Since posting my holiday blog on “How to Survive the Holidays Chinese Style”, I received some requests from non-Chinese readers for a primer on what to do if your loved one has a hardcore Chinese mom and/or dad. I’m glad to help out but, should warn you that deconstructing Chinese parents isn’t completely straightforward – there are there are quite a few varieties of hardcore Chinese parents (HCCP) who share primarily the same traits but have different concerns. These differences relate to issues of immigration (straight off the boat 1st generation vs. well assimilated 4th generation), class (working vs. upper class), and level of education (village grade schools vs. Ivy League). Like training dogs, knowing the breed will determine your response when the HCCP inadvertently invokes our blog and screams “You offend me, you offend (our) family!”
My focus for this primer will be on hardcore Chinese moms (HCCM) given that in Chinese families, it’s usually matriarchal and also, I happen to have a HCCM degree (never finished my dissertation for the HCCD). Hopefully, if I’ve done my job correctly, you will be well on your way to being a hardcore Chinese mom whisperer (HCMW).
This blog will be in two parts, starting with the lay of the land – what kind of hardcore Chinese moms are out there?
PART 1 – Breeds of Hardcore Chinese Moms
This is not a complete list by any means and I encourage you to offer your additions. Also, note that most hardcore Chinese moms are likely be hybrids, possessing traits from one or two of these types. So, refer to the categorization more as a general guideline for distilling their core preoccupations and personas.
1. Old School Chinese Mom aka OSCM: As I noted in my blog on “Why Amy Chua is the Panda Express of Chinese Moms”, there is the Old-School Chinese Mom (OSCM or OSCD for the dads) who “doesn’t speak English, is suspicious of anything Western, and still lives like she does in the old country and will make sure that you do as well.” She’s probably the toughest and most iconic hardcore mom and gave birth to the Asian American memoir which my fellow offender Phil has duly noted in his blog as the go-to place for Asians to purge their self-loathing/hatred for their parents. unreconciled feelings about their childhood. She’s also the most difficult to understand both literally and figuratively because she speaks little or no English. Also, regular conversation with her resembles yelling even if it’s a good day and her frustration levels are merely at 9 as opposed to 11. But, I still haven’t figured out how much this “yelling as conversation” is simply endemic to Chinese dialects (particularly the Shanghainese or Cantonese variety) or is in fact, particular to the OSCM. Any notes from the field to clarify this matter would be greatly appreciated.
2. Ivy League Chinese Mom aka ILCM: Amy Chua falls into this category though, she is on the more assimilated end of the spectrum being that she’s second generation and also married a non-Chinese. This Chinese mom is very well-educated and has multiple degrees from Ivy League universities. She’s likely an academic and her entire focus is on the academic achievements of her kids so that they can follow the same ivy path. The upside of these mothers is that they actually do respect and value higher education as somewhat an end to itself. So long as their kids end up publishing famous books and teaching at an elite institution, they won’t consider that less respectable than making tons of money as the internet guru of the moment (unlike Entrepreneurial Chinese Mom aka ECM). She’s probably the only hardcore Chinese mom who can “pass” for a regular mom at PTA functions.
3. Chinese Soccer Mom aka CSM: This is the mom who may have been a former athlete in Communist China. Like a classic hero’s journey, she was separated from her parents just as she was learning to walk and submitted to the rule of the Chinese sports program where she’d be subject to a life focused on winning gold medals. So, her life is about rigid self-discipline and excellence in sports. She is driven by the desire to see her kids supersede the achievements of Asian American sports slackers like ex-skater, Michelle Kwan or ex-tennis player, Michael Chan and deliver at the level of Olympians from the mainland who won’t cry or complain when they mess up, get hurt, or simply suck…but instead, will persist until they bleed gold (or like Jet Li who was a former athlete, get calls from Hollywood agents.)
4. Entrepreneurial Chinese Mom (ECM): This mom may hail from Shanghai, Hong Kong, or Taiwan and most likely acquired her business acumen running the family business or starting her own gig. She has no real formal education and has succeeded by grit, strong business instincts, and the ability to negotiate deals in the most ball-busting way. There is nothing that she feels cannot be negotiated, bought, or sold. She never saw the film ‘Jerry Maguire’ but “Show me the money!” is her mantra. She could be selling tsotchkes at a tourist trap shop in San Francisco Chinatown, hawking condos as a real estate broker, or cracking the whip at a leather goods factory in Guangzhou, China. She may be wearing cotton pajamas to work or carrying a black market knock-off Fendi bag, but she will likely possess some kind of bling that is the mark of her hard earned success. It could be anything – a monster-sized apple green jade amulet, a full length mink coat, or a Mercedes S-class with custom gold trim. But she will show off that bling like it’s 1997. ECM is indeed, the original gangstah.