Success: Tiger Parenting, Saving Face, and The Model Minority Myth
Updated: Mar 13
TW: Mentions of Murder and Abuse.
Dear Asian Youth,
A singular word which, according to a simple Google search, means ‘the accomplishment of an aim or purpose’. The words subjectivity has always perplexed me. What constitutes ‘success’? If I asked my parents, they would most likely say happiness or health. I’d ask what they mean by happiness, and they would say a comfortable life. To many, success means money. After all, the quote “I'd rather be rich and miserable than poor and miserable” must hold at least some element of truth. I sometimes lay on my bed and think about the children, teenagers, adults even who have been running from success in order to obtain it. The pressure to achieve greatness seems to be one of the most consistent themes in Chinese and generally Asian cultures.
I remember being fifteen when I came across an article on Jennifer Pan. She was an Asian American who took part in a kill-for-hire attack towards her parents, bringing mass media attention to the concept of ‘tiger parenting’. According to Su Yeong Kim, ‘tiger parenting’ is a term coined by Amy Chua, a Yale law professor who claims that “strict policies are the reason why her children have been so successful in school and in their music studies''. In its purest form, I can see how the idea of authoritarian teaching over your children could naturally equal ‘success’ in good grades. Good grades mean good prospects to the majority of people, which naturally leads to more money to be made. This, however, does not take into regard the significance of mental wellbeing and healthy socialisation. Although the payoff of many arguments, humiliating toils, and hard-earned sweat may be financial success in a person's career, there are long-lasting issues that follow these individuals which they may battle with for the rest of their life. In Jennifer Pan’s case, the amount of sheer resentment that she must have felt towards her parents is something that is hard to imagine. The case that Jeremy Grimaldi (author of ‘A Daughter's Deadly Deception: The Jennifer Pan Story’) wrote “captivated many, if for nothing else than the sheer intrigue of a case involving matricide”. Grimaldi’s story resulted in Pan’s sentence to twenty-five years in prison with no parole, which she is currently serving. To prioritise a child’s academic achievements over their self-esteem and happiness is damaging for their perceptions of ‘success’ due to its objective definition. It essentially dictates that success must mean earning large amounts of money due to hard work.
Studies show that this could partially link to the Chinese cultural idea of ‘keeping/saving face’, which the majority of Chinese people live by in efforts to maintain the reputation of being respectful and proper. Internations provides some insight into how this links to tiger parenting, stating that “Chinese culture is based on the concepts of group identity and collectivism. There is also “shared face”, where if one person loses face, the entire group, be it a family, company, or entire nation, also loses face. Although there are many benefits to being a part of a culture which is deep-rooted in its philosophies of ‘family first’ and collectivism, it also means that parents and the society surrounding essentially view an individual as an extension of them. Whatever they do directly affects their relatives, even the ones that they only visit once a year and speak English to instead of their ‘original’ language; if they fail, that means that their whole family has failed, meaning that they must succeed to save the face and honour of the family. This case also unfortunately relates to families whose lives are ruined due to relatives who commit crimes. Success being such a general term has now become a specific objective due to how this aspect of Chinese culture focuses on the external achievements which naturally links to reputation upholding. This could suggest that perhaps the saying “we want what's best for you” (which is a very popular saying by many Asian parents) isn’t as pure of a reason as we believe. Perhaps the ‘success’ being pushed by tiger parents is a selfish effort to maintain their own ‘face’ rather than for the wellbeings of their future.
The concept of tiger parenting also links to ‘the model minority’ myth. Although this term also includes various sectors of Asia, this phrase is regularly used pertaining to people of East and South Asian descent. Angie Chung writes that “public fascination- and repulsion- with the model minority has also driven the popularity of books such as Chua… on the cultural superiority of such ethnic groups as Chinese and Jews”. Although this stereotype can be perceived as positive, it reinforces the notion that stereotypes are always correct and encourages unnecessary agendas that may be used negatively in the future. This stirs up hate and alienates the ‘model minority’ from the rest of the world, perpetuating the idea that we are different and should be treated differently. Chung also states that TV shows “highlight the intelligence, competitiveness, passivity, and emotionless rationality of their Asian American characters such as Sandra Oh as the type- A Dr. Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy”. The stereotype that East Asians are passive presents us as biologically weaker than the rest, which links to the emasculation of people of East Asian descent, particularly men, over hundreds of years. Pertaining to tiger parenting, these stereotypes may be supported due to the socialisation of a child who lacks self-confidence and self-respect, thus making them an easier target to hate and further abuse from others in the outside world.
Overall, I believe that the key to true success is simple: happiness. Although we can’t control the way we are brought up, we can control the future and how we treat others. When balance is restored and maintained, success is much easier to obtain due to the simplicity of it. Growing up as a ‘minority’ in a Western country, you have the gift of seeing the best of both worlds. We can pick and choose what aspects of Western and Eastern culture/ways of life that we enjoy, and apply it to our own in an effort to reach our individual ideas of success. Whatever you do, as long as you’re following your own chosen path, it’ll work out. Keep fighting for the anti-stereotype committee, feminism (duh), and your own happiness. Merry Christmas!
- Cathay Lau
Cover Photo Source: University of California