By Wendy Liu
For Northwest Asian Weekly
I have been very reluctant to get in on the Tiger mom craze, as parenting is not really a topic I am interested in. But as a mom and of Chinese background, especially when the Chinese New Year of the Rabbit is taking over the Tiger, I guess I could say a few words.
First of all, I was surprised as to how traditionally Chinese, even militant, an American-born ivy league intellectual like Amy Chua could be in parenting.
In contrast, as a “knockoff” American, I totally embraced the American way. My American-born son, for instance, had all the sleepovers he wanted and also played all the sports to his heart’s content, from basketball to tennis to track.
He also got to make his own final college decision last fall: a Washington school over a California one, even though the latter was every Chinese American parent’s dream school for their child.
What surprised me more, or even chilled me, however, was what Tiger mom reminded me of: tiger government.
I am not sure if Ms. Chua realizes this, but people in China since ancient times have used tiger to describe a repressive government. The old saying “ke zheng meng yu hu” in English would be: a tyrannical government is fiercer than a tiger.
Although I could only read about the tiger kind of governing in ancient China, I sure experienced one in modern China, especially under Mao’s reign.
Rather than Chinese vs. American parenting style, it is its extrapolation — China vs. America governing model — that deserves our national attention. With President Hu Jintao just over at the White House, the contrast between the two countries has been reinforced for us all.
The Beijing consensus vs. Washington consensus debate has been going on for years. It is one between the Chinese authoritarian model of government with state capitalism and the American democratic model of government with free market capitalism. More often than not these days, we hear the Chinese model gaining ground while the American model takes a beating.
The latest wrinkle in the debate was a Financial Times article by Francis Fukuyama titled, “U.S. democracy has little to teach China.” As the author who declared the end of history when the Western free world won the Cold War, Fukuyama now seemed to suggest that with “China on a roll” and “state-owned enterprises back in vogue,” [the] era started where “the U.S.-style liberal ideas” and “lightly regulated ‘Anglo-Saxon’ capitalism” would no longer dominate.
Whether China or America can better compete in the new history Fukuyama wrote about, or “win the future” as President Obama called on, we have all seen or made comparisons of the two systems. I myself did my share comparing Seattle’s protracted Alaskan Way Viaduct project with China’s “Great Leap Forward” economy.
But the China vs. America model debate is not really one of speed or even efficiency. It is, boiled down, I think, a simple and ongoing American one: big or small government, more or less freedom for the people?
China may have had the thousands of drummers beating as one at the Beijing Olympics, but America had Michael Phelps. China may have assembled and exported all the iPhones and iPads, but America has Steve Jobs. China may strive for a harmonious society by silencing dissent, but America has enjoyed a quarrelsome but stable democracy for over two centuries.
If anyone has had any doubt, President Obama reminded us again of the greatness of America in his State of the Union address: “As contentious and frustrating and messy as our democracy can sometimes be,” the president said, “I know there isn’t a person here who would trade places with any other nation on Earth.”
That was certainly true. If given the choices of riding the high-speed rail in China while accepting a political censorship or a slow train in America while enjoying free speech, I would take the slow train any time.
No more tiger for me.
Happy Chinese New Year of the Rabbit! ♦
This story was originally printed in American Chronicle.
Wendy Liu can be reached at LYW8@aol.com.