Ktismatics

13 January 2011

Maybe Not So Much

Filed under: Culture, Movies, Reflections — ktismatics @ 8:38 am

Chinese mothers are superior, says the Chinese mother in this Wall Street Journal article.

“What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.”

Sure, these kids’ White Swan might be perfect, but the Black Swan…?

(I don’t know how long the WSJ makes its online articles available to nonsubscribers, so the link might go dead soon.)

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19 Comments »

  1. Surely there are millions of Chinese kids who practise and practise on their violins and just aren’t that great… Sometimes I read the WSJ and am astounded anew at the horrific nature of even the lifestyle articles.

    The only good thing about this article is the stress that excellence comes through a lot of hard work. The ol’ “99% perspiration” idea.

    While being good at something no doubt boosts self confidence, I don’t like the implication that the child should achieve excellence to receive praise from their parents.

    “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. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her “beautiful and incredibly competent.” She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)”

    I think the lesson here is that the rules are governed by the context. It’s no good telling a kid that he’s an “exceptional individual” despite or because they can’t count to ten. But “Chinese mothers” fuck their kids up just as much as “Western fathers”. The whole point is that the kids’ passion isn’t their own. Hence they often go to the bathroom and puke it all back up again, whether they’ve just practised for three hours or played xbox.

    Comment by NB — 17 January 2011 @ 6:35 am

    • Lose some TROLL, NB, which you did profusely at CPC. You don’t know shit about ‘chinese mothers’.

      “Hence they often go to the bathroom and puke it all back up again”

      Oh, how ELEGANT. No wonder you thankfully kept your troll’s ass off the rififi thread.

      Comment by du Rififi cine-musique — 17 January 2011 @ 10:43 am

      • Hello du Rififi cine-musique,

        I can tell you that I’ve never posted comments anywhere as anything other than NB till I’m blue in the face and you will never believe me. It is the truth though. I did post as Faustus Kelly once or twice because there was something up with the comments function. Was it here at the CPC? I can’t remember.

        I think I’ve told you before that NB are my initials. You have your moments, du Rififi. I was thinking of just using my full name when John came back to blogging but:

        “By now, we were friendly enough for him to stop all this endless mistrust, but it’s ingrained, and so it’s your bleug, you can play favourites just like the rest. And you certainly do. It’s little different from what Dejan does, just more high-toned.”

        I decided against it.

        “You don’t know shit about ‘chinese mothers’”

        You’re right, I don’t. That’s why I put “Chinese mothers” and “Western fathers” in quotes. They’re abstractions to me. I just know a bit about what this woman thinks, a self-described “Chinese mother”. And I don’t like it. I think it’s either stupid or cynical.

        Anyway, thanks for pointing me towards the film. I can’t say too much about it because, although I remember thinking it was great, I got quite drunk afterwards and can’t remember too much of anything. I’ll definitely watch it again.

        Comment by NB — 17 January 2011 @ 3:40 pm

    • “Lose some troll” means “identify yourself by your real name” or “consistently identify yourself as NB in all your comments here and on other blogs”? And it’s because you believe that “NB” has been an anonymous commenter at the parody center? “NB” made a relevant comment about this post, I responded; your issues from parody center are irrelevant to this conversation. Or do you regard the Chines topic as a secret message between me and NB? I assure you it’s not so, duR.

      Comment by ktismatics — 17 January 2011 @ 11:04 am

      • No, they’re not. You let Dejan write anything on here. So if you want to observe such unfairness, then do so. I don’t have to write here either. NB is a troll in my book. By now, we were friendly enough for him to stop all this endless mistrust, but it’s ingrained, and so it’s your bleug, you can play favourites just like the rest. And you certainly do. It’s little different from what Dejan does, just more high-toned.

        Comment by du Rififi cine-musique — 17 January 2011 @ 11:34 am

      • In short, all that shit you let Dejan write on the Rififi thread was far more explicitly filthy than my little kidding of NB, who I won’t ever like as long as he’s a troll, that’s just that. But YOU make a difference, because you’re guilty on this one, and you know it. It has a lot to do with YOU KNOW WHO. But I’d left you and “NB” alone for a long time, you knew I’d write here once you put up ‘Rififi’, and you needed me to, so stop bothering me. I suppose I can always think of you as an ‘identified troll’…yes, I think I’ll do just that. Anyway, you’ve NEVER corrected NB, so fuck it. VIVE ROBIN MACKAY and COLLAPSE FOREVER!

        Comment by du Rififi cine-musique — 17 January 2011 @ 11:39 am

      • You’re right: all that crap from pc about pc-related business had no place here either. I’ll purge the personal attacks and negotiation of contract terms and so on on a go-forward basis.

        Comment by ktismatics — 17 January 2011 @ 1:00 pm

  2. At last count 274,551 people have said that they “like” this WSJ article, and it has received 6,733 comments. I’ve not read the thread, but I would expect reactions among the WSJ readership to be divided among 4 kinds of reactions:
    1. That’s why China is going to kick our ass — their people work harder than we do.
    2. That’s why it’s a good idea for corporations to build factories in China — their people work harder for less money, and they do what they’re told.
    3. That’s why the West will continue to rule the East: they’re skilled and hardworking, but we’re the passionate creatives who decide what work needs to be done.
    4. There’s a variety of ways that parents can fuck up their children (the nb response).

    Comment by ktismatics — 17 January 2011 @ 10:06 am

    • Sure, these kids’ White Swan might be perfect, but the Black Swan…?

      No, the White Swan is the one they couldn’t get. The Black Swan is pure technique.

      Comment by du Rififi cine-musique — 17 January 2011 @ 10:44 am

    • That’s one crucial way in which Black Swan the movie deviates from Swan Lake the ballet: in the movie it’s the White Swan that’s all technique, while Black Swan transcends technique with passion (and competitiveness and self-destructiveness and kitsch).

      Comment by ktismatics — 17 January 2011 @ 10:47 am

      • So see how false? Would you know this from the movie alone therefore? Because it’s the devil in the Black Swan that makes her do the career-make or -break 32 fouettes. The White Swan, Odette, is the one who would be capable of taking on the ‘high-domestic number’ were she to take on the assignment due to better luck at not having to be a beautiful swan (which is always amusing, because it’s considered in the ballet that it’s ‘unfortunate’ that she has to be a Swan rather than a woman, but then the ‘beauty of being a Swan’ gets confused with that–all that grace of wings, however on the unwieldy side. I ran into a disgusting queen in the Central Park Ramble one time, there had somehow been a beautiful egret in there, which was very rare, and also a superb swan. This queen said ‘Oh, I don’t like swans, they’re so cheeeeeeseeeeyy.’ I recognized her later as working as clerk at the now-defunct Gay Pleasures store on Hudson Street. Once she said to me “You know, Al Pah-kah’s outta da business by now, his cock’s turned purrrple”. Really just fat, piggy and disgusting.)

        Comment by du Rififi cine-musique — 17 January 2011 @ 10:58 am

  3. “I decided against it.”

    Yeah, well, bay-bah, you decided against it. So until you quit doing it, without which I can see you only as a troll (my definition, I don’t give a fuck what somebody else’s is), then I may ‘have my moments’, but you don’t have yours–for me, that is. John knows who you are, I don’t, you know who I am just like the other trolls. So over and out, I just see you as a troll as long as you think that hostility is the only way. Even ads is improving now that he’s been forced to quit being a troll. You might too. Until then, this is just for you and John and Dejan. I doubt he’ll come up with another post I find irresistible, so you can keep up your trollship.)

    Comment by du Rififi cine-musique — 17 January 2011 @ 5:26 pm

    • Just for the record, I would not, unless furious at you as can happen with anyone on or offline, have said ‘you don’t know shit about Chinese mothers’. Most of the bleugers don’t care about that, but since I’ve always been open, I guess I do. I intend fully treating all trolls like shit, because they always feel 100% that they have the right to treat me so. So I’ll stay away.

      As this: “Iccan tell you that I’ve never posted comments anywhere as anything other than NB till I’m blue in the face and you will never believe me. It is the truth though.”

      I neither believe nor don’t believe you, because I see you as a troll. Hey, tha’s cool, and tha’s what you like, right bay-bah?

      Comment by du Rififi cine-musique — 17 January 2011 @ 6:16 pm

  4. A different Chinese mother offers an alternate opinion in the NYTimes. She’s concerned that traditional Chinese parenting spawns good hard workers but no Nobel laureates and few top managers. Balance freedom with discipline, passion with excellence, is her parenting credo. Black Swan AND White Swan. She sounds like all the parents here in Boulder CO, documented in a prior post as “the brainiest city in America.”

    Comment by ktismatics — 18 January 2011 @ 9:04 am

  5. Hey John,

    I haven’t had time to read the article (just got back from ten days away from the tangles of the world wide webbings). I question this assumption: To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. Do they support this claim, that children on their own never want to work? I’d be curious to know. As a kid, I worked at the things I enjoyed. I loved to play basketball, to read fantasy books, etc., so I worked hard at these things. Probably harder than most. I think some of my peers worked on things they enjoyed as well, many of whom were fellow Hoosiers who loved basketball.

    It doesn’t seem true to me that kids will not work. They seem not to want to work at anything they do not enjoy. That may be true. But to make such a generalization that kids do not work at things seems patently false from basic observation.

    Even if it is true, the conclusion does not necessarily follow (that we need to override their preferences). This approach (forcing people to do things they don’t want to do) seems to cultivate the postmodern reaction of the Fight Club boys who rebel against a system that has people working jobs they hate to buy shit they don’t need.

    I think I’d favor an approach to parenting that takes advantage of the natural energy that kids invest into the things they enjoy doing. Work with them. Let them see that working hard at things they enjoy will result in more joy and the development of real skill and mastery, leading to more enjoyment and pleasure.

    Comment by erdman31 — 19 January 2011 @ 1:10 pm

  6. If I were your Chinese mother I would have to humiliate you for not having read the article, Erdman. Clearly also the activities you enjoyed weren’t going to win you a Nobel Prize or a top management position. I.e., it seems clear that it’s not just the achievement of excellence that’s being pushed here: it’s excellence that leads to success recognized as valuable in the broader culture. If the kid isn’t intrinsically motivated by enjoyment, then force the kid to do it anyway. Presumably this is the parent’s enjoyment trumping the kid’s. Getting good at something through repetition and hard work causes you to enjoy it more, says the Chinese mother. Maybe so, or is it something more like internalizing the parents’ desire, turning externally-imposed discipline into internal discipline. In this regard the Confucian ethic might operate similarly to the Protestant ethic: I want to be good, to work hard, to excel, to please the Big Other, etc.

    “Let them see that working hard at things they enjoy will result in more joy and the development of real skill and mastery, leading to more enjoyment and pleasure.”

    You hippie. Wait till you’ve got a kid with a passion for basketball (not to mention booze and sex and snuff) while all the other parents are talking about how much their kids love solving differential equations and writing sonnets and how they’ve already started working on their application essays for Princeton and Stanford.

    Comment by ktismatics — 19 January 2011 @ 1:37 pm

  7. You’ve probably already heard the punchline to this post: the Asian mom’s oldest daughter just got admitted to Harvard.

    Comment by ktismatics — 5 April 2011 @ 10:41 am

  8. Well, good for her. Perhaps she saw Above and Beyond her mother’s law.

    “You can criticize all you want, but you can’t argue with success.”

    That depends on how you define success. And that definition is all in the parenting. If Sophia really does “succeed”, she may heed Kipling and Dylan, who argued that “if you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same” so that “She knows there’s no success like failure
    And that failure’s no success at all”. Escape the law, Sophia!

    “As I previously observed, speaking from my own personal experience, to Asian parents sending a child to a top college is the ultimate vindication.”

    The ultimate vindication of … their parenting style, I guess. Ah. So is that why she became a mother? To be vindicated in her beliefs?

    Comment by NB — 5 April 2011 @ 11:15 am

  9. It should be noted that both parents also graduated from Harvard, so we can presume that at conception the girl was already Harvard material regardless of the parenting to which she would later be subjected. Also, as a “legacy” she would have benefited from preferred treatment in the Harvard admissions process. I see that she wrote an op-ed piece thanking her “Tiger mom” for her upbringing, reminiscing on all the wonderful mother-daughter moments she’d experienced, and so on. She did not mention Stockholm syndrome in her essay.

    Comment by ktismatics — 5 April 2011 @ 1:15 pm


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