(FEBRUARY 18, 2011)
A writer researching Maxine Hong Kingston asked me about the assertion that Kingston got her storytelling talent from her mother. The writer wanted to know what questions I would ask Kingston’s parents. I told the writer I wouldn’t interview the parents. I wouldn’t put her parent’s in the position of lying to cover the daughter’s rep, or telling the truth and bringing down their daughter’s book. The truth of THE BALLAD OF MULAN and Chinese misogyny in Chinese lit was to be found in the BALLAD and Chinese lit, not the parents. The idea was repugnant. I would not make anyone but Kingston responsible for her book.
I realize now that I was defending was the relationship between parents and children as a family. I was rather maniacally defending a Chinese idea of family. I still don’t know why. I never had parents. We have personal reasons for defending or putting down the idea of the family against the universe. Chinese families are crazy about the defending the family against all comers.
Writers in China who had of load the unpopular to loose on the world would either disown their parents (like Soong Gong publicly humiliating his father, cussing him out and trashing the name before he went off to lead the Outlaws of Liangshan Marsh) or they’d write as Anonymous (the way MONKEY was written.)
Amy Chua’s THE TIGER MOTHER gives an insight into what kind of mother Far Mulan, Liang Hongyu and Mu Guiying were. Amy Chua seems to be in charge of the home. Her husband is the soldier who defends the home from outside intrusion, invasion. If he can’t, and her daughters are too young or don’t have the soldier’s skills and she does, she’s willing to go.
Through her daughter’s first trip round the 12 animals her word is law at home. At 12- or 13 kids begin to change. Interestingly Amy Chua relaxes her iron rule in response to her kid’s criticism.. More interesting is her kid’s response to their mother’s changes. They approve their mother’s iron rule while they were under twelve and approve her response to their criticisms. The mother and daughters response to each other seems to demonstrate that there was always give and take within the family. When the difference between the daughters shows –expresses –itself after 12, it doesn’t result in one or both walking out to a life of their own with vows never to be like mother Amy. The family rallies together to defend their members.
I don’t know the family. I don’t know the children’s stories told in the family. But the Mother Amy seems very Chinese or at least wise enough to have raised her kids to talk and criticize family life with understanding and love of the family.
Her book is not an instruction manual on rearing a family, but it does raise disturbing questions about our upbringing and how we raised or are raising our kids. Every family is different and every family is the same. Some play piano. Some learn to love old tractors and the soil. Exactly how different and how the same our families are to hers her book helps us understand by being so specific. That is good.
Mother Chua has brought White and Chinese-American readers out of the family room to criticize her and her book with stories or defenses of their own families. That is good. The only fault of the book is it’s too honest. That too is good.