Chua with daughters, Sophia and Lulu. Source: Wall Street Journal

Amy Chua is being widely criticized for her newly released controversial memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Since her book was released on January 11, 2011, she’s become more and more infamous for her intense parenting styles, the image of Asian parents, and the criticizing of western ones.

We all know the stereotypes of Asian mothers, and how although we’ve all grown up, and our mothers are now half our size—one little squint would have us running. There have been many stereotypes and portrayals of Asian women over the years, such as a faithful geisha—cooking, cleaning and submissive. With those two extreme images of the Asian woman, it’s not hard to believe that there are few portrayals of Asian women in the media that speak out against it.

When I saw Chua’s appearance on The Today Show the morning of January 25, 2011, I was so shocked at what she had to say, I ran to Barnes and Noble that very day to pick up her book. Asian mothers have always been known for being stricter and maybe a bit scarier than western mothers, but after what I heard her say in her interview, I was in disbelief.

Chua’s novel focuses on “the tiger mother.” The stereotype of “the tiger mother” is very familiar to most Asians who can attest that Asian mothers are the scariest, but Chua’s novel takes it to the extreme. Keep in mind, Chua has mentioned many times to the public, but especially to her critics that this is not a parenting guide, it is a memoir—but that doesn’t stop the outrage from the public at Chua’s decision to keep her children from ever being children.

Chua listed a number of rules that she said she enforced on her two daughters. According to the book, they were not allowed to:

– attend a sleepover
– have a playdate
– be in a school play
– complain about not being in a school play
– watch TV or play computer games
– choose their own extracurricular activities
– get any grade less than an A
– not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
– play any instrument other than the piano or violin
– not play the piano or violin

Looking at this list, some of you may think, “Oh my god! That is outrageous! Others might think, “Hmm… that looks about right.” Regardless of which one you most identify with, I recommend reading this book for yourself, because it will surely make you appreciate your parents more—whether they are more westernized or more extreme like The Tiger Mother.

I was unable to put this novel down because I couldn’t stop comparing it to my own life and I was amazed how unlike my life this was, realizing that my parents weren’t as “Asian” as I always thought. I wondered, if Chua had been my mother, would I have been able to go through what her daughters had?—would I have been good enough?

Chua writes:

“This brings me to my final point. Some might think that the American sports parent is an analog to the Chinese mother. This is so wrong. Unlike your typical Western overscheduling soccer mom, 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.”

From the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua. Copyright © 2011 by Amy Chua. Penguin Press.

There are so many excerpts I could take from the book and analyze so thoroughly, but if I had picked out everything I found interesting, I would only be reprinting the entire book.

My own parents weren’t as strict, neurotic or even as insane as Chua, but they did have expectations of me, and they explained why I had to be so great at math, science, playing the piano would benefit me in the long run. I was more of an athlete growing up, which is considered “odd” for an Asian child. Believe it or not, I didn’t play tennis—in fact, that is the only sport that I am horrible at. Chua eventually allows her younger daughter play a sport, and she allowed it because she concluded that tennis was a respectable and acceptable sport for her child.

I have been unable to stop thinking about “The Tiger Mother” image since I finished Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and I wonder how different my life would be if Amy Chua had been my mother.

Some feel this memoir is an exaggeration of what Asian mothers are really like, others say it is only the tip of the iceberg. Though Chua explicitly states over and over again that this is a personal memoir and not a parenting guide, I can’t help but wonder how much her book has hurt the image of “The Asian Mother.”

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  1. Thanks for the article. As a 2nd generation Viet-Am and a parent, I find myself split. Without having read the book yet, I think there are some valid points: a) there are many (but not all) American households who value self-esteem at the cost of mental toughness, athletics at the expense of academics, fun at the expense of discipline. It’s a balance—a difficult one to strike if you are an American trying to stay true to your Asian roots. Also, most of us 2nd/1.5 gen did not have Tiger Mothers like Chua, a Yale law professor who can afford to lavish violin lessons and her overbearing attention on her children. Our parents were too busy running the liquor store, or learning English, or working two jobs. We were expected to succeed because to do any less would have insulted the severe sacrifices they had made. Some of us succeeded, some took to vice, while most just tried their best. As an Asian-American parent, I’m trying pass down the toughness, drive, and resiliency that will allow my children to compete on the global economy (ironically, against driven students in Vietnam and other Asian countries) and retain their culture, while allowing them to enjoy childhood and take the best from the Western society.

    1. Good point! I do think that there are different types of “Asian parenting,” though the American view of it all has been compacted into one tough-ridden image. Chua’s children do have much more opportunities and wealth that other Asian immigrant families don’t, they do end up rebelling against her– but ultimately making her proud.
      This is very different from Asian parents who may have only come to The United States when they were already in their 30s when it was already too late and too difficult for them to learn English correctly and gain a complete education, so they work hard running small businesses. Their children see their struggles and sacrifices, and I believe that as their children grow older, they are more likely to appreciate their opportunities and maybe even surpassing those who were born into opportunities and privilege.

  2. After reading this book I felt the same way I did when I had just read a few excerpts and seen the author interviewed: Abusive, controlling, selfish parent.

      1. I definitely see how extreme her parenting style is, but it’s also realistic of many of our upbringings. I can account many similar experiences.

        Would I consider my mother abusive, controlling and selfish? Not really. Extreme, yes, and maybe the family name (aka pride) had something to do with that. But at the end of the day pushing children to have a good educational and professional career while trying and being their best (which is what I believe she pushes her children to achieve) are very enticing, awesome, and reachable goals.

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