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China and the U.S.: The Amy Chua firestorm and the Hu Jintao visit

China’s President Hu has left the United States, after telling American business leaders  on Thursday that the two countries must treat each other with respect and as equals. He also said China would pose no military threat to any other country. But as far concessions on business or human rights practices, no progress to speak of.

Need to Know’s Jon Meacham and Alison Stewart sat down with two guests to discuss what was and wasn’t accomplished by the Hu visit. But first: Against the backdrop of this major, terribly important superpower summit between Presidents Hu and Obama, there was another, smaller but telling drama going on. It involved a Chinese-American woman, a book and a media firestorm.

Last week Yale law professor and author Amy Chua walked into our studio for an interview about her new book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” and she was nice but defensive. Just days into her media tour, it was going in a very different direction than anticipated.

When an excerpt from the book appeared in The Wall Street Journal with the headline “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” Chua and her mothering style became a meme of the week from parenting blogs to the editorial page of The New York Times. Chua was being hammered in the press and online for subjecting kids to tight controls, little downtime, verbal lashings and hours spent on music and homework. Her children have also been extremely successful, one playing Carnegie Hall at 14.

After speaking Chua, Jon and Alison are joined in studio by Jeff Yang and Howard French. Yang is the author and editor of four books about Asian culture including “Eastern Standard Time: A Guide to Asian Influence on American Culture, from Astro Boy to Zen Buddhism.” He also writes the “Asian Pop” column for The San Francisco Chronicle.

And Howard French is an award winning author, photographer and journalist who was, among other things, The New York Times bureau chief in Shanghai. He is currently an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and travels to China each summer to teach at a university there.


  • Mimi

    Um, what does Tiger Mom have to do with Hu Jintao? You know, other than skin color. This is a really strange pairing of stories. Yeesh.

  • GlobalJustice

    I strongly disagree with Howard French’s assertion that China owes its current economic growth to American politicians or capitalists. Chinese economy had been on steady growth even before it embarked on the capitalist path and opened its door to foreign investors to exploit its highly educated, hard-working, obedient, cheap, and massive working force, all because of a few, or even just a single, most powerful leader in the totalitarian government thirty years ago. So remember this system was originally forced on Chinese people and later most people were just brain-washed. While most people have been working to death, sometimes literally, the wealth has been reaped by international corporations and a small group of domestic businessmen.

    The growth and financial gains of international corporations largely depends on enslaving Chinese workers, either directly or indirectly by their Chinese providers. Similarly, the economic growth of the east coast of China largely depends on the migrant workers from the other parts of China. If you want to talk about human rights in China, shame on you if you do not see how capitalism and globalization have been major contributors to the lack of it in China!

    US has not brought high tech to China. On the contrary, globalization has reduced China into a world factory of cheap low-end low-tech products and almost completely destroyed its technological development, which the country has just begun to realize. With so many such hard-working people having working for so long, with so much sweat shed, so many enslaved, so many lives lost, and so much damage to the environment, I am just surprised China is not the world’s largest economy yet and its per capita GDP is still only one-tenth of the US’s. China could have fared much better if it had not given itself for exploitation by foreign investors.

    So the truth is that international corporations exploit China, and within China the east exploits the west. If anything, the lack of human dignity, the enslaving of Chinese workers, the tremendous loss of Chinese lives, the environmental disasters in China, the suffocation of technological innovation in China owe themselves to the introduction of capitalism and globalization.

    I cannot believe Mr. French once worked for NYT! I do not know what he has been teaching in China, but please, Chinese people do not need your “teaching” any more, though some benefactors of the current unjust system might still like you.

    The hurt of Chinese by the west and Japan over the last one and a half centuries is real and painful. I do not know what Jerry Yang was making fun of. He definitely does no idea of history and does not seem to have a sense of justice either.

  • Htunlin2000

    Htun Lin

    Ditto what Global Justice said. I would add to the discussion by saying that the exploitation of China’s working masses has not diminished, since the days of Western occupations, and the Maoist era which followed. On the contrary, it has only exacerbated, albeit more “tempered” by Madison Avenue’s style of putting on a “nice face”. Thus, the technocratic elite ruling China today have dropped their Mao suits in favor of 3 piece business suits, coming to America and other centers of capitalism to urge “mutual respect” as “equal partners”. Translated: “Our rule is a boon to your business, not a threat– we will continue to provide the whip of discipline to Chinese workers and a controlling state-discipline against labor organization or dissent. Let us do the dirty work, and both our establishments will reap more profits to come. Please withhold your human-rights rhetoric to a minimum. We understand it is only to save face. But let’s get real. We understand your need to satisfy your own psyche for a “kinder and gentler” capitalism. But a cat by any color, must still catch mice!”

  • Roni

    I don’t usually watch your program because I find it lacking in depth but the disconnect between Tiger Mom and the following discussion on Hu Jintao’s visit was especially disconcerting. It is too bad you didn’t concentrate on Amy Chua’s book and initiate a conversation on popular culture and its connection to our culture of violence. In case no one in the media noticed, Tiger Mom took the popular culture (TV, video games, etc.) out of her children’s lives and it didn’t seem to have caused any permanent damage to her children. Many years ago when my son refused to help me in a demanding situation, he was age 15 and had just spent the entire night watching junk sports, I called the cable company and disconnected. The next Monday, on my way to work, in the elevator I told a friend about the incident and disconnecting the cable television. I left the elevator to applause!! Seems to me this is a conversation that is long overdue and you missed the opportunity! Chinese culture? Ha! That was smart Mom culture! We should take a lesson!

  • Wanda

    PBS seriously needs to evaluate the wisdom of the dumbing down of their offerings and consider hiring true journalistic interviewers who provide a format where viewers receive an unbiased interview. Aliston Stewart disrespectful and tasteless bully tactics with Amy Chau were sad. Just on the gender and diversity issues, you’d think Stewart would have embraced the opportunity to hear of Chua’s cultural experience as a parent instead of mindlessly spewing the faulty lazy mob mentality of the recent media coverage of Chaus book. So sad Stewart resorted to more of an effortless gang banger mentality. I guess only the blacks are faced with challenging situations. Don’t care for the pattern I see here. I was a loyal fan of Gwen Ifill until she became so blatant in her self interest with her Obama book throughout the Obama election coverage. Theres an ick factor here that can’t be denied. A dumbing down by PBS and poking in the eye of loyal PBS sponsors. Don’t for a moment fool yourself into thinking we don’t see whats going on here. We are seriously evaluating the wisdom of future donations to an entity who has recently emulated the horrendously intellectually insulting and tasteless tactics of the medias we’ve walked away from. In a world that hasn’t made sense for so long we’ve come to rely on PBS for upliftment, not more debased, insulting, mindless trash (another example, your new movie critic show, eew). Change course now or perish. I won’t attend PBS funeral but would be interested in being notified of the death date of what was once a dear friend.

  • sam

    this episode was just bad- everything from the questionable pairing of stories to the flat and awkward interviews. is it wrong to have expected more from a show on pbs?

  • Liza

    Like other commenters, I’m really confused about the relevance between Hu Jintao and Amy Chua. Seems as awkward as, say, pairing a story about Natalie Portman with one about Bernie Madoff based solely on the fact that both are of Jewish descentPr