Tiger Battles Mother Hymn


Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a quick read.

It’s extremely quick if you don’t make it beyond the third chapter.

I nearly didn’t when she stuck her three year-old in the snow.

Because she wouldn’t do her piano practice.

Amy Chua is a Chinese American Yale professor with two daughters and a Jewish American husband.

Plus a dog or two who get treated better than any human.

I had read blogs when she wrote a piece publicizing Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in the Wall Street Journal and they were all about her parenting methods, her driven-ness, even her mental health.

It got boring.

I’m pretty secure in my parenting.

I didn’t need to waste my precious life energy being enraged or self-righteous about somebody else’s.

But the fact that her daughters were musical, prodigies even, piqued my interest.

I played the piano as a child.

It wasn’t my choice and my teacher, Mrs. Junehen, with her wild, frizzy red hair was a little mad in my opinion.

She once bought herself a large emerald and diamond ring.

And kept apologizing throughout the lesson for dazzling me with it.

She would tell me ‘you need a bomb inside you, you do,’ and berated me for my weak fingers.

She would make me do scales and arpeggios and then pieces by Bach or Beethoven as I sneaked peeks at the clock under the guise of scratching my head.

I would bike to her house every Monday afternoon and console myself by buying a chocolate bar from the newsagents on the way back.

And she too, had fluffy white dogs like Chua’s that she would coo over, encouraging me to do the same when I couldn’t have cared less.

So I read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

I wanted to approach it with an open mind.

I’ve travelled a little in China and learned first hand that the culture operates quite differently to the one I am used to. I believe it is respectful and prudent to take the view ‘when in Rome…’

I wanted to do the same with this book.

Very quickly however, I realized that to take a neutral stance with regards to Amy Chua’s treatment of her children was like accepting female circumcision or the burkha.

There comes a point when other cultural methods are so egregious, they have to be condemned.

We’re not talking here about the difference between queuing and elbowing your way onto a subway train.

This book is a memoir not a parenting manual.

Part of me is amazed that Amy Chua should want to parade her story on the world stage knowing that she would be vilified.

She talks in her book about how she referred to one of her daughters as ‘garbage’ at a dinner party and was immediately ostracized.

She knew what she was doing.

Another part of me questions the point of this book.

I read it all the way through, although I nearly gave up two thirds of the way.

There is a lot of repetition in relating the abuse, the yelling, the harshness, the upset plans and frankly it just got tedious.

After the fifth time, I got it, OK?

Is Amy Chua a narcissist, so self-absorbed that she thinks everyone is interested in the story of her daughters?

Because the story itself wasn’t that interesting.

Without the furore over her methods, I wouldn’t have read it.

I didn’t come away thinking she had anything to teach me with the exception of reinforcing my ideas about encouraging a child to pursue their own interests, self-motivate, evolve to an self-knowing adult who doesn’t spend large chunks of their young adult life thrashing to find their place in the world as Chua did, an irony completely lost on her.

She wasn’t likely to change many people’s minds with her discourse and some parents who could do with being more structured and disciplined with their children are likely to feel justified in their actions.

And that helps no-one.

Thanks, Amy.

After a while I just stopped caring. Amy Chua was a nutter, her husband was crazy to marry her, the grandparents stood by and there was nothing I could do.

But the overwhelming feeling I got was of exhaustion.

As she detailed what she put herself through – the planning, the intimidation, the arguments, the workload – I just found myself drooping.

Who wants to live like that? If that was mothering, I would have stayed childless.

The relentlessness of her anger was repelling.

My child may not be a child prodigy or famous or look after me in my old age (although Chua’s American daughters may very likely reject all her ideas once they get the chance and the prevalent culture is allowed into their world) and that’s perfectly OK with me.

I simply don’t have that level of anger in me.

My mother hymnsheet is quite different.

Tigers spend a lot of their time relaxing, gently nurturing and playing.

They are not stuck in ferocity constantly.

Yet Amy Chua seemed to be.

Chua would argue that is what is wrong with American culture that we are permissive and indulgent.

And I would argue back that her attitudes are suited to a developing country and that there is room for a balance between accomplishment and acceptance.

And demonstrations of gentle, sweet love.

Parenting doesn’t have to be about rolling over and playing doormat to little dictators whose egos are oversized.

But it also doesn’t have to be about practices that border on human right infringements.

I suspect, though, that Amy Chua is smiling all the way to Carnegie Hall. Her bank balance has been fortified and her ego has been fed.

The softening of her approach towards the end felt like an afterthought and was insipid compared to her earlier cantations.

It didn’t feel a mom coming-of-age story at all.

Many people are talking about her. This is one of my longest posts.

Maybe that was the main point.


What do you think about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother? Is there a place for Chua’s parenting methods? Why do you think she published the book? Are Asian mothers truly like this or is Amy Chua an aberration?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary E. Ulrich
May 4, 2011 at 4:16 am

Wow, I can’t believe she even got published. But then, there are many people who think “spare the rod and spoil the child.” They think they are loving their child every time they beat them.

I hope her children survive emotionally. I hope she goes bankrupt.
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Alison Golden May 4, 2011 at 6:27 am

I was a bit surprised she got published but the book created a firestorm so I guess they saw they were on to a winner.


May 4, 2011 at 5:53 pm

I’m half-Chinese and I was intrigued when I read an article by Amy Chan talking about this book. I thought that maybe it would be a good read, give me some insight into how my grandmother parented my father and why he parented me the way he did.

So I put it on hold and eventually checked it out at the library. I thought there might be something to her statement about Western parents being too soft on their children (I often think parents coddle their children way too much). I too played the piano and wondered at how she made her children practice for so long. I was also amazed at how she claimed she was able to keep them from participating in things like sleep-overs and plays.

Then I started reading. I must say that you made it further than I did. I wasn’t impressed, at all. I got lost when she started talking about law school and being married to a lawyer. I just imagined she and her yuppie husband looking down at the common people when I read that she had a nanny. A freakin’ NANNY! I’m sorry, I don’t care who you are, you can’t write a book about being a superior parent when you have a nanny. Because normal parents don’t have and can’t afford nannies.

And I just stopped. It was too much and I figured there was nothing I could gain from reading the book because this woman didn’t know how to be a real mother.

So I returned it. And that was that.
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Alison Golden May 4, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Yes, I snorted too when I read they had a nanny.

In fact, I thought just about all the same things as you. I did finish the book (I was lent it – I refuse to buy such a book and the library had a hold list of over a hundred people!) but I think it was mostly because I got sick and it was that or staring at the ceiling. Probably added a couple of degrees to my fever though.

Thanks for stopping by!


Lulubelle April 2, 2012 at 5:39 am

I read an article that said that they had three nannies, and the mother didn’t raise them at all!

She wrote a book about being a “tiger mother,” but I don’t think she was a real mother at all, just a woman seeking attention.


SuzRocks May 18, 2011 at 7:06 am

I didn’t read the book, although I read the WSJ piece. I do believe that western parents (especially now a days) are WAY more lax and coddle their children (fighting teachers so they can get A’s when they clearly don’t deserve them, etc), but saying she goes BEYOND too far is an understatement.

I’ve been to China multiple times, my family members have lived there for long periods of time. The Chinese definitely have a harder work ethic than we do (generalized statement), but even they love on their children.

I see no love from her, I’m assuming her kids are going to have major psychological problems when they grow up. Prodigy or not. I did read recently that one of her daughters had started a blog- I never looked it up though.
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Alison Golden May 18, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Hi Suz:

Her daughters blog doesn’t say anything of note. Yet. Her point about being too lax and no-one enjoying learning a skill at the beginning (the point of conscious incompetence) is well taken. She just, as you say, takes things too far, IMO. Thank you for your perspective of Chinese parents. I did wonder about that.


Melissa Karnaze May 22, 2011 at 9:18 am

“Very quickly however, I realized that to take a neutral stance with regards to Amy Chua’s treatment of her children was like accepting female circumcision or the burkha.”

I haven’t read the book (only the WSJ excerpt) but I imagine I would have the same reaction. The problem with her being branded a “Chinese” mother is that “political/cultural correctness” gets in the way of calling out child abuse, or at least having a frank discussion about where the lines should lie.

To be honest, I think I would only skim the book for the purpose of hopefully better understanding how she rationalizes her own abusive childhood in the context of her adult life and role as a parent.

Narcissism may be a part of the rehashing you mention in her book, and perhaps she keeps rehashing it because she’s not ready to look at the impact of her past.
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Alison Golden May 23, 2011 at 8:49 am

One of the questions I kept wondering as I read it, Melissa, was ‘Are Chinese mothers really like this?’ By reading the book and writing this blog, I’ve had enough feedback to understand that they are not. That was probably the most valuable part of reading the book. Although of course if she hadn’t written it in the first place, the question would never have come up.


Amy June 6, 2011 at 9:26 pm

So as a disclaimer I have to say that I haven’t read her book but I remember all the talk shows and podcasts debating her methods that I listened to while I painted my kitchen. I don’t recall if I took the time to read the article.

What strikes me though is one of my long-distance relatives (I always get confused by how I’m related to some people – grandpa’s sister’s daughter’s husband – who is he to me?) was arrested about 15 years ago for doing the exact same thing to a 5 year old who refused to practice. We were all happy, he was abusive and this finally got his wife to wake up and leave him. My question is, would her behavior be tolerated if done by a white/black/or Hispanic male and not a Chinese woman? Could a Hispanic male say it was his culture (not that I’m saying it is – I have no idea) and get away with it?


Alison Golden June 7, 2011 at 9:26 am

I think you bring up an interesting point, Amy. I was surprised she not only admitted to some of her behavior but put them in print. Considering others have blogged about their kids and then got visits from child protection services, I think she’s been very fortunate.


Mika Castro December 10, 2011 at 10:04 pm

I must say that you describe it with an excellency. I am surprised that it get published. I haven’t read the book however, i guess that is a very good one. I must read it right away!
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Lulubelle April 2, 2012 at 5:37 am

On the greatschools website, they actually claim that the daughters recently “outed” her, claiming that she was an absentee mother (due to a World of Warcraft addiction), and the nannies raised them. The daughters say the book was based on her online character, not on her mothering (which I guess never happened).


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