Title: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Author: Amy Chua
When Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was published two years ago; the furore and debates that followed over the methods used by Amy Chua in her pursuit to mould her daughters; Sophia and Lulu into the perfect little pianists and violinists piqued my interest. Every other article on parenting seemed to link back to Chua’s book and that controversial Wall Street Journal article on “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”.
I admire Chua’s honesty in telling it like it was. She does not hold back in describing the screaming, the threats, the punishment, and the insults used in the piano and violin practice sessions with her daughters. It did not win her any fans, but it definitely started a discussion.
I do not however believe her methods did her daughters any good – even though as she puts it that they came out of it with their self-esteems intact and were none the worse for it. Were they really? Having had to firstly, convince my own children of the importance of practice before you master anything, and secondly, sit through many a practice session of both piano and violin, I can understand the frustration she must have felt at times – but to resort to the screaming and insults? I am certain there are other methods of encouragement and cooperation that could have been used.
Throughout the book though I was astounded at the amount of time Chua spent in learning all there was to learn about both violin and piano, even though she herself does not play either instrument. I wasn’t sure whether it it showed serious dedication, or slightly obsessive behaviour about her wanting to achieve something through her daughters’ playing . Nowhere else does she write about putting the same dedication towards her daughters’ other school work.
The book was less about the superiority of Chinese mothers though, but more about her methods in raising her Chinese-American daughters and her being humbled by her younger daughter who, although a gifted and brilliant violinist, gives up the instrument – whether as a reaction to her mother’s methods or simply because she lost interest in the instrument is not too clear .
Chua states that her methods are those espoused by many other Chinese mothers – where sleepovers and play dates are not permitted; extra-curriculars are picked by the parents; playing a musical instrument (violin or piano)is mandatory; and bringing home any grade less than an A is completely unacceptable. Of that abridged version of her list, two of those can apply to any other parent – Chinese or not. Depriving, yes I use the word deliberately, depriving her children of play dates even when they were bringing home Grade As, and were the best piano and violin players amongst their peers would surely not have harmed her children in any way.
What Chua ultimately realises is that the methods that worked with her eldest daughter do not work with her younger. A bit late too, as Lulu chooses to carve her own path, taking up tennis instead. She has no regrets about the way she raised her children – and even at the times when she herself is unsure of her methods, she is honest enough to question the sanity in using them. Some parts of the book were funny – Chua uses a great deal of self-deprecating humour, which I felt showed a softer side to her – something that does not come through at all throughout the book.
If you are curious about books that delve more into the subject of the differences in parenting between Asian and Western parents – this is not the book to read. I would recommend this for readers curious about what the controversy following its publication was about.