Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior – The Origins of Filial Piety

A few weeks ago I was reading the Wall Street Journal’s article on “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” by Amy Chua. A week later I saw the article being mentioned on my friendly Chinese television channel with Amy mentioning that she was not responsible for the title, as it was more of a recollection of her memoirs. Clearly this caused uproar across the nation – almost saying that the rest of the non-Chinese mothers are clearly inferior. While this may have been a publicity stunt, I suppose it would be worth elaborating on Chinese mothers. Actually this does apply to Asian mothers and not just Chinese mothers.  However for historical purpose, I will focus on Chinese mothers.

Historical Traditions

The reasons for strict Asian mothers would stem from two things. First would be the nature of the family system developed by Confucius roughly 500BC. This would set the standards for what is also known as filial piety. In simpler terms, filial piety describes the nature in which an individual is to behave towards parents, family, manners, respect, and much more.  While I may not have been aware of the exact terms and origins as a child growing up in a Chinese Canadian family, but I learned many qualities of piety as a child.

Having this extreme loyalty to your family is quite common. The family system (including extended family) can be something truly remarkable. When a member of the family is faced with adversity, the family comes together to support each other. If a family store is destroyed by natural disaster, everyone will do their best to pitch into the rebuild. To show respect is extremely important in Asian culture. Yes, it is almost to the point where you have to be subordinate to elders – it’s expected.

Aside from Confucius, the second part that contributes to strict Chinese parenting would be the Chinese Imperial examination system as early as around 600 AD.  Careers were essentially assigned by your grades. Now that may sound normal, but consider the fact that what was tested was content in Confucianism, music, calligraphy, mathematics, and military tactics. Clearly this would also contribute to why Asian mothers can be so demanding on their children over 1400 years later.

When Filial Piety Goes Too Far

Hopefully, Amy Chua’s article was just tongue in cheek. Though I must admit I have friends with “slightly” neurotic Chinese moms. The tough part is when the Chinese mom believes she has the right to exercise her full control of her child. Filial piety is something not exercised from top down. That is, the mother does not utterly force, or break her child into complete submission, but rather it is something the child gives back.

By this you could infer that it is an expression of love in Asian culture. To make sacrafices for the ones you love is one of the most important principles. That means putting in time and effort to endure some slight hardship to benefit the family unit. Perhaps this is why Asian Men are so inclined to provide. The only slight flaw to this is that the strength of the principles are based on Confucius and his family system (it has been over 2000 years of practice) – something the White Female is not accustomed to.  Being more of the free-thinking individual White Female, she needs an emotional connection. A bond beyond the provision of basic needs. She needs to be loved and cared for – not by you solving all her problems, but by being supportive.  This is something constantly reciprocated, so it is important that you have to open up as an Asian Male. Being a cold wall can be very hurtful, but letting her know that you are making attempts to understand her will make things so much easier.

Seeking a White Female is not to be considered a rebellious act against our heritage (while others may think differently). It is simply the fact that the White Female has many qualities that we are attracted to. Somehow it just so happened she is Caucasian. Understand why Asians are just Asians, and Asian men specifically. As for his possible neurotic Asian mom, she’s like that because she feels it is a threat to the Confucian family system. There could be a multitude of reasons why she feels threatened: hedonistic behaviour, lack of financial skills, or maybe that you are out to steal the family wealth (they really do think that sometimes). Show your respect for her and honour cultural traditions, and she’ll eventually warm up to you.

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5 Responses to Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior – The Origins of Filial Piety

  1. katelovekj says:

    I don’t think every white woman is like that….I mean personally, I prefer a male headed household. I’m a traditional woman, I believe men are the head of the household and what they say is given more weight. I think women should cook, clean, and take care of children and make sure their husband’s needs are met, but that’s just what I think…..so i mean not every white woman is the stereotypical independent, femenistic inclined woman….I’m not and honestly, my husband, being Korean, likes to be dominant. And I think a lot asian parents are just afraid of how to talk to and interact with someone that is not only a different nationality, but a different race. The “Korean woman that are the norm in Korea” rules don’t apply to me and his mother can’t speak to me in Korean and his family is OK with that, but a lot of parents…..find that a little scary, so they prefer what they already know and it makes them more comfortable. Although really, people everywhere are the same….and hopefully asian parents realize that just because the woman doesn’t look like them doesn’t make her any less or different…she’s still a woman before she is anything else and has the same wants and needs and insecurities and feelings as every other woman out there.

    • AMWF Love says:

      Thanks Kate for replying! I really appreciate how much time and effort you put into writing these responses. 🙂 Congratulations on your wedding as well!

      This post was meant to be sort of a reflection of the article I read from Amy Chua regarding the “Chinese” parenting method. I tried to get into some of the history of exactly why we behave this way – and it extends for over 1500 years. It’s kind of funny how these traits are still passed down generation after generation, yet we don’t even question ourselves (as Asians) why we behave in that manner.

      What struck me the most in Amy Chua’s article is the publisher decided to use a controversial title claiming Chinese mothers are superior. Placing a child under a strict regime to encourage a professional career is a possible way to parent, but definately not the only way. To be a well rounded individual you have to be complete mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This is not to say that a Western method of parenting is the best either – but we have to recognize that we need to strike a balance between both styles.

      I think it’s very important to understand the relationship of the Asian Male’s family – in a sense when you marry an Asian guy, you are figuratively marrying his family as well. Anyways I’m very glad you are so willing to share your experiences with us, Kate. I look forward to reading your blog posts as well!

      – Brian

  2. Alex says:

    Hi Brian

    Love reading your posts here.Now I was wondering if you could be so kind and write a post about Asian fathers.It’s always about Asian mothers or some story about horrible korean mother-in-law but I dont get to read anything about fathers.One thing that intrests me is how come they dont seem to protest that much if they daughter marries a forigner.I know that tradition is that they leave the house and the son is the one staying to take care of the folks but that is the same with where my parents are from but I would say that my father wouldnt be so happy if I married in to a totally diffrent cultur.Or maybe the Asian fathers do mind but they dont voice they opinion loudly.I dont know and thats why Im asking.Not once have I read online that a white guy had a problem with his asian father-in- law and I find that a bit weird.I hope Im not offending anybody now because it is not ment to be puting asian fathers down or anything.So Brian if u could do a simular post about fathers like u did here about mothers it would be highly appreciated 🙂 

    • AMWF Love says:

      Hi Alex,

      I’d love to write you something about Asian Fathers. In most cases the typical Asian family the father pulls in the income, and the mother takes care of domestic issues as well as household finances. Of course there are many exceptions. Thus when dealing with relationships, it is the mother who has the veto.

      Sons are valued and treasured in Asian culture since they carry the family name. Of course this has changed over the recent years, but Confuciusism as I would put it, has played a significant influence for Asian culture. So much that it’s almost completely internalized and we believe it to be normal. I better not write too much or I won’t have an article for you, Alex! Stay tuned! I’ll have some reading for you! 🙂

      Thanks for commenting, I really appreciate that there are people out there who read what Laura and I write about. I really do want to bring societal, cultural, and emotional issues regaring the AMWF relationship forward – I will continue writing as long as there are people that appreciate what I do.

      – Brian

  3. Indian says:

    The beautiful notion of filial piety needs to be treasured and preserved for future generations. As rightly said , it is not something that can be learned from the textbooks but something that is inculcated in one’s children right from the very beginning through the various experiences that life has to offer.
    Western women would be very uncomfortable with the idea of filal piety for they never feel the need to respect and love & serve their husband’s parents. Loving and respecting their own husbands ( I am talking about good husbands here who are concerned about their wives ) can be a big problem for many western women.Please have a look at the high divorce rate in west around 50% and I know men & women are both responsible for it .
    The way love and family values are defined in western culture is very different from the way it is defined in Asian cultures.
    Filial piety states that our parents should be the most important people in our lives because of the innumerable sacrifices they have made for us. A son should always respect and obey his parents and a daughter should respect her own and her husband’s once she gets married.
    It is ‘ladies first’ in western culture vs ‘elders first’ in Asian culture philosophy that indicates the sharp difference in the cultural sensibilities.
    Marketeers in the west have coined the term for ’empty nest’ to target the couples whose adult kids have flown away but this term sounds highly derogatory . Westerners might be happy with the use of this term beacuse this is how they see things ; they did it with their parents and they children will do the same with them ie. leave them.
    But I am sorry to say that this word ’empty nest ‘ reminds me and many Asians of the behviour found in the animal world.
    Animals rear their young ones and when they grow up and become capable of independent existence , they leave either their herd / biological parents or vice versa. But we are human beings and the wonderful values of respect , love and gratitude for our parents , taking care of our parents as they took care of us and never ever making them feel lonely , obeying them if even if we are not comfortable with the decisions they make for us is what differentiates humans from the rest.
    We should always remember that :
    No one will ever love us the way our parents did/do love us .This is true with regard to most of the Asian parents though we might doubt the validity of this sentence when we apply it to Western parents.

    Western women can not think of loving and serving their parents-in-law ; in west such parents-in-law will be called mean & selfish creatures and people will sympathise with the poor daughter-in-law.

    A culture where :

    ‘the son is paid for washing his father’s car ; an adult daughter pays room rent to her mother & the mother is happy to charge it from her own kid all in the name of making her self reliant ; three generations can’t even think of living together in one house ; the younger sibling doesn’t respect his/her elder sibling ; the son says “Bye Mom & Dad , I am leaving you now ( read : because I don’t need you now and I have sucked your blood so you are useless for me ) and from now on I will take care of my wife & kids till the divorce happens ‘ can never understand filial piety.

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