Minli's Reviews > Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
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Apr 11, 11

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, asian-interest, adult, made-me-think
Read in April, 2011

Disclosure: A friend linked me to Amy Chua's Wall Street Journal article when it first appeared. I admit, my first reaction was a mixture of anger and bitterness, since I recognized much of my own childhood in how Amy Chua treated her daughters. I read several reviews from journalists, Chinese children, Chinese parents, Western parents, Western children and so on. Amy Chua is assigned a gamut of roles, from crazy batshit insane to the messiah of parenting. I thought I should read the book and judge for myself.

More disclosure: I'm Chinese. I was raised by strict immigrant parents who moved to North America when I was a toddler. I played the piano. I did math drills starting at age three. And yeah, I went to an ivy league school.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is not a parenting primer, whatever the original WSJ may have lead people to believe. It's not even close to a parenting primer. Amy Chua both defends and questions her methods throughout the book, and she accounts for her generalization of "Chinese" and "Western" mother. In the very first chapter, she defines her terms, assigning "Western mother" to a certain set of parenting beliefs/views on childhood and "Chinese mother" to another. The crux of the question is this: what should childhood be like? The romantic Victorian notion of childhood permeates "Western" parenting: children should have the freedom to play, explore, make a mess, and be creative. Amy Chua's "Chinese" parenting views childhood as a training ground for life. While the Western kids are cutting snowflakes and colouring pictures, her kids are practicing the piano or violin.

Amy Chua also doesn't believe in bribery--she expects her daughters to do what she tells them. This does come from a tradition of filial piety, one that is actually fading on mainland China with the growth of "little emperors and empresses." Which is why you'll get people arguing that actual Chinese mothers in China don't act the way Amy Chua's "Chinese mothers" do. The filial belief is that kids owe everything to their parents for giving them life, food, shelter, resources, and so on, and when parents get old, their children are supposed to take them into their homes and care for them in return. This is certainly the view I was brought up with, as opposed to the view that children don't get to choose their parents, and that the parents are responsible for providing for the child and nurturing them to be their own person. After that child is an adult, the parent and child don't owe anything to each other. Either way, both these views flow from generation to generation.

Chua mentions all of this in the book. In fact, her platform makes her a pretty convincing person to write a book like this, having a Jewish husband and in-laws who put forth many of these "Western" ideas that contrast her own. Here are a few of her points that made sense to me:

1) Most activities are not fun unless you're good at it
2) You can't get good at something without practice (and passion, I would add)
3) Practicing something you suck at isn't fun, and you may need external motivation
4) While verbal encouragement can give you confidence, great results give you a lot more confidence

Thereby, making the not-fun activity you now kick ass at, eventually fun. QED. Self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, tons of sucky singers who audition for American Idol spend their whole lives being told that they're awesome. Don't you wish they'd had a mom like Amy Chua? Amy Chua would tell them, "Actually, you sound like a tone-deaf frog. I'm getting you voice lessons from the best teacher in the country or I NEVER WANT TO HEAR YOU SING AGAIN."

I don't think it's a bad thing to demand excellence. My parents often indulged my or my brother's pet hobbies: figure skating, voice lessons, tae kwon do, drawing, etc. I gave up figure skating when I was twelve, because it was so expensive and I wasn't willing to put in the long hours. My parents stopped funding my brother's drawing lessons because he wouldn't follow instructions. The point is, you learn quickly not to do anything half-assed. Give it your all or it isn't worth doing, whether it's playing the piano or making a birthday card. And no, you can't expect perfection right away, you have to practice the hell out of it. When things don't work out, you don't blame the teacher, the curriculum or the system--you acknowledge your own shortcomings and correct them. While I certainly believe plenty of teachers, curricula and systems are messed up and beyond a single individual's control, I also think that the American education system would be a lot better off if parents would shut up about their special snowflake. (There are obviously exceptions to special needs children, but I don't for one second believe all those eight-year-olds need to be on Ritalin for ADHD). You learn a work ethic, and that carries you no matter what underwater basket-weaving you get into.

Amy Chua isn't the villain some people are making her out to be. Her methods skew more to the strict than the lax, certainly, and the line will always be thin between tough love and emotional abuse. It's different for every parent, every child, and every parent-child relationship. If you're on the fence about this book, I'll tell you one thing: Amy Chua is a snob. If we were peers, I'm not sure we'd be friends. She's certainly obsessed with the dominant social view of success, of putting on appearances, and of being admired and appreciated (then humbly protesting). She's also not creative herself--she shares that she only went to law school because she didn't want to go to medical school (obviously, those are the only two acceptable options!) and instead of thinking outside the box, all she wanted to do was memorize everything her professor said. But if you're envious of her and her daughters' success, the book is worth checking out. You have to stop putting social value on her accomplishments if you want to badmouth her belief system.

I do believe Tiger Mother is an honest recount of Chua's parenting years, much of it involving the musical pursuits of her daughters. While lacking the sparkle of literary non-fiction, Chua's writing is precise, thorough and easily readable. It's not a work of art, but it is a well-put together book that really opens up the table for discussion. I'm not sure if, at the end and after all her reflection, Chua advocates a form of hybrid parenting, but that's certainly what I got from this book. So there you have it.
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Katrina (new) - added it

Katrina I think I may have to borrow this book from my grandmother when she finishes reading it. Thank you for giving such a great primer for this book! I was planning on reading it before, but I really did not know what it was about or even that it was nonfiction! It sounds like a wonderfully controversial (the best kind) read.


Spider the Doof Warrior Interesting review. I'd like to see a bit of balance myself. Something between being that ideal nurturing mother to the point of over mothering and being a drill Sargent.
You know? Just a bit of balance.


message 3: by J K (new) - rated it 4 stars

J K Brilliant review of it, from a useful perspective. Working on my own review at the moment, I read this in one evening!


Andrea What a great review! I don't know if she advocates a hybrid approach so much as she acknowledges that there are serious gaps in "Chinese parenting" that "Western parenting" addresses and vice versa.


message 5: by KJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

KJ Excellent review! I hope it encourages other people to give this book a try. So many were turned off by those mainstream reviews and the thought that it was indeed a "parenting book." We can learn a lot from the successes AND mistakes of others.


Steph I really enjoyed your review and will keep it in mind when reading the book. I have read some articles about the book and my first reaction was horror at how these kids were missing out on just being children but then you see how some kids act today and I can't help thinking that they need a better grounding to cope with the things life will throw at them. Unfortunately is a happy medium actually achievable? Is there such a thing as being strict enough without being too strict? I am not a parent but I do the whole thing of, if I had children I would do this, that and the other but I think in reality until you are in a parenting role you don't know what you will end up doing.


Cass Great review.


message 8: by Brenda (new) - added it

Brenda Great review - I like the fact that you can bring your own personal experience and relate it to this book and give it more perspective for us. Thanks!


Tanvi This is an articulate review and those four points were a good summary of Amy Chua's philosophy. I think the fact of her husband being Jewish and almost the opposite of her in parenting style - not to mention the fact that her older daughter, at least, is not scarred for life and seems to have turned out fine - makes her case better than it would otherwise have been, and she includes a fair few of his arguments and addresses her own mistakes and flaws. I think her parenting style is extreme, but she's certainly not the scheming child abuser many have portrayed her to be.


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