It was the title boldly proclaiming the supposed superiority of Chinese mothers that set off a controversy so explosive it led to ensuing weeks of coverage and even author Amy Chua receiving death threats. By now, many have heard of her memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. An excerpt cobbled from bits and pieces of Battle Hymn was published on The Wall Street Journal's online arm.
Chua did not choose the title, as she mentioned in an interview with Alison Stewart on PBS' Need to Know. She has written point-blank that both "Chinese mothers" and "Western mothers" loosely, noting that strict vs. lax parenting styles are less defined by ethnicity or nationality than states of mind. Chua has since said many times over in subsequent media appearances and interviews like the one in Newsweek that her book was not meant as a how-to guide, but a memoir written with what she deemed as humor. A few days after the excerpt was published, WSJ gave Chua the platform to respond to readers' questions and criticisms. It has since published Ayelet Waldman's thoughts as a 'Western' perspective.
As Internet memes go, however, the excerpt grew into a beast with a life beyond Chua's control. The excerpt elicited very little laughs with some recalling memories of abuse. Others bristled at her generalizations and worried that she reinforces stereotypes of Chinese parents as well as Asians as the model minority. Still, Chua's stance would not have engendered as strong of a reaction if not for the public's sensitive awareness of China's economic boom as the United States still grapples with its recent downturn.
Within and outside the community, we all had our reactions to the piece, ranging from supportive to outrage to the comically inappropriate. Media – traditional and new – likewise reflected opinions from all sides of the spectrum. Now that the circus has calmed down somewhat, here is a look back on who focused on what:
Based on the WSJ excerpt, Betty Ming Liu calls Chua a "narrow-minded, joyless bigot" in a blog entry that has since garnered Liu much attention. While she vehemently disagrees with Chua's parenting approach, she admits that both Chua and Penguin Books know how to market the controversial book. Liu stands firm by her opinion in follow-ups on that very entry as well as subsequent entries.
On Good Morning America, self-proclaimed Tiger Cub Juju Chang tries to grill Tiger Mom Chua in a face-to-face interview. Chang and Chua come across more like friends who agree to disagree. Chang follows up on a special Moms Get Real segment, with a panel composed of authors Lee Woodruff and Suzanne Venker as well as psychiatrist Janet Taylor.
Allison Pearson contends in The Telegraph, however, that "there are moments when she makes you ask yourself what the Chinese are doing right and we are doing wrong." She believes that "Millions of failing British children could use a Tiger Mother in their tank."
Sara Nelson on Oprah.com gives Chua space to dispel some of what she feels are misconceptions about her and her tome.
Chua has defended her book now and again, as a memoir on parenting that ultimately shows "high expectations coupled with love and listening is a winning combination."
Kate Zernike points out in The New York Times, in reading the book however, "it can be hard to tell when she is kidding."
NPR's Maureen Corrigan describes, "Chua's voice is that of a jovial, erudite serial killer -- think Hannibal Lecter -- who's explaining how he's going to fillet his next victim, as though it's the most self-evidently normal behavior... There's method to Chua's madness -- enough method to stir self-doubt in readers who subscribe to more nurturing parenting styles."
The New Yorker's China correspondent Evan Osnos offers a dialogue of sorts with nuanced responses from Tze-cheng Chun, Qi Zhai, and Lu Han -- three professionals with varying degrees of Chinese heritage and American experience.
Amy Hulbert on Slate predicts Battle Hymn readers will "make [them] gasp -- with horror but also with unexpected envy," saying "Chua has no equal, however, when it comes to shocking honesty about tactics." It is "Chua's supreme maternal confidence and almost complete lack of ambivalence about her approach with her children" that will spark envy. Hulbert reminds readers that one must not "forget that it's only how the girls themselves understand their mother's methods that really counts in the end." Hulbert joins Hanna Rosin and Nina Shen Rastogi in a Slate roundup review of the book.
Celia Hatton of CBS gives a more complex picture of so-called 'Chinese' parenting with her report from China. Similarly, Melinda Liu puts forth an alternate view of Chinese parents that decries generalization on Newsweek. Liu notes, "the fact that American classrooms—and society in general—are more conducive to individual expression and innovation," WSJ reports the increasing popularity of books in China that advise healthy emotional development over high academic achievement.
The market in China would seem to reflect both Hatton's and Liu's coverage. As Los Angeles Times reports, the translated Chinese version of Battle Hymn "is being marketed as something more foreign than familiar." The title is Being a Mom in America.
On The Talk, co-hosts Julie Chen, Leah Remini, Holly Robinson Peete, Sharon Osbourne, and Sara Gilbert discuss the merits and pitfalls of Battle Hymn. Robinson Peete approves of Chua for her "gangster parenting" as a way to stave off mediocrity, while Remini wise-cracks about cheating from a smart Chinese classmate she names 'Ming' in high school. Side note: The Talk has received lukewarm to highly critical reviews.
It is Chua's oldest daughter Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld who gives more dimensions to the polarizations. She writes a poignant rebuttal to critics who have maligned her mother and doubted her approach, as published in The New York Post.
Elaine of You Offend Me You Offend My Family explains why Chua is "more like Panda Express -- looks like Chinese parenting, smells like Chinese parenting, but is not the real deal -- that is, old-school Chinese parenting."
For the Jan. 31 Time issue, Annie Murphy Paul taps into the current climate of "fears about losing ground to China and other rising powers and about adequately preparing our children to survive in the global economy." The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert notes that "Chua's book would be causing quite as much stir without the geopolitical subtext."
Chua is on full defense mode and Joy Behar does not seem to buy it on her eponymous HLN show. Chua mentions that her father wore the same pair of shoes for six years.
On CNN's website, Lac Su shares his experience of growing up in an abusive household. He worries that "belittling children sends the message that they are not worthy of love and support -- as do mind games, emotional abuse, and tight-fisted control." Su calls out what he sees as Chua softening her stance only to reiterate her views, showing she is not exactly "a reformed tiger." Joanne Bamberger would agree as she sees "little evidence of a humbleness evolution in her book" in her piece for AOL's Politics Daily.
Steven Colbert unrelentingly interrogates Chua on The Colbert Report with the deadpanned wit and mock celebration of the absurd his viewers have come to expect from the comedian-cum-journalist. This time around she says that her father wore the same pair of shoes for eight years.
Hyphen contributor brings up some of the serious consequences of overly harsh parenting Chua attributes as ''Chinese."
The New York Times' David Brooks calls Chua a wimp for "protecting [her children] from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn't understand what's cognitively difficult and what isn't." Brooks elaborates, "Chua would do better to see the classroom as a cognitive break from the truly arduous tests of childhood."
Finally and equally as important, look no further than Angry Asian Man's compilation and/or regular SF Gate columnist Jeff Yang's extended and nuanced list for reactions from prominent voices in the Asian American community.
Click here to read Asia Pacific Arts' review of Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.