The Tiger Mother Media-Storm: Background information when reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

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Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

by Amy Chua

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua X
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2011, 256 pages
    Dec 2011, 256 pages

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Beyond the Book:
The Tiger Mother Media-Storm

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In addition to her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua's Wall Street Journal article entitled, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" (which is excerpted from Tiger Mother but does not fully represent the message of the book) has created quite a stir in the media, and has inspired hundreds of opinionated articles and blog postings around the world. (Of note: Chua denies titling the article herself.) In it, among other things, she explains the benefits of what she considers "Chinese mothering" and highlights three major differences between the Chinese and Western parental mind-sets:

First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital... Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything... the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud. Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences... Don't get me wrong: It's not that Chinese parents don't care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It's just an entirely different parenting model.

In response to Chua's ideals, experts such as Dr. Christine Carter in The Huffington Post have criticized her quest for "perfection" as unhealthy. She claims that "Three decades of research clearly suggests that such a narrow focus on achievement can produce wildly unhappy people. Yes, they may boast perfect report cards and stunning piano recitals, but we are a country full of high-achieving but depressed and suicidal college students, a record number of whom take prescription medication for anxiety and depression."

In The New York Times, in an article entitled,"Amy Chua is a Wimp," David Brooks comments that, "I believe she's coddling her children. She's protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn't understand what's cognitively difficult and what isn't. Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls." While humorous, he raises the issue of the importance of socialization and play in a child's life.

Former President of Harvard University, Larry Summer, thinks that Chua has undervalued the role that creativity plays in the educational process. In the Wall Street Journal Blog he is quoted as saying, "It is not entirely clear that [Chua's] veneration of traditional academic achievement is exactly well placed... Which two freshmen at Harvard have arguably been most transformative of the world in the last 25 years?... You can make a reasonable case for Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, neither of whom graduated."

In China, as well as in the U.S., people have showed concern for the reinforcement of harmful ethnic stereotypes. As reported in China Daily, "Chinese parents hate to see their kids burning the candle at both ends in order to deal with fierce competition." According to Zhao Hua, a former journalist who emigrated to the United States from China, "The Western parenting philosophy of letting kids be kids, develop their own hobbies and make their own decisions is gaining credence in China." Similarly, one Chinese-American NPR listener replied that Chua seems to perpetuate stereotypes of a "model Asian upbringing." He writes: "I suspect and hope that your listeners find that their Asian friends and acquaintances had upbringings as varied and diverse as those of non-Asian people."

Conversely, some argue that Chua might be on to something. One article in Converge Magazine explores the dramatic differences in Asian vs. Western academic performance as set forth in Robert A. Compton's documentary Two Million Minutes in which he chronicles students from India, the U.S. and China, and asks, "Are Western/American students at a permanent academic disadvantage because of differing parental values?"

Throughout this whirlwind of debate, support, accusation and even death threats, Amy Chua has responded by emphasizing what she feels is her book's true message. In an article in the Yale Daily News, Chua explains how she feels her book and her views have been largely misinterpreted; it is not a how-to guide, and it was never intended to assume superiority of one parenting method over another, but rather is the story of her experience, that it is a memoir. She emphasizes how, after the rebellion of her youngest child, she felt she had to make changes in her parenting style and adjust her own attitude so that she wouldn't lose her family. She has since appeared on many television programs clarifying her intentions, and her eldest daughter, Sophia, defended her mother in an article entitled "Why I Love My Strict Chinese Mom."

This article was originally published in February 2011, and has been updated for the December 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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