I haven’t written anything about Chinese parenting yet, and I feel that it’s time, because in order to convey who I am and how I think, I have to explain the upbringing I’ve spent half my life trying to get away from. In my book, there’s traditional Chinese parenting, and then there’s elite Chinese immigrant parenting. I am a product of the latter.
Traditional Chinese parenting, from what I’ve seen, focuses heavily on manners, respect for elders and authority figures, and getting along with others. It emphasizes intellectual and professional accomplishment but not nearly to the extent that elite Chinese immigrant parenting does, especially during childhood and adolescence. Elite Chinese immigrant parenting, in my experience, is highly accomplishment-centric and fueled by the desire to make the child excel above (and not fit in with) others. As a result, recreation and social interaction for purely recreational purposes (i.e., friendship and dating) are looked upon as a drag on efficiency and achievement.
This means that growing up, I was not allowed to watch TV, have sleepovers, hang out with friends more than once a month, or talk on the phone for fun. I was allowed to go shopping only when I had accomplished something significant, such as winning a piano competition or getting straight As. And, of course, I was not allowed to date, talk about dating, or think about dating. Over the course of 18 years, I developed a warped sense of normalcy and morality, much of which I discarded when I went to college. To convey just how wacky this sort of upbringing can be, I’m providing a very abbreviated list of characteristics that children of elite Chinese immigrants tend to have.
10 signs that you are the product of successful elite Chinese immigrant parenting:
1. You think TV is a social activity.
You were allowed to watch TV once a year on New Year’s Eve, when you, your parents, and their friends gathered to watch the Times Square ball drop.
2. You are terrified of taking naps.
Naps are a waste of time, you were told. Think of the all the homework you could be doing or the piano you could be practicing. Only losers sleep more than four hours a night.
3. You’re damn good at piano, violin, or both.
There was no choice. Your options were a) practice five hours a day and b) get your ass whooped, literally.
4. You were good at math throughout high school without having any interest in math.
5. You got the best grades throughout high school without being the smartest person in class.
That one time you brought home an 86% on a math test in 7th grade, your dad slapped you across the face and told you that he did not work like a peasant so he could move to the US, provide a good life for you, and teach you that getting a B was ok.
6. You think that everyone else seems to have spent the entirety of their childhoods doing nothing.
You spent all your waking hours practicing piano and violin and getting 100% on every homework assignment. What the hell was everyone else doing? Aren’t they aware of how much time they wasted?
7. You think yelling, domestic violence, and other dramatic expressions of anger are no big deal:
Of course a B+ elicits screaming and a backhand from your mother. What did you expect?
8. In high school, you begged your parents to let you go to science or math camp so you could have a social life.
At least at math camp you’re allowed to have sleepovers.
9. In high school, your ultimate goal in life was to attend an elite college far away from your parents so you could simultaneously appease them while partying your face off.
What, people go to college for education? What did they have, fun before college?
10. If you’re a girl, you rebelled in high school or college by getting a job in retail, playing a sport, acting in a play, joining student government, or volunteering.
Anything that doesn’t have to do with science, math, piano, or violin is fair game.