You be the judge: Is 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' author Amy Chua a great mom? or a terrible one?

battle-hymn-chua When EW reviewed Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, we wrote that we thought there might be some, um, spirited debate. And it sure seems as though readers are reacting to this memoir about parenting in what Chua calls “the Chinese way”: Children must never make a grade lower than A. They may not have sleepovers or playdates, or watch TV or play computer games. They must focus exclusively on schoolwork and parent-selected extracurricular activities.

No one can claim that Chua didn’t warn us — on the very cover of the book it reads: This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. 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.

Whether Chua really regrets any of her actions  — which included threats of favorite burning stuffed animals if one of her daughter’s piano playing didn’t improve — is uncertain: after all (as she’s quick to point out in the book) both her daughters did become terrific students and musical prodigies. Meanwhile, here are a couple of our favorite passages.

After her young children presented her with handmade birthday cards:

I gave the card back to Lulu. “I don’t want this,” I said. “I want a better one — one that you’ve put some thought and effort into. I have a special box, where I keep all my cards from you and Sophia, and this one can’t go in there.”

“What?” said Lulu in disbelief. I saw beads of sweat start to form on Jed’s forehead.

I grabbed the card again and flipped it over. I pulled out a pen from my purse and scrawled ‘Happy Birthday Lulu Whoopee!’ I added a big sour face. “What if I gave you this for your birthday Lulu- would you like that? But I would never do that, Lulu. No — I get you magicians and giant slides that cost me hundreds of dollars. I get you huge ice cream cakes shaped like penguins, and I spend half my salary on stupid sticker and erase party faovrs that everyone just throws away. I work so hard to give you good birthdays! I deserve better than this. So I reject this.” I threw the card back.

After her daughter’s beloved paternal grandmother Popo died, Chua insisted the girls write a short speech to read at the funeral. Both girls refused (“No please, Mommy, don’t make,” Sophia said tearfully. “I really don’t feel like it.”). Chua insisted.

Sophia’s first draft was terrible, rambling and superficial. Lulu’s wasn’t so great either, but I held my elder daughter to a higher standard. Perhaps because I was so upset myself, I lashed out at her. “How could you, Sophia?” I said viciously. “This is awful. It has no insight. It has no depth. It’s like a Hallmark Card — which Popo hated. You are so selfish. Popo loved you so much — and you — produce–this!”

So what do you guys think? Do you agree or disagree with Chua’s methods? And does all the controversy make you want to read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother?

Comments (66 total) Add your comment
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  • K

    I’m very much against the “you’re a genius at everything” way of raising kids (because then I have to sit through hours of tope deaf American Idol contestants who have been told they can sing) but this is extreme in the other direction.

    • Carla

      Not to mention the smart@ss politicians’ daughters, who decide that getting pregnant out of wedlock makes the girl a ‘teen activist’ and forcing their disgraced daughters to display their two left feet on Dancing With The Stars :)

    • Yuenwai

      I cannot agree more with K. I am Chinese married to an American and we have a 7-mth old child. Needless to say, there has been much discussion on this topic. I think we will not read the book but go with our instincts in raising our child…..

  • whatevs

    You know, of course you’re going to have issues growing up with parents like this. Coming from a family of immigrants, I know they raise their kids differently from Americans. As difficult as my parents were to have, I wouldn’t trade them to have parents who reward me for every little thing.

    I would have unbelievably low standards for myself and have a sense of entitlement because I would have parents who are more interested in being my friends than parents.

    There’s definitely a happy medium in between Chua and what a lot of parents are like.

  • Lisa Simpson

    Yikes! Admittedly I’m judging just from the snippets, but her parenting seems to be more about her than her children. Does she ever address whether or not they are happy?

    • Marc

      In her parenting model as I understand it. (I am not a parent yet so some of the pieces that parents will understand are wasted on me) It seems that she is stressing that they WILL be happy. Someday. I have thought long and hard about what kind of parent I will be. I can honestly say that if I do half as good a job as mine did, I’ll be doing okay. This delayed gratification though only works on a VERY small subset of children though right?

  • BlackIrish4094

    I don’t have a problem with parents demanding excellence but this woman is a vicious bee-atch. I don’t care that her kids are musical prodigies, she’ll be lucky if they don’t develop severe personality / relationship issues, especially with their own kids should they choose to have any.

  • Nicole

    I hate that Americans seem to think the only measurement of ‘success’ is good grades and a financially rewarding career. What about happiness? What about spirituality and emotional maturity? Kindness and compassion? I’d rather my children have any of those things than fancy degrees and lots of money.

    • John

      Actually, the point of the book is that the American way values emotional maturity, kindness, etc. more than the grades. The “Chinese way” is measuring success strictly through good grades.

      • KSH

        That’s what I took from the reading bits of the book. I think the measurement of success is not always being the best at everything.

    • Cheryl

      Nicole, you have gotten it backward. This woman’s book is about how Chinese parenting (all about grades, money, fancy degrees) is better than the “American” way (which apparently is all about self esteem and feelings and happiness).

  • SLB

    It’s satire. And what’s most offensive is the author’s insistence on painting *all* Asian parents with the same brush. We’re really not all the same.

    • Jenn

      I don’t think it’s satirical. Did you read her WSJ article? It’s just…yikes.

    • melissa

      I agree. Asian parents are DEFINITELY not all like this. Almost all are somewhere in between the “Western” method and Chua’s method.

  • Aldo1887

    Please remember at all times, this country formed and forged by all these “weak” western mothers is the place that this evil little woman chose to raise her children, try getting that Yale education in China, good luck, nice to see someone viciously biting the hand that feeds her, I pity those children and hope that they can overcome thier mothers hateful ways.

    • Charlize

      The moms from the old days are different from the moms today. My great-grandma would have a heart attack seeing the parenting skills of folks today.

    • Cheryl

      Yes. Exactly.

  • Tago

    I think people are missing the point of this book…this book provides the opportunity for introspection into your own parenting style and see if what you are doing is all right. I doubt there’s a perfect parent and this book allows the reader to reflect on their own style.

  • Sarah

    Two words for this sick mother: Malignant Narcissist

  • C Wu

    I have decided to boycott this book and any further publications by this god awful woman.
    Being Chinese, I am extremely offended that she would hide her abusive ways and tyrannical behavior behind her rich Chinese heritage.
    For her to even imply that all Chinese mothers are this way is also offensive.
    She has chosen to raise her children with no self respect and that is certainly not superior parenting.
    Her parenting style is not ethnically based but merely the result of some sort of childhood abuse or low self esteem on her part.
    I hope that she is able to find herself some psychological help before it’s too late for her own daughters.

    • C

      Thank you Ms. Wu. I have much respect for your culture.

    • Sza Sza Bagor

      Actually, I’m pretty sure Ms. Chua was clear that “Chinese” does not actually mean Chinese, but rather a parenting style.

    • Bobbie

      I hope you’re right C Wu. Ms.Chua has taken tough love to such an extreme that I can’t imagine her children growing up with any sence of creative thinking or confidence to lead. I hope China isn’t doing this to their children.

  • MJ888

    This woman should be arrested for child abuse and her daughters taken away from this monster.

    • C

      I was thinking the same thing.

  • Enrico

    I like and appreciate the work and love you put into your children. Thank you for sharing

  • George L

    There is plenty of irony in this story. Usually when Asian women marry outside their race, it’s for self-hating reasons whether they like to admit it or not. And since they author did that, it’s evident that she wasn’t happy with her own father and self-identity. That’s the way it is in the Asian community, especially among women. How ironic.

    • Casey

      Asian women marry outside of their race for self-hating reasons? Seriously? How would you know what it’s like in the Asian community? Are you an Asian woman? I can’t speak for others, but I’m an Asian woman, and while I’m not married, I’m most certainly not looking to marry outside of my race because I’m “self-hating” and unhappy with my father. Don’t generalize and act as if you know how it works with Asian people. Trust me, you don’t.

    • Sza Sza Bagor

      Or, they marry the person they love and can see a happy and successful future with.
      You’re probably right though, making broad, sweeping generalizations about Asian American women is much more probable.

  • C

    As you expected, of course I don’t agree. And I’m not fooled either, you’re helping sell this book. I get enough of hearing and reading about child abuse on the news and in the paper.

    I feel sorry for both of you. Question did this really happen are is this just a twisted version of the Joy Luck Club.

  • connie crovetti

    I feel this woman lacks motherly love towards her children. Its seems her children are objects to satisfy the mother ego.Perfection is over rated , the mother should learn how to love her daughters unconditional!

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