Also, school sports is one of the few remaining areas of American schooling in which competition is encouraged and short-term sacrifice is demanded for long-term benefits. In fact, America’s Sports Dads may well be the last indigenous breed of American Tiger Parents. (Sports Dads are to be distinguished from Soccer Moms, who merely shuttle their children to practice and only give praises. Sports Dads are like Tim McGraw from Friday Night Lights -- they demand perfection from their children and rip into them if they do not achieve it.) This can be done while getting straight A’s, as many Tiger Cubs end up doing.
3. Tiger Moms could put more emphasis on part-time jobs. That American childhood education emphasizes actually experiencing real life as opposed to preparing for the real life in a hothouse deserves attention. (Unfortunately, this proud American tradition is declining. Only 33% of American teenagers -- aged 16 to 19 -- are on the labor force.) Nothing prepares for having a job in the real world like, well, having a job. In particular, working at a service industry gives one a perspective in life that is difficult to gain from any other experience. This can also be done while getting straight A’s.
These suggestions are not “balancing discipline and freedom” like many commentators facilely urge. This is not a 50-50 mixture as the term “balance” suggests. It is a complementary addition to an already superior system. Think of it this way: you can make a sports car go faster by adding an aerodynamic spoiler. But even without a spoiler, a sports car will still go pretty fast. Without a sports car, the spoiler goes nowhere.
Objections to Tiger Moms -- and Why They are Wrong
Other objectors to Tiger Parenting apparently accept that one can determine a system’s superiority by examining the system’s results. Instead, they object on the basis that Tiger Parenting actually does not produce superior results. There are two major objecting arguments -- the first I will call “roboticity” argument, the second I will call “happiness” argument.
Roboticity argument essentially makes the case that Tiger Parenting creates “robotic” children. The argument goes something like this: “Tiger Mom’s excessive focus on academics creates children who might have stellar academic credentials, but lacking in many important intangibles. Those important intangibles include leadership, social skills, creativity or critical thinking. The Tiger Cubs end up being mechanical wonders, performing great feats without joy or passion.”
There are many ways to prove this wrong, but the easiest way is to give the examples of numerous Asian Americans who directly contradict that argument. You want leadership? Eric Shinseki, a former four-star general who dared to stand up against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the number of troops necessary in Iraq was oozing with leadership. So were Chang-Lin Tien, a China-born former chancellor of University of California, Berkeley, and Jim Yong Kim, former director of WHO HIV/AIDS Department and the current president of Dartmouth College. Social skills? I am sure that Connie Chung and JuJu Chang did not become prominent newswomen by being social stiffs. Creativity? Need I remind you that the current face of classical music is Yo-Yo Ma? Or the canons of American literature include groundbreaking works by Amy Tan? Or every bride in America wants Vera Wang wedding dress? Or I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid gracefully decorates the Louvre? You want innovations? How about Jerry Yang, who came up with the first meaningful “web portal” in Yahoo, which served as a model for Google? Or Dr. David Ho, who was the 1996 Time Magazine’s Man of the Year for pioneering the use of HIV inhibitors?
The foregoing are not exceptions to the rule; they are examples of the rule. The examples contrary to the roboticity argument is so numerous (and disproportionately huge compared to the number of Asian Americans) that the argument becomes laughable. (People I did not get to mention: Seiji Ozawa, Far East Movement, Maxine Hong Kingston, Changrae Lee, Jason Wu, Richard Chai, Norman Mineta, Elaine Chao, David Chang, Roy Chung, Preet Bharara, Ken Jeong, John Cho, half of Juilliard School and numberless everyday Asian Americans with creativity and leadership.) Step out into countries that predominantly use the Tiger Parenting method, and the roboticity argument becomes even more ludicrous. Does Nintendo -- a company that made its fortune by telling a story about two Italian plumbers who eat mushrooms to grow big -- lack creativity? Did the students of Korea generate waves and waves of protest, often at the cost of their lives, to topple Korea’s authoritarian regime (implicitly endorsed by the U.S.) because they always listen to authority and lack critical thinking?
In the face of such overwhelming counter-examples, the roboticity argument lives on because of one reason: sour grapes. In the face of obvious success, people feel the need to cut down and find faults. It does not matter that there are a thousand examples of Tiger Cubs’ success. They are all trumped by the argument that starts with, “I know this one Chinese guy...” or “I have been to Korea once...” Again, Asian Americans are not the only Tiger Cubs, but they are the only ones that are obviously visible as Tiger Cubs. And when Asian Americans do everything America has expected from her immigrants -- work hard, get successful and not be a burden on the society -- suddenly, the goalposts are moved. Asian American success is somehow not real, because it is apparently a robotic achievement.
(Aside: The roboticity argument particularly is galling on a personal level because of my wife’s chosen profession as a classical musician. Because Prof. Chua’s story prominently involved classical music, many commentators threw out ignorant observation that classical music involves no creativity, or worse, that Asian American musicians are soulless machines that crank out mechanical music. It smacks of ignorant criticisms of the NBA when basketball was supposedly “too flashy” and “not focused on fundamentals” -- odious code words for “too black.” Now classical music is “too mechnical” and “lacking in beauty," because it is too yellow.)
There are two lessons to be learned from Tiger Cubs’ success. First, not every Tiger Cub turns into a doctorlawyer. A Tiger Cub with true passion is stopped by nothing, including a Tiger Mom. Vera Wang was an Olympic-level figure skater when she quit and went into fashion design. Ken Jeong of the Hangover fame was a doctor before becoming a full-time comedian. Second, and more important, relentless effort works well in every context, including those that require leadership, creativity, innovation, anything. Tiger Moms do not squelch creativity; they press down until the rubber meets the road by cultivating the basic mastery and the tenacity not to quit. In fact, that tenacity is what distinguishes hobbyists from professionals. Professionals pursue perfection regardless of external conditions, while hobbyists pursue something only as long as it is fun to do so. Tiger Cubs are professionals. Hobbyists can only hate from their armchairs.
The “happiness” argument usually goes like this: “There is no way children could be happy growing up as Tiger Cubs. Kids need time to be kids. You cannot force them to follow your idea of happiness, because they will hate themselves when they fall short. They have to be allowed to find what makes them happy on their own, and achieve that happiness.” In essence, the “happiness” argument talks about achieving happiness by achieving goals that are individually discovered and set. Material/outward success matters only to the extent it contributes to this internal self-satisfaction.
But consider this: if internally set happiness is ultimately what matters, what is wrong with being hooked up to a morphine drip and an intravenous tube, and be happy until we die? I personally have no experience with morphine, but a very good friend of mine who underwent a major surgery used to say being on morphine was the most incredible feeling. In fact, my friend liked morphine so much that one day, his wife discovered him lying motionless on his couch. He had waken up in the middle of the night to use heroin, another opiate like morphine, and overdosed. Interestingly, I did not hear anyone say at his funeral, “At least Shaun died doing what he loved,” or “At least Shaun died happy.” Maybe I was too busy crying with everyone who were lamenting the loss of a promising young attorney, husband, son and friend.
If an objector said, “But drug addiction is not true happiness,” she is walking right into my point: a huge part of true happiness is set externally, and has nothing to do with individual desires. It is not nearly enough to float mindlessly in contentment, like a drug addict would. There are immutable, objective and externally-imposed requirements for happiness. Without satisfying those requirements, “happiness” is nothing other than delusion, no different from a drug-induced high that comes crashing down when the harsh reality inevitably intervenes.
What are some of the external requirements? A sense of achievement that will live on beyond one’s own life is a big factor. Meeting an intellectual challenge tackling a sophisticated problem is conducive to happiness. So is a sense of triumph, not necessarily over other people but over your own weakness and short-sighted desire to do only what is easy. So is a sense of feeling helpful and useful to other people.
(Aside: Dr. Jim Yong Kim had an excellent quote on this topic. Dr. Kim said he wanted to major in philosophy in college, but was sternly told by his father to become a doctor instead. Dr. Kim then said: “I find myself giving that advice to students today. You know, it's great to have all these great ideals. But when you go to Haiti, when you go to Africa, they don't ask you, ‘How much do you feel for my people? How much have you studied?’ They say, ‘Have you brought anything?’”)
Also crucial is money, whether people want to acknowledge it or not. A person without money stands naked before all the elements in life. Bad things happen in life, and money wards off much of unhappiness caused by those bad things. If you get injured or fall sick, you have to have enough money to visit the doctor and make yourself healthy again. (And your society has the obligation to make that visit affordable, but that’s a separate topic.) Without money saved up for retirement, your sunset years are guaranteed to be crushingly miserable.
In right situations, money can even buy a bit of happiness -- not necessarily the permanent kind, but happiness nonetheless. Last month, I paid for my parents’ winter vacation to Florida as a Christmas present. I called them every day to make sure they were having a good time in their well-earned vacation. My mother loved the natural beauty of Everglades National Park, and my father enjoyed the scenic drive from Miami to Key West. And I was exceedingly happy that they were having a good time. Now tell me my money did not buy me happiness. I dare you.
When these external requirements are considered, one thing becomes clear: it is actually Tiger Parenting that does the superior job at providing these external requirements for happiness. Opponents of Tiger Parentings have to concede that Tiger Cubs usually end up gaining a sophisticated, professional job and earning above-average income. That much is easily more than halfway toward happiness.
But Tiger Moms also instill the internal requirements for happiness as well, albeit tacitly and indirectly. One such requirement is mental toughness, the ability to handle difficulties without paralyzing oneself with stress or fear. To this day, it is my source of strength that I survived one year of my hellish high school in Korea, which began at 7 a.m. and ended at 10:30 p.m. (Yes you read that correctly.) Trust me on this -- if and when I go into detail about what I went through at my school, Amy Chua’s parenting will look like a soft cuddly teddy bear. After experiencing that, there was no task too difficult in life -- including learning a whole new language at age 16 and learn it well enough to become an attorney.
Mental toughness feeds directly into another critical internal requirement for happiness: the ability to endure the short-term challenges for the eventual gratification. Prof. Chua made this point very well: "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." In the post about language learning (which is one of the most popular post ever on this blog,) I made essentially the same point: "[T]here are certain things about contemporary America drives the Korean crazy, and this is one of them: the idea that the process of learning is somehow supposed to be fun. Just drop it. Forget it. What is fun is the result of learning – the infinite amount of fun when you finally put the finished product to use." And truly, the stupid insistence that every last moment of life must be fun and happy could be the greatest reason of the culture of indolence we have in America now.
Tiger Moms also instill the value of the family. Tiger Cubs might hate their parents and hate the work when young, but they almost always recognize the value of effort and sacrifice of their parents as they come to age. After all, it is not a picnic to be a Tiger Mom either. The Tiger Cubs, in turn, end up concentrating on their family, which is the surest source of happiness in all of human history.
At this point, we should take a look at a major strain of the “happiness” objection -- the argument that says “Tiger Moms cause suicide.” A typical response of this kind can be found at the Hyphen Magazine blog post about Prof. Chua’s article: “Oh look, that's my childhood. No, really. Point for point, that is my childhood. And you know, for a long time it worked. My parents had one daughter acing calculus in tenth grade. Another graduating top of her class. True, school's not that hard when you have Nothing Else to Do. That was a number of years before I tried to step off a bridge, though.” This strain often brings up the study by Professor Eliza Noh, who reportedly found that Asian American women age 15-24 have the highest rate of suicide among women of any age or racial group.
But is this right? Here is a presentation by Prof. Noh on the topic. Nowhere does she say Asian American women age 15-24 have the highest rate of suicide among all women. She does say this: “Asian American women, ages 15-24 years, have had the second highest suicide rate across race for the same age group from 1990 to 2003.” And the available data bears this out. At p. 254 of this CDC report, it shows that Asian American women age 15-24 have a suicide rate of 4.0 per 100,000 people, second only to Native American women age 15-24 who have a suicide rate of 8.9 (!) per 100,000. Is 4.0 per 100,000 the second highest rate? Yes. But it is only slightly higher than the next leading group (white, non-Hispanic), which has the rate of 3.5 per 100,000. And this is before taking into account that there are few Asian American women, relatively speaking. Even just a few more suicides from Asian American women cause a huge spike in the ratio.
But before we even parse the numbers, consider -- why do we only care about Asian American women, aged 15-24? Asian American women aged 15-24 are not the only ones who have Asian parents! In fact, when all age groups are considered, the suicide rate for Asian Americans is less than half of national average. (See pp. 202-205.) If parenting causes suicides (which is already somewhat dubious a proposition given the many intervening factors of life,) the greatest culprit for suicides in America is not the Tiger Moms -- it is the parents of white, non-Hispanic Americans, who commit suicide at the rate of 13.2 per 100,000 people, highest among all races in America.
We have to look at the flip side as well, because non-Tiger Parenting is even poorer at preventing other kinds of self-inflicted death, although such death might not be intended. It stands to reason that Tiger Cubs, who are taught self-discipline and boundaries, would not develop bad habits that ultimately kill them. And the available data bears this point out. Take drug overdose, for example. Look under “Poisoning,” which includes drug overdose. Asian Americans poison themselves to death at the rate of 1.4 per 100,000, staggeringly low compared to 9.1 per 100,000 for overall population. If we expand the circle into other undesirable behaviors that might not necessarily cause death, the case for Tiger Moms gets even better. Ever seen a big population of hyper-obese Asian Americans? Or pregnant Asian American teenagers?
Why You Should be a Tiger Mother
To recap: Through their strict methodology, Tiger Mothers are superior because they create superior results. Tiger Cubs go to good schools, get good jobs and live a more stable family life, despite what appears to be emotional abuse. Tiger Cubs do so without sacrificing leadership, creativity or critical thought as stereotypes suggest. Finally, Tiger Cubs are better equipped for happier lives, and are less likely to engage in self-destructive behavior.
But maybe I didn’t convince you. Maybe you still think that all you want for your children is for them to be happy within their own terms. Those terms do not have to be as extreme as getting hooked up to a morphine tube for the rest of their lives, but they do not have to be becoming a doctorlawyerengineer and spend 80-hour work week in exchange for a little more money either. They might end up achieving greatness if they are so inclined, but it is ok if they do not. It's their life, not yours. As long as they are happy, it does not matter.
If you still think this way, I will give you one last reason why you should be a Tiger Mother. And I will do it in a way my rhetoric teachers told me not to -- by finishing with the weakest argument. I say this is the weakest argument because if you are the type of person who is unconvinced so far, you are probably not even thinking about where this argument is going. But I make it here nonetheless, because I think it should be the most important consideration.
So here it goes: you should be a Tiger Mother because your country needs you to.
I can already hear the distant eye rolls. I just put myself in the same place as extremist nutjobs, screeching and hollering about “losing America” while stockpiling weaponry in their basement for the doomsday that only exists in their paranoid imagination. But please, hear me out.
I emigrated from a country that had its own way of happiness once upon a time. Only 150 years ago, when America was finishing the construction of transcontinental railroad, Korea was still living up to its nickname -- the Hermit Kingdom. Secluded from the rest of the world, it had been enjoying 200 years of peace. Founded under Confucian principles, Joseon Dynasty devoted its best and the brightest minds to perfect the sophisticated and esoteric Confucian theories by which the kingdom would be ruled, economy and technology be damned. Did Koreans enjoy “happiness” as we envision the term now? Certainly not. But it was a country satisfied in its own way of life, established over centuries of marching to its own drumbeat. That self-satisfaction was not good enough to prevent Koreans from losing their country. And it took 36 years and a million dead for Koreans to regain their country, only to lose half to a communist dictatorship that again killed another million.
Americans do not know what it is like to lose their country, because they never experienced it. But Koreans do; they lost their country twice in the last 100 years. If you want to get a glimpse of what it was like, try reading the history of the Righteous Army, a volunteer military with tens of thousands of soldiers who battled the Imperial Japanese army for more than a decade with muzzle-loading muskets, rocks and bare hands. Read how desperately they sought to protect their way of life, only to be mowed down by an army with superior technology. Then read about how Korean men were sent to their deaths in wartime forced labor, and how Korean women were conscripted into sexual slavery for the Japanese military.
I am not telling you this story because I fear the permanent decline and disappearance of America in the near future, although I would be lying if I said I am totally unconcerned about the possibility that the generation of my fellow Americans are taking steps toward that direction. No, I am telling you this story because I want you to understand the strength of motivation that propels America’s competitors. China’s story is more or less the same as Korea’s. Who do you think will win in a race -- a person motivated by the desire to be happy, or a person motivated by the desire to fend off death?
You might object, as many on my blog have previously objected: “Our children are precious. We do not want to debase them by making them mere cogs in the economy.” Koreans of mid 19th century said exactly the same thing: “We do not want to debase ourselves by submitting to anything other than Confucian ideals.” Then Koreans were proven wrong. It was not possible to ignore the world. Ignoring the world only brought backwardness, decline, invasion and subjugation. Pursuing their own ideals of happiness only led to the ruination of that happiness. Knowing this, Koreans are desperate not to repeat their past. There is a lesson here, and Americans need not actually experience Korea's level of decline to learn that lesson.
America became the greatest country in the world by generating the greatest wealth and power in the world. We Americans have happiness now, not because we decided to be happy, not because our parents did not abuse us emotionally. We have happiness because our previous generation sacrificed and worked hard in the face of adversity. We are the products of the American Tiger Mothers that came before us. We owe it to them not to piss away their legacy. So for god's sake, please stop being so afraid of hurting your child's feelings. You are an adult; you know better than her. She is strong enough to take whatever you can throw at her, because she is a Tiger Cub.
(And if all this still did not work, maybe this blog post at bigWOWO would work. Please do click and read -- it is a terrific story.)
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.