Perilous Family: Amy Chua, Sino-Anxiety, and US Politics

News and social media, bloggers, and readers have flocked upon Amy Chua’s controversial article, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Since appearing in The Wall Street Journal last week, the article has generated over 7,000 comments, countless blog posts, rebuttals from Chua and her daughter, and even death threats.

Scholars have widely criticized the model minority myth, and Chua deserves no passes. But I want to examine the media’s interest in pursuing this dialogue in the first place. Notice that Chua’s article falls under the “Life & Culture” category. Lifestyle news isn’t simply a space wherein readers escape from depressing and laborious facts of hard journalism. It’s a soft arm to more overt U.S. geopolitics set forth by hard news, guiding readers toward a cultural view supportive of these politics. From this angle, we see Chua’s article playing to Sino-anxiety and tensions around the family as a unit of politics.

China’s economic ascension is an obsession of Western news media; so is the family. Consider, how often issues buttressing the conservative and liberal divide in American politics contend over defining the family—reproductive rights, gay marriage, the military. No wonder readers were riled up. Chua’s claim that Chinese parenting is “superior” to American families provokes both conflicts, hedging forth the fear that America’s apparent economic decline is also cultural, and accelerated by Chinese families “abroad” and within U.S. borders. Bourgeois trends might feel tacky for American readers struggling with their wallets; unacceptable are insinuations that “foreign parenting” would overpower the Western family.

Chua embodies “yellow peril,” a classic xenophobia scripting East Asians as willfully destructive toward Western civilization. (Interestingly, Chua has written on violence toward Chinese and other “market-dominant minorities” in the Global South.) But is this peril not contradictory, when it’s brought to the verge through affluence and dominance—values of a distinctly Western, neo-liberal lifestyle? The tensions are messy, but as they’re framed, not coincidental.


  1. Joe

    CBS news did a report on Chua’s autocratic approach and showed it, interestingly, was not the main or only approach of Chinese parents in China today. And Chua seems to ignore how much the pressures of white racism enters into the ‘walk white, talk white, out achieve whites’ strategies of Asian American parents. See the very disturbing impact of hyper conformity to white norms in Janice Tanaka’s documentary on the impact of forced assimilation to whiteness for third generation Japanese Americans:

    • ThirtyNine4Ever

      Chua needs to sell books, so using broad ethnic phrases such as “Chinese Mothers” and “Western Mothers” is probably calculated. Look how much free publicity this probably otherwise little known book has generated from just that excerpt? I have seen that WSJ article linked many times over since it came out. It’s good marketing really.

  2. John D. Foster

    After seeing Chua interviewed by Colbert last night, I think her book has been taken a bit out of context by the way the WSJ piece took only a small portion from the beginning of the book. Great post right on target about the way Chua’s book has been perceived by the white press, regardless of what she actually wrote. White conservatives love this kind of stuff because it feeds into the whole model minorty myth; i.e., the only reason Blacks and Latinos trail Asians is because they don’t study hard enough.


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