Confucianism and Chinese “Tiger Parents”

Confucianism and Chinese “Tiger Parents”

In 2011, the publication of the book-Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother aroused a heated discussion in America. This book written by Amy Chua, a mother and a professor at Yale Law School, is mainly about the story of how the author raises her two daughters in the same way that her Chinese immigrant parents educated her and her siblings. This memoir is well-known for the image of “tiger mother”, so the “tiger mother” becomes the prevailing stereotype of Chinese parenting in America. To the most of the American public, they perceive tiger moms to be highly controlling, strict and severe almost to the degree of abuse. They also hold the idea that Chinese parents are focus more on the children’s success than the pursuit of the children’s dreams and interests. However, these perceptions are one-sided, because they ignore the reason why Chinese parents are harsh is related to the traditional Chinese cultural identity-Confucianism. [1]


Confucianism has contributed to the social, ethical and political aspects of Chinese cultures for nearly 2,000 years. Confucianism is a philosophy which is developed by the greatest Chinese philosopher, Confucius, focusing on the conduct and practices of people in daily life, playing an important role in the culture of personal, familial and social relationships. Because the significant influence of it, the educational practices of “tiger mothers” in China, to some extent, are affected by Confucian philosophy and principles. [2]


Chinese cultures value the collectivist ideology which affects family functions and behaviors. According to Confucianism, there are five fundamental relationships for humans, which are between father and son, emperor and subject, husband and wife, elder and younger, friend and friend. Three out of five are associated with family, therefore, education is not just a personal thing, but is considered a family business, an interdependent process for many Chinese families. Although children are responsible for their own educational achievement, Chinese parents believed that their children’s educational success is greatly concerned with their parenting practices as well. To help establish children’s success in education is deemed as their own obligations and responsibilities. [2]


An interview about parent’s satisfaction with children’s achievement, conducted by University of Michigan revealed differences in how Chinese and American parents attempt to impact their kids’ academic achievement. How much time they spend helping children with school-related work is regarded as a direct measure. Chinese mothers displayed that they spent substantially more time than their American counterparts participating directly in children’s homework. Chinese mothers took on average almost a full hour per day to work with their children on homework, while American mothers consumed average 32 minutes per day. [3] Another research, entitled “Why Are Chinese Mothers More Controlling than American Mothers?” surveyed 215 mothers and children in China and the US six years ago and the results were disclosed in 2013, which found that Chinese mothers based their worth on children’s performance more than European and African American mothers, and that this illustrated the difference in parental control among Chinese and American mothers. [4]


A professor of psychology at Chinese University of Hong Kong, Florrie Fei-Yin Ng, once said, “The more the parents feel that their worth hinges on their children’s performance, the more pressure they have to do whatever they can to push their kids.” [4] Chinese parents may regard themselves as losers when their children failed in academic performances. They think that they did not do their best to work with their children. They even feel disappointed, anxious and shamed. It is an embarrassment to the family. On the contrary, if the child achieves success in academics, it is the thriving moment to the entire family. But they seldom show their emotions to their children, they just take their kids’ progress as granted, in that humility and modesty are highly valued in Confucianism. [2]


As a Confucius’ saying said, “Contentedness leads to loss, humility leads to gain”, Chinese parents agree that too much praise may be harmful to the growth of children. Based on the study about Chinese and American education by University of Michigan, the investigation about what score parents thought their children would get in mathematics, and which score they would be satisfied. Both American and Chinese mothers expected their children would obtain 80 to 85 points. However, American mothers expressed that they would be pleased with a score that was an average of 7 points lower than the score they actually expected. Whereas, Chinese mothers presented that they would be delighted with a mark that was an average of 10 points higher than their expectation. [3] The confident feelings of Chinese parents about the score indicate that the unsatisfied with what their kids got can push ahead on children’s learning. Therefore, Chinese parents usually provide lower amounts of praise to their children, even though their kids’ performances are excellent. [2]


The central concepts in Confucianism are also including family hierarchy and harmony. In accordance with Confucianism, “Let the prince be a prince, the minister a minister, the father a father, and the son a son.” That means that each individual’s role and duties are distinctly clarified. For instance, one of the virtues of family hierarchy, filial piety, describes the relationship between parents and children. It is an expression for children to show respect for their parents and the elderly. It is believed that children will become good citizens and leaders if they are grateful to their parents. Therefore, filial piety is so crucial that it is reflected in children’s respect and obedience on parental demands and authority. Rebellion against parents’ authority is unacceptable and will lead to harsh consequences. [2] Moreover, when adopting bitter language and strict discipline, Chinese parents assume the children will understand the connotation behind the severe behavior. [1]


Compared with American parents who respect their children, and let their children pursue their dreams and interests freely, Chinese parents seem to more controlled and more severe, but what they did are related to the Chinese cultural identity-Confucianism. Confucius’ ideologies suggest that the relationships between parents and children require being cohesiveness, humility and obedience. Therefore, Chinese children appear to be polite and self-controlled, and they are not easy to go astray. However, too much parental control possibly undermines children’s psychological development, afflicting them with depression and low self-esteem. [4] Therefore, as public, it is vital to view the image of “tiger parents” comprehensively. As parents, it is necessary to take children’s feelings into consideration when being strict with them.



  1. Scarlett Wang (2013). NYU Steinhardt. The “Tiger Mom”: Stereotypes of Chinese Parenting in the United States
  2. Grace Hui-Chen Huang, Mary Gove (2012). International Journal of Humanities and Social Science. Confucianism and Chinese Families: Values and Practices in Education
  3. Chuansheng Chen (1988). Human Development. Cultural Values, Parents’ Beliefs, and Children’s Achievement in the United States and China
  4. Global Times (2013). Chinese, Western parenting methods compared in new study

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