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.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua is available to buy now, published by Bloomsbury and available in hardback from Amazon for £9.81 or for Kindle for £6.88.

Rating: 3/5

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.

Johanna Derry


  • I recently taught an English lesson at university in Shanghai about Amy Chua/comparing different methods of parenting. Most of the students disagreed with her and said their parents were much more easygoing. She is truly terrifying!

  • Gail says:

    I don’t understand how you can say both that her story is warmly told and that she is terrifying. I had to stop listening to this book on Radio 4 after a couple of episodes as I was nothing but truly terrified, and angry that such truly dysfunctional rubbish could be given airspace. It also panders to anti-Asian racism that such a ridiculous stereotype can be seen as entertaining. I am the parent of a teenage son, and if I had treated him like that I would expect to be reported to the NSPCC. Nevertheless, my son is polite and well-behaved, and, more important to me by far, he is kind and generous, with an awareness of the inequalities in society.

    Being a parent in this society is a hard enough job, with all the confusing messages that patriarchal capitalism throws at us, that it is disgraceful (but perhaps not surprising) that the only alternatives we are presented with are this almost fascist nonsense or that our kids will grow up to be worthless, out-of-control monsters.