Two eminent Chinese American artists discussed how parental pressure, coupled with living in a different culture from the one their parents grew up informed their worldview, and even fuelled their sense of rebellion.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and novelist Amy Tan were speaking at last month's Sino-U.S. Cultural Forum, where they were joined by other celebrities from the US and China.
Both Tan and Ma admitted to having a rebellious streak growing up. However, Tan, with her admissions of drug-taking and temporary imprisonment outdid Ma's tales of occasional drunkenness.
Growing up in a world that was completely different to the one their parents knew, it was perhaps inevitable that Tan and Ma would challenge their parents' often harsh authority.
When discussing their immigrant parents, Tan, in particular, had many stories about her mother. Orville Schell, chairman of the forum and the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York, recalled that Tan's mother lived with the expectation that her children would have all the advantages of living in America, coupled with Chinese character and discipline.
Tan remembered her mother's stern side. "She was very Chinese in her attitude to everything, especially things she considered dangerous," said Tan, author of New York Times bestsellers including, "The Joy Luck Club", "The Kitchen God's Wife" and "The Hundred Secret Senses. " Tan recalled growing up with her mother's endless threats and warnings ringing in her ears, especially where boys were concerned. "She'd say, 'Don't kiss a boy, otherwise it could lead to pregnancy, and then a baby, which you'd have to put in the garbage,'" said Tan. The chilling warning ended with the predication that Tan would probably end up killing herself as a consequence of kissing a boy at such a young age.
In addition to the warnings, there were threats of varying levels. When her mother would say, "I'll go back to China if you don't listen to me," Tan sometimes thought it wouldn't be such a bad thing. However, when her mother switched to, "Why didn't you listen to me? I may as well be dead," Tan knew she was furious.
Tan also recalled being taken to a girl's funeral by her mother. "She told me, 'That's what will happen to you if you're disobedient,'" said Tan. She also remembered a funny conversation, during which her startled mother said,"How could you think that, I haven't put it in your head yet!"