Retreat of the ‘Tiger Mother’: Maybe Chinese mothers are not the best?

Last week we were shocked and enthralled by an article from an Asian mother explaining why Chinese mothering is the best and how a very stringent approach is needed for children to be successful. Apparently since the article was published the author Amy Chua has taken some heat and is backing away a little from what she wrote. The article was actually an excerpt from her new book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” The New York Times has the reaction to the story.

Here is an exert from the original story published on Momania last week (originally ran in The Wall Street Journal):

“A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. 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 in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin…”

Here is some of the reaction from The New York Times:

“In the week since The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt of the new book by Amy Chua, a Yale law professor, under the headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” Ms. Chua has received death threats, she says, and “hundreds, hundreds” of e-mails. The excerpt generated more than 5,000 comments on the newspaper’s Web site, and countless blog entries referring in shorthand to “that Tiger Mother.” Some argued that the parents of all those Asians among Harvard’s chosen few must be doing something right; many called Ms. Chua a “monster” or “nuts” — and a very savvy provocateur….”

“ ‘It’s been a little surprising, and a little bit intense, definitely,’ Ms. Chua said in a phone interview on Thursday, between what she called a ‘24/7′ effort to ‘clarify some misunderstandings.’ Her narration, she said, was meant to be ironic and self-mocking — ‘I find it very funny, almost obtuse.’ ”

“But reading the book, ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,’ it can be hard to tell when she is kidding.”

“ ‘In retrospect, these coaching suggestions seem a bit extreme,’ she writes in the book after describing how she once threatened to burn her daughter’s stuffed animals if she did not play a piano composition perfectly. ‘On the other hand, they were highly effective.’ ”

“In interviews, she comes off as unresolved. ‘I think I pulled back at the right time,’  she said. ‘I do not think there was anything abusive in my house.’ Yet, she added, ‘I stand by a lot of my critiques of Western parenting. I think there’s a lot of questions about how you instill true self-esteem.’ ”

Read the whole New York Times reaction story here.

So what do you think now? Was she misinterpreted? Did she just get scared by everyone’s reaction? Does this change your opinion about her or her methods?

Apparently since the article was published the author Amy Chua has taken some heat and is backing away a little from what she wrote. The article was actually an excerpt from her new book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” The New York Times has the reaction to the story.

24 comments Add your comment


January 18th, 2011
12:56 pm

I think she only took a step back from her stance after the reaction she got was so strong. She wouldn’t have changed her mind if people weren’t calling her names & getting death threats, etc. All this is only to save face, IMO. I don’t agree 100% with her parenting methods but I agree with a lot of them. I admit freely that I’m very strict w/ my kids & don’t plan on changing my parenting style for anyone else’s sake. My children, their future, and our family are my concerns. And no one knows for sure how successful their parenting was until the child is an adult and on their own. By then it’s too late though.


January 18th, 2011
1:00 pm

There is no one perfect parent. We are all flying by the seat of our pants.

As Michelle Phieffer once said “we are doing the best we can, as parents, and putting enough money away for their therapy”…….

Are you serious

January 18th, 2011
1:43 pm

Although she makes some valid points about “western parents” and views of B’s and allowing our kids to have a life (heaven forbid they play on a sports team), this is extreme. What are the numbers, sadly, of the suicide rates of these kids? How many are burnt out and never make it through college?

I am a realist, my kids may not compete with “chinese kids” academically because many of them go to school another 2-4 hours after their regular school day. However, I believe my kids will contribute more to society and enjoy doing it. I really feel bad for a “chinese child” that has a legitmate learning disability, they are probably disowned.


January 18th, 2011
2:32 pm

My eldest child plays viola. Private tutoring on it. She also gets As in math…in fact the only subject she does not get an A is Social Studies (which as Political Scientist drives me crazy!!!!!). She did not learn Recorder in music class at her old school. Her music teacher got after her to practice more at home. I politely wrote the the teacher and let him know that viola was 100% more important than the recorder and that if wanted to fail her that was fine but he had better be able to justify it with more than she does not play as well as people who have been taught by him for 2 years. The kid has an A in music. She has a talent for music and even that stupid recorder sounds decent…she just doesn’t practice it.

She also plays soccer. She does get video games but not often. All work must be done first (and currently the games are in restriction for a month!). I would put $$$ on the idea that Mrs Chua paid a private tutor for music lessons.

The youngest child only recently got the age where learning instrument could work for her. Different set of learning issues there…like ADHD.

In addition to a number of movies, I take the children to the other events–like plays and symphonies. I take advantage of the wonderful performances at the local HS by taking the children there too. I would put $$ on it Mrs. Chua did the same.

My take is the lady got scared by the reaction. Fact are facts, if you invest in the kids (time and money). Then live much of what you practice. It will show up in the child. I am more likely to read, listen to music or do some activity that is not tv or computers.

One of my Professors said she heard that to get a child to be interested in current events you should let them “catch you watching the news”…not ban them from the room. I applied this theory to all of the above. Since the children’s father is currently serving in a war zone we do not watch much news together but they see me read articles online and so forth.


January 18th, 2011
2:34 pm

JJ I disagree with Ms. Phieffer….the children can pay for their own therapy ;)


January 18th, 2011
3:31 pm

When I have a Chinese child, then I’ll worry about what they do better as parents..:~)

My two aren’t that interested in learning to play anything musical..They only want to learn to play golf..So they will be getting lessons starting this spring..As for computer games, the girl spent half of the time that they were out of school for ice, playing a computer game to get better on her subtraction.. Games aren’t always bad for you..


January 18th, 2011
3:40 pm

@FCM..A bottle of Crown Royal was always good therapy for me:~)

mom of 3

January 18th, 2011
4:01 pm

Agree with @FCM.


January 18th, 2011
4:14 pm

@ JJ…while I am not pretending to be the perfect parent I try not to fly by the seat of my pants.

Since I am not too impressed with Hollywood in general, I rarely applaud their take.

I have tried to watch those whose techniques I think produced success and emulate them
(re: sidewalk). This, typically, did not include the things my own parents did. Nor my husband’s. At church, we often hear, “growing up many of us thought our parents were stupid….now as adults, we realize they were brilliant.” Growing up, I always thought my parents knew everything…they constantly told us how they were the best parents and always had the answers. Now, I realize they knew nothing but were tying to convince everyone they did. It was all a show. We were simply too scared to even do anything or we would get our butts kicked!


January 18th, 2011
5:35 pm

Gawd, I hate pseudo-intellectuals. She may be a professor at Yale, but she’s fast failing the common sense test. Trying to pass her piece off as a joke, and then insulting everyone who didn’t get it as “obtuse” just drives her further down the Bizarre Mommy Path.

I mean, threatening to burn a child’s stuffed animals if they are not perfect on a piano piece? WTF?!?!?


January 18th, 2011
7:44 pm

You know what, I have met quite a few Chinese kids growing up and I can tell you that based on my personal observations and based on what they told me, they are MISERABLE.

I rather have my children be well-rounded than threatening them and abusing them so they will learn how to play the piano. I want them to have a full and happy childhood experience. I don’t give a rat’s behind if they are not musical or math prodigies as long as they grow up to be useful, happy, and productive members of society.

That insane woman would have never “retracted” her stance had the public not basically told her to take a flying leap of a moving truck. So not only she is insane, she is not even strong enough to stand by what she “preached”.


January 18th, 2011
9:27 pm

i read an article about this article, it said that if you read the whole book it does say she changed from being so stringent. i havent read the book and dont plan to…i have plenty of reading to do for classes this semester….but its hard and sometimes wrong to make assumptions from an excerpt….(which i also did)

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

January 18th, 2011
9:50 pm

The thing about this where it’s hard to let her off the hook is she WROTE the piece that was in The Wall Street Journal — it wasn’t a journalist trying to summarize her book and not mentioning that she repented from her ways at the end. She needed what was controversial to sell the book and her extreme parenting is controversial — not that she thought better of it later — Now I will say by revealing that in the article it would sort of ruin the ending of her book — However, she cannot claim to be misrepresented by the media – the only thing the Wall street journal wrote in that story was the headline –(which she said misrepresented her) — The Wall Street Journal gave her massive free publicity publishing that excerpt or essay or whatever you want to call it — After writing a blog for five years I know I’m going to get attacked — she just didn’t expect it.


January 18th, 2011
11:49 pm

Chua definitely generated some discussion… she’s been the topic of many comments on FB and from several of my mom-friends. I’ve also been following the movie called “Race to Nowhere, The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture”. There was an editorial in the Huffington Post regarding the movie and Chua’s book. Wonder which side will ultimately win out?

TWG- have you seen the movie yet? It’s going to be shown in Atlanta a couple of times in the next few weeks ( I think it would be an interesting topic.Check out the NYT video – #3 regarding AP classes. I could not agree more with the bottom line that classes in HS should prepare students for the college-level courses; instead AP classes have turned into a quantitative measure for what colleges expect HS students to do.

good chinese mother

January 19th, 2011
12:15 am

If excellence is the ultimate goal, there has to be better methods than hysterics and threats. I have read Chua’s book, and it seems like she eventually came to understand that, and has resolved to forge a middle ground.

I am extremely fortunate. I understood from the start.

I am Chinese, with parents who raised me in the so-called Chinese way. I grew up envying the easy friendship Western between Western mother and daughters, and seeing American teenagers express their opinions, I yearned to be heard by my parents.

And that led me to vow not to parent like my parents.

I never said, “I am right and you will obey me because I am your mother”.

I taught myself to say, “Mother does not know,” and “I am sorry. Mother is wrong.”

I encouraged my daughter to enjoy all the things my parents thought were wrong, and would not allow, sleepovers, school plays, and yes, dating.

I treated her like an adult even when she was a mere toddler, with respect and honesty. I gave her the freedom of choice. I did not always agree with her choices, but I let her make them. Her happiness was very important to me.

My parents and I argued about my parenting skills, but I stood firm.

Yes, she turned out all right. Near-perfect test scores, and offers of admission from Harvard, Yale and Princeton. I am proud of her academic achievements, but what really matters to me is that she grew up to be warm and kind, with an easygoing, unassuming demeanor.

I did not push. I encouraged. And I loved unconditionally.

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January 19th, 2011
8:27 am

i see your point theresa…ty :)

College Mom

January 19th, 2011
9:16 am

I’ve been following the articles on this topic with some interest. My daughter graduated from a north metro hs last year that had a heavy Asian and Indian component. To say that some of the parenting practices were different than ours was an understatement. I can say that my daughter did everything on Ms. Chua’s list and was a National Merit Scholar, got accepted into the college of her choice (where she made the Dean’s List first semester) and is extremely happy. Some of her Asian and Indian classmates didn’t fare so well and some were downright miserable.

To each his own on parenting, but I don’t subscribe to Ms. Chua’s methods or a lot of the others that I saw in my daughter’s hs. In some cases, the pressures for A’s brought cheating that might not have been caught, but may in college and will ruin some scholastic careers.


January 19th, 2011
2:10 pm

I used her as an example to show my daughter how good she has it. Had to laugh about the recital, because my kid had the same piece and nailed it with only 30 minutes a day practice and a little applause. Wonder what my kid would be playing if I glued her to the piano for 2 hours and became psycho mom. However, my daughter enjoys playing and composing music instead of just following directions and reading the same piece over and over. She also has straight A’s. However, she has a life(friends, a little t.v., few games, ect). Then again, she might be higher if I start abusing her like this lady. After all, I am only an inferior American mom, not a superior Chinese one teaching at Yale Law School ;) Eventhough I am proud of my daughter’s achievements. balance is always pushed. There are so many highly educated idiots out there and it’s better to be a B/C student with tons of commonsense than the straight A student with none. Academics are only a small piece of life’s pie.


January 19th, 2011
5:20 pm

After reading Ms. Chua’s original article (it infuriated me), I started compiling a list for my half-Chinese college-age son. His mother is a tiger mom, although she is blessedly free of the silly Carnegie Hall elitism. She never wanted to live in N. America, and probably doesn’t know/care where Carnegie Hall is.

My list is not finished yet, but it may be called “Your achievements that make me proud that don’t have anything to do with Carnegie Hall”.

It will include his fierce independence, strength, language skills (he speaks excellent Mandarin), musical talent (drums, violin, piano), breadth of skills/experiences, passions, loyalty, ethics, tolerance, generosity, and compassion.
Sadly, there are no prizes for the things about him that make me most proud.

The list will also address his courageous recovery from debilitating teenage rages (a diagnosis of “Intermittent Explosive Disorder”). Our painful experience is that boys deal with tiger moms differently than girls do. We didn’t merely have ripped sheet music…we also had holes punched in walls, a broken car windshield, a broken hand, threats of self-harm, destroyed laptop computer and xbox, countless panes of broken glass, stitches, withdrawal from school, and a trip to juvenile detention.

Fortunately, you’d never know any of that to see him today. He is just another happy and productive university student–raised with love, understanding, and involvement from his American father. Understanding and involvement from his tiger mother, not so much.


January 20th, 2011
5:20 am

good chinese mother @ 12:15am – It sounds like you found the right blend of high expectations academically plus encouraging creativity & individualism. I really enjoyed reading your blog & the stories of your daughter.


January 20th, 2011
2:03 pm

My husband found this article: about “Here’s Why Tiger Mother Is Actually A Softie”. The author maintains that navigating the minefields of a typical adolescent slumber party is FAR more difficult than just practicing a piece of music over and over again! Funny article :-)

good chinese mother

January 20th, 2011
3:27 pm

a_mom, thank you very much for reading my blog. I started blogging because I felt so strongly about the issue. I wrote the essays several years ago as a high school graduation present to my daughter. I am glad you enjoyed them.

January 24th, 2011
8:48 am

I have had to be around stereotypical Asian families/children/young adults in various situations.

Those that were raised with such overly-strict and short-sighted parents were introverted, quasi-anti-social (wouldn’t openly communicate with or be involved with “outsiders”).

Then I’ve met other Asian families who have lived in the USA for a while. And while they often did have high expectations for their kids, the kids were much more talkative and genuine a pleasure to be around.

Plenty of people graduating school with a great academic track record but lousy social skills or common sense. :(

If you’re raising your kid like a machine, something’s wrong!