I finished Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother last night. Let me preface this post by saying that I hadn’t necessarily wanted to read it at first. I didn’t really want to contribute a sale to the already tubby tiger of profit this book I’m sure has already made, nor did I want to delve into the madness that is being a “Tiger Mom.” Seeing as how I’m already a daughter of Asian parents whose academic choices included studying English and not going to law school, I’ve had my fair share of Asian parenting.
I found out about the book from my friend Jaqui who had heard about it from the “hysteria” that ensued with the release of the Wall Street Journal excerpt entitled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” And when looking into it more and both hearing/understanding that the excerpt was a bit misleading, I figured I should read it…eventually. But when seeking a paper topic for my class in Classical Rhetoric, I found myself being drawn to this book as an example of its consequential online rhetorical dialogue. A key component of my paper will assess the structures of the WSJ article versus the memoir as a whole. Without elaborating too much on my paper, having to write this paper inevitably required me to read the book.
Let me start by saying that while the WSJ excerpt title conveys Chua’s staunchness in the idea, her book in no way insists that you agree with her and – in fact – the book is a journey of how this perspective didn’t quite work out for Chua. What one needs to draw from to understand the book is the matter-of-fact quality to Chua’s voice and thinking. She cares about her children, about their well being and their future. The time she feels she spends helping her daughters excel and be prepared is obviously done from an energy of a loving mother. And she’s right that parents need to spend time disciplining their children and asking them to do things they don’t like else the pursuit of their “passion” will turn out to be “Facebook for ten hours.”
However, she takes these ideas to the extreme, perhaps because instead of just being a “Tiger Mother” she’s intellectualizing what it means, rather than for what it is. One of the best examples of this is when she honestly expresses her fears about generational decline, that her daughters will not know the meaning of hard work among the influences of privilege and being around others who take advantage of their privilege.
My parents were never as extreme as Chua was. Yes, there was Asian guilt. Yes, any grade less than an A magnified that guilt tenfold. But I read a lot of books and spent time at the library because that was all we could afford. There were no piano lessons and violin lessons because there was no money; all I know about music education comes from the public school system and self-teaching. But I had TV and spent time with friends. By the time I got to high school, I had to do extracurricular activities to apply for college and my parents had no qualms against drama (except that it messed up their “picking me up after school” schedule sometimes). But I am the daughter of immigrants, so then would Chua’s fears of generational decline be my own when I have my own children? I think so, but I don’t think I would apply her same manner of parenting. If my kid was Carnegie Hall-bound, he/she would need to want it more than I would.
But that’s the thing about memoirs, what I would do and what Chua would/has done are different stories. I think the WSJ article loses the art of the memoir in the excerpt, creating an argument for the public. Whereas I think Chua’s creation of the argument and the rules that she bound herself and her daughters to were for herself and her daughters.
Do I think she’s crazy and extreme? Yes. Do I really believe her when she scolds her daughters VERY extremely, chiding to them about honor and having them re-do birthday cards for her and a million hours of music practice? Only kinda and the kinda is the part where I think she’s kinda crazy. Ultimately, intellectualizing being a Tiger Mother is shown as a risk-taking adventure. What you draw most from Chua’s book isn’t the virtues of being a “Tiger Mother,” but the cluelessness of parenting. At some point, she’s pushing her youngest daughter in a direction with her violin studies and can’t even answer why. Only after something good comes from something bad related to this, does she have an answer…that she didn’t even know she was looking for.
For anyone whose opinions formed and stopped short of reading the memoir, I highly suggest it as a read. Chua has some interesting anecdotes about her life and background and a number of other things going on in her life as she raised her daughters. I found myself laughing at certain moments (the application of “Chinese” parenting on the family dog for one) and relating to both Chua and her daughters. It’s all these components together that create the fullness of her story, providing the context of her excerpts in the WSJ (even if the WSJ excerpts launched a great viral marketing campaign).