The most successful hyperpowers are the ones where there was actual intermixing. Tang dynasty China was Chinas golden age, and contrary to what I was told when I was growing up, Tang China was founded by a man who by todays standards was no more than half Chinese. It was a mixed-blood dynasty that pulled in barbarians from the steppe.
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There are many things the Chinese do differently from Westerners. There's the question of extra credit, for example. One time, Lulu came home and told me about a math test she'd just taken. She said she thought it had gone extremely well, which is why she didn't feel the need to do the extra-credit problems. I was speechless for a second, uncomprehending. 'Why not?' I asked. 'Why didn't you do them?' 'I didn't want to miss recess.' A fundamental tenet of being Chinese is that you always do all of the extra credit all of the time. 'Why?' asked Lulu, when I explained this to her. For me this was like asking why I should breathe. 'None of my friends do it, ' Lulu added. 'That's not true, ' I said. 'I'm 100% sure that Amy and Junno did the extra credit.' Amy and Junno were the Asian kids in Lulu's class. And I was right about them; Lulu admitted it. 'But Rashad and Ian did the extra credit too, and they're not Asian, ' she added. 'Aha! So many of your friends did do the extra credit! And I didn't say only Asians do extra credit. Anyone with good parents knows you have to do the extra credit. I'm in shock, Lulu. What will the teacher think of you? You went to recess instead of doing extra credit?' I was almost in tears. 'Extra credit is not extra. It's just credit. It's what separates the good students from the bad students." "Aww - recess is so fun, " Lulu offered as her final sally. But after that, Lulu, like Sophia. always did the extra credit. Sometimes the girls got more points on extra credit than on the test itself - an absurdity that would never happen in China. Extra credit is one reason that Asian kids get such notoriously good grades in the United States. Rote drilling is another. Once Sophia came in second on a multiplication speed test, which her fifth grade teacher administered every Friday. She lost to a Korean boy named Yoon-seok. Over the next week, I made Sophia do twenty practice tests (of 100 problems each) every night, with me clocking her with a stopwatch. After that, she came in first every time. Poor Yoon-seok. He went back to Korea with his family, but probably not because of the speed test.
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Once when I was young-maybe more than once-when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage. As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophie, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectful toward me. When I mentioned I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests. "Oh dear, it's just a misunderstanding. Amy was speaking metaphorically-right, Amy? you didn't actually call Sophie 'garbage.'" "Um, yes I did. But it's all in the context, " I tried to explain. "It's a Chinese immigrant thing.
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The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable-even legally actionable-to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty-lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self image.
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Happiness is not always through success. Equally, the constant pursuit of success is sure unhappiness. But we have to find the balance. My own thoughts are that parenting is very personal. And we all feel enormous insecurity about parenting. What are they going to think of us 20 years down the line?
When I'm not the Tiger Mom, I'm a professor at Yale Law School, and if one thing is clear to me from years of teaching, it's that there are many ways to produce fabulous kids. I have amazing students; some of them have strict parents, others have lenient parents, and many come from family situations that defy easy description.
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Parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done. I tried to find the balance between the strict, traditional Chinese way I was raised, which I think can be too harsh, and what I see as a tendency in the West to be too permissive and indulgent. If I could do it all again, I would, with some adjustments.
Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.
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My youngest sister, Cindy, has Down syndrome, and I remember my mother spending hours and hours with her, teaching her to tie her shoelaces on her own, drilling multiplication tables with Cindy, practicing piano every day with her. No one expected Cindy to get a Ph.D.! But my mom wanted her to be the best she could be, within her limits.
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There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.
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A lot of parents today are terrified that something they say to their children might make them 'feel bad.' But, hey, if they've done something wrong, they should feel bad. Kids with a sense of responsibility, not entitlement, who know when to experience gratitude and humility, will be better at navigating the social shoals of college.
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I once won a second prize in a history concert. My parents came to the ceremony. Somebody else had won the prize for best all-around student. Afterwards my father said to me, 'Never, ever disgrace me like that again.' When I tell my Western friends, they are aghast. But I adore my father. It didn't knock my self-esteem at all.
Westerners often laud their children as 'talented' or 'gifted', while Asian parents highlight the importance of hard work. And in fact, research performed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has found that the way parents offer approval affects the way children perform, even the way they feel about themselves.
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When I was little, my parents really only wanted me to be a scientist or a doctor; they had never even heard of law school. I think even these days if you were to tell your mother you want to be a fashion designer, or an artist or a writer, a lot of Asian parents would be alarmed because they don't think that's a secure career.
For my senior prom, my father finally said I could go - as long as I was home by 9 P.M.! That was around the time that most people were heading out. When I was little I was so mad at them all the time. 'Why can't I do this?' 'Why are there so many rules?' But looking back now, my parents gave me the foundation to have so many choices in life.
My dogs can't do anything--and what a relief. I don't make any demands of them, and I don't try to shape them or their future. For the most part, I trust them to make the right choices for themselves. I always look forward to seeing them, and I love just watching them sleep. What a great relationship.
I kind of - I like my life; I feel I have lots of opportunities. And my parents actually having had such high expectations for me - I would say it's the greatest gift that anyone has ever given me. I complained a lot when I was little, but that's how I feel now. And that's why I tried to do the same with my two daughters.
I was raised, myself, by extremely strict but also extremely loving Chinese immigrant parents. To this day, I believe that their having high expectations for me, coupled with love, was the greatest gift that anyone's ever given me. And so that's why, even though my husband is not Chinese, I try to raise my own two daughters the same way.
I am definitely a Type A personality, always rushing around, trying to do too much, not good at just lying on the beach. But I'm so thankful for everything I have: wonderfully supportive parents and sisters, the best husband in the world, terrific students I love teaching and hanging out with, and above all, my two amazing daughters.
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