Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Hybrid tiger's lesson for tiger mom

By Quanyu Huang (China Daily) Updated: 2014-05-09 07:55

To be, or not to be a tiger mom, that is the question to be deliberated, especially with Mother's Day round the corner. Amy Chua, the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, once argued that Chinese mothers were better than all other mothers. She cited statistics with which we're all familiar: Chinese-Americans tend to dominate their peers in school and in tests, Chinese-Americans enroll in and graduate from the best US colleges at alarmingly high rates, and Chinese-Americans have the highest average income among all ethnic groups in the United States.

Though Chua later backed away from her blanket assertion that Chinese mothers were superior-even disavowing her article, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior", which was published in The Wall Street Journal-she has returned (with her husband Jed Rubenfeld) to the same basic thesis in The Triple Package.

She now argues that eight "cultural" groups in the US are more successful than others. Not surprisingly, Chinese-Americans are among the pack. The success of groups like Chinese-Americans, Chua says, is due to three distinct "cultural" characteristics: a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control. Since average Americans don't possess this "triple package", they are destined to be less successful.

While there's no question that Chinese children excel at early academics and tests because of certain cultural factors prevalent in Chinese families, Chua doesn't mention the sobering, second half of the story. I believe that her theory is unable to explain why no Chinese educated solely in China has ever won a Nobel Prize for any of the science subjects or the fabled mathematics Fields Medal.

Americans have won the highest number of both prizes. Remarkably, the only people of Chinese descent to have ever won the Nobel in science subjects-Tsung-Dao Lee, Frank Chen Ning Yang, Samuel Chao Chung Ting, Yuan Tseh Lee, Steven Chu, Daniel Chee Tsui and Roger Yonchien Tsien-did so after completing their education in the US.

This illustrates the critical problem with Chua's "triple package". The so-called success of Chinese-Americans cannot (and should not) be attributed solely to cultural characteristics passed down through Chinese families. There's more to it than that. In The Hybrid Tiger, I have argued that children acquire education from three disparate sources: (1) family education, (2) school education and (3) social education. In the course of becoming "educated", children are bombarded with different values, demands and instructions from these three sources of education. Children must develop an intake procedure through which they sift, meld, discard and incorporate these varied and often competing values to form a cohesive whole "self". This fourth piece I call "self education". For my "tripod theory" of education to stand upright, the three legs (family, school and social education) must balance and support the head (self-education) to form a whole, independent and free-standing structure.

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