Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
19th Apr 2011
Her first foray away from academic texts, Chua is Professor of Law at Yale Law School, but she has an easy written style, which meant I read the entire book in a day.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother begins with the premise that Western parents are too soft, giving their children too much choice. Chua’s philosophy is that of the ‘typical Chinese mother’:
– Schoolwork always comes first
– An A- is a bad grade
– Your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in maths
– You must never compliment your children in public
– If your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach
– The only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal
– That medal must be gold
Whether this is a truly ‘Chinese’ school of thought or not doesn’t prevent Chua from applying these principles to the lives of her small daughters with great rigour, not allowing them to go to sleepovers and making them practice the piano and violin for hours and hours, while berating them for their uselessness both in private and in public.
As she tells it, the Chinese parenting model works wonderfully. Her two daughters are polite, well-behaved, excellent students and show such excellent musical ability that her youngest daughter Lulu auditions for the Juillard School of Performing Arts and her oldest daughter Sophia plays the Carnegie Hall aged fifteen.
From a ‘Western’ mindset she seems to be the worst kind of pushy and controlling mother there could be. She pushes and pushes and pushes her daughters to achieve and excel to breaking point. And then…
Well, the whole book is an account of how the girls get to that breaking point and what happens when they do, so I won’t spoil it for you. Chua describes it as the point where she’s humbled, yet I was disappointed with the ending as I felt she was remarkably non-contrite in spite of the patience and tolerance both her daughters and her husband had shown her.
Still it’s an entertaining read, and perhaps more of a ‘what-not-to-do’ to be given to all new parents with big plans for their offspring.
Recommended for: As a non-parent I felt very little empathy with her (in fact, I found her frankly terrifying), although I’m sure parents will find her descriptions of the battle of wills she has with her children both familiar and warmly told.
Other recommended reading: For an extreme fictional example of how mothers do try to do their best read Emma Donoghue’s compelling Room or for more zen-like non-fiction try Isabel Losada’s Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment.