Tiger Mother's book makes case for
ultra-strict Chinese parenting
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua set to stir controversy with critique of liberal western childrearing
'The solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the
child' ... Amy Chua. Photograph: Lorenzo Ciniglio/Polaris
Less than a fortnight into the new year and already one of the most controversial books of 2011 has emerged. Battle Hymn of
the Tiger Mother – an autobiographical study of the failings of western parenting by Yale law professor Amy Chua – has just
been published in the US to a mixed chorus of plaudits and outrage.
Chua – who is married to novelist Jed Rubenfeld, author of The Interpretation of Murder – relates in the book how she
approached the rearing of her own two daughters, Sophia and Lulu, with the strictness of the Chinese child-rearing model she
inherited from her own parents.
The Tiger, Chua explains, is "the living symbol of strength and power", inspiring fear and respect. And as a "Tiger mother"
herself, she assumed the absolute right to dictate her children's activities and demand rigorous academic standards of them at
all times, ridiculing them if necessary to spur them on to greater efforts.
Her children were never allowed to attend a sleepover, have a playdate, watch TV or choose their own extracurricular
activities. They were also expected to be top in every subject (except gym and drama) and never get anything other than Agrades – because, Chua explains, Chinese parents believe it is their responsibility to ensure their children's academic
achievement above everything else.
Chua argues that western parents. with their emphasis on nurturing their children's self-esteem and allowing free expression,
have set their children up to accept mediocrity. "Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese
parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently," she says. If their child doesn't
achieve perfect exam results, the Chinese parent assumes it's because he or she didn't work hard enough. "That's why the
solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child," Chua says. And it is crucial for a
mother to have the "fortitude" to override her children's preferences, because to enjoy anything you have to be good at it, to
be good at it you have to work, and children on their own never wish to work, she adds.
(Nor is it just solely in the arena of schoolwork that a healthy disregard for your child's feelings is recommended. Where a
western mother would tremble, a Chinese mother, Chua says, would not hesitate to say to her child: "Hey fatty – lose some
The author admits her views are controversial even with her own husband, and unsurprisingly, her book has provoked an
outcry. An extract published in the Wall Street Journal under the title "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" has attracted 3,500
comments, ranging from the horrified ("As a parent of two kids myself, I had an overwhelming, visceral response to this
article. Her style borders on abusive"; "this woman's parenting style is reminiscent of Joan Crawford in 'Mommy Dearest'") to
the laudatory ("Her style of parenting creates structure, discipline and work ethics. As long as you don't stop loving and
supporting your kids, there is nothing wrong with having high expectations for them").
Chua's book may have started the ball rolling, but it won't be the only controversial title of early 2011. The anonymouslywritten O: A Presidential Novel, said to be written with insider knowledge of the White House and promising to be a new
Primary Colors, is out in the US later this month. Meanwhile Donald Rumsfeld's memoir, Known and Unknown, comes out
in February, with James Frey's new novel, The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, featuring a bisexual Christ returning to live
in 21st-century New York, out in the spring.
In June, Michael Brooks will present an exposé of fraud, suppressed evidence and unethical PR games in the "highly
competitive and ruthless" world of science in the book Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science. Later in the year the
regularly provocative Chuck Palahniuk will describe an 11-year-old girl's existence in hell in the novel Damned, which he
himself described as "The Shawshank Redemption having a baby with The Lovely Bones, raised by Judy Blume".