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Retreat of the ‘Tiger Mother’

(2011-02-20 21:02:18)


Retreat of the ‘Tiger Mother’

TRY this at a dinner party in one of the hothouses of Ivy League aspiration — Cambridge, Scarsdale, Evanston, Marin County:


Declare that the way Asian-American parents succeed in raising such successful children is by denying them play dates and sleepovers, and demanding that they bring home straight A’s.


Note that you once told your own hyper-successful Asian-American daughter that she was “garbage.” That you threatened to throw out your other daughter’s dollhouse and refused to let her go to the bathroom one evening until she mastered a difficult piano composition. That you threw the homemade birthday cards they gave you as 7- and 4-year-olds back in their faces, saying you expected more effort.

Better yet, write a book about it.

What kind of reaction might you get?

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.

A law blog suggested a “Mommie Dearest” element to her tale (“No. Wire. Hangers! Ever!!”). Another post was titled “Parents like Amy Chua are the reason Asian-Americans like me are in therapy.” A Taiwanese video circulating on YouTube (subtitled in English) concluded that Ms. Chua would not mind if her children grew up disturbed and rebellious, as long as she sold more books.


“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.”

Her real crime, she said, may have been telling the truth. “I sort of feel like people are not that honest about their own parenting,” she said. “Take any teenage household, tell me there is not yelling and conflict.”

Ms. Chua is one half of the kind of Asian-Jewish academic power couple that, as she notes, populates many university towns. Her husband is Jed Rubenfeld, also a Yale law professor, and the author of two successful mystery novels. Ms. Chua, herself the author of two previous books, was reported to have received an advance in the high six figures for “Tiger Mother.”

If she has one regret, she said, it is that the Journal excerpt, and particularly the headline, did not reflect the full arc of her story.

Her book is a memoir that ends with her relenting (sort of) when the younger of her two teenage daughters refuses to go along with the “extreme parenting” Ms. Chua uses to prevent the kind of decline that she thinks makes some third-generation Asian-Americans as soft and entitled as their teammates on suburban soccer teams where every child is declared Most Valuable Player.

“I’ve been forced to answer questions about a book I didn’t write,” she said. “It’s not saying what people should do, it’s saying, ‘Here’s what I did, and boy did I learn a lesson.’ ” All this is captured, she said, in the book’s three-paragraph subtitle, which concludes with the words, “and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.”

Born to Chinese parents who were raised in the Philippines and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ms. Chua, 48, graduated from Harvard and Harvard Law, where she was an executive editor of the Law Review. She confesses in her book that she is “not good at enjoying life,” and that she wasn’t naturally curious or skeptical like other law students. “I just wanted to write down everything the professor said and memorize it.”

She was determined to raise her daughters the way she and her three sisters had been raised — which, she said, left them adoring their parents. By her account, her elder daughter, Sophia, complied, excelled and played piano at Carnegie Hall. But the younger, Lulu, rebelled. At the turning point of the memoir, Lulu, then 13, begins smashing glasses in a Moscow restaurant and yelling at her mother, “I HATE my life, I HATE you.”

Ms. Chua’s husband appears only peripherally in “Tiger Mother” — though there is one battle in which she lashes out at him after he worries that she is pushing their daughters to the point that there is “no breathing room” in their home.

“All you do is think about writing your own books and your own future,” she says to him. “What dreams do you have for Sophia or for Lulu? Do you ever think about that? What dreams do you have for Coco?” He bursts out laughing — Coco is their dog.

She concludes, “I didn’t understand what was so funny, but I was glad our fight was over.”

Initially, Ms. Chua said, she wrote large chunks about her husband and their conflicts over child rearing. But she gave him approval on every page, and when he kept insisting she was putting words in his mouth, it became easier to leave him out.

“It’s more my story,” she said. “I was the one that in a very overconfident immigrant way thought I knew exactly how to raise my kids. My husband was much more typical. He had a lot of anxiety, he didn’t think he knew all the right choices.” And, she said, “I was the one willing to put in the hours.”

Still, she said, her children got pancakes and trips to water parks because of their father, the son of parents more inclined to encourage self-discovery.

The reaction to the book was particularly anguished among those who are products of extreme Asian parents. “I’m horrified that she’s American-born and hanging on to this, when most of us are trying to escape it,” said Betty Ming Liu, the daughter of Chinese immigrants from Vietnam and author of one of the many blog posts about the book. A California woman recalled how her sister became the perfect Asian daughter Ms. Chua aspires to produce, only to kill herself because she was afraid to tell anyone she suffered from depression.

Ann Hulbert, the author of “Raising America,” a history of a century’s worth of conflicting child-rearing advice, who is writing a book about child prodigies, notes that it is not hard to reignite the Mommy Wars.

“There is a kind of utter certainty in her writing,” she said of Ms. Chua, “and that confidence goes so against the underlying grain of American parenting and child-rearing expertise that it immediately elicits a response that then suggests a kind of certainty on the other side that isn’t there, either.”

Friends describe Ms. Chua as self-deprecating and a dry wit, her children as happy, and their home as humming with music and activity and, yes, love.

“Not that she’s without opinion, but she’s writing a memoir, not a parenting guide,” said Alexis Contant, who describes Ms. Chua as her closest friend for 20 years. “She will say sleepovers are overrated, but I have never heard her say, ‘I can’t believe so-and-so let their kid do it.’ 

Ms. Chua said that her daughters have been eager to speak out in favor of the book; she is shielding them from the publicity. She said, however, that they did ultimately have play dates — though not many between the ages of 9 and 13, due to music practice. Sophia, now 18, has a boyfriend, she told me. “My kids have whatever those things are called — iPods,” she said. “They have iTunes accounts.”

Ms. Chua wrote most of the book in eight weeks, yet struggled with the end, she said, reflecting the East-West tug on her parenting. “It’s a work in progress,” she said. “On bad days I would say this method is terrible. I just need to give them freedom and choice. On good days, when Lulu would say: ‘I’m so glad you made me write that second draft of my essay. My teacher read it out loud,’ I think, I’ve got to stick to my guns.”

This week, her book tour will take her to the places where she has surely sparked the most debate: the Bay Area, Cambridge and the northwest quadrant of Washington.

But first, the family was planning to celebrate Lulu’s 15th birthday. They were taking her and eight of her friends to New York City. For a sleepover.

  Retreat <wbr>of <wbr>the <wbr>‘Tiger <wbr>Mother’







自从《华尔街日报》以“为什么中国母亲是优秀的”为题发表了Amy Chua一本新书的节选文章之后,这位耶鲁法学院的教授说,她收到了“成百上千”的电子邮件和死亡威胁。文章引发了网站上5000多条评论和数不清的博客文章,大家都在谈论这位“虎妈”。有些人认为,那些为数不多被哈佛看中的亚洲学生的父母,肯定是做对了一些事情。还有很多人管Chua女士叫“魔鬼”、“疯子”或狡猾的奸细。

一个法律博客中的文章认为她的故事中包含一些《亲爱的妈咪》元素(不!永远不要用铁丝衣架!)。(译者注:根据女明星琼克劳馥的女儿克莉丝汀娜克劳馥的原著改编而成,描述这位四、五十年代的大明星,在私生活中用各种惨无人道的方式来虐待她的儿女,令崇拜明星妈妈的四个养子养女感到爱恨交加。琼克劳馥发现养女没有依照嘱咐,用上好绸缎包裹的衣架来挂衣服,却用铁丝衣架时。不禁勃然大怒,随手抄起衣架,没头没脑地将养女毒打一顿边打边骂:“不!永远不要用铁丝衣架!”)另一篇帖子题目是“Amy Chua这样的父母就是像我一样的亚裔美国人为什么在接受治疗的原因”。YouTube上的一个台湾视频(英文字幕)认为,Chua女士根本不在乎她的孩子长大后精神不正常或者叛逆,只要书卖得好就行。






就像她自己所说,Chua女士是属于那种热衷于亚洲/犹太学术权威并居住在大学城里的人。她的丈夫Jed Rubenfeld也是一名耶鲁法律教授,并出版过两本畅销的科幻小说。Chua女士自己也出版过两本书,据说她的新作《虎妈》已经预先得到了6位数的稿酬。












这本书引起了一些痛苦的回忆,尤其是在极端亚洲化的家庭中成长起来的人群中。Betty Ming Liu是来自越南的中国移民(译者注:原文如此),她对这本书的博客评论很受欢迎。她说:“让我感到恐怖的是拥护这种方式的人竟然出生在美国,而我们亚洲人都在尽量避免这种教育方式。”一名加利福尼亚女士回忆她的姐姐是如何变得像Chua女士所意图塑造的哪种“完美”,但没料到结果竟然会自杀,因为她害怕告诉别人无法忍受情绪低落的痛苦。

Ann Hulbert是《美国崛起》一书的作者,该书介绍了长达一个世纪的有关教育理念争论的历史。她正在写一本有关天才儿童的书,她认为很容易再次爆发“妈咪战争”。



Alexis Contant自称自己是Chua女士20多年的老朋友,他说:“她并不是没有主意的人,她写的是一个回忆录,不是育儿指南。她或许会说在外过夜不好,但我从未听她说‘我简直不敢相信某某人竟然让孩子在外过夜’。”






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