These days, America is watching China carefully as the Middle Kingdom roars toward economic dominance—but it turns out that Chinese women are looking to the West for answers. So said panelists Amy Chua, Wendi Deng Murdoch, and Newsweek’s Melinda Liu during Friday’s Women in the World discussion, which focused on the shifting status and aspirations of women in the world’s fastest-growing economy.
Chinese women have been a stunning success story as the country has opened itself to capitalism and prosperity. As the panel's moderator, legendary broadcaster Charlie Rose, noted, one-third of China's millionaires are women and China boasts 11 of the world's 20 richest self-made women. Today in China, women are engineers, entrepreneurs, millionaires, businesswomen, said Murdoch, wife of News Corporation mogul Rupert Murdoch and a savvy entrepreneur in her own right. (Her film company, Big Feet productions, is producing an adaptation of the bestselling novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, whose trailer was shown at the conference Friday.)It's this incredible economic success that's led Western economies to worry about falling behind and helped catapult books about Chinese education and parenting methods into the spotlight—books such as panelist Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which discusses cultural differences in parenting methods and Chinese parents' strict focus on success.But in an interesting twist that all three panelists highlighted, Chinese women are very open to and interested in Western influences. Chua told an anecdote of how her book is being marketed very differently in China: there, the tome's title is a rough translation of "Parenting Lessons From Yale Law Professor," and the cover displays Chua's face on a star-spangled, red-white-and-blue background. Her mainland Chinese friends explained to her that a book about harsh parenting methods wouldn't make a splash in China. Instead, her book is supposed to show Chinese mothers how to be more lenient with their kids and appreciate children's individual personalities (a transformation Chua underwent the final third of her book). "More independence, more emphasis on individuality and freedom. That's how it's being marketed in China," Chua said. (A sample Marie Claire China question for the author: "Tell Chinese audiences how you are so good at being friends with your daughter".)
Chua quipped that in China, her controversial book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is considered normal parenting.
Melinda Liu, Newsweek's Beijing bureau chief, confirmed the shift. "A lot of that very strict parenting model is just par for the course in China," Liu said. "What's interesting, though, is among younger Chinese mothers, there's a feeling that not only in the family has parenting been very strict, but that society has been very strict and repressive. The more progressive Chinese moms want some Western education in their children's background...to learn something of Western academia."
Murdoch shared a personal experience with the shift. "When I grew up in China, my mother was very strict, worse than the book, actually," she said. If she came home with a 95 on a test, her parents and teachers would tell her she had shamed the family. "Life was so poor and hard in China...you literally had to study your way out of poverty. My parents were very strict. That was what got you somewhere." Now, though, Murdoch is more gentle with her own two daughters. "We don't push them as hard. We want to encourage them and tell them they did a good job."