by Xinhua writers Cheng Yunjie, Sun Yi and Wang Sihai
BEIJING, Jan. 26 (Xinhua) -- It fired a heated debate on the virtues or otherwise of "Chinese" parenting in the United States, but when Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" hit the book stores in Beijing, much of the incendiary packaging had been toned down.
Gone was the crimson background to the title words on the version that made Amazon's best-seller list.
Instead the Chinese book displays the smiling Yale Law School professor in a black suit, arms crossed, against the Stars and Stripes. Above her is the Chinese title: "Being an American Mum."
It takes a few seconds for Chinese readers to realize they are holding the memoir that has invoked accusations of bullying or even child abuse in the United States.
Loosely defining her parenting method as the "Chinese" model, Chua promotes the use of fortitude on the part of the parents, including repeatedly overriding their children's preferences, rigid practice regimes and rote repetition.
A refusal to accept mediocre grades and a constant readiness to offer blunt criticism, argues Chua, build self-esteem and a never-say-die spirit in children.
In one extreme case, her 7-year-old daughter, Lulu, was forced into hours of piano exercise, right through dinner and into the night, with no breaks for water or even the bathroom, until she played a piece of music correctly.
"When copyright agencies approached us last summer, we foresaw her book would be controversial. We don't take it as a traditional parenting book, largely because it involves intense cross-cultural collision and conflict," says Wang Feifei, the acquisition editor at the CITIC Publishing House.
"Normally, parenting books would be slow starters, but this book has risen perpendicularly into Amazon.com's best-sellers. Such a market response matched our expectations," says Wang.
On sale within few days of the English version this month, the Chinese book has a completely different title and cover design. The changes are aimed at playing down the so-called "battle hymn" and appealing to Chinese sensibilities, says Wang.
"Many Chinese parents want their kids to excel and join the social elite. We've seen a growing interest among Chinese parents to learn from their foreign peers. We believe Amy Chua, an American professor of Chinese ethnicity with a cross-cultural background, provides an interesting prospective. Her experiences, superior or not, might enlighten Chinese parents on how to raise their kids in a proper way."
Although the book will not be available in Chinese bookstores outside Beijing until after the holiday season beginning with the Lunar New Year, which falls on Feb. 3, many parents have turned to the Joyo.com, a Beijing-based shopping website, to satisfy their curiosity.
"People talk about Amy Chua almost every day on the microblog at sina.com.cn. There are pros and cons. I can't wait to see the book," reads a message left by a mother surnamed Feng on the website.
Another mother under the monicker "Haha" was impressed by Chua's candor. "I can't imagine a mother in China so frankly revealing the embarrassment and brutal confrontation she went through while trying to tap her kids' potential to succeed. My suggestion is don't jump to conclusions."
Many Chinese parents see themselves in Chua, not only in terms of the strict parenting, but the desire to help their children excel. But few hope to become the next tiger mother.
Yu Shasha, a doctor at Beijing Shijitan Hospital, says she was not a tiger mother because her daughter, a graduate of Imperial College London, had enough stress.
"With so many children competing for limited first-class schools, Chinese kids must get accustomed to the test-oriented education system and stand out in exams. As a result, they must sacrifice their spare time to a range of training classes," says Yu. "Most parents, including myself, are more concerned now about how to ease their burden rather than giving them more stress."
A survey jointly released by the Beijing Times and the Education Channel of the Sina.com last week shows that about 50.1 percent of Chinese students are sleep-derived and stay up past 10 p.m on school days. The situation was worse than 2004, when a survey by the China Youth and Children Research Center found the proportion was roughly 47 percent.
Zhao Hua, a former journalist who emigrated to the United States, says Chinese parents hate to see their kids burning the candle at both ends in order to deal with fierce competition.
"The Western parenting philosophy of letting kids be kids, develop their own hobbies and make their own decisions is gaining credence in China. Financially-capable parents would rather encourage their kids to study abroad in a relaxed environment," says Zhao.
Lin Ling, a 24-year-old Beijing local, sees the necessity of having a tenacious Mum to persuade kids not to easily give up.
"My mother asked me to learn the violin when I was small. But practice was such an unbearable treadmill. I had many beatings from my mum for refusing to play. When my mother finally agreed to let me go, I had a cheerful victory. Now I regret giving it up. If I had held on, I could entertain myself in my spare time," she says.
FEAR OF INDULGENCE
Zhang Yiwu, a Chinese literature professor and deputy director of the Cultural Research Center of Peking University, says Chua is not typical of Chinese parenting.
"As I understand it, Tiger Mother parenting is a more drastic style. Chinese parents seldom go so far as to require straight A's from their kids. Not every family can afford expensive piano or violin classes. Drama and plays remain foreign to many Chinese kids," says Zhang.
"If anything is worth introspection, I think the Tiger Mother has reminded both Chinese and American parents of the necessity to ditch stereotypical thinking and unrealistic fantasies about ideal parenting models.
"Chinese parents share many of the same worries as American parents. With most families having only one child, Chinese mums also fear having indulgent teenagers who demand everything that money can buy, favor, ease and comfort, but cannot endure hardship or take responsibility for their actions," Zhang says.
Chinese parents and teachers are increasingly aware of the need to encourage children's individuality, while more educators in the United States are seeking to understand why U.S. children are left in the dust in global testing.
Huang Quanyu, director of the Confucius Institute at Miami University, has made a comparison analysis of the Sino-American education gap in his Chinese book, "Cultivating Smart Kids -- Education for Gifted Youth."
According to Huang, students in China are encouraged to grasp as much knowledge as possible through frequent practice, rote repetition and intensive testing, while in the United States, students are inspired to think critically and independently by asking questions.
Lu Jun, executive director of a Beijing English Education Group, says China's comparative advantages in basic education were "paradoxical."
"It is exciting to see so many Chinese kids excelling in math tests, but so far China has no Nobel laureates. By contrast, more than 70 percent the global Nobel laureates are Americans whose population is less than 5 percent of the world," says Lu.
"A key reason is that the teaching methods of Chinese schools and parents are test-oriented, which fails to inspire kids to use their knowledge in real life."
Xue Yong, associate professor of Boston's Suffolk University, warns in a commentary in the Shanghai Morning Post that American children of Asian ethnicity could suffer as the controversy might consolidate stereotypes of Asian youngsters, causing the overachieving minority to be ostracized.
It could also deter U.S. children from studying other cultures, he says.
Wang Feifei agrees that the book has struck a chord of insecurity in many Americans, but she feels that some responses might be missing the writer's original intention.
"We feel that Amy Chua does not intend to offer a perfect parenting model, says Wang. "The memoir reveals her mental journey. There are gains and losses, including a self-introspection brought on with the frustrations with her second daughter, Lulu. From the book, we see an inspiring Asian immigrant with admirable entrepreneurial spirit."