Does China actually have 'Tiger Moms'?

Since Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother ignited a firestorm of controvery in 2011, a number of studies have questioned the wisdom and effectiveness of the strict style of parenting she advocates. But a study published in the Asian American Journal of Psychology by a team of psychologists from NYU and several other insitutions, takes a different approach, looking into whether there's anything actually "Chinese" about Tiger Mom parenting. (The authors grant that much of Chua's book is tongue-and-cheek and she doesn't claim to be describing all Chinese families, but there are also frequent contrasts between "Chinese" and "Western"-style parenting in the book.)

The authors conducted interviews with over 700 families in Nanjing, "chosen for research because it is considered a modal urban city, neither a "first-tier" city that has experienced dramatically rapid economic reform and growth (e.g., Beijing,Shanghai) nor a rural city that has been slow to embrace social andeconomic development."

What they found is that the attitudes of a typical Nanjing mom aren't that different from what you might hear from your prototypical, touchy-feely American parent:

Mothers wanted their children to be socially skilled, happy, healthy, autonomous, and to attain good grades. Yet there was variation in theextent to which mothers valued these goals, with most mothersplacing equal or more emphasis on social and emotional goals thanon academic ones. Only two mothers in our study emphasized academic achievement above all other goals. Some mothers be-lieved that their children had achieved these social and emotionalgoals, whereas others worried about their children's introversion orlack of friendships, their bad moods, their children's dependence and lack of assertiveness. With few exceptions, mothers believed that if their children were not socially and emotionally adjusted, they would not thrive in school. Mothers also repeatedly underscored the importance of fostering the autonomy of their child and not forcing their children to do anything, as they believed that such actions would backfire and make their children unhappy.

Granted this is just one study and one location, but there is more evidence that if the authoritarian style of parenting described by Chua was ever prototypically "Chinese," it's not necessarily the case in a rapidly changing China. The authors note that "between 1998 and 2002, Shanghai parents' scores on parenting measures evidenced a notable shift toward higher warmth and autonomy support and toward lower power assertion" and that "the emerging literature on Chinese parenting in contemporary China is a far cry from the unwavering ideology that Chua (2011) described in her book onparenting her 3rd generation Chinese American daughters the"Chinese way."

Whether the style of parenting Chua describes as "Chinese" actually the function of older family attitudes or of the immigrant experience in America, or some other factor entirely is another question. But it does seem significant that the Chinese-language version of Chua's book was titled, Being a Mom in America.

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