For the past few days, two articles and their related discussions have occupied some brain space. One is the now infamous excerpt from Amy Chua’s latest book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” on the Wall Street Journal, and the other – a critical look at the welfare state in Singapore – was published by The Economist a year ago titled “The Stingy Nanny”.
As I sat back pondering both articles, it struck me how similar the subject matter was – they both portray successful ‘products’ as a result of stringent and harsh practices that are counter to the west. In fact, it became very clear that the PAP is a Chinese parent and Singapore its child. It explains perfectly their ruling of Singapore, and therefore Singaporeans.
According to Chua, there are mainly three reasons why and how Chinese parents are able to control, demand and push their children beyond what is considered acceptable and why this breeds success.
1. Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. A child with poor grades is simply a lazy child and fixing that is only a matter of punishment, shaming and disapproval.
All Singaporeans can identify with this. The early streaming in school to separate the weak from the strong, hence also ensuring competition, the labelling – ‘heartlanders’, ‘quitters’, ‘normal stream’, ‘express stream’, the sparse support to those who have fallen on hard times.
It’s little wonder that Singaporeans are constantly upgrading and the national psyche is one of kiasu-ism and kiasi-ism.
2. Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences
The Singapore government have always strongly impressed upon Singaporeans what they can or should do, what they can or can’t have access to. From the late 1960s to 1970s, they drove home the family planning message “Stop at two”; subsequently changing tact to “Three or more if you can afford it”. The sale and import of chewing gum was banned in 1992* as Singaporeans couldn’t be trusted to bin their used gums. Every decade they champion a different industry, thereby affecting the economic growth of Singapore and subtly steering the course of choice of young Singaporeans.
And because they have put all the right things in place, because they have set the path to glory and success:
3. Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything…Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.
Let’s not forget who works for whom. Without the PAP, Singapore wouldn’t be where it is. They dictated the rules and regulations that catapulted Singapore to first world status. For that, Singaporeans have constantly paid and will continue to pay.
PAP’s approach has softened over the years. Not greatly so, but slightly; just as Chua has relaxed some rules due to her daughter’s rebellion. However, a major change in style isn’t going to happen any time soon. Not when there are always potential adoptive children nipping at the heels of Singaporeans, willing to take their place in the arms of a wealthy and stable parent.
* The ban on chewing gum has since been revised. Those with therapeutic value can now be purchased at pharmacies and clinics on condition of registration by the purchaser.