Tiger Mom Meet Sunzi Dad?

I have a bit of a dilemma.

My nearly 6 year old twins are starting to lie, as most kids at this age at this do. Their occasional, transparent attempts at mendacity are cute but worrisome.

At home in America the reaction would be to trot out George Washington and his cherry tree. But we live in China, and given the state of modern Chinese society I wonder if it is more important that they learn how to dissemble skillfully. Most of my Western friends are horrified that I would even ask this question, and most of my Chinese friends say “of course”.

I am thinking they should start memorizing the Thirty-Six Stratagems (三十六计) and Sunzi’s Art of War (孙子兵法).

Amy Chua may be the “Tiger Mom“, but perhaps I should be the “Sunzi Dad“.

Advice?

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  • jen

    Have you considered
    弟子规  (Di Zi Gui)?
    From Chapter 4

    凡出言
    信为先
     诈与妄
    奚可焉   
    The expanded translation in my copy reads
    When you speak
    Honesty is important
    Deceitful words and lies
    Are not allowed.

    I have a friend who actually uses Di Zi Gui to discipline her 7-year-old daughter. When her little girl is naughty, the mother will start to recite the appropriate line, then her daughter hangs her head in shame and finishes the line.  They claim it works, which is why she gave me a copy in Chinese, Pinyin, and English. A not-so subtle hint, I guess. 

  • http://www.sinocism.com/ Bill Bishop

    thanks. we do have dizi gui. one of the questions i am grappling with is whether or not strictly playing by the rules in china will put them at a disadvantage. it seems that only suckers and foreigners take the high road here… i hope that changes, but in the event it does not it may make sense for the next generation to at least understand the different playing field, especially as china gains influence outside of its own borders.

  • jen

    The Di Zi Gui at least shows that somewhere in these 5000 years of history honesty was encouraged, but in the current times the rules are a little different. It’s up to you what kind of adults and future you want for your girls. My eight-year-old, who spends possibly too much time contemplating right and wrong (scrupulosity, anyone?), has already announced he’d rather be poor and good than a rich cheat. Sucker and a foreigner! 

  • http://www.sinocism.com/ Bill Bishop

    I will give my kids both sides and let them decide. it is up to them regardless of what we say

  • http://tropix-blue.blogspot.com/ John Wong

    Lying is a personal strategy used to escape the consequences of wrong doing or manipulate for advantage. It tends to become habitual and may escalate to deceitful, dishonest or malicious intent. The consequences of building on a foundation of lies can be severe. There are better ways to teach your child to understand and be equipped to deal with societal mores in China. “Be wise as a serpent, but harmless as doves”. Integrity is a valuable asset in the longer term.

  • Suresh VR

    Long time reader, first time comment: There is a proverb in Tamil language (India) – “Kalavum kattru mara” – which literally means ‘Learn how to steal, but forget it’. So, don’t directly tell them to lie – you should instead guide them to be in a better position. Ask them to reconsider social situations which was difficult for them and construct cases in which the outcome could have been better. 

    Cheers!

  • Micah S

    That’s a very insightful decision. Your girls won’t live in the present, they will live in the future, and we can’t predict with 100% certainty what the future of China/their world will be like. We can only try to shape it with what we teach our children.

  • http://www.sinocism.com/ Bill Bishop

    good advice. thanks

  • LC

    Suckers aren’t wrong for taking the high road, they’re wrong for assuming everyone else is, as well. Knowing what the high road is and trying to do the right thing doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with being a sucker. If they’re well aware that other people are capable of unethical behavior, and of taking advantage of them–something you can teach them to protect themselves from–they can also be prepared, right?

    Before you decide how to teach them, it’s also worth considering what your ultimate goal is. Let’s say “taking the high road” automatically puts a person at a disadvantage in this society–is your end goal as a parent to make sure your kids are equipped to be No. 1, at any cost? I tend to observe that the type of qualities you’re writing about in Chinese society are only useful in obtaining material success–is that all that matters? Or would you feel just as proud of them, and of the job you did as a parent, if they achieved a lower level of material success (yet were successful, nonetheless) but were happy people, who stood for something?

    I think children are often more resourceful than we realize. They naturally learn how to better survive, by trial and error, motivated by whatever it is they desire to accomplish, and though it’s tempting as a parent to want to protect them and elimate the “error” part of that equation, there are just some things they will learn whether you teach them or not, and some things we can’t teach them even if we try. But they can’t necessarily learn the foundation of knowing the difference between right and wrong on their own, which is where parents and other adult role models come in.

    You’re already giving your children an advantage by living in an international city, and being exposed to so many different things. The suckers we all know and hear about are people who, like all of us, who grew up in a less globalized world and had to learn painful lessons about culture clash–things that won’t be an issue for your children. They will forge their own rules in the new world.

    Another side point of consideration is who they’re lying to–my Asian mother always considered it to be blatantly disrespectful when I lied to her, and it’s true. When you deceive someone, you aren’t just acting selfishly, but treating that person as if they aren’t smart enough to figure you out. That breeds distrust in the relationship, and your kids’ relationship with you will only require more trust as they get older and the list of things you disagree on grows. Learning to build this kind of trust can better equip them for crucial relationships in their future, like marriage.

    Didn’t mean for this response to be so long–I was a nightmare teen myself and helped my mom raise my younger brother, so it’s a topic I think about a lot!

  • LC

    Suckers aren’t wrong for taking the high road, they’re wrong for assuming everyone else is, as well. Knowing what the high road is and trying to do the right thing doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with being a sucker. If they’re well aware that other people are capable of unethical behavior, and of taking advantage of them–something you can teach them to protect themselves from–they can also be prepared, right?

    Before you decide how to teach them, it’s also worth considering what your ultimate goal is. Let’s say “taking the high road” automatically puts a person at a disadvantage in this society–is your end goal as a parent to make sure your kids are equipped to be No. 1, at any cost? I tend to observe that the type of qualities you’re writing about in Chinese society are only useful in obtaining material success–is that all that matters? Or would you feel just as proud of them, and of the job you did as a parent, if they achieved a lower level of material success (yet were successful, nonetheless) but were happy people, who stood for something?

    I think children are often more resourceful than we realize. They naturally learn how to better survive, by trial and error, motivated by whatever it is they desire to accomplish, and though it’s tempting as a parent to want to protect them and elimate the “error” part of that equation, there are just some things they will learn whether you teach them or not, and some things we can’t teach them even if we try. But they can’t necessarily learn the foundation of knowing the difference between right and wrong on their own, which is where parents and other adult role models come in.

    You’re already giving your children an advantage by living in an international city, and being exposed to so many different things. The suckers we all know and hear about are people who, like all of us, who grew up in a less globalized world and had to learn painful lessons about culture clash–things that won’t be an issue for your children. They will forge their own rules in the new world.

    Another side point of consideration is who they’re lying to–my Asian mother always considered it to be blatantly disrespectful when I lied to her, and it’s true. When you deceive someone, you aren’t just acting selfishly, but treating that person as if they aren’t smart enough to figure you out. That breeds distrust in the relationship, and your kids’ relationship with you will only require more trust as they get older and the list of things you disagree on grows. Learning to build this kind of trust can better equip them for crucial relationships in their future, like marriage.

    Didn’t mean for this response to be so long–I was a nightmare teen myself and helped my mom raise my younger brother, so it’s a topic I think about a lot!