Panel analyzes women in China

Updated: 2012-03-12 11:05

By Kelly Chung Dawson in New York (China Daily)

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Panel analyzes women in China
Amy Chua (left) speaks about the difference of parenting in China versus the US at the Women in the World Conference. Provided to China Daily

The topic of parenting inevitably rose to the forefront when Amy Chua, author of the best-selling book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, joined four other speakers for a China panel at the third annual Women in the World Conference in New York, which ended on Saturday. Chua, who became controversial last year for suggesting that Western parents should deny their children play dates in favor of a more draconian parenting style, surprised the audience when she suggested that Chinese parents should allow sleepovers to up their children's chances of Ivy League acceptance in the long run.

Other speakers at the panel included fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg; Mei Zhang, founder of Wild China; Tian X. Hou, founder and CEO of T.H. Capital; and Melinda Liu, the Beijing bureau chief of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, which hosted the summit. The discussion was moderated by ABC News Correspondent Barbara Walters.

Chua, who is a Yale law school professor, recently profiled four self-made female business tycoons for The Daily Beast, including real estate billionaire Zhang Xin; restaurateur Zhang Lan; Peggy Yu Yu, CEO of online retailer Dang Dang; and talk show star Yang Lan. Without fail, the women all claimed to want to raise their children with a more Western style of parenting, Chua said.

"But as I was talking to them, I asked one, 'You don't have academic requirements?' And she said, 'As long as they get 90 percent on every test, then I'm fine," Chua said with a laugh. "I asked another, and she said, 'I'm really free-wheeling with my kids. My only requirement of them is that they practice writing Chinese characters for two hours every day'."

Clearly, a good amount of Eastern discipline was still at play, Chua said.

But as Chua has learned more about the Chinese education system, which focuses more on rote memorization, she has realized that if she were to raise her children in China, she would likely be less strict with them, she said.

"You have to balance, and you have to listen," she said. "But the question people always, always ask is, 'How do I get my kids into an Ivy League School'?"

Ironically, her suggestion to Chinese who have moved from China to the US is, "Have more sleepovers."

"I think as two countries we're oceans apart on this subject," she said. "We have polar opposite extreme problems. We make fun of the self-esteem movement in this country, but in some ways I think China needs a little of that self-esteem movement for kids."

The speakers also discussed China's one-child policy, and the development of what some sociologist have labeled the "Little Emperor" phenomenon.

"It used to be four grandparents who were revered and honored by the younger generations," Chua said. "Now it's one spoiled child at the bottom, doted on and catered to by not just parents but two pairs of grandparents. But it really is different in China. These kids might be spoiled, but they are also the repository of all their parents' dreams. These 'spoiled brats' work extremely hard."

With 75 percent of Chinese women in the workforce and a growing number of women in senior management of Chinese companies, Friday's China panel discussion covered a range of topics.

Von Furstenberg, who as Walters said, is a "pioneer" for having lead one of the first luxury brands to aggressively expand into China's luxury market, and who held a major retrospective of her work in Beijing, spoke about her admiration of Chinese women.

"I am always inspired by women, and what inspires me is their strength," Von Furstenberg said. "And if you talk about Chinese women, it's like a woman whose strength is on steroids. They are so strong, intelligent, focused and determined. I am just in awe of them. When I was a little girl and I didn't eat my soup, my mother would say, 'Think about the Chinese, they have no soup to eat.' Then, for my children's generation, it was 'The Chinese make everything.' Now, it's 'The Chinese buy everything'."

The designer, whose famous wrap dress is her best-selling item in China, said that she has met and befriended women of all professions in her twice-yearly trips to the country.

"These women are so fascinating," she said. "They know everything, they read everything, and they want everything. They're fascinating - and there are a lot of them, so you can do a lot of business," she said with a laugh.

Liu, who has reported in Asia for three decades and who in 2006 won the Shorenstein Journalism Award, said that the state of women's issues in China can vary widely.

"China today is a schizophrenic entity in some ways," she said. "In the city women are doing very well, although they occasionally still have problems with sexual harassment and sexual discrimination. But one thing that makes China unique in the world is that the female suicide rate is much higher than for men."

She also pointed to recent movements including one loosely titled Occupy Men's Toilets, in which women forced themselves into men's restrooms to protest the lack of adequate facilities for women. Another major issue is the rising rate of families who are separated as a result of parents working in urban factories while children are raised by grandparents in rural areas, she said.

"There are so many faces of China," Chua said. "There are entire populations in China that live completely different from each other."

Famed supermodel and health advocate Christy Turlington was in the audience, and said that the discussion was extremely thought-provoking.

"China is changing so quickly that if I want to have a sense of what it was, I need to go visit now, because it's changing so quickly," she said.

The Women in the World summit concludes March 10. For more information on the summit, go to