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Amy Chua can’t be trusted

May 12, 2011 · 76 comments

in Inspiration, Journalism how-to's, Relationships

On Tuesday night, I heard Amy Chua speak at the Time-Life Building in midtown Manhattan. Even though her whole Tiger Mom phenom disturbs me, I was curious.

In the end, the opportunity to see this controversial author up close was a revelation…Wow. Amy Chua is actually a confusing, ideological mess.

She constantly contradicted herself. She chattered away without providing real answers. By the time I left the 90-minute Q&A session, I had no idea what she stood for. I can’t trust anything she says. But trying to figure her out is not worth my energy. I don’t even want to keep detesting her. Time to move on emotionally. I’m ready.

The event I attended was more than another stop on her book tour for “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” As everyone knows by now, her dreadful bestseller about hard-core Chinese parenting tactics has detonated a global debate about raising children and the future of the slacker Western world. She’s done many readings and talks to spread her message — including some with students of Asian heritage.

But the gathering I went to was unique. For the first time ever, Amy was meeting with an audience of Asian American adults. We were her ethnic peers, a select mix of about 150 media professionals and Harvard University alumni. Most of us hail from immigrant families. Many of us are raising kids of our own. As a demographic, some of us have been giving her trouble.

“The Asian American feedback has been interesting — it’s been bi-polar,” she said.

Her fans that night were represented by a sizable contingent that laughed at all of her jokes. She talked non-st0p and really fast.

Then there were the rest of us, who she described as being “among the angriest pool — ‘I hate my parents, I hate my life and how can you be championing this?’ If this pool read the book, some of them would get it.”

For the record, I love my life and even my late parents (especially since they’re deceased). I’ve also read the book. My one-word review is: Eeeew. In a deceptively friendly, breezy tone, Amy recounts her struggle to raise her two teen daughters with the same Chinese tough love values that her immigrant parents inflicted on her. I was appalled to read how she micro-managed her kids and then rationalized away her abusive mistakes with a grin.

I won’t go through all the points from Amy’s one-hour talk, which was followed by a half hour of Q&A. For starters, a lot of the content was familiar from past interviews. Her delivery was high-energy, self-deprecating and somewhat charming.

There were the usual anecdotes (her father hated his parents, her younger daughter Lulu rebelled). She had her stock punch lines (“Parenting is more intense than the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.” “My daughters get the best lines in the book.”).

And once again, we got her signature defense of “Battle Hymn.” It’s an anthem that she trots out and repeats, repeats, repeats in interviews: Hey, this is a memoir rather than a how-to parenting guide — don’t you get it?!

I’ve always had problems with this explanation of hers because the word “memoir” appears nowhere on the book jacket. However, the back of the book does clearly state: “HOW TO BE A TIGER MOTHER.”

Okaaay…

Thankfully, we got more than the basic book tour talk. Some of what went on was fascinating. In fact, it was quite startling to witness her attempt to undercut everything her book stands for. She said that she wrote it to be “zany” and “over-the-top.” She thought readers would get her “hyperbole” and “satire.” Had she known that this $25.95 hardcover would generate such controversy, she would have set up the story differently.

“I could have easily sanitized it,” Amy reflected. And since she’s actually very huggy-kissy with her girls, “I could’ve thrown in more I-love-you scenes everywhere.”

Whaaaaat?

Now for some surprising tiger doo-doo:

  • Amy had thoughts on what we should ultimately teach our kids: “I come out with a big cliche that’s Western — ‘pursue your passions.'” (But, she added, the concept of pursuing passions “has been cheapened by Western society today.”)
  • In talking about happiness vs. achievement for her kids, she would choose happiness any day. (Although, she noted, “Happiness is the most elusive thing. And I don’t think it means to let them do whatever they want.”)
  • Her daughters are now 15 and 18 years old. She “can’t control them anymore.”

And how about some comments that seemed fresh & interesting:

  • Before the book’s publication, she showed the manuscript to her core group of about two dozen personal friends, none of whom are Asian. They told her to go ahead and publish the book, and that she shouldn’t worry about how it would affect her two kids.
  • The first two weeks after the book’s publication were tough because “I felt all alone with my family.” Even though she has “always been a popular teacher,” she feared that the controversy would kill her enrollment. But instead, the number of students who registered doubled and she received a teaching award.
  • She loves cocktail parties and hanging out drinking with her students. Many of them tend to be Asian and female.
  • Devoting herself to her daughters resulted in making professional sacrifices. Even though both she and her husband teach at Yale Law School, “I’m not a central player on the faculty,” which she described as being “old boy.” As a result, she added, “I don’t think that my voice has a lot of authority.”
  • Despite the pretty pictures we’ve seen of her home in New Haven, Conn., “our household is a mess.” She said that they “eat a lot of take-out” and there are “dirty clothes everywhere.”
  • Oldest daughter Sophia has had a rough time because the book portrays her as an obedient goody two-shoes. She wanted to rebuttal, which she initially did by writing an open letter in The New York Post in defense of her mom. She also made some book tour appearances with her mom (Amy’s husband did some of those too).
  • No more “memoirs” for Amy. Her next book takes her back to academia. It will be about international business transactions. She already has two well-regarded books in this arena:  “World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability” (2003) and “Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance — And Why They Fail” (2007).

From the I-can’t-believe-she-said-this category:

  • At one point, she rambled on about Asian American stereotypes and how she was breaking them in her book. “It’s an outlaw voice,” she said.
  • “I think there is a theme of rebellion running through the entire book.”(She’s joking, right?)
  • “I refuse to let society define me,” she added during another moment. An odd statement considering that this graduate of both Harvard and Yale is obsessed with elitism. By the way, doesn’t her “memoir” focus on raising kids to be top students and excellent musicians who perform at Carnegie Hall? Isn’t she a supporter of “Chinese” values?
  • “It’s so weird that people don’t get the contradictions,” she said repeatedly. The inconsistencies are part of her voice, she insisted. “I’ve always liked books with unreliable narrators,” she added.

After hearing this, I had enough. I couldn’t figure out if her book was factual. Did she subject her kids to extreme parenting measures or not? Did she choose their extracurricular activities? Were TV, computer games and sleepovers forbidden? Or were these simple “zany” exaggerations?

During the Q&A, I managed to get in one question. Sort of…

Hey Amy, you say you like unreliable narrators. But that means the narrator’s voice can’t be trusted. So what do we have in your book — are you someone we can trust or not? What do you actually want from us?

She responded with a lengthy explanation about how the book accurately captures her initial outlook as a mom. But she changes by the last chapter of the story. She likes her contradictions. (“I love my book!”) Parenting is filled with contradictions. “So to answer your question, I feel that I am very honest,” Amy said.

Yeah, but is being honest the same as being trustworthy?

I didn’t get a chance to ask that follow-up question because the microphone was handed to someone else. And then, the talk was over.

Afterwards, there was an impressive line of about two dozen people waiting for the book signing. I stood off to the side with a few friends. We compared notes.

“She was totally confusing!” I said.

“She erased herself, she completed neutralized her message,” said one buddy.

“She’s still dangerous because the book is out there and it just adds to the stereotypes about Asian Americans,” said another pal.

Now that I’ve seen Amy, you know what I think about her? Depending on your viewpoint, she had either the fortune or misfortune of excerpting her book in the Wall Street Journal. It appeared on Jan. 8 in the form of an essay with a brilliantly provacative title: “Why Chinese Moms are Superior.”

During the talk, Amy said that she was shown the text of the Journal essay before its publication. But she never had a clue to the “superior Chinese mom ” headline — which was written by the paper’s editor. If she’d seen it, she told us, she would’ve nixed it. (She also would’ve softened her image by adding something about Lulu’s rebellion. “I don’t know how I missed that,” she admitted.)

As for the article, it lifted the most horrendous of Amy’s “zany” parenting moments and presented them with a how-to decisiveness. The reaction to the story had everyone talking about her book before its subsequent release a few days later. By the time “Battle Hymn” hit stores, there was a mad rush to buy it and find out what the fuss was about.

And here’s the key to Amy Chua…not one page of the book matches the airtight clarity of the Journal essay. If there was no essay, I highly doubt that we would’ve gotten this worked up over what is actually a very small book.

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During the talk, Amy remarked that she’ll always wonder what would’ve happened if the book landed in the universe without the Journal’s advance fanfare. “Arrogant me,” she sighed, adding, “I had hoped that it would be received as an interesting literary thing.”

Poor Amy. Oh well, things didn’t turn out too bad for her, did they? Both her name and “Tiger mom” are now pop culture phrases. She’s on Time magazine’s 2011 list of the world’s most influential 100 individuals. She has established a platform for global interest in parenting issues. She’s turned down a few reality shows and movie deals.

I’m also quite certain that she and her kids truly love each other. It’s just a shame that this smart cookie isn’t more self-aware or evolved. That’s why I blogged an initial post that went viral: “Parents like Amy Chua are the reason Asian Americans like me are in therapy.” But that’s another story.

Well, it’s getting late and I can’t stand to blog another word about Amy Chua. I’m spent. Time to wrap up this post….

A huge thank you to Jeannie Park, program organizer and the evening’s moderator. Her reason for coordinating the Amy talk: “Seeing someone in person is always helpfuI because it’s humanizing.”

Jeannie is a visionary networker who brought together three steller organizations to co-sponsor the talk. They’re groups that she helped to found: Harvard Asian American Alumni Association; A3 (the Asian American affinity group for Time Inc. employees); and the Asian Journalists Association’s New York chapter. Here’s Amy Chua (left) and Jeannie (right) during the event:

At the very, very end of the night, Jeannie said that she rounded up some folks to have dinner with Amy. The guests included Wesley Yang, writer of this week’s New York magazine cover story, “Asian Like Me.” His angst-y personal reflection on being an Asian American male has set off fresh intra-community debate. The piece is clearly New York mag’s belated attempt to cash in on the Amy Chua Asian action.

Even though this post is already way too long (yeah, I need a good editor!), I must make one more observation….

There are parallels between Amy and Wesley. Amy showed her “Battle Hymn” manuscript to her inner circle, which includes ZERO Asians. In Wesley’s piece, he wrote that even though he is the child of Korean immigrants, he’s never dated a Korean woman. He doesn’t have a single Korean friend either. (P.S. — That might change now that he’s met Jeannie.)

Consider also where these two writers were published…Amy is the darling of the Wall Street Journal, a powerhouse for conservative, white male-dom. Meanwhile, Wesley became the cover story in New York — a magazine so irritatingly, infuriatingly white lacking in diversity that, over the years, I have cancelled my subscription at least three times.

Proceed with caution — because the white mainstream media has framed the context for the community’s latest and most public round of self-examination. The white boys have set the terms. They chose to ignite the discussion with two isolated voices; Amy and Wesley have NO social context for the community they’re writing about.

While it’s great that the mainstream media now sees the discussion worth packaging to its audience, I remain wary. Remember, they are playing this as a “model minority” issue. I mean, really — we’re arguing over the terrible scars that come with achievement (!).

That’s why I’m grateful to Jeannie. She gathered Asian Americans in a forum where we could discuss matters among ourselves. It was a classy venue for introducing Amy and Wesley to the possibility of extended family. For everyone to meet on conversational terms makes much more sense. This is much better than falling for the old divide-and-conquer game within a white power structure that would keep us quarreling in separate camps.

So let’s not forget who should be in control of the community’s identity. Yes, it’s important to scream and fight and rage against Amy Chua. I probably will never trust her. But she’s not going away. She knows I’m not going away either (Google her name and my first blog post about her is the third link — haha!). This is my new reality. I’m accepting it. And that’s why I’m ready to move on.

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{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

Miss Rachel May 12, 2011 at 7:12 am

“Amy Chua is actually a confusing, ideological mess.” Ha ha – so true! So now she’s saying the book is a memoir? I read an article in Slate where she said it was a satire! Thanks for weighing in on this Betty!

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betty May 12, 2011 at 7:14 am

miss rachel, thanks for the reminder….she also told us that she felt the book was “satire.” i’ve added that to my post. as for the memoir bit, saying her book is a memoir has always been her strategy. she’s trying to deflect criticism of this work as a how-to guide.

a friend of mine told me that he thinks my criticism of her book cover is too harsh. he says that usually the publisher designs the book jacket. and that’s true. so maybe it was the publisher’s decision to position it as “how to be a tiger mother.” but writers do have a say in the process. i just think amy wasn’t expecting the backlash.

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Hana May 12, 2011 at 7:27 am

I hope she has her name on Google Alert and reads your post! Tiger doo doo. Too funny.

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betty May 12, 2011 at 7:30 am

hana, i hope amy reads this post too. i don’t mean to be hard on her — i really don’t. i just want her to get some therapy and figure out what she’s truly feels about things!

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Pcurry May 12, 2011 at 7:43 am

Thanks for the sanity, Betty! Love your blog!

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betty May 12, 2011 at 8:30 am

thanks for linking, linda! and pramilla, i love your line about parenting being a “never-ending process in constant need of a reset button.” you’re right, i’m not here to discuss parenting strategies in this post. all i want to do is hold amy chua’s feet to the fire. she needs to take responsibility for her work.

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betty May 12, 2011 at 9:03 am

ohhhh, thank you. it took me forever to write this thing. i woke up this morning and addd a few paragraphs at the end. i finally feel resolved about amy chua. the power of blogging! and p.s. — i live tweeted from the event because one of my twitter followers asked me to. if you’d like a look at that, here’s the link: http://twitter.com/#!/bettymliu tweeting in-the-moment is a really interesting way to report a story. it was a bit nerve-wracking. but it was fun to feel useful in reaching a live audience. :)

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betty May 12, 2011 at 10:54 am

thanks to @sree for tweeting about this post. he also tactfully fixed my hashtag boo-boo. when i was live tweeting the event on tuesday night, i was adding #amychua — off the top of my head. and i did that this morning too, when i announced this post. wrong! the twittersphere is actually tracking amychua stuff under the hashtag category of #tigermom. live and learn. thanks, @sree!

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Gil Asakawa May 12, 2011 at 9:47 am

Thanks for writing this, Betty. If I lived in NY I would’ve loved to have been there. I’m frankly pretty Chua’d out so probably won’t follow up on her. For the same reason, I probably won’t write about Wesley Yang’s New York piece — he’s also a jumbled mess of confused ideology (and odd sexism). But I feel like its’ best to ignore the piece and let it fade after its 15 minutes. Amy Chua’s long past her time limit.

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betty May 12, 2011 at 10:05 am

thanks, ivan! and gil, i totally relate. it nearly killed me to write this post. but i’ve blogged my way through it. on to new adventures!

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Ivan May 12, 2011 at 9:49 am
Takiema (sistalocks) May 12, 2011 at 11:05 am

Why I think I love you Betty! Great piece/analysis/wrap up.

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betty May 12, 2011 at 11:22 am

my twitter buddy @sistalocks! so this is your real name. thanks for dropping by, takiema. and thanks for slogging through this long rant — a lot more to take in than the usual 140-character tweets! xo

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Anna May 12, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Totally agree with the fact she neutralised everything… I was not at the meeting. I was… 10’000 km away, accross the Atlantic. but I’ve seen several interviews of her, and seems like she has a double speech. I could not get her at all, which still disturbs me a lot as a “tiger cub”. As a university teacher, she kind of mixed up a lot of things, Asians VS Not Asians? Harsh VS soft? I’m lost, to say the truth.

Times change, and education has to change too, this is the reason why books change at school. I repeat our parents knew Asia during an era. and by the time they left things were changing. If she calls that “Asian education”, I’d rather call that 50’s education. Wanting to go back to a harsh education that’s been changed by the experience and time, in french, we call that “réactionnaire”.

but she succeeded one thing… She disturbed thousands of parents and (ex) tiger cubs for weeks!

thank you Betty, for putting an order in this affair. My brain has been such a mayhem since I started knowing about AC (but it allowed me to find your blog :D)

PS: Hail to Miss Rosebud!
PPS: See, I also need an editor…

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betty May 12, 2011 at 12:15 pm

anna, you’ve hit on the #1 problem with amy chua’s whole concept of traditional chinese values — she’s operating in a time warp. her values are based on her parents’ values. and their values are based on what they experienced in the ancient past, before they immigrated to america.

this was my problem growing up too. my dad would say, “this is how the chinese do it!” but actually, it was what the chinese were doing way back when he was a kid there. after decades in america, he had lost touch. and he didn’t realize it. neither did i — until i grew up and found myself a good therapist!

thank you for bringing up this essential point. it’s worth explore in a post all its own. i’ll add it to my blog posting to-do list. look for something soon about miss rosebud too. :)

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Mimi Chen May 12, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Great Job Betty. I guess what really frustrates the rest of us is that now America thinks we ALL raise our kids that way. I certainly don’t. I don’t want HER to be MY voice. Heck, I’d rather that YOU be my voice. (Does that make sense? It does to me). Your lifepath is a little more similar to mine. I think you and I experienced that glass ceiling all Asian people know about, but someone like her seemingly hasn’t. Anyway, I’m glad you call her on her elitist BS. Somebody has to.

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betty May 12, 2011 at 12:20 pm

mimi, thanks for the encouragement. i think i’m looking for something different in raising my kid too — although if you heard her complain about me, you’d think i was doing the tiger moves on her!

like you, i also resent the idea that she has become our public face and voice. i just want to be my own voice. and honey, what a voice you’ve got of your own!

for those of you who don’t know mimi chen, listen to her on “the sound,” a classic rock station in l.a. — here’s the link to her station: http://www.thesoundla.com/ and here’s her twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/mimi_thesound

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Bria May 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Great piece, Betty.

What a coincidence: Just before reading your post, I read Wesley’s piece. Not sure how I feel about it, but it was interesting to see that viewpoint.

That Rosebud is sooooo cute :-) Congrats on being adopted by that furry little girl! Is the name a ref to Citizen Kane, or just springy fun?

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betty May 12, 2011 at 1:06 pm

i have a lot to say about the little doggie, bria. wait for my next post. as for “rosebud,” she came with that name from the shelter. we decided to keep it (even though she seems to have no idea that this is her name! however, she does respond to “sit.”)

the new york magazine piece had some really good statistics and research in it. and i think it’s great to get an asian cover story in this weekly publication that usually focuses on white, upscale new york. but it’s infuriating that they would chose a story of alienation, an angle that suggests that asians are NOT really part of new york. don’t even get me started….

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Linda Bernstein May 12, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Sree Sreenivasan recommended this post to me. Thanks. You have put together some ideas and feelings I tried to express in a recent blog post, but I was much less articulate than you are, and much more glib. Anyway, I put a link to yours at the end of my post. http://generationbsquared.com/baby-boomer-mothers-go-tiger-sort-of/

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pramilla May 12, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I am South Asian not East Asian and was not raised by a Tiger Mom. However, as a mother of 4 I have experienced many of the challenges and contradictions that Chua describes in her book. It seemed honest in its representation of parenting as a never ending process in constant need of a reset button. I believe the purpose of her book is to initiate a debate, which it does. Moreover it is hard to deny a broad east/west dichotomy on parenting. Your critique, however, doesn’t seem to add anything to the very real and complex issues/dilemmas that we confront as parents.

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betty May 12, 2011 at 9:30 pm

thanks for linking, linda! and pramilla, you’re right. i’m not offering any parenting insight in this post. all i want to do here is hold amy chua accountable. she preaches one thing in her book. but the controversy over her words has her backing away from what she presented.

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Anita May 12, 2011 at 10:26 pm

I saw her on the Joy Behar show. Joy kept probing her with questions and Amy kept answering without answering. At the end my only thoughts were “such a wishy washy woman — what a disgrace!” Stand for something! But then I thought “you know what, she seriously doesn’t know what she’s talking about. She probably decided to write this book on a whim and it came across contradictory because that’s who she is”.

Amy Chua is one of those people who you can’t rely on because she can’t decide which side she wants to stand on. When questioned and put into a difficult position, she will try to weasel out of it by changing her story to suit her purpose and her needs. I don’t think any of us Asians were raised this way! Weren’t we always taught that integrity is of top priority?

I think like Betty said, enough time and energy has been spent on this person who just happened to be lucky enough to have gotten so much publicity at an opportune time. Her story isn’t even unique — maybe only unique from a “white” point of view.

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betty May 13, 2011 at 8:54 am

anita, where were you when i needed an editor for this post?! thank you for summarizing the point so concisely. there are horrible — and wonderful — things going on in the world. let’s get on with our lives. :-)

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Robyn May 13, 2011 at 9:11 am

As a mom of one child who was adopted from China and one who is bio, I recently wrote a piece on this subject and I was hoping for some feedback from you.
http://dimsumanddoughnuts.blogspot.com/2011/05/lesser-tiger-mom.html

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betty May 13, 2011 at 9:31 am

robyn, i’ve never heard of a biological child referred to as a “bio” — just learned something new. :)

thanks for linking to your blog post about your kids’ dreams. ok. so, maybe your bio won’t ever really play for the jets because she’s going to be a short jewish girl. and your adopted four-year-old did a scribble-scrabble drawing that kind of sucks. was it wrong for you to tell her it was “beautiful?”

i’m no parenting expert but my first therapist gave me great advice on this front. i had no idea what to do with my toddler’s questions. my shrink said, “only tell them as much as they want to know. don’t go beyond their questions.”

so if my four-year-old daughter said she wanted to be a blah-blah, i’d say, “that’s great!” because at that moment it was a great idea. she’s not thinking about the state of the economy, educational requirements, etc.

if she showed me a drawing and asked, “do you like it, mommy?” i would tell her, “it’s beautiful, baby!” she’s not thinking about whether she has art school potential or the eye to become a curator.

right now, my daughter wants to model: http://bettymingliu.com/2011/03/how-to-become-a-model-in-seventeen-magazine-like-my-daughter/ for ages, i thought, “this is so frivolous.” but i kept thinking of my shrink’s advice. i finally decided that this is about my daughter’s dreams, not mine. i need to support her.

and you know what? modeling — right now — is a great idea. we’ve been working together on learning about the importance of following up on contacts, marketing, handling rejection, building confidence, etc. …. who knew that modeling would be a chance to teach my daughter such important life/business skills?

i guess the bottom line is that we have to trust our kids to some degree. they might articulate ideas that seem ridiculous to us. but if we give them a chance to explore — with our encouragement — maybe they’ll figure out what they really need to become generous, happy, responsible individuals who can make a meaningful contribution to society.

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Robyn Coden May 13, 2011 at 10:05 am

I don’t think it was wrong for me to tell my daughter that it was beautiful because to me, it honestly is (mainly because it was done by her). I’m going broke from buying boxes for all of her beautiful pictures but I guess that is just part of being a parent and I want to preserve them and all the great things they do. Whether society (or Tiger Moms) deem what they do to be beautiful isn’t really my concern at this point. Thanks for giving my post a read. I do appreciate the time.

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betty May 13, 2011 at 10:10 am

you’re welcome! but actually, maybe you don’t need to save everything. most of my parent-friends and i keep it simple: save the best, recycle the rest. just make sure the kids don’t see their work in the trash. put it out when they’re not around. :)

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Blondie May 13, 2011 at 4:03 pm

I loved reading your perspective in this post. You’ve given me so many thoughts for a Friday afternoon. Thank you!

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Mandy Wu May 13, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Betty, It’s important as you mentioned ” who should be in control of the community’s identity”. It’s very disturbing these people who didn’t really represent Asia American be publicized so much. For me, Amy Chua is a messed up person with oversized ego who happen to be with Asian ethnicity. She then shamelessly using it as a disguise to justify her behavior. In many of her interviews, she answered with “it’s a culture thing” whenever her parenting tactics were challenged, and pointed fingers to her parents by saying they are “narrow”. We learn from our parents and evolve. It’s ones own decision and choice how one parents her children. She is this kind of person who can say anything and do anything to get the image she wants and where she wants to be. I agree with you, she is not to be trusted.

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betty May 13, 2011 at 10:50 pm

thanks, blondie and mandy. well, i will be interested to see where we all go from here. there’s room for all of us to evolve. and that includes miss amy.

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Christina May 13, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Hi Betty,

I think the best thing about this whole thing is that you’ve decided she’s not worth your time and I believe you mean it! She’s taken up enough of people’s energy.

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fred May 14, 2011 at 9:08 am

can you make her go away? now she is talking about the benefits of east and west culture for children. im assuming since people found out her husband is jewish. crazy has not ethnicity

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betty May 14, 2011 at 1:25 pm

haha, christina, don’t worry. i’m getting busy with other stuff. and fred, she ain’t going away. here’s the essay fred’s referring to. now amy is trying to walk the middle ground about combing east and west. she wrote an opinion piece this week in usatoday. http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/reviews/2011-01-20-chuarev20_ST_N.htm

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jeff May 14, 2011 at 1:40 pm

It is interesting that Amy/Wesley’s views that many claim are outdated and/or not applicable has generated such emotional responses. It would be interesting to discover the reasons behind the responses.

It is interesting that my previous post never showed up, especially when I tried to repost – it stated that it was already submiited.

Just Curious

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betty May 14, 2011 at 2:19 pm

jeff, sorry …. my blog must be doing something funky. i have nothing here that shows you submitted something earlier. can i trouble you to try again? or email it to me at bettymingliu@gmail.com and I will post.

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gweipo May 14, 2011 at 8:26 pm

I spoke to someone recently who spent her adolescent years covering up for Amy Chua when she wanted to do her rebellious thing and go out drinking and partying without her parents knowing about it. I know how much I got up to as a teenager that my parents have no idea about and I wonder just how much Ms. Chua really knows about her own kids ….

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kirida May 15, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I wanted to give her a chance and I tried to read her book but I couldn’t get past how pretentious she was in the first few chapters. There was little I could hook onto, that I could say, Yes, this is a smart, self-deprecating look into parenting, but that wasn’t there and I couldn’t go on without wanting to say, you’re smart! so what?

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Star Traci May 15, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and perspective. I am not of Asian descent and I was shocked by much of what I read. But like you, I found her to be a different person in her interviews — funny, affable, and completely pulling back from the strong statements she wrote. It sounds as though she was as completely inconsistent (confused and confusing) in person as she has come across on TV and in print.
:-)
Traci

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betty May 15, 2011 at 9:40 pm

gweipo, kirida and star traci — thanks for dropping by with your thoughts. i’m running out of things to say about the book and its author. sigh.

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ed lin May 16, 2011 at 2:33 pm

oh, i am so glad i didn’t go! thank you so much for the recap!

i am just waiting for some horrible skeleton to come wandering out of amy’s closet.

yeah, mom always taught me to wish people the best, ha ha!

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betty May 16, 2011 at 2:44 pm

comment #35 above was from jeff. for some reason, his full comment isn’t going thru. so he emailed what he wanted to say. i am posting for him here:

“Miss Rosebud”
Appreciate your analysis and breakdown.

There is a saying that when people stop making an issue of a style of parenting (in this case), it will stop being an issue.

It would be fascinating to discuss why Amy Chua/Wesley Yang’s book/article have hit the “hot buttons” of so many people since they are bringing up long-known subjects throughout Asian American history (http://us_asians.tripod.com/timeline.html). Could it be that this situation still exists with many families.

The “alarming” thing about her (and Wesley) being our “voice” is that there are few others. Shouldn’t this be our concern and how to discover our upcoming APA version of Michael Eric Dyson, Cornell Wilde and others to add to the Amy Chau/Wesley Yangs of the world.

@Robin
If parents are not there to teach, instill curiosity, to provide new information, to inspire, to encourage exploring of other possibilities from their questions, to be curious, to challenge the status quo, to wondering why things happen, to dream BIG while realizing that they are attainable, the value of being passionate, learning that there are NO Ceiling on what they can achieve and knowledge of past leaders/achievements/successes/history – somebody else will provide their own “answers” to your children’s questions.

Some historic examples that dared to pursue their “unattainable” dreams include Anna May Wong (http://us_asians.tripod.com/features-am-wong.html – acclaimed Hollywood star between 1910s to 1930s, Sessuye Hayakawa (made $2M per year in the 20s), Jun Bing Mar (made/lost millions in the American nightclub scene in the 20s/30s – http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002270363604&ref=ts), Calvin Jung (star of the longest-running American commercial/12 years, the “Ancient Chinese Secret” Calgon commercial – http://usasians-articles.tripod.com/davidhenryhwang-creative-process.html#calvin-jung) and Kim Sisters (Ed Sullivan Show’s most popular act – http://us_asians.tripod.com/timeline-1950.html#kim-sisters) and many others.

Appreciate Robin’s words
“My parents instilled self confidence without encouraging arrogance. They promoted self- worth without compromising reality. They raised me to focus on what I had to offer, even on the days when I felt I didn’t have much. They knew I felt the need to overcompensate for my shortcomings but they worked with me so I would grow out of that.”
+
As stated above, wouldn’t inspiring and daring your children to passionately pursue their dream(s) be your greatest legacy?

Wouldn’t be great to hear “counter stories” describing the success of other methods of upbringing that incorporates the needed discipline of the past with the ability to participate in activities that involves critical thinking.

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Anna May 16, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Let’s write a collective letter to Amy Chua and Wesley.

Starting with

Dear Amy,

We (our friends, our family in law… ) are asian, and won’t educate children that way. is it normal?

Dear Wesley,

I have an asian friend who does not have any of the symptomes you describe. Is he normal?

:D

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Mary May 17, 2011 at 9:25 am

“Many of us are raising kids of our own.” I am an adopted mom raising my own children. This sentiment reflects the inherent stigma in the writer specifically and the Asian community in general about families formed through adoption. Both my girls “were” adopted and are “my” daughters. I share the mantel of “mother” with both their unknown biological mothers. That being said, however we became mothers, none of us “own” our children.

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betty May 17, 2011 at 9:46 am

actually mary, i know a lot about adoptive families. and i have always been passionately supportive of the adoptive community as an important voice within the asian american community.

when i wrote about “raising children of our own,” there was no stigma. your girls are yours! and if you were at the meeting, i would absolutely be including you in speaking of the asian american community.

over the years, i have known many families that have adopted children from china and other places. my heart went out to the parents because so many of them worried about not being accepted withint the community. in earlier days, some of that concern was justified, unforunately….

but i think things have changed so much. when i was on the board of the museum of chinese in america, one of my goals to was make sure that families with children from china knew that we were their family too. i hope you will always feel welcome on my blog, mary — because i want to be here for you. :-)

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pat May 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Lighten up people. Amy wrote an easy read, interesting, powerful, sometimes disturbing, sometimes funny Book. I’m an American raising my Children who were both born in China. I did not feel Amy’s Book was trying to portray “all” Asian parents. And how can any one blame her from defending (not neutralizing as some of you say) herself after all the harassment she has undergone. It was a Book. Take from it what you like. Period.

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Gil Asakawa May 17, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Hi Pat, I assume by “American” you mean you’re Caucasian, or “white.” A lot f people conflate the nationality with ethnicity or race, and as it happens, many of us commenting on this topic are also Americans — of Asian heritage, or “Asian American.” I often find that my Caucasian friends don’t find the things that bother me racially as being racist or insensitive, and some have told me to chill out and stop being too sensitive. To that, I have to explain that they might be blind to the issues of stereotyping because they live with something called “white privilege” and have never had to deal with these issues. So to them, they’re not a big deal. Many of us have to face Asian stereotypes over and over again. So it helps to see things fro an Asian American perspective. I hope this helps explains our consternation.

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Sherryn May 29, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Betty,

I wish you wrote a biography so I can purchase it, read it and tell all of my friends. Your insights are dead on. Amy Chua wrote a biting book that depicts Asians in the worst way. I commend you for your temerity for your past blog posts pertaining to this topic. It’s authors like Amy Chua that give Asian Americans a bad name. Parents like Amy Chua potentially raise children who not only despise their heritage but not enjoy a FULL life. Childhood is suppose to have fond memories, not moments of slavery. How dare she be so cruel :(

– Biggest Fan,

Sherryn

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Dr. Marcie Zinn June 2, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Betty, your website is great. You really delve into the issues. I work with a number of immigrant families, and the ones I see all want to make sure their child gets into one of the “top ten” colleges and does well financially. The way they make this happens appears to me to be culturally mediated. The commonality I see is that whatever way one uses to instill perfectionism, competitiveness, and other traits which impels a child to practice anything for hours every day for years, the result is the same. I know of 2 chinese children, right now, who found out that all they have to do is refuse to do what their parents want by just not doing it–no arguing, fussing, etc.–they just become what is known as passive aggressive–they slow way down, give wrong answers to easy questions, play dumb, and continually say “I don’t know.”. Their parents use the traditional beatings and emotional abuse, but the kids do not budge. If a child finds out that all he has to do is just not “do,” then there is nothing any parent can do.

I work with chinese children and their parents. My colleagues and I have had to implement extensive interview techniques and they still come into our business and attempt to manipulate us extensively. They use what I call the “repeater technique,” whereby they ask for something, and if they do not get the answer they want, they as, again, and again, and again, for days, weeks and even months. They also try devaluing what I know and the educational program I have. It then gets so bad that I have to ask them to leave the program.

Anyway, for us “Americans” (simply old immigrants), perhaps you could address the cultural underpinnings of the manipulation I talk about and the devaluation. I see it fairly consistently.

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Mandy Wu June 4, 2011 at 12:47 am

Compare to the author of this memoir, many mothers are doing far better then her and don’t measure success by only the worldly achivement. Her book is not a good way to get the message across as how to parent. It makes no sense to many. What point the book has to make but a rent of a frustrated narcissistic person. The author is advacating in many public events about parenting, which is laughable to many. People may not have much to learn from her, instead, she can learn a thing or two, besides being humbled by a 13 year old, by all the negative responses she is getting from the world, I hope.

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pat June 4, 2011 at 8:14 am

To Kil, I looked back at my comment and couldn’t believe I wrote “American” instead of “caucasian”. I’m usually not that careless. I can only relate to the book from my own perspective. If Amy writes a sequel, I will read it.

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Slices June 8, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I read some parts of Chua and all the articles on her and mostly I feel she is a very negative in her approaches to parenting and I feel sorry for her kids

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pat lienau June 9, 2011 at 10:38 am

You should read the whole book, not parts and then you might feel differently. Amy Chua put more time, energy and money into her children than most of us ever would. I don’t think her girls would want anyone to feel sorry for them.

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betty June 9, 2011 at 10:47 am

pat, i read the whole book. and you’re right, she did indeed put more time, energy and money into her kids than any of us ever would. but does that make her a good mother? NO! as for the impact on her girls, they won’t realize what hit them until they’re much older. and when and if that happens, i hope they have a good therapist.

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Anna June 9, 2011 at 11:30 am

To pat: I wonder if she’s investing that much for her dream or her daughter’s. It’s a something linked to the very closed asian little societies, as the one I grew up in,it’s commonly said that “a parent is a bad parent if their children do not have good marks at school, they’re neglecting their kids”. I would say tiger moms are also under a lot of pressure, but I can’t defend what they do. My sister had focusing disorder, she’s not at university now, and other moms are kind of making fun of mine because “one’s not studying”… My mom: a former tiger mom gone liberal… I hate the word “asian mom” or “american mom”.

To Mrs Zinn: Your comment really took my attention! I’m a part time tutor. I used to work for Asian families, mostly Chinese and Vietnamese.As some were really nice, and respected my job, others were just really horrible: They’d call me to ask me to teach their children every day (student talking here :D) which I refused. They’d call me hundreds of times until I accept! It’s all about repetition.Huh?
They did that so badly that now, I just tell my mom to pass my “No I’m not teaching everyday until the sunset, I have a life!” she has more autority on them! When the kid gets an A, the parents’d call me to figure out why it’s not an A+, after the poor sweetie had their earful of mean words. As you described, those children are playing idiot with me, but it sounds like a “Please, Help! stop teaching me, I need a break!”. Now I’m so scared of those kind of people, I make them sign a form stating that I’m not responsible of their children’s mark at school!

And thank you Betty for your blog! I like the fact you don’t only write posts, but also lead the debate!

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jeff June 10, 2011 at 3:01 am

Time
Parent’s responsibilities of spending time with their children. Good parents are always learning

Investment
A parent’s greatest investment is their children. A child’s behaivor/character/achievements is a direct representation of one’s parents.

The Important Issue
It is interesting to note the responses that (to me) how it appears to be a reflection of their own respective personal situations/history.

High-Achieving Communities
From my research/experience, the education/training process Amy describes appears similar to many high-achieving/high expectation communities in sports and business.

Look forward to other comments.

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jeff June 10, 2011 at 3:29 am

Correction/Update

IMHO – A parent’s first and most important responsibility is spending quality time with their children that provides the opportunities and trust to learn/grow together

Look forward to people’s comments to the below-listed words
“PROMISE TO MY KIDS:
I will stalk you, freak out on you, lecture you, drive you crazy, be your worst nightmare, embarrass you in front of your friends, hunt you down like a bloodhound….because I LOVE YOU!

When you understand that, I will know you are a responsible adult. You will NEVER find someone who loves you, cares about you, and worries about you more than your MOM!”

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Amy June 21, 2011 at 7:33 pm

I was reading the WSJ when the whole Tiger Mom thing broke.

It frustrated me on many levels. First, the WSJ clearly had sliced and diced to come up with the possibly most offensive (read: hit generating) excerpt possible. It was meant to generate controversy and it do so in spades. I’m not particularly happy with the WSJ for that and deliberately put off buying a subscription.

Second: For a respected Yale/Harvard graduate it’s clear that she did very little research. The method of parenting she describes is in no way limited to the Asian community. It’s not “Chinese” – it’s just an older method of learning/parenting that has appeared on many places on the Earth. There are places in Europe where old public universities have “learn or be beaten” carved into the walls. All sorts of parents from European decent do the exact same thing she does, all though those efforts might be funneled into sports instead. *Why* she needs to make it Chinese or doesn’t bother with anything but a myopic vision of Chinese culture or the West (it’s stereotyping *all* of us, really) is a bit disturbing.

Third: I completely agree with your assessment of how those kids are going to feel a decade from now. That none of her friends warned her about any possible controversy or worried about her kids is only a reflection of the rather vacant circle of people she must surround herself with. (There’s an old saying out there (it might be Chinese) that if you want to understand yourself, look at your friends.) My *first* thought was what a flippin lousy thing to do to your kids, “memoir” or no.

For christ sake, the oldest kid had to write an essay defending a childhood barely passed on what has to be mixed emotions at best. Yes, she loved them but it’s a clearly a vacant, controlling kind. I don’t think Mother’s Day 2021 will bring any kind revelations for Amy. :(

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Anjuelle Floyd July 8, 2011 at 11:30 pm

Thanks so much for writing this. I started reading this book and boy is it a doozy.
Now, having read the book I understand what mean when speaking of the how the old white power structure is framing the context in which Asians define and identify themselves. I thought it only occurred with African Americans. I’m sad to see this going on. But again I appreciate you writing all you did. It let’s me know we’re not alone.
And I love the title of your blog.
“Parent’s Like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian-Americans like me are in therapy”
I could easily and quite truthfully insert “African Americans” where the word Asian Americans stands.
As a mother of 3 who has tried to raise her daughters with love, respect and kindness while still holding expectations of them–to find your passion and also vigorously pursue it with commitment, perseverance and hard work–I am also a psychotherapist who spent nearly 3 decades in therapy trying to get over a Tiger Mama like Amy Chua.

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Anna July 12, 2011 at 11:50 am

betty!
I could read parts of AC’s book in a random library in Switz. revolting. I knew I was disturbed by her book but I did not really know why, I just knew it was unpleasant to other asian parents like you and my mom who try to be out of the cliché. My mom started raising me tiger mom way, then she had to change… like the whole scheme. but I was so angry at her when I read that! I could see my younger sis Mary-Ann through Lulu’s issues with her mom…

Anyway, I went to a student congress where they knew about AC, and asked me and a friend of mine (half asian, thriving at uni, winner of an accademic european competition…) if we had Tiger parents… R., my friend, is the last of kid in a family of 4 siblings. He received a liberal education, and is everything a tiger mom could dream about. he did not have to play the piano 4 hours a day. he just had fun with his friends and had a normal kid life. We have approximatively the same accademic background, both political sciences, both at uni, both attending international events… etc… When the other friends I met at the congress heard about what’s being a tiger cub, they were utterly shocked, and we finally noticed that tiger education or not, it’s not something that have to stick to asian as an absolute criteria. Tiger education or liberal education can bring to the same results, but smoother and with less traumas! I just want AC to meet me and R once and see the difference!

Just wanted to share that!

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DreamerX December 13, 2011 at 2:42 am

Hello — I just stumbled upon your blog. I’ve read the WSJ excerpt and finally read a few pages of Amy Chua’s book tonight, and wow. I was aware of the controversy going in, but I have to say that I’m so disappointed. I found it intellectually shallow and emotionally shallow. I hated the tone. It was way too smart for its own good, and SO lacking in self-awareness, it was painful.

Truthfully, I think it was just a self-involved, famewhoring move. I mean, what was the point of turning this into a book? Ok, she went through some tough times with her family, and writing this was kind of a family therapy session for them. So what? Other families have gone through the same thing, and worse. What is she teaching us that we don’t already know?

The answer is: Nothing.

The book doesn’t help me, a Chinese immigrant raised under the same abusive methods she used to raise her daughters, to better understand myself, people like me, or the Asian-American condition. Because for any art form to be able to do that — to connect people with others, and thus back to ourselves — it first has to look beyond its own navel.

Basically, I think Amy Chua is to Asian American culture and discourse as Elizabeth Wurtzel is to feminism. (Interesting that they both went to Harvard.) They are both cultural flash points, but they do not add to the collective wisdom.

(I like that you point out that neither she nor Wesley Yang is very involved with the Asian community. I think their essays/books have been used by the white-male media to play up on their “otherness” as an example to white people of what to do/not to do, who to be/who not to be. I just KNOW there are better Asian American writers out there I’d actually enjoy reading who are not getting the same publicity. But I guess this is how the media works.)

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betty ming liu December 13, 2011 at 6:52 am

so dreamerx, we see tiger parents as whores masquerading as seemingly respectable people. haha!

i love that phrase you use, “self-involved, fame-whoring move.”

right after the wall street journal except ran, i offered a rebuttal on my blog. and in it, i refer to tiger parents as “prestige-whoring.”

http://bettymingliu.com/2011/01/parents-like-amy-chua-are-the-reason-why-asian-americans-like-me-are-in-therapy/

now it’s up to us to find our own way. and yes, the mainstream media is pretty useless to us on this level.

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Sean December 20, 2011 at 8:36 am

Hey Betty, This is so true and like i said in your other post I was stuck next to her for 7 hours on plane. I actually left my seat for a moment and spoke with the porter to defend the stewardess whom she wanted fired. I’ll tell you exactly what I told the porter :She’s absolutely F….ng crazy and before she finishes a sentence she’s already into the next point. All of which is the whole me-me-me thing. “They should be serving me” ” I have never….” ” I this” I that” you get the point. I travel to China often and have met many wonderful people. Sure I get called “Yang-gui-zi” occasionally (and secretly lmao everytime) but they have opened their homes to me, and have become real friends. Sure I dont see everything but regardless of my experience with the Tiger-tyrant i have no negative sweeping generalization to make except that bettymingliu.com is an awesome read … consider yourself bookmarked ;)

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betty ming liu December 20, 2011 at 9:00 am

sean, thanks for the bookmark! and i’m wondering if you can provide airline name, flight date/time info & flight numbers — if you remember your seat and hers, that would be nice too. that way people will know that you’re for “real” and not a crazy person making stuff up. :)

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Sean December 20, 2011 at 11:55 am

ME CRAZY PERSON???? Lol. No worries. Sunday-December 18th- American Airlines flight 101 from LHR(London Heathrow) to JFK NYC I was in Seat 9B(aisle). Tiger-Tyrant was in 9A(window).

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betty ming liu December 20, 2011 at 10:42 pm

thank you for completing your story. :)

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sonia ali February 22, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Have you seen this Betty? an article in the Guardian -The tiger children fight back against Amy Chua – Two Chinese schoolgirls have published a guide to surviving pushy parents, and given us a valuable lesson about childrearing..

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/09/tiger-children-fight-back

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sonia ali February 22, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Just think what’s going to happen to the poor woman as her daughters grow up – and do something screwy (as would be perfectly normal..) – the whole world is going to point! I just think the people who must be suffering the most are her daughters, they can’t contradict her, they can’t write their own book honestly now can they? they’ve been effectively gagged.

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betty ming liu February 22, 2012 at 9:01 pm

sona, thanks for the link — i hadn’t seen this one before. as for the suffering of the children, many of us cope by using denial. there are plenty of folks who never, ever rebel or admit that they have been emotionally and developmentally suffocated. so sad.

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Brian March 22, 2012 at 6:01 am

Interesting comments! i have not had time to read them all. I think back to my parents and some comments my dad made. In actual fact my parents had TWO families. I was was 15 when he was born, my younger sister was 13and my older brother was 18. Dad said that raising my brother Mark was easier because they could afford to ‘spoil him’ without having to worry about it. They knew by that time how to chose their battles. Dad is an aerospace engineer who worked on the rockets that sent man to the moon.
Reading all of this I wonder what ‘Asian Fathers’ role is. Do they sit on the sidelines on their thumbs? One thing I learned in the military, that I think applies here concerns Micromanagement. We were told to be very careful not to fall into that trap because it doesn’t build strong leaders nor does it show subordinates you trust them.These are personality traits that are more important than mere learning.
Self-discipline can NEVER come from being micromanaged.

Going back to my little brother. He got strait A’s until he got to High School. It was then when he discovered that there were very few teachers who have the Artistic mind he has. So He lost interest in school (from what I understand, by this time I was in England) But he graduated and eventually went to an Art School in California. He is now the chief designer for DC Shoes, a job he loves.

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mutuelle generale October 22, 2012 at 11:36 am

Encore merci. J ai vraiment apprecié de lire cette article

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Juvern May 28, 2013 at 9:39 am

Well, her daughter did get accepted by both Harvard and Yale. So, I don’t see anything wrong with Amy Chua’s parenting methods.

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Arvind Pradhan July 27, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Shouldn’t the name of Ms Chua’s book been Battle hymn of a tiger mother and not the tiger mother? The tiger mother implies she is the only tiger mother in the world. In my opinion her editor should have pointed out this error but then a Yale law professor should not made such a mistake.

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ANON May 3, 2014 at 2:49 pm

I don’t think I’m qualified to comment on this topic but I will.

Currently (2014), I am a 12~16 (no real age here :P ) yr old Chinese girl living with my parents. For a short amount of time my parents practically worshiped Amy Chua (even though they never met the witch or even owned the book, but by god, they read the damn Wall Street essay). What followed was roughly two months of them doing the whole “Why can’t you be like ____” or the like. They then printed the essay and literally framed it on their wall-which I took down one day when they were away and ripped it up. I reached my limit then, and tbh, I have strong feelings of dislike towards her.
-awkward teenage rant over-

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