Confucian Mothering: The Origin of Tiger Mothering?

In Mathew Foust & Sor-Hoon Tan (eds.), Feminist Encounters with Confucius. Boston, USA: Brill. pp. 40-68 (2016)
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In recent years, the notion of “tiger mother” has been popularized since Amy Chua’s publication of her memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011). This notion is allegedly representative of “Chinese” mothering that produces “stereotypically successful kids” (ibid., p.3). No wonder, the characteristics of the tiger mother revolve around strict disciplining and pressuring of children to excel academically based on her assumption that children “owe everything” to her and that she knows “what is best for [the] children” (ibid., p.53). Chinese mothering is based roughly on Confucian mothering—a traditional mothering style originating from Confucian East Asia. Given the intense debate that has been generated by this popular book, it seems timely to theorize about what Confucian mothering involves, which has been largely neglected by Confucians themselves or contemporary feminists. This chapter attempts to start a conversation on this very important topic and explores the idea of Confucian mothering as follows: In sections II and III, I examine exemplary mothers in Confucian East Asia of the past in order to derive a preliminary idea of Confucian mothering. In order to consider whether Confucian mothering is conducive to promoting the Confucian ideal, I first identify the Confucian ideal in section IV by providing a plausible conception of Confucianism as a universal philosophical system. In section V, I elaborate on how Confucian mothering in its goal and style has been conducive to enabling male children to realize the Confucian ideal. Yet these historical instances of Confucian mothering cannot be incorporated into the universal Confucian philosophical system because Confucian mothers themselves were prevented from realizing the Confucian ideal. I therefore argue in section VI for a reconceptualization of Confucian mothering consistent with Confucianism as a universal philosophical system. Reconceptualized in this way, I show in section VII the ways in which Confucian mothering is distinct from tiger mothering and argue that tiger mothering is morally unjustifiable. Finally, I conclude by examining why Confucian mothering is relevant even for contemporary American parents in the 21st century.

Author's Profile

Ranjoo S. Herr
Bentley College


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