The Millionaire Next Door

“Chinese Mother”- Not of the Millionaire Next Door!

What is the meaning of success?  Some define it in terms of occupational status, income, net worth, power, and even the size and location of one’s home.  But these factors are not necessarily the ones held by Amy Chua who wrote an article, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, in The Wall Street Journal.  Ms. Chua claims, “A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids.”  She contends that successful child rearing in the Chinese family focuses on high academic achievement and proficiency in violin and piano.  Her two daughters have never been allowed to do much of anything else including “sleepovers, schools plays, watch TV or play computer games.”

If a Chinese child gets a B -which would never happen – there would first be a screaming, hair tearing explosion.  The devastated Chinese mother would then get a dozen, maybe hundreds, of practice tests and work through them with the child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to A.

In the article, Ms. Chua details an episode in which her then 7 year old daughter wanted to give up trying to master a piano piece. . . .A tug of wills then began.  “I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army. . . threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no birthday parties. . . . I used every weapon and tactic.  We worked . . . into the night and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up not for water, not even to go to the bathroom.”  

This tough love method of child rearing seems to be at odds with the studies I have conducted concerning successful adult millionaires.  And note that the so-called successful child does not necessarily blossom into the successful adult.  In Millionaire Women Next Door, I did ask 233 millionaire women who own and manage their own businesses to describe their home environment while growing up.  At least 2 out of 3 of these women told me the following about their parents:  1.  gave me much responsibility early in life; 2. encouraged me to earn my own spending money; 3. did not threaten me with harsh punishment if I received bad grades; 4. taught me how to have empathy for the needs of others; 5.  provided a home atmosphere filled with love and harmony, and 6.  encouraged me to take the initiative. 

I also studied another group of successful Americans, senior corporate executives.  I cannot say whether these people were proficient in violin and piano.  But I can assure you that they were not all A students.  As a group their undergraduate GPA was 2.93; SAT 1211 (The Millionaire Mind).  Also more than half played competitive team sports in high school and/or college.  Could it be that these people were not raised by Chinese mothers and yet they still succeeded in life?  Out of the 30 success factors that I asked these executives to rate, where did “graduating at or near the top of my class” rank?  It ranked 30th. 

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to have straight As and graduating at the top of your class.  Most people however will not succeed without being sensitive to the needs of other people.  Success is more about group behavior than solo performances.

7 thoughts on ““Chinese Mother”- Not of the Millionaire Next Door!”

  1. FB @

    Note that you are referring to a small percentage of Americans.

    The real problem I find with all these stats, is that we are never assuming that we or our kids will ever be in that majority that Amy Chua is describing.

    That majority of average Joe and Jane people who won’t become millionaires due to whatever circumstances and star alignments.

    Most of us will earn $30,000 – $70,000 most of our lives, and what she’s saying is to be the best you can be in those circumstances, assuming that you are AVERAGE.

    Those millionaires that I adore and love reading about in your book, are the exceptions. Not the rule. So building a childhood based on exceptions won’t yield a good success rate.

  2. This post is interesting as a young mother you want your child to achieve straight As ,as we live in a society judged by grades we tend to push for the grades instead of building a successful personality of caring for other humankind. Thanks for the great article.

  3. Editor at

    I read Chua’s article out of morbid curiosity before all of the hoopla swirled around her. I give her an “A” (sic) for writing a great headline. That’s why I read it. It was so completely offensive to mothers of any nationality, especially American, that I thought I’d read it, being open-minded.

    It had some interesting points. Key points being to work hard and be disciplined. Hey, we can all probably instill those values in ourselves and our kids better.

    But there are several other things that came to mind when I read her article. First was that their over-disciplined lifestyle is totally unbalanced. What’s going to happen to the kids when they get freedom? Some personality types will go crazy with freedom and be completely unbalanced at the other end of the extreme. She has simply taught them how to be extreme.

    Another thought was about a recent article I read. A Chinese billionaire was jumping through every hoop possible just to ensure a place for his kids in American public high schools. Why? Creativity is encouraged through drama, arts and other thought-provoking pursuits. Here’s a billionaire stressing the importance of freedom and creativity…not discipline and work. Hmmm….

    Also, I forgot to think about Dr. Stanleys’ important point about millionaires usually being average students. I want to train my kids to be creative business owners (i.e. if they want to of their own volition not because I make them) and not just disciplined workers. I tell my kids all the time (and teach them by example) to “work hard AND smart.”

    And on to FB’s post assuming Chua is training her kids to simply blend in, be average and be in the majority: By the look of pride in her pictures and the title of her article I’m confident she does NOT want them to be the average majority. She is obviously proud of her “exceptional” child-raising skills. Don’t you think?

    If I had to make a prediction, I would say kids raised in an overly-disciplined home regime will probably succeed. Although will they succeed to the fullest of their potential? I think they will end up as the “A” students working for the “C” and “D” students….

  4. Fantastic! I read the article, and something didn’t sit right with me about it.

    One of my bosses was raised the same way, (he’s Korean), and while he certainly is successful (at least in appearance) and very smart, there are some parts of his life that I do not envy- parts that I think being raised in a more loving, supportive home could have corrected.

  5. Amy’s parenting methods are excellent because her kids are not losers.

    If she did all of those things and her daughters turned out to be like the unwashed masses, then I would have a problem with her. But Amy is a success and her daughters are also. I am glad that she stuck to her guns and stayed tough on them.

    I found the dad to be a weak and passive man. He just did not seem interested in his daughters’ success. He only really cared about them having fun and not feeling bad about failure. Hopefully he will read his wife’s book and realize how his passive attitude could have scarred his daughters.

  6. I have personal experience with Chinese students coming to Canada to study.

    Academically they do very well but otherwise are quite useless.

    Here’s an example from two weeks ago. I went over to a family friend’s house and she has a 21-year old nephew from China living with her. Her closet byfold door was not sliding well so I gave my son a screwdriver and told him to have a look. He fixed it in 2 minutes.

    The 21-year old Chinese student was amazed. He had never held a screwdriver in his entire life. He also didn’t know how to wash his own clothes and of course could not cook. My 14-year son learned all of those things years ago.

    Academics are important but should be balanced with other skills and practical knowlege.

    PS: I’m on the last chapter of the Millionaire Next Door. Highly recommended book. Thankfully I’m already frugal (or cheap as my son says with a coy smile).

  7. Sudden Power is apt to be insolent (arrogant), Sudden Liberty saucy (too wreckless);
    that behaves best which has grown gradually.
    Poor Richards Almanac 1753

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