To most non-Asians, Chinese American kids are passive, stoic, self-disciplined automatons born with the ability to study 12 hours a day and recite the first 5000 digits of pi. What they don’t see is that beneath the veneer of perfect behavior and even more perfect grades is an underworld of corporal punishment and emotional blackmail, and that Chinese kids are successful precisely because of the smackdowns they get at home. To provide an idea of the kind of ass-kicking that Chinese immigrant children get on a daily basis, I’ve made a list of things that Chinese parents do behind closed doors that non-Chinese people don’t know about.
5 secret things Chinese parents do to their kids at home:
1. beat their children
Every Chinese immigrant child, at some point or another, has gotten the backhand (or feather duster, slipper, ruler, whatever) because of homework, piano, or violin. The most successful Chinese children are beaten almost every day in early childhood. How else are they supposed to become prodigies? Through nurturing encouragement?
2. emotionally and verbally abuse their children
When Chinese children fail at something (such as winning a piano competition or scoring 100% on a science test), everything about them is criticized, from their study and sleep habits to their looks and food preferences. They are called anything from “stupid, lazy, and fat” to “ungrateful and undeserving of higher education.” They are made to despise every aspect of themselves for failing, and the only way to escape the emotional torture is to do better next time.
3. praise their children when they succeed
When Chinese children do win their piano competitions or ace a series of important exams, they receive plenty of positive reinforcement at home in the form of verbal praise and, if the accomplishments are significant, material gifts. Like a haircut at a real salon.
4. compete with other parents and their children
If comparing your own kids to other kids were a sport, the Chinese would have yet another Olympic gold medal. And the comparison goes one way. Chinese parents always compete with children more successful than their own; there is always someone smarter and more obedient. And no Chinese child ever wins by comparing himself to bad kids.
5. deny their children basic American luxuries
From fashion to food to furniture, Chinese immigrants love to cut corners when it comes to spending money. Why pay someone else $50 for a haircut when mom can do the job right at home? Who’s going to notice if the Abercrombie and Fitch logo on your shirt contains a couple extra letters?
Of course, this notion of scrimping and saving applies only to material things. When it comes to piano lessons or college tuition, there is always more than enough money to spare. When good Chinese kids spend all their time practicing and studying in solitary confinement, there shouldn’t be that many people around to notice a bad haircut anyway.