The Only Thing I Will Say on the 'Chinese Mother' Debate

I won't link to Amy Chua's notorious "Chinese mothers are best!" essay, since the Internet is already nearing collapse from incoming links to it. I will say that I have assumed all along that the essay must have been planned and written as a to-the-limit self-satirizing joke. I choose to think so because (a) that way the author comes across as slyly Swiftian rather than as an incredible asshole, (b) I've read and liked Amy Chua's other works, on economics and politics, which makes me hope the "slyly Swiftian" interpretation is true; and (c) I have seen enough actual Chinese mothers in China to recognize that her caricature describes a little tiny piece of (distorted) reality. (And, yes, I know she's writing about ethnically Chinese mothers living someplace else.)


But in keeping with my "we should all appreciate the artfulness of this joke" interpretation, I turn of course to our friends at NMA TV in Taiwan, who have prepared one of their famous computer-generated renderings of the Battling Mothers Smackdown. It is here and is the source of the screenshot above -- in which the violin-practicing daughter is standing in a tub of burning coals -- and the embedded video below. It's 90 seconds long, and well worth it in my opinion.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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