How to Raise a Kid, Chinese Style

Earlier this year, an interesting brouhaha erupted over Amy Chua’s parenting memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In her book, Chua hands out sage parenting gems such as threatening to burn your children’s toys if they don’t play a piano sonata perfectly and calling a child “garbage” when they’re disrespectful.

After an excerpt from her book was published in the Wall Street Journal in January entitled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”, the howls of indignation were quick to follow.  How dare she!  Bad mother!  Where are child protection services when you need them?!?

As is usual when a book is controversial , the outrage was perpetrated by many whom, I suspect, hadn’t read Chua’s book.  If they had, they may have found a wry, self-deprecating rumination rather than the self-righteous account of borderline child abuse the book was made out to be.

Chua’s basic thrust is that Western parenting methods coddle and insulate children from the harsh realities of life and don’t enable the children to realize their full potential.  The harsher (by Western standards) methods of the “Chinese Mother” demand only excellence from their children because the parents realize that their children are capable of excellence and thus empower them to be successful, and thus happy, throughout their lives.  While she calls this the “Chinese” way, Chua does point out that anyone can be a “Chinese” parent.  Read the WSJ excerpt from Chua’s book and you’ll get the gist.

Chua is very sincere in the belief that her method is better than the limp-wristed, “hey, it’s ok if you fail as long as you try” style which she sees as being prevalent among Western parents.  There is no doubt, in her mind, that she did the right thing in raising her children in the “Chinese” way.  She also fully understands the sacrifices, both to herself and to her children, that her method demands.

However, far from coming across as self-righteous and superior, Chua’s memoir is saturated with a self-deprecating awareness that her methods are extreme, often ridiculously so.  This leads to a surprisingly funny book, one of the funniest I’ve read in a while.

What’s always clear is that Chua is doing what she thinks is best for her daughters, difficult as it may be, and it is for this reason that the proverbial lynch mob needs to stop and take a breath.  Any rational minded person couldn’t possibly read this book and come to the conclusion that Chua is a bad mother.  Quite the opposite – she raised two incredibly successful daughters who have nothing but respect and admiration for their mother, even if they bridled in their youth at her extreme parenting.   Her methods, while unorthodox, enabled her daughter’s success and happiness.  While certainly not the only way to do so, it worked for her and her family, and that’s something that any parent could appreciate.




  1. She also caused a bit of an uproar here in the UK. But to be fair she didn’t help her cause in the couple of interviews I saw, she appeared either on the defensive or back pedalling. My personal opinion was that the whole thing appeared amusing, I have a 10yr old daughter so may read this for tips & a laugh.

    1. It’s a very, very funny book. Chua has a great, very dry sense of humor. You can tell that she recognizes the absurdity of her action a lot of the time and pushes through out of sheer stubbornness. I think the outraged populace missed this fact and took it all too seriously without actually reading the book.

  2. I read the WSJ piece and even in there you see a mother who loves her daughters and pushes to fulfill their potential. Sure, it’s not the way I was raised or would raise my kids but so much of the outrage seems unfounded. I’d actually like to check out her book, especially if you say it’s funny.

    1. It’s not the way I would raise my kids either, but she raises a lot of good points about how demanding excellence from children is beneficial in the long-run. Perhaps she went a bit overboard (and I think she might realize that) but the end results speak for themselves. And it is very funny. It had me laughing out loud on numerous occasions.

  3. Interesting to read a more balanced review of this one. As Parrish says, there was a pretty strong reaction to it here in the UK. Now, where did I leave my matches, I’ve got teddies to burn!

  4. The reaction in the US (as I viewed it from afar) was rather intense as well, most of it just a tempest in a teapot. I think that Chua actually has some good ideas and valuable thoughts on what it takes to successfully raise a child and, while her methods might not be for everyone, they certainly bear thinking about. If you get around to reading it, hope you enjoy!

  5. Super interesting! I might have to pick this one up. It doesn’t take much these days for helicopter moms to rear their overprotective heads (especially if it’s about a parenting style that makes them look like a bunch of pushovers) so I am not surprised that a memoir written by someone who actually has expectations for their child rubbed people the wrong way!

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