'Tiger Mom' Defends Herself

Emily C Lowe

Amy Chua smiles at a reader's positive response to her memoir, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, during a question and answer session before her book signing at The Harvard Bookstore.

At an appearance at the Harvard Book Store yesterday, Amy L. Chua ’84 said that while her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” has garnered significant criticism, she wrote the work propelled by a desire to share the story of her relationship with her two daughters.

After the publication of an excerpt in The Wall Street Journal, Chua became the subject of widespread debate as a virulent criticism quickly built against her advocacy of allegedly typical Chinese parenting techniques.

“I could not in a million years imagine my book to be perceived this way, as preaching Chinese parenting as superior,” said Chua, a Yale Law School professor. “This is not a parenting book. It is a memoir. This book was written in a time of genuine family crisis when I thought my family was falling apart.”

Chua said she was taken aback by the fact that no critic had reviewed her book as it was originally intended.

“The book is a lot more complicated than how it was initially portrayed,” Chua said, referencing the Wall Street Journal article that drew widespread attention and generated international controversy. “I wanted to write a self-critical book. I thought it was actually pretty funny.”

Chua said that while her parenting technique worked well with her older daughter, the method ran into trouble with her younger daughter, who, Chua said, was “a fireball.”

In the weeks following the publication of the excerpt in The Wall Street Journal, Chua tried to soften her perception as a so-called “Tiger Mother,” and has often said that her work was meant, at least in part, as a critical evaluation of her parenting style.

Chua said that she intended her book to serve as a universal work that would attract audiences from a variety of races and backgrounds.

“I feel like Amy Chua actually portrays a pretty positive image of herself,” said Eliza M. Nguyen ’14, a Crimson News comper. “Before coming here, I expected her to be more serious, but she’s actually pretty funny, personable and friendly.”

Following the event, about 35 students joined Professor Alfred C. Yen from Boston College Law School who moderated a follow-up discussion sponsored by the Harvard Political Union and the Harvard-Radcliffe Asian-American Association.

The debrief served as a forum to reflect on Chua’s book and how the book was perceived by parents and children.

“Chua is refreshing in contrast to what I hear back at home,” said Robert K. Nishihara ’13. “Parents are often worried there’s too much work, AP classes, and stress, but the value of education is important to acknowledge. And parents should have high expectations.”

Yen asked the audience to consider whether Chua associated Asian culture with a specific form of strict parenting.

“If she did not want to associate a parenting style with Asian-ness, why wouldn’t she say strict parenting or tiger parenting instead of Chinese parenting?” Yen said. “Does she avoid essentialist trap?”

Students debated whether the premise of a tiger mother prioritizes nature over nurture, or vice versa. Topics of discussion also included if this stern parenting style advantages or disadvantages children, as students shared their personal stories with their own parents.

—Staff writer Nadia L. Farjood can be reached at nadiafarjood@college.harvard.edu.

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