Tiger Moms Be Tamed: A Different Chinese-American View On Education

A mother waiting for her children during a music class in Yinchuan
A mother waiting for her children during a music class in Yinchuan
Nan Qiao


BEIJING — There is a popular Chinese television series called "Tiger Mom: My Sweat, Your Success" that has prompted no shortage of debate in China. Indeed, discussion has even extended to Chinese people living in America, where the concept of Tiger Moms made waves after the publication of a book in by a hard-driving Chinese-American mother.

Many Chinese now share the view that middle-class families in America or Europe have actually begun to bring up their offspring in exactly the same way as China’s tiger moms.

In an article circulating on the Internet in China, a Chinese mother, who has lived in the United States for four years, offered her impression after watching the show that is broadcast back here in China. She declared herself grateful for the ruthless education she received in China: "It made me capable of enduring hardship, able to bear grievances and to see using my body to serve a man or to depend on a man as a source of shame. This is the root of my happiness.”

Yet I can’t agree with her. Because these same three characteristics are exactly what plagues the Chinese-style education, rather than it being “the root of happiness.” By no means is a wife “using her body” to serve her husband, because a couple’s intimate relations are not a trade for money. And to say all women must be in the labor market, so as not to rely on their husbands, is also denying that a woman can find self-worth in ways that are not driven by economics.

Education is about learning perseverance, not ruthlessness. Chinese families tend to demand that their children take on hardship and grievances unconditionally. Yet this is one of the very reasons why Chinese people often hit the “bamboo ceiling” for promotion when living in a foreign country.

In comparison, I have seen African-Americans be much more assertive and always denounce when they are victims of injustice. This can also help them stand out when an opportunity presents itself. We now know that it is not unusual for Chinese-American children to be refused by prestigious universities, such as Harvard, even though they are often much stronger candidates than others. Only very recently have America’s Chinese communities realized they must fight for their legitimate rights.

An American style of upbringing is about facing conflicts without being aggressive, neither passive nor duplicitous — it is about sticking to principles and being assertive. Only if one is capable of communicating with others can one win others’ respect in America’s workplace. And such communication skills start right from childhood.

A Chinese tiger mom, who constantly suppresses her offspring's autonomy, bending them to her will, is not serving her children's inner needs. In the long term, this will harm their development.

In effect, America’s discussion of education is much more sophisticated than just weighing hardship and happiness. It is not an either-or question. For example, American educators have always talked about “desirable difficulty” and “undesirable difficulty.” Parents and teachers should aim for for the former, where a pupil is willing to face up to challenges and tackle problems; while avoiding the situations (undesirable difficulty) where young people waste energy on an activity beyond their capacity or interests.

The differences between Chinese and American education is not a question of who is better at instilling the endurance of hardship, but about setting goals. In appearance, America’s middle-class families also send their children to learn all kinds of things. But it tends to be with the objective of encouraging children to learn on their own, instead of being forced to do so. But another way: American parents strive above all to make their children autonomous, running on their own engine, while Chinese parents always pull the cart ahead of their children.

This morning my daughter was invited, along with two other girls, to play in musical trios in a church. When chatting with the father of the girl who plays viola, I found out that this girl also plays piano, tennis and is a black belt in taekwondo.

When I asked the father why he didn’t encourage his daughter to try out for the prestigious musical band at the high school, he told me: “I thought she would, but she wanted to spend more time playing tennis.”

A typical Chinese parent would have thought allowing that kind of freedom to a talented, headstrong girl like that may "make you miss the chance to create another Lang Lang.” Of course they all forget to ask, as vast as China is, how many Lang Langs have we actually produced?

I personally do not agree that the Chinese way of forcing and reprimanding is a source of pride for our country. Rather it’s an approach that is both backward and reckless, born out of a lack of pedagogic knowledge and modern psychology. Learning is related to one’s mind, and thus should be a fundamentally human experience.

When interviewed recently by Forbes magazine about his book In Defense of a Liberal Education, CNN host Fareed Zakaria noted that “what a liberal education at its best does, and it really does this much better, I believe, than … let’s just call it an Asian style of education for now, even though that is a simplification, is to allow people to range widely, to read widely, to explore their passions.” Born in India, Zakaria, who has a PhD from Harvard, can see particularly clearly that the Asian way of education, including that of the Chinese, has a long way to go to catch up with the American one.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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