Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Taming the Tiger Mother

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Taming the Tiger Mother

Article excerpt


Liu Weihua and Zhang Xinwu make Amy Chua, the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, look like a pussy cat. Long before Amy was making her daughters practise their musical instruments four hours a day, Liu and Zhang were credited with turning their daughter Yiting into an overnight celebrity in their native China.

Not for dancing or singing on a TV talent show, but for being the paragon of everything a Chinese child should be. Yiting brought honour to her family by winning a full scholarship to Harvard. The resulting book, Harvard Girl, became a must-read manual for Chinese families seeking the holy grail of a place at an Ivy League college or Oxbridge. It went on to sell two million copies and spawned 70 copycat versions, including Yale Girl and Ivy League's Not a Dream.

Yiting's parents started early. While she was still a baby, they placed toys out of her reach to make her try harder to get them. At primary school, they encouraged her to hold ice in her hands for endurance. At the same time as Harvard Girl became a bestseller, the first results of the Programme for International Student Assessment were published. Thirty-two countries put forward groups of 15-year-olds to be compared in maths, science and reading.

In the early days China did not take part. It entered the children of Shanghai, where about 80 per cent go to university, for the first time in 2009. It was an impressive debut. Shanghai, with a population the size of Ghana, entered the chart at No 1. The result triggered a wave of panic among western nations.

And yet China's success comes at a cost. In China, children spend more than a month longer in school per year than children in the UK. The school day lasts nine hours, with breaks for eye massages to reduce eye strain and physical activity to aid concentration. …

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