Tiger mothering aside, what is "Chua"?

I’m sure we’ve all read the article and engaged in lots of discussion over the supposed superiority of Chinese mothers.  Amy Chua says she’s Chinese, but “Chua” is certainly not pinyin.  Of course there are lots of different kinds of ways to romanize Chinese but “chua” doesn’t seem to want to map onto any mandarin syllable. 

I asked a fellow sinoblogger, and he cracked “maybe it’s short for Chihuahua”.  She does kind of look like one:


And did in her younger days:


This could go on forever, but we’re supposed to be talking about language here; maybe in the style of “Bush or Chimp?” someone could start a website called “Chua or Chihuahua?”  (If you watch her videos, you’ll be even more convinced.)

So where did her name come from?  I thought it was going to take a bit of sleuthing, but found the answer very quickly.  My plan was to type “Amy Chua” into the Hong Kong Google site so most of the results would be in Chinese.  That way I’d have a good chance of seeing what the character for Chua is.  But Wikipedia was one of the first results, and the answer was right there: 蔡 (cài).  Later in the article it mentions that her family’s native “dialect” is Hokkien.  Since Hokkien is spoken here in Xiamen, I went down to the little store in my neighborhood and asked the shop owner how you say 蔡 (cài) in Minnan (Hokkien is a subdivision of Minnan).  He replied:

Here’s another take, from my next-door-neighbor:

The only way I could think of romanizing that would of course be “chua”.

[It was my intention to just include one example from each person, but notice the difference in quality of the /a/ in the two female voice examples.  She didn’t say them so close together originally; they were a few seconds apart, but I cut out the space in the middle from the recording.]

7 responses to “Tiger mothering aside, what is "Chua"?”

  1. shan says:

    This is great! I wondered the same thing. Thanks for the sleuth work!

  2. hanmeng says:

    You’re comparing her to a dog?

  3. Tezuk says:

    In Tai-luo台羅拼音 it is written as tshuà. It also sounds similar to perhaps the most commonly used Minnan word in Taiwanese Mandarin: 礤冰(刨冰,攃冰) tshuah-ping… shaved ice.

  4. Hmmm... says:

    What about 欻?

  5. @Hmmm…: Now I feel stupid for not opening my dictionary! So there is a pinyin syllable “chua”! But it’s only for onomatopoeic words, and not surnames. Nice find, nonetheless.

  6. Walter says:

    This is interesting. “Chua” is a rather common surname here in Singapore as Hokkien is the predominant “dialect group” among the Chinese here. If I’m not wrong, it is also spelt “Chua” in Teochew, another “dialect” spoken here that is closely related to Hokkien. I think the Cantonese equivalent is probably “Choy” or “Choi”.

  7. Kellen Parker says:

    Nice work. I was wondering myself, but obviously not enough to do the actual work..

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