The International Relations Implications of Chinese Parenting Practices

By now I'm sure most people have come across Amy Chua's recent Wall Street Journal article.  After reading David Brooks' response to Chau's article, I've begun to think of some of some of the international relations implications of Chua's Chinese parenting style.  Specifically, I'm curious to see what her revelations imply for China's ascendency in the global community.  In spite of  her in-text caveats, I will assume that her described style indeed applies to all Chinese mothers and in no way, shape, or form is a blanket generalization that might not apply quite so broadly.

  1. Espionage — Historically espionage and subterfuge have been incredibly important in advancing national objectives.  Well–placed operatives can provide decision-makers with valuable information on the intentions and capabilities of rival powers.  And a relatively simple act of misinformation or sabotage can achieve what might take millions of dollars and thousands of military personnel to achieve.  But it appears that we have very little to fear from China in terms of espionage.  Chua claims that a ban on playdates was one of the imporant steps in creating a driven, high-achieving child.  And let's not even talk about participating in a school play.  Do we really expect the Chinese government to field skilled intelligence operatives if they don't even allow their children to partake in afterschool drama activities?  Where are they supposed to learn the  skills necessary to fool other highly trained intelligence operatives?  Denying a child from an early age the basic opportunities that contribute to shaping their social skills and ability to feign interest in the stories of self-involved peers doesn't seem like a very effective means of imbuing budding spies with spy-type skills. 
  2. Military — One of the two categories that Chua lists as being acceptable for her children to under achieve in is gym class.  I've watched enough movies featuring basic training programs to know that big wall and the rope climb are omni-present features of military life.  Furthermore, a basic neglect of physically demanding activities does not seem like a particularly effective way of building up a strong military.  Granted this ignores the emphasis on more technologically advanced means of warfighting, but as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have emphasized the importance of boots on the ground, I'd say physical prowess is still important.
  3. Strategy — Chua doesn't allow her children to watch TV or play video games.  I assume this ban also extends to surfing the internet as well.  We all know newspapers are dying out, so how will Chinese children keep up on current global affairs?  I predict there will be a severe expertise deficit in China as a consequence of this neglect.  It will take several additional years of education before young Chinese adults will have caught up on all that back reading.  This might also cause the Chinese leadership of the next generation to pursue moot strategies—had they watched TV in the here and now they'd know that the Jersey Shore was already destroying America from the inside out and that there was no need for a more heated contest.  China could preserve valuable military and financial resources had they only watched a little MTV and gave it another 5 years.
  4. Soft Power — At first glance it would seem that China has an advantage in this department.  So many gifted, classically trained musicians and an emphasis high academic excellence should make China an attractive place.  A well educated population provides the country with an enormous pool of expertise and talent which can then provide a boost to China's academic institutions, perhaps making them more attractive to foreign students.  Through attending China's universities, foreign students will experience Chinese culture and develop a greater affinity for the country.  However, the standards by which Chinese parents apparently raise their children has likely had a perverse effect in this area.  Admissions standards to Chinese universities must be incredibly high.  If the lower and upper bounds of the typical grade distribution in China are A+ and A+, where do the A students go?  University admissions standards are likely so high that strategic-thinking foreign students realize they can't hope to compete and apply to universities in other countries, thus depriving China of the opportunity to difuse its values and culture to the rest of the world.  And, really, what do you as a country do with an enormous surplus of high-quality pianists?  China may soon come to have an enormous population of struggling artists to support, placing enormous demands on its economic system as funds are syphoned off to support the glut of unemployed virtuosos.       

I'm sure that there are furhter areas in which parenting will matter when it comes to international affairs.  If anyone can think of anything in particular that I've missed, please feel free to contribute.  


About Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Kansas State University. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2013. His research focuses on the political and economic determinants of foreign economic and security policy, security issues, and state repression.

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