13 December 2019
A court illustration of Jennifer Pan shows her before a judge during her murder trial. Pan was given two life terms for the murder of her mother and the attempted murder of her father. Photo:
A court illustration of Jennifer Pan shows her before a judge during her murder trial. Pan was given two life terms for the murder of her mother and the attempted murder of her father. Photo:

How this golden child became a tiger from hell

A small Canadian city magazine comparable to HK Magazine published a riveting story this month that resonates with Asian children — immigrant and otherwise — around the world.

Much like Amy Chua’s provocative essay on Chinese parenting style that ran in the Wall Street Journal in 2011, this story — one of tiger parenting gone horribly, tragically and gruesomely wrong — hit sensitive sore spots, rekindling conversations on the ridiculous expectations of and high-octane pressured exerted by some Asian parents.

As Chua put it then: “The Chinese mother believes that (1) schoolwork always comes first, (2) an A-minus is a bad grade, (3) your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math, (4) you must never compliment your children in public, (5) if your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach, (6) the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal, and (7) that medal must be gold.”

In the Toronto Life story, reporter Karen K. Ho gives the lurid inside story of a golden child gone bad, the killers she hired, and the parents she wanted dead.

As the story goes, Jennifer Pan was everything an Asian parent could ever want.

She was a competitive figure skater, an accomplished pianist and straight A student who won scholarships and early acceptance to college.

True to her immigrant parents’ wishes, she graduated from the University of Toronto’s prestigious pharmacology program and went on to work at a blood-testing lab at SickKids hospital.

Par for the course for parents who “picked Jennifer up from school at the end of the day, monitored her extracurricular activities and forbade her from attending dances”, Ho said.

That Jennifer’s parents administered a tough regiment is an understatement.

“Parties were off limits and boyfriends verboten until after university. When Jennifer was permitted to attend a sleepover at a friend’s house, she was dropped off late at night and picked up early the following morning,” Ho said.

“By age 22, she had never gone to a club, been drunk, visited a friend’s cottage or gone on vacation without her family.”

The sordid truth — and unfortunate reality — was that Jennifer had begun cutting herself and doctoring her report cards in eighth grade.

“Using old report cards, scissors, glue and a photocopier, she created a new, forged report card with straight As. Since universities didn’t consider marks from Grade 9 and 10 for admission, she told herself it wasn’t a big deal,” wrote Ho.

Jennifer’s life became an elaborate lie.

She failed to graduate from high school, let alone the University of Toronto, as she had told her parents.

Ho detailed the intricate web of deception that her high school classmate at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School in north Scarborough spun to prevent her parents from discovering the unimaginable — that their golden child was, in fact, failing, said the Washington Post.

Using court documents and interviews, Ho pieced together Pan’s descent from a precocious elementary schooler to a chronic liar who forged report cards, scholarship letters and university transcripts — all to preserve an image of perfection.

That demented pursuit and the overwhelming pressure, of course, could not last forever.

When Jennifer’s parents discovered the truth, she was left to plan and carry out what she saw was her only option.

That led to an open-and-shut case where at 28, Jennifer Pan, along with her accomplices, received two life sentences in January for the murder of her mother and attempted murder of her father in a staged home invasion robbery in 2010.

“Ultimately, it’s a horrible crime,” Ho told The Washington Post.

“But because so many people have gone through the experience of growing up like Jennifer, it’s not unfathomable to them that someone would just break.”

Ho, a business journalist who had never written a crime story, figured 50,000 views would be pretty good when the story was published online last week, she said via email.

At last count, the story was viewed over 250,000 times, with more than 30,000 Facebook shares.

To be sure, social networks were afire with commentary from persons of Asian heritage around the world. Many shared comparable experiences.

“As a second generation who grew up in very much a similar environment, I feel like I’ve grappled with the causality/blame of this kind of vicious cycle my whole life,” said one commenter.

“My mother was the coldest, the harshest, the most eager to push me to my limits just so I could be competitive with the children of her prestigious friends. It wasn’t even about me,” said another.

Others adapted as best they could.

“Despite the pressure, I got accustomed to only completing the minimum to please my parents. This developed a mentality of finding shortcuts or manipulating people to help get what you want.”

Still others just waited to get out of their parents’ grasp.

“For about the first 20 years of my life, I hated my parents as well, but having left the abusively high standard house, off on my own in college, I finally had a chance to eat at a restaurant, watch a movie, or go to a party.”

– Contact us at [email protected]


A strategist and marketing consultant on China business