Preview: Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

I’m so behind. I still haven’t read the “Too Asian” article my own country’s weekly magazine published late last year and caused such a stir here and south of the border. But I read the most recent highly inflammatory article, Amy Chua’s WSJ piece, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.

I read the article, linked from Angela Tung’s blog and even left a long comment–apparently I lurk or leave long comments–while also intending to address this article with my own blog post.

The WSJ article was posted two days ago, on January 8, has caused a stir on the Asian-American blogosphere, and garnered 2,501 comments to date. What a headache. I read the article, nodding, frowning, wincing, and noticed at the bottom of the article that it was an excerpt from Amy Chua’s forthcoming book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Huh. And if you read the cover, there is a long “subtitle” on the cover that reads: “This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.” It’s kind of an awkward cover, and I wouldn’t do that for my memoir. (!)

With that, I wasn’t going to take the article that seriously. I’ve read enough memoirs to know exaggeration is the spice to take an author’s story from the story-next-door to being published.

The article starts with a list of what Chua’s daughters were not allowed to do/attend: sleepovers, playdates, star in a school play, watch TV/play computer games, choose their own extracurriculars, get less than an A and not be the top student, play anything but piano and violin.

Wow, did that not ring a bell with me. I wasn’t allowed to attend sleepovers–I was allowed to stay very late but had the humiliation of my parents come pick me up, after everyone was tired and struggling to stay awake to see me off. I wasn’t allowed to choose my extracurriculars–I would have chosen something unbecoming of the little princess I was groomed to be. With all the doting, Mum’s extreme effort to help all that she could, there was no reason to get less than an A, and especially not in the non-subjective courses. And we were enrolled in piano and violin because that’s what kids with means learned–singing only requires you to have vocal cords and was not encouraged.

I have no idea what kind of a parent I will be, or even if I will be one. So I can sit back and philosophize. I don’t agree with the mind games my mother put me through and I was particularly susceptible as the more impressionable daughter compared to my younger sister. My goal would be to strike a balance, enforcing the Chinese values and language but not being a turn-off by being a maniac; I would be intelligent about guiding my child through the world of too much choice, instead of keeping all the doors closed along the hallway leading to being a medical doctor.

And as a non-parent, I just laugh to myself to think of all the indignant mothers who responded to the article. Oh, mothers battling each other about the “best” way to raise children. And the huge parenting book industry. The kicker is that there’s no right way, there’s no rule that fits a parent and corresponding child until you know their personalities and history. Amy Chua needs to drum up the most sales possible–from both people who eagerly want to know the “successful” Asian parenting way, to people who want to read it to tear it apart.

If it’s part-memoir, then I’m excited about what insights she is bringing to the Asian-American literature realm. So often the perspective is from the wronged and scornful daughter, and the mother is strong but teary, regretful, torn. What about the savvy and successful hard-ass Asian mother without the hang-ups? Within the WSJ article, you can see a glimpse of the balance she does have, when after the long piano practice session, the mother and daughter have some happy downtime together.

Well, I’ll request this book from the library to read and report back later!

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My comment, reposted for my records:

“After all the fuss and stuff about the article, I finally got around to reading it. I wish I had read it without everyone’s shock and dismay clouding what I was reading but I wasn’t going to happen across a WSJ article on my own.
Knowing the WSJ article/essay is an excerpt from her book gives me a lot of perspective about the piece. I’m tempted to think that there are flourishes added for effect although there is no doubt of the height of her standards. At the core of it, I think there is outrage about parenting and I’m so tired of everyone trying to say what is the best parenting technique. What works, I think, is dependent on the set of parents and the child’s personality, so there aren’t rules. But you don’t see me all eager to rear a child and practice my philosophy and I fear that with an manageable bratty kid, I’ll just helplessly and desperately raise it as I was raised by my mother who is Amy Chua-esque.
Also I think the AA lit is just flooded with daughters bemoaning their upbringing, mothers making late-life discoveries they were so wrong and reconciling and all that. What about happy model minorities? They exist, but just aren’t that interesting for non-/fiction material. I think there is a glimmer of hope, a potential softness in Amy Chua when she talks about after the painful and successful piano session, the daughter came to her bed and they snuggled and hugged.
I don’t know. I think she wanted a reaction and she got it. I think she’s gutsy and savvy.”

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