Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Summary

Amy Chua

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

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Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother Summary

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American author Amy Chua’s memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, had as its original intent exploring the differences between Western ways of parenting and the methods used by the Chinese. What emerged is a work of self-examination about the author’s experiences raising her own two daughters. Chua talks of the rules that she followed in her child-rearing practices such as requiring grades of “A” from her daughters, Sophia and Louisa, forbidding overnight visits with friends, and restricting them from participating in school productions. Chua accepts that her rules are strict, but they are common to Chinese mothers.

Sophia is the older of the two children. She is a quick learner and has a passive personality. Chua, who is from a Catholic religious background, and her Jewish husband, Jed, are raising their children in the Jewish faith. Sophia follows the rules well as she develops a questioning nature like her father’s and works well with her mother’s rote teaching methods. The younger girl, Louisa (called Lulu) is very different from her sister. She has a quick temper and blunt nature; she and her mother often clash. Chua adds that it is not surprising that Lulu is strong headed as she was born in the Chinese year of the Boar making this a matter of fate. Chua was born in the year of the Tiger, which predestined her authoritative personality. Sophia is agreeable to the things that her mother introduces her to such as piano lessons. Lulu refuses to take lessons, just one in a string of impasses between the two of them. Chua knows that she could try a different approach with her younger daughter but holds firm in having the same expectations of both of her children.

The approach Chua takes to raising her children is the one she learned from her own parents. Her mother and father grew up in the Philippines with Chinese parents who had left their native country. Chua’s parents immigrated to the United States in 1960 where they raised their family. Chua and her sisters felt isolated from the other children in the schools they attended in the Midwest and California. Chua was fully aware that her parents were always far more demanding than those of her classmates. In one incident she recalls, she won second place in an eighth-grade history competition; her father told her that she had disgraced him by finishing in second place. Chua admits that from a Western perspective this seems cruel, but as she looks back, it encouraged her to always expect the best from herself. Chua’s feeling as she raises her own daughters is that she is moving away from her Chinese heritage; she wonders how much farther her children will distance themselves from it.

Chua writes of the differences between Western and Chinese parents. She suggests that Western parents are too concerned with the self-esteem of their children, while Chinese parents believe that their children owe them everything and that the parents know what is best for their children, overriding the children’s desires in life. At times, Jed disagrees with the harshness of Chua’s approach to parenting, but he goes along with her because the methods have been shown to be successful, and frequently, Jed and Chua receive compliments about their children. Even Lulu, forced by her mother to master the violin, eventually learns to appreciate her own achievements.

National Public Radio said of Chua’s book, “In her new memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua recounts her adventures in Chinese parenting, and—nuts though she may be—she’s also mesmerizing. 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. That’s the other gripping aspect of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: There’s method to Chua’s madness—enough method to stir up self-doubt in readers who subscribe to more nurturing parenting styles. Trust me, Battle Hymn is going to be a book club and parenting blog phenomenon; there will be fevered debate over Chua’s tough love strategies, which include ironclad bans on such Western indulgences as sleepovers, play dates, and any extracurricular activities except practicing musical instruments…which must be the violin or piano.”

An article in the Wall Street Journal in January of 2011 excerpted Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Published under the title “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” it attracted much controversy. Readers interpreted the piece as showing Chua as a staunch advocate of the harsh parenting techniques; what was supposed to be a self-deprecating memoir was widely misunderstood.