Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Excerpts)

I have always been intrigued why Asian children dominate the selective schools system in Sydney, and why most talented musicians are Asian.  The school orchestras at my daughter’s school had a disproportionate number of Asian students and the string section was nearly all Asian.  I wanted to read Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” to learn more about the mentality of the Asian parent.

The name Chua  comes from southern China’s Fujian Province, famous for producing scholars and scientists. Amy Chua is married to Jed Rubenfeld. The first daughters is Sophia Si Hui (meaning “wisdom”) born in 1993, the Year of the Tiger making her a a Tiger daughter. The second daughter is  Louise Si Shan (known as Lulu) born in 1996.

I enjoyed reading this book and despite some of the bizarre incidents and gruelling practice sessions, the daughters appear to have grown up to be well-balanced, happy adolescents. If I was starting parenting again, I doubt that I would follow the “Chinese Way”, but perhaps encouraging my children to be more persistent. There isn’t one correct way of parenting, but it was interesting reading AmyChua’s story.

Here are some extracts from the book to give you a taste of the contents.

From the back cover

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s likie inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a story about a mother, two daughters and two dogs. It was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it’s a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory and how you can be humbled by a thirteen year old.

Unlike your typical Western mother, the Chinese mother believes that

  • Schoolwork always comes first
  • An A-minus is a bad grade
  • 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.

And from the opening of the book:

Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa were never allowed to do:

  • Attend a sleepover
  • Have a playdate
  • Be in a school play
  • Complain about not being a school play
  • Watch TV or play computer games
  • Choose their extra-curricular activities
  • Get any grade less than an A
  • Not be the number one student in every subject except gym and drama
  • Play any instrument other than the piano or violin
  • Not play the piano or violin

From Page 5

Some might think that the American sports parent is an analog to the Chinese mother. This is so wrong. Unlike your typical Western overscheduling soccer mom, the Chinese mother beliees that (1) schoolwork always comes first; (2) an A-minus is a bad bgarde; (3) your children mus be two years ahead of their classmates in math; (4) you must never compliment your children in public; (5) if your child ever disagrres with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach; (6) the only activities your children  should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and (7) that medal must be gold.

“The Tiger, the living symbol of strength and power, generally inspires fear and respect”

Page 51

I’ve thought long and hard about how Chinese parents can get away with what they do. I think there are three big differences betwee n the Chinese and Western parental mind-sets. First, I’ve noticed that Western parenrts are extremely anxious about their children’s self esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are not withstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s pysches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behaven very differently.

If for example a Chinese child gets a B minus, which would never happen, there would be first a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. This devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A. Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them, if the child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough.

Second, Chinese parents believe that their klds owe them everything – probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed so much for their children.

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefor override all of their children’s own desires and preferences. That’s why Chinese daughters can’t have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can’t go to sleepaway camp.

From page 62

Western parents worry a lot about their children’s self –esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child’s self-esteem is to let them give up.  On the flip side, there’s nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn’t.

I agree with this statement. I wish my parents had encouraged me more to perserver. I was allowed to stop learning piano because I was bored. Maybe I could tried a new teacher? At least I was sent to maths coaching to help me in the last two years of school!  My two daughters are three years older than Sophia and Louise Chua and I am pleased with how they have turned out. We never sent them to coaching colleges or forced them to practice their instruments for hours. We allowed our younger daughter to drop piano at age 11 on condition that she focus on her cello which she did. At least they both enjoy music and playing in a local youth orchestra.

From page 63

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kid’s true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners , who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I thnk it’s a misunderstanding on bth sides. All decent parents want to do what’s best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the very best way to protect the children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits, and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.

From Page 101

Happiness is not a concept I tend to dwell  on. Chinese parenting  does not address happiness. This has always wooried me. When I see the piano- and violin-induced calluses on my daughter’s fingertips, or the teeth marks on the piano, I am sometimes seized with doubt.

But here’s the thing. When I look around at all the Western families that fall apart – all the grown sons and daughters who can’t stand to be around their parents or don’t even talk to them- I hae a hard time believing that Western parenting does a better job with happiness. It’s amazing how many older Western parents I have met who’ve said, shaking their heads sadly, “As a parent, you just can’t win. No matter what yo do, your kids will grow up resenting you.”

By contrast, I can’t tell you how many Asian kids I’ve met who, while acknowledging how oppresively strict and brtually demanding their parents were, happily describe themselves as devoted to their parents and unbelievably grateful to them, seemingly without a trace of bitterness or resentment.

I’m really not sure why this is. Maybe it’s brainwashing. Or maybe it’s a Stockholm syndrome. But here’s the thing I’m sure of: Western children are definitely no happier than Chinese ones.

Another story in the book is about Amy’s younger sister Katrin and her ordeal with leukemia. On page 228 Amy write’s “My sister Katrin is doing better now. Life is definitely tough for her , and she’s not out of the woods yet, bt she’s a hero and bears everything with grace, doing research around the clock, writing paper after paper, and spending as much time as she can with her kids.

I often wonder what the lesson of her illness is. Given that life is so short and so fragile, surely each of us should be trying to get the most out of every reath, every fleeting moment. But what does it mean to live life to its fullest?

We allhave to die. But which way does that cut? In any case, I’ve told Jed that I just want to get another dog.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Amy Chua   © 2011
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

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Comments

Do you have a Chinese mother and live in a Western country? Please post your comments below – I would be interested to hear your experience.

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2 thoughts on “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Excerpts)”

  1. I have Chinese parents and my mum was none of those things. I guess Chinese dad cancelled her out.

    Of course the real problem is, her associating all attributes that she labels as a “Chinese thing” – so white people will read what she says and stereotype accordingly. This means that (and this is already the case) that non Chinese have preconceptions about someone who is Chinese, and if they fail to meet up to those expectations (good or bad) – somehow they are “not Chinese”. When the reality is, that person is just being themselves.

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