‘Good job!’ versus ‘You’re garbage’ parenting.

Have you read ‘The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ – Amy Chua.


It was very controversial when it was first published about 4 years ago and as I  flicked through it the other day at the Foreign Language Bookstore I could see why.

Chua herself was raised in America on the Chinese parenting model, and her view is: “Childhood is a training period, a time to build character and invest in the future.”

Hmmmm, I like to think of childhood as a period of ….discovery, freedom, fun……..

Chua spares no detail in recounting her early methods:  refusing sleepovers and playdates, drilling academic activities for hours, insisting on lengthy daily practice musical instruments including weekends and holidays. 

I found this paragraph of the book very interesting:

“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.”

I’d never looked at ‘forcing’ children to ‘achieve’ in this way before….it actually sounds somewhat… justifiable….. 😉 It is quite a contrast from what I witnessed in America where children where very often praised with ‘Good Job’ for ….well…..anything.

In case you think that Chua’s approach is outdated……’Asian households make up the demographic group most likely to produce stereotypically successful kids’. (The Guardian). A couple of months ago my friend Mel in Santa Barbara forwarded me this interesting related article:


I’m not sure where Australia might fall on this graph….


It describes a “cram school” — ‘a memorization factory where 20,000 students train round the clock (with a 3-hour break on Sunday afternoon) for China’s national college-entrance examination, known as the gaokao. The grueling test is the lone criterion for admission to Chinese universities’.

‘Nothing consumes the lives of Chinese families more than the  gaokao.  Today, more than nine million students take the gaokao each year. But the pressure to start memorizing and regurgitating facts weighs on Chinese students from the moment they enter elementary school. “To be honest,” one of my Chinese friends, a new mother, told me, “the gaokao race really begins at birth.”’

In the streets of Shanghai I often see grandparents cajolling their really little ones to recite the numbers 1-10 (at least!) and I know a few Western families here whose children attend Chinese (versus International) schools and who have 2-3 hours of home-work every-night….. this is in primary/elementary school. These parents – whose native language is not Chinese – are obliged to hire a tutor for their children for every night of the week to help their children.

‘China’s treadmill of standardized tests has produced, along with high levels of literacy, some of the world’s most scarily proficient test-takers. Shanghai high-school students have dominated the last two cycles of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exam. Yet even as American educators try to divine the secret of China’s test-taking prowess, the gaokao is coming under fire in China as an anachronism that stifles innovative thought and puts excessive pressure on students’.

This paragraph illustrates that nicely:

“Yes, you can brute-force any kid to learn to play the piano—just precisely like his or her billion neighbors. But you’ll never get a Jimi Hendrix that way.” (Wall Street Journal s Web site). …..Yeah maybe……but the kid could be valedictorian/dux of his/her class before heading off to study at Harvard (ha ha)


 My new favorite ingredient is bamboo shoots. To prepare them I remove the tough husk, boil in water for 10 minutes than slice and pop into the wok with some greens.
Shanglow‘: Accidentally ordered a soup with congealed duck blood. That can happen I suppose when you know the word for ‘duck’ but not for ‘blood’.
 ‘Shangunusual‘:Here is the Chinese equivalent of the Christmas Tree: During Chinese New Year mandarin oranges and tangerines  are considered traditional symbols of abundance and good fortune. 

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