TOM PLATE WRITES – All mothers are special, of course, as we are reminded ON International Mothers Day this Sunday. Not everyone gets to have their own annual day (not surprisingly, there’s none for newspaper opinion writers, for example), and heavens knows mothers do deserve this annual ritualistic swelling of our guilt glands.
This year, with my own mother having long ago passed away, I began to think about admirable, living mothers – indeed, to propose whom one might plausibly regal as International Mother of the Year (imagining such an honorific). Obvious nominees abound, but mine will surprise you, and while I doubt many if you will agree, you must respect my view because I’ve given it a some thought.
And no, it’s not Meghan Markle – the former American actress who is now, thanks to Prince Harry, the Duchess of Sussex – and who has just delivered hr ‘Archie.’ Another great choice: Jacinda Aldern, New Zealand’s prime minister, who last year became but the second national leader in modern times to give birth while in office. But no, my nominee for Mother of the Year will be very controversial and will not make the cover of any magazine. It’s former Stanford sophomore Yusi Zhao’s mother in China.
Consider that this amazing Mom was willing to pay any price to see her daughter at the U.S. university of her choice (Stanford). In fact, Yusi’s Mom forked over US $6.5 million to an American con-man, now dealing with charges of racketeering on behalf of mom-clients wanting to realize their daughters’ higher-ed dreams by all possible means. But – and I surmise your mounting anger – I cannot bring myself to condemn Mom Zhao or almost any Tiger Money-Mom. Maternal love is neither proportional nor even entirely rational. It is a constant fact of life on this planet, like hurricanes or gravity. I admit there were times in my youth when I wished my own loving mother had such dough as Mrs Zhao.
I am also loathe to condemn Stanford or almost any school favored with large donations from grateful rich Chinese. And not just from China, as a matter of fact: Crazy rich Asian and non-Asian mothers have been writing out heavy checks for as long as I can remember. God love them. It’s not an Asian thing, it’s a Mothering thing. To be sure, institutions of higher education do have to protect their admissions process, even from Mad Moms. They would not merit their phenomenal reputation were admission simply sellable to the highest bidder. But at the same time, let’s be real: not everyone on the Stanford football team was granted admission because they were absolute shoo-in’s for a Rhodes Scholarship. Please!
Moms know higher education is a treasure, and America’s are among the best that can be had. In fact, our best undergraduate institutions convert young people who enter as freshman thinking they know everything into young citizens upon graduation who can actually think through complicated things. Such a magical transformation alone is priceless.
These days, alas, trans-Pacific tension is poisoning what had been a stellar staple in the fraught China-U.S. relationship. Chinese nationals make up the largest group of international students in the U.S., roughly thirty percent. Here in California, at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), where I once taught, many Chinese took my classes. At my current university, LMU, smaller and more personal, the Chinese students entrusted to my care add powerful value to the education of all my students (and sometimes their Prof). But now, snatching defeat from the jaws of our soft-power victory, Washington is saying stop – ‘Chinese spying on campus’! And let’s be suspicious about all student visas – after all, they are foreigners, right?
Here we go again!.… On the contrary, our students from China – and from Indonesia, the Middle East, India, Korea etc. – make our educational life in America less provincial, more cosmopolitan. Government officials on both sides of the Pacific Ocean do future generations an unforgivable disservice by flashing ‘national security’ and ‘spying’ red lights to eviscerate university internationalism that has the potential to help youth generations understand each other better and elevate the perspective of our future leaders beyond provincial nationalism.
Mrs Zhao, in her defense, claimed she had been told that her largesse would help provide more scholarships for un-rich students and better pay for un-rich faculty. Since universities do need money to survive, much less thrive, we must be careful not to condemn those who have wealth simply because it is so very unevenly spread out. After all, America, with its many great universities, is the most capitalist of countries. Sure, on the surface, checkbook parenting can seem vulgar and inarguably unjust, but all good mothers want the best for their children, just as all serious universities want the best for their students. While we need to push our university administrators to eyeball those gaps in their admissions process that can be exploited by vipers, there is little value in criminalizing that relationship.
Better big-spender Mom’s big check goes to a serious university, for a new microbiology lab or a boatload of scholarships for the un-wealthy, than to a certifiably crooked ‘charity’ or crackpot evangelist. So, based on what I know as of this writing, I’m sticking with Momma Zhao as my candidate for Mother of the Year. As for daughter Yusi, having been forced to leave Stanford for all the negative publicity and questions about her application’s veracity, this promising young lady will surely better understand her Mom – and life itself – when someday she herself becomes a mother. It’s a very special and often difficult job.
Tom Plate is the distinguished scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies at LMU (Loyola Marymount University) and the author of seven books about Asia.