One Chinese Mother's Voice

6 years ago

Piano Lessons"Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," an essay in the Wall Street Journal, skittered across the screens of my various electronic devices several times this weekend.  In this provocative essay, author Amy Chua compares Western and Chinese parental mindsets, illustrating the “strictness” of Chinese child-rearing, citing this as the reason for the stereotypical “successful” prodigies raised in Chinese families.

As the product of a Chinese mother, and a Chinese mother raising little “prodigies” myself, the article left me conflicted. 

I agreed with some ideas, like:

  • practice and hard work are crucial for excellence
  • rote repetition is underrated in America
  • parents do what’s best for their children, and can override children’s desires and preferences.  (Or at the very least, parents know better than children.)

At the same time, I cringed at the re-telling of a piano-practicing incident with her daughter LuLu.  I bristled at the story partly because I saw myself in that “Chinese mother.”  I admit, I’ve done my share of yelling and coercion at the piano with my daughters.  Yes, I admit, tears have ensued.  And no, they are not prodigies.

But I also cringed at the story because I saw myself in LuLu; crying, frustrated, and belligerent.

The thing that troubles me about this “Chinese mother” sort of parenting is that it sounds an awful like the horrible little voice in my head that says:

  • “What’s wrong with you?  You didn’t make the mark.  You must not have worked hard enough…Work harder, do more!”
  • “What?! Someone else is better at something than you?  What’s wrong with you?  Do more so you’re the best!”
  • “If you can’t make it, it’s your own fault.”

Sure, the little voice produces an adult who knows how to work hard, achieve, and get into an Ivy League school. She believes she can accomplish anything if she puts her mind to it. 

But that little voice also produces a person who worries about not accomplishing enough and frets about the next accolade. 

The little voice produces a person who cannot accept the fact that there are actually things hard work alone cannot accomplish.

The little voice produces a person who can’t accept the fact that her competence comes in Christ alone. 

The little voice produces a person who can’t accept the fact that she needs a Rescuer. 

The truth is, all the hard work, grittiness, and achievement in the world cannot make you right with God. 

That comes from admitting to Jesus that you can’t work hard enough, that you don’t know all the answers, and that you really can’t be confident of anything in life except Him. 

When you let God’s grace invade every part of your life, it’s not so easy to suddenly turn that little voice off.  Thankfully, God’s grace, embodied in Jesus’ love, speaks a whole lot louder than the little voice. 

So, today, when my girls get home from school and it’s time for piano practice, I can assure you that I will be demanding their greatest effort, their focus, and their hard work. But I’ll let them off the piano bench after an hour and I will still be pleased with them if they never make it to Carnegie Hall. 

Because life isn’t about pursuing perfection or achievement, but about pursuing the grace of God. 


Syndicated blogger Esther Feng blogs at

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