By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
Bestselling author Amy Chua walked toward the microphone and podium. She stood in front of a bookshelf labeled “Collector Editions” to share her thoughts — on everything.
“I was misunderstood,” said the proud, strict mother and author of The New York Times bestseller “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” She did a Jan. 13 book signing at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park to promote its release in paperback.
A standing-room-only crowd of about 100 people, some standing in the distance behind book shelves, came to see her and hear her one-hour talk.
“It’s a memoir, so it’s the opposite of a how-to guide,” she emphasized, hoping to clear up the misunderstanding.
On Jan. 8, 2011, The Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from Chua’s book. The excerpt, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” details how Chua enforced a strict, “Chinese-style” upbringing for her two daughters (such as no sleepovers, no school plays, no TV). The excerpt created widespread controversy, as well as a lot of attention for Chua and her book — there are currently nearly 9,000 comments on the article.
Critics lambasted Chua for what they deem as emotionally abusive behavior toward her daughters. Chua, on the other hand, insisted that a lot of her message was lost because the excerpt was read outside of the context of the whole book. She said that a lot of what these readers missed was her sense of humor and tongue-in-cheek delivery.
At the book signing, she talked about how the negative reaction comes from people who have either not read “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” or have read only its beginning excerpt. The book’s title was developed from the words “Battle,” referring to the sadness she felt from almost losing her youngest daughter, and “Tiger,” referring to her birth year, the Year of the Tiger.
“They thought I was saying, ‘This (tiger parenting of children between the ages of 5 and 12) is what everybody should do,’ ” she pointed out. “It was like I was being asked to defend a book I didn’t write.”
“For most people who actually read it, especially Asian Americans, they get it. I don’t know any Asian American who had a little bit of our upbringing who didn’t get it.”
In an interview before her appearance, Chua, a Yale law professor, said her students have rallied around her, even choosing her to receive a “Best Teacher” award.
The best parenting and education, according to Chua, is a mixture of the best of the East and West. “If you could combine this work ethic and self-discipline with rebellion and independence and thinking outside-the-box, this is what the book is about,” she said.
She called the first two-thirds of her memoir a “self-parody,” filled with zany showdowns between herself and her daughters Sophia and Lulu.
Rebellion is a serious subject that’s addressed in the last third of Chua’s memoir, the section she feels her harshest critics have not read. It is here she writes about hearing “the most painful things that anyone has ever said to me” from 13-year-old Lulu.
“I have to say for every Asian American who has actually read the chapter called ‘Red Square,’ I usually get incredibly, powerfully positive responses,” she said. Some mothers are even grateful to Chua, admitting her memoir helps them heal their relationships with their own daughters.
“If you reach the end of the book, you realize … the message is that you’ve got to give your kids more choice.”
George Hu, of Seattle, read Chua’s memoir and attended the book signing, sitting in the front row. He has also read her excerpt in the Wall Street Journal.
Like Chua, he was raised by Chinese parents who had such rules as “no sleepovers” and “any instrument other than the piano or violin is not allowed.”
“Things like that were just plucked right out of my life, so I felt a real kinship,” said the computer professional, parent, and hobby violinist. “She spilled the ancient Chinese secrets that I didn’t even realize were ancient Chinese secrets.”
Chua said she didn’t raise her daughters in the exact same way that her very strict Chinese immigrant parents raised her. “I have to tell you that they were 100 times stricter than I am,” she admitted.
A Jan. 10 U.S. Fed News Service report notes that Chinese immigrant parents repeatedly pressure their offspring to excel, according to research done by Michigan State University assistant professor Desiree Baolin Qin. She says this pressure, a tradition in their native China, includes such statements as “Your sister got straight As and went to Harvard. Why can’t you?”
Chua claims that it was always her intention to make fun of herself and “these super strict, usually immigrant, parents that come, like my parents.”
“My parents — [their] high expectations of me, not letting me give up, and being tough on me, while always expressing unconditional love — [that] is the greatest gift that anyone’s ever given me. And that’s why I thought, okay, I’m going to do the same thing with my own two daughters.”
Now sold in China, her memoir is being marketed under the translated title “Parenting by a Yale Professor: How to Raise Kids in America.”
“My next book is going to be academic,” she said. (end)
James Tabafunda can be reached at email@example.com.