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Friday, May 17, 2013

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua details what Chinese parenting is all about for the enlightenment of Western parents. Not only does Ms. Chua describe Chinese parenting, she explicitly proclaims its superiority to Western parenting.

This book was a bit controversial when it first came out in 2011. People would share something Ms. Chua wrote about how she mothered her two daughters and exclaim over it. "She actually called her daughter a piece of garbage! Can you believe that?" "She handed a handmade birthday card back to her young daughter and told her it was unacceptable, that she had to make a new and better card. How shameful!"

Those, and some other specific examples, did make me cringe, and hurt inside for her daughters. I cannot fully embrace what Ms. Chua describes as Chinese parenting, nor do I think it's Biblical.

Having said that, however, I would go on to say that I think some of the criticisms of Western parenting which she makes are spot on. I agree with her that too much praise for pitiably weak or half-hearted efforts will not help the child succeed. I agree with her that learning a skill, and practicing it, which necessarily must involve a lot of time and labor, will give the child confidence with a sure foundation.

I agree with her that Chinese parenting will almost certainly be more successful at raising world-renowned concert pianists and violinists than Western parenting. I disagree with her that raising world-renowned concert pianists and violinists is the best goal for all parents. I agree that there is tremendous value in knowing a demanding instrument well. I disagree that it is the most valuable pursuit a parent can require of a child.

While I read Battle Hymn, I was reminded of what I've read elsewhere about the Chinese approach to learning and life. In The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds, Eric Enno Tamm quotes a professor at a Chinese University as saying that if you want to hear the next world-class musician performing classical music, come to China, but if you want to find the next world-class composer, look elsewhere. In The Little Red Guard, the author, Wenguang Huang, says that he was taught to memorize and parrot back everything his teacher said; when he spent a semester studying at a university in Britain, he flunked his classes because his teachers there didn't want him only memorizing lectures.

I also wonder how Chinese parenting deals with those who are truly unable to excel, no matter how many hours of practice they put in. Ms. Chua does mention her younger sister, born with Down Syndrome. Her parents took a Western parenting approach with that daughter, keeping her with them instead of institutionalizing her.

As a Christian parent, my fondest hope is to see my children walking with the Lord. Worldly success can be sweet and pleasant, but it comes at a price, and it is not ultimate. It behooves me to help equip my children to do their duty skillfully and cheerfully, to the best of their ability and to the glory of the Lord. My one overarching aim in parenting is, or at least ought to be, God's glory, and I trust and hope that he has bound up his glory in redeeming my children, and that overarching aim must inform and give direction to all my lesser aims.

I finished Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother with the firm conviction that it must be very unpleasant to be Amy Chua's child. And to what end? To be better than everyone else? That seems empty, futile, and arrogant to me.

I would recommend this book to readers interested in other cultures, in parenting, and in how parenting is practiced in different cultures.


  1. Very interesting review. I have read the criticisms of this book but have not yet read such a well laid out and thoughtful review as yours.

  2. I used to want to be a tiger mother, but I got over that. Once God called us to special needs adoption, I had to completely reconsider what I actually wanted for my children (for them to do their best to the glory of God), and what I actually wanted to get out of raising them (I must become less and less, Christ must become more and more).
    I think unless your goal is to glorify God as a parent, it will be a VERY disappointing endeavor.

  3. I was thinking more about the book. I think part of my disagreement with Ms. Chua and what she tells her readers is Chinese parenting stems from this: I believe that my child's value is based on my child bearing the image of God, not based in my child's performance at anything.