by UnHerd
Thursday, 13
May 2021

Tiger mum Amy Chua on Asian-American tensions

Freddie Sayers spoke to the best-selling Yale Professor
by UnHerd

As the country’s ‘model-minority’, Asian-Americans have experienced different forms of discrimination compared to other ethnic groups, but the recent spate of Asian-American violence and rise in anti-China rhetoric has thrown this tension into sharper focus.

There is perhaps no public intellectual better equipped to give an insight into these issues than Amy Chua, a Law Professor at Yale and author of five books, including the famous book ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’, which advocated strict Chinese-style parenting. Chua is the child of two ethnically Chinese parents, who emigrated from the Philippines to the US when she was a baby. She has written extensively about her Confuscian upbringing at home (respect for elders, deference to authority) as well as her schooling in America, both of which gave her a deeper understanding of the values that underpin those two countries.

Growing up, Chua says she experienced racism, but today’s fear of Asian-Americans both inside and outside the country is new:

There is tremendous resentment, fear, and insecurity about Asian-Americans because of college admissions…And then you’ve got China, a whole different source of insecurity. When I was growing up, China was the poor man of the world… It was a developing country, and nobody feared China… Now on campus, I noticed that this anti-Chinese resentment slash fear is coming from both the Left and the Right, which is very unusual.
- Amy Chua, UnHerd

More broadly, her research has focused on tribes and how people naturally cleave different groups, be they ideological, cultural, or political, which has intensified in recent years. This, Chua explains, is central to understanding America’s ongoing identity crisis:

There are two factors that make this moment different from any other historical moment in the United States. Number one: this is the first time in US history, where whites are on the verge of losing their majority status for the first time in 200 years…. Now, every group in America feels threatened… and what the research shows is that when people feel threatened, that’s when they retreat into tribalism.

The second factor is…this populist dynamic, where parts of the country are resentful that this little cosmopolitan minority controls Washington, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and all the Ivy Leagues. That dynamic is new to the United States today, which makes it more like a developing country. 

- Amy Chua, UnHerd

On the West imitating China:

There’s a lot of irony in that. These lockdowns do feel very authoritarian. I do feel a kind of cultural revolution vibe. Once I walked into a restaurant and I’d forgotten to put my mask on and people were calling me out and denouncing me. But I see it more through my political tribes lens, and I see two teams. Still, there’s a feeling of much less libertarian, American-style freedom going on.
- Amy Chua, UnHerd

America’s identity crisis:

America isn’t at its best right now but when it is, it is a place where individual subgroup identities could also flourish. We need some overarching identity to hold the country together but I think we’re losing it… I think that’s the real crisis now. 
- Amy Chua, UnHerd

On America’s Founding Fathers:

80% of our students view America’s Founding Fathers with disdain. They say they’re just white male rapists. I think that’s a terrible development. It’s possible to acknowledge that they were very flawed men…But that’s totally different from saying that… America is a country built on white supremacy.
- Amy Chua, UnHerd

On China:

The whole problem with authoritarian regimes is that you can never guarantee that your beneficent dictator — even if he is beneficent — will stay that way. That’s the problem with unchecked power — they can start mowing people down. So that’s why I’m in favour of free market democracy.
- Amy Chua, UnHerd

Covid tribalism:

It is outrageous that during the pandemic I had to flip between television stations, the Right-wing Fox and the Left-wing MSNBC, just to figure out if a certain drug was effective…Some people at the beginning thought the pandemic would bring people together, but now everything is so political.
- Amy Chua, UnHerd

Join the discussion

  • The key concept raised in this interview, imo, is the current lack of a unifying ideology in the US.
    President Coolidge reportedly said ‘the business of America is business.” There’s much truth in that statement, imo. You might live and work next to people from very different ethnic backgrounds, and some of those ethnicities might be your traditional enemies, but in America you put that aside, at least in public. You learned to get along in exchange for liberty and a shot at a reasonably prosperous life.
    What happens if the promise of economic advancement and security is removed? What is the incentive for an ultra-diverse mix of ethnicities to get along when the traditional ideology, based on Christianity, is passing, our unifying historical narrative is being actively rejected, and the modern economy is leaving most Americans behind?
    I don’t think we have an answer to that question. It may be the answer is we’re at the end of an experiment in multiculturalism. America’s moment in the sun may be passing.

  • “Deeply flawed” has been the go-to adjective it seems now to describe the Founding Fathers, but as you say it hardly seems to fit. A lot of the Founding Fathers never were slaveholders, like Ben Franklin and Tom Paine. She spoke as if they all were. George Washington was a slaveholder but he freed all of his slaves by the terms of his will. Rather than sneering at him for being “deeply flawed” it might be more useful to acknowledge that if every other slaveholder of his generation had followed his example, slavery would have died out in the United States sometime in the early 19th century and there never would have been a Civil War.
    Are Russian people constantly told that Pushkin and the poets of the Golden Age of Russian poetry were “deeply flawed” men because they had serfs? I don’t think so.

  • Well said, the FF also came from wholly white societies themselves. They had no experience of multicultural societies. Interesting that men with no such experience created the greatest multi cultural society the world has ever known.

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