A while ago, two of my acquaintances linked to an unusually provocative article by Amy Chua called Why Chinese Mothers are Superior. Amy Chua was interviewed on the Today Show, where the contrast of the overweight and silly people (clearly with too much time on their hands) in the background and this gorgeous and well-spoken Ivy League professor was quite acute. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of very personal, sometimes heart-breaking discussion of a very high caliber at Quora.com which I think should be required reading.
I found the excerpt, interview, and discussion all immensely helpful in bridging a cultural chasm that I’ve noticed ever since I was a junior high school student. I do think Western parents need to expect more of their children; at the same time, though, I am not capable of (nor do I ever want to be capable of) calling my child “garbage,” or insulting him if he comes in as the second-best student in a subject instead of the best. But Amy Chua makes clear that a foundation of love underlies all else. Unfortunately, the headline in the WSJ (reproduced in my own title above) in some ways seems unreflective of her book.
In any case, this book has rung the front doorbell of my imagination, and I think I will buy the book. (It’s called “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” and it has a very long subtitle: “This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.”) I will buy the Battle Hymn not to replicate whatever techniques Amy Chua has used (which, as the discussion linked to above, have in other families produced suicides and alienation from parents), but as a read on the values of the dominant culture in North America.
Update: Slate’s post is worth reading, especially the part about the daughters’ reactions to the book.
Update 2: I quite like this review in the Washington Post. It sums up my feelings perfectly.
Update: 3: A commenter on another thread pointed me to this excellent article by Jeff Yang. Yang’s article reveals that the WSJ, according to Chua, simply strung the most controversial parts of her book together, and left Chua without the ability to do much with the finished product. That’s why the article had no trace of humility, while the long subtitle of the book makes clear where the author stands. Yang explicitly states that the book is not a “how-to”; it’s a memoir.
Update 4: The WSJ has now put up a Q & A response piece by Amy Chua.
Update 5: Amy Chua in Time.
Update 6: Another article–quite interesting, on Amy Chua.