Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother"

Ideas in Action with Jim Glassman is a new half-hour weekly series on ideas and their consequences.

Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Amy Chua's book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" is a provocative memoir of the culture clash between Asian and Western values that Chua has experienced while raising her daughters in the traditional Chinese way. Her depiction of her sometimes harsh and critical approach to parenting has caused outrage in some quarters and brought applause from others. Chua feels the backlash is due, in part, to Americans' fears of a Chinese rise to prominence over America.

Transcript

IDEAS IN ACTION with Jim Glassman

Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother"

JIM GLASSMAN:
Welcome to Ideas in Action a television series about ideas and their consequences. I'm Jim Glassman. This week: Do Asian parents who have successful and high achieving children know something American parents don't? Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a provocative memoir of the culture clash between Asian and Western values and the author's successes and failures at raising her daughters in the traditional Chinese way.

AMY CHUA:
So for example I did really demand excellence and a lot of hard work from my kids. They practiced violin two hours a day, the other child played piano two hours a day.

JIM GLASSMAN:
Her depiction of her approach to parenting has caused outrage in some quarters and brought applause from others. The topic this week: Amy Chua's battle hymn of the tiger mother. This is Ideas in Action.

ANNOUNCER:
Funding for Ideas in Action is provided by Investor's Business Daily. Every stock market cycle is led by America's never ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions. Investor's Business Daily helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge. More information is available at investors.com.

JIM GLASSMAN:
Amy, thank you for joining us today.

AMY CHUA:
Thanks so much for having me, Jim.

JIM GLASSMAN:
On the cover of your book you write, and I'm going to quote, 'This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it's about the bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year old.' But actually isn't this a little disingenuous. I mean isn't this actually about how Chinese parents are better at raising their kids than Western ones?

AMY CHUA:
I don't think so. I don't think so. I mean it is about a lot of the strengths that I see in that approach absolutely. But I have two very different daughters. Basically I was trying to raise my kids the same way that my strict Chinese immigrant parents raised me. Partly because I adore them and I feel like I owe everything to them, you know, I feel like it worked. And my first daughter came along and she was just an easy kid and I thought this is so easy. I got cocky. You just have to be a little firm and all these good things happen. Then my second daughter came along, Luisa, Lulu, and she is a real fireball, we're very similar in personality. I mean I feel she just came out saying, 'no'. 'Why?' and 'No'. A lot of the book is supposed to be funny, it's our showdowns, but to answer your question, at thirteen she rebelled in a very serious way, I mean it wasn't just I don't want to practice, it was-- you know I realized I was in danger of losing my daughter. I also realized I wasn't able to do what my immigrant parents had done for some reason and I really pulled back. I did not retreat entirely, so you're right, but I made a lot of changes, so I think I was humbled by a thirteen year old in many ways. I mean it's not a full-scale retreat but I do think it's not so simple. I don't think it's fair to say that one approach is better than the other.

JIM GLASSMAN:
But the approach that you describe in the book, let's call it the Chinese approach; this has elicited a lot of criticism as you know. Did you anticipate that criticism that you've received?

AMY CHUA:
No, it's been surreal. Part of the problem is that the book was excerpted under the headline 'Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.' So what it did was it-- well it attracted a lot of attention but it also made a lot of people think that it wasn't a memoir. Right, that it was a parenting guide and that this person named Amy Chua thinks Chinese mothers are superior and she thinks everybody should do this. When in fact it's really not a how-to guide. Although, you know, again I think there are a lot of strengths and I stand by them but it's not a how-to guide.

JIM GLASSMAN:
Ok actually let's talk about that. So how would you describe the traditional Chinese method of parenting?

AMY CHUA:
I think Western parents worry much more about their children's self esteem and I think that Chinese parents-- or I think it might be more of a tough love kind of thing or immigrant kind of thing-- I think Chinese parents just assume strength rather than fragility. And I think it's not for every kid. You have to know your kid. But there's a lot of positive results that can happen, you know, when you assume your kid is strong. So for example I did really demand excellence and a lot of hard work from my kids. They practiced violin two hours a day, the other child played piano two hours a day, we drilled math, so that's part of it which is you're very-- I would sum it up as very, very high expectations coupled with unconditional love. At least that's the way I would put it. And secondly I think it's letting your kids grow up more slowly. I didn't let my children hang out at other people's houses and sleepover at other people's houses nearly as much as they wanted. And finally I think it's no excuses, which is funny that we're calling this Chinese values, you know. It's don't blame others, if you get a bad test it's not the teacher's fault, it's not the curriculum's fault, just work harder. That's what my father always said to me, and I think that's a big tenet too.

JIM GLASSMAN:
So why do you say it's funny that we're calling it Chinese values to say no excuses? Because you know excuses, I think a lot of American children and adults are constantly making excuses.

AMY CHUA:
I think that's today. I mean, I think a lot of people have misunderstood this book. This book is not really about Chinese versus Western-- I mean partly it is, right, but if you think of traditional American values; did you know that Thomas Jefferson practiced violin 3 hours a day? You know, maybe the emphasis on sort of self-discipline and drilling is a little bit distinctively more Asian.

JIM GLASSMAN:
What about this issue of fragility? I mean I think that's a very important one and there are a lot of American parents who feel that if they push their kid too hard something's going to happen. They're going to break, they're going to run away, they're going to-- something's going to happen. So you're saying that kids are much more resilient?

AMY CHUA:
I think so. I mean, first of all I'm not speaking for all kids. I only know my own two daughters and I know the way my parents raised me. You know, for example, my daughter came home with a bad math test when she was about ten and she said, 'I'm terrible at math. I hate math.' I think a lot of Western parents would say, 'Don't worry honey you don't have to be good at math. You could be good at something else.' I just said, 'No,' and I made all these practice tests. I drilled them. I had a stopwatch. I did it only for a week and the next test she did really well and today math is one of her favorite subjects.

JIM GLASSMAN:
Let me ask you this, were you surprised by the firestorm that the book caused?

AMY CHUA:
Completely. How upset can people get about a memoir? You know, it's just my family's story. It's only because I think it started off-- partly because they started off as people thinking that it was a how-to guide, partly because people didn't realize that it's supposed to be funny and partly a self-parody. But, I do think something I didn't expect; the same week that my book came out is when the president of China was visiting and also when the newspaper reported the Shanghai kids testing first in math, science and reading, and the United States coming out so abysmally. I think it was like 24 out of 35. And I think that timing just coincided, you know, the anxieties about the two things we all worry about most right now, you know, which is like what are we doing for our kids and China the rising power.

JIM GLASSMAN:
But you do understand why some American parents were horrified by some of the descriptions that you gave of, you call it a memoir, you know these are actual things that happened between you and your children. For example there's this scene, the birthday card scene, where in fact you have-- the chapter's titled The Birthday Card. So, your daughter Lulu gives you a surprise birthday card and it said, 'Happy Birthday Mommy, Love Lulu,' and it was scrawled in crayon above a happy face and you gave the card back to Lulu, "I don't want this, 'I said,' "I want a better one, one that you put some thought and effort into. I have a special box where I keep all my cards from you and Sophia and this one can't go in there."

AMY CHUA:
Yeah, you know, it's funny this story is very-- it's a funny story in our household and I'm proud of this story so I understand-- I mean actually this one surprises me but my daughters-- it wasn't a carefully handmade-- it was a piece of paper folded in half with a happy face on it and you know I was raised--

JIM GLASSMAN:
She was four years old.

AMY CHUA:
Yeah and the other one was seven, I rejected that one too. And it's funny my-- my parents raised me to kind of have this sense of gratitude for parents and I think this might be a cultural difference because my husband who's Jewish-American doesn't feel the same way that kids should be-- you know he said, 'Kids don't choose to be brought into the world.' But I love this value and what I said to my daughter is I said, 'Look when it's your birthday I spend weeks making the cake. I want to make you a nice party. I do all these things for you and I demand more respect than that.' So I gave it back to her and you know what my daughter-- my oldest daughter wrote an op-ed in the New York Post defending me. She said, 'You know if I had really put my heart into something my mother would never have rejected it, but let's face it, it was feeble and I was busted. I hadn't even sharpened the pencil.' And Jim it wasn't like I locked them-- they-- it took them fifteen minutes and I think, in fact I know, they both felt better doing a good job.

JIM GLASSMAN:
What other kinds of positive responses have you gotten where-- I mean have a lot of people said to you whether they're Chinese or Western, 'Gee, you know I bring up my kids the same way you're talking about'?

AMY CHUA:
Yes. I can't believe it. I mean after-- the first week was terrible because people-- a lot of people misunderstood and that was just the worst nightmare I've ever had. But now that people--

JIM GLASSMAN:
The worst nightmare but you're book catapulted to the top of the bestseller list.

AMY CHUA:
Given some of the things that were said about me I was unable to enjoy that. But I would say that since people have started to read the book of course some people still passionately disagree but many people, not Asian, not immigrants, not ethnic, have said, 'Look I am Irish, German, and these are my values.'

JIM GLASSMAN:
So you feel that you got a good foundation. The fact that your parents were tough or raised you in the Chinese way has made you a better adult.

AMY CHUA:
Coupled with love that's the greatest gift anybody's ever given me. I think they're my main source of strength it's why I could pick myself up off the floor when bad things happen, for example, with this episode I thought I don't know if I can make it. My parents are my biggest supporters, you know. It's not what everybody thinks.

JIM GLASSMAN:
But your youngest daughter-- your younger daughter was not feeling the love that you're talking about.

AMY CHUA:
For the first thirteen years we-- I mean we've always been very close Lulu and me we just-- we squabbled but I wouldn't let her give up. My idea was, 'I believe in you so much but more than you believe in yourself,' and I still hold to that. I think she was afraid of failure. So I insisted that she play the violin, she became a wonderful player. But at thirteen something changed. And this is, you know I intended the book to be much more universal in some ways I-- another reason I was surprised at the firestorm because boy teenagers you know this is-- raising teenagers is not for the faint hearted. She became extremely angry. I realized it wasn't just about, 'I don't want to practice.' It was, 'I hate you. I hate the violin. I hate this Chinese way. I hate not being able to hang out with my friends. I want to play tennis.' And, at a certain point I realized there's a very-- there are some dark episodes in the book, terrible episodes; and I realized 'oh my God'-- this is actually my husband interfering at this point but 'I'm going to lose my daughter' and at that point I pulled back. It was almost cold turkey. I thought nothing is more important than my relationship with my daughter and we went Western. We renegotiated. We had talks, and it was definitely the right thing to do.

JIM GLASSMAN:
For that daughter.

AMY CHUA:
For that daughter.

JIM GLASSMAN:
So do you think that when your daughters become adults that there will be a difference between the two? That one of them will be more of an achiever than the other one?

AMY CHUA:
I actually think they're both going to be amazing. I mean this is why if I had to do it all over again, I would pretty much do the same thing with some adjustments. So the adjustments are I'm actually proud that I restricted my kids' choices when they were little. You know, I think that if you give a five year old or an eight year old their choice it's going to be eating candy and watching TV all day. So I'm actually quite proud of that. But I think I learned that as they get older you know you have to give them-- you have to listen, you have to give them more freedom, more space and more choices. I am uncompromising-- I still demand academic excellence from even my rebellious daughter and I also insist that with her own choices she has to put in 100%. You know, I'm not going to drive you to this tennis tournament if you're just goofing around. You have to work hard. I think that those values have been instilled in her.

JIM GLASSMAN:
You mentioned your husband, and what was your husband's role here? You said your husband is Jewish, was raised in a different kind of culture. Did he go along with what your-- you were doing or was he kind of the good guy and you were-- good cop bad cop.

AMY CHUA:
Both. Throughout the girls' childhood he was first of all the guy bringing balance to the family. So my kids actually grew up not the way I grew up exactly-- really strict-- but they were in a hybrid household. So my husband was-- you know while I was saying two hours of violin he also said 'we're going to the water park. We're playing mini golf. We're going for bike rides, Yankees games, Washington Redskins' [laughs]. But he actually was on board with me for this reason; he was somebody actually who was raised in a very, very open and permissive household and he loves his family but he wished that somebody had forced him for example to learn a musical instrument when he was little or to learn a second language. You know it's so easy when you're little. And of course when my daughter did rebel he really stepped in in a very firm way and I listened.

JIM GLASSMAN:
But even though he didn't learn how to play a musical instrument he has a similar career to yours, right?

AMY CHUA:
Oh right.

JIM GLASSMAN:
And he's been very successful. So, that sometimes works right?

AMY CHUA:
Oh right and that's why-- more than sometimes works. I mean that's why I feel like my book is misunderstood. I truly believe there are many ways of being a good parent. I teach, I see students-- they come from all different backgrounds, all different kinds of parents, right. Some of them take longer. So, I think that there are lots of ways to be a good parent. I mean honestly I think you show me a kid who is happy, confident, and self reliant and I think there's good parenting. But I also think that it is not true that just because you are a strict parent requiring discipline that you can't produce thriving, creative, happy kids.

JIM GLASSMAN:
I want to get to something you had mentioned earlier about the conflict between the United States and China and fear of China in the United States. And you in your professional life have written about culture and economics and some very important themes that I think resonate here. So could you just describe to me why you think that this China versus U.S. may have gotten kind of tangled into the response?

AMY CHUA:
It's so ironic. In my previous book I-- the big punch line of my previous book on empires and hyper powers is that-- I was actually a contrarian. I was saying that China cannot surpass the United States-- that China cannot become a hyper power because they don't really have what it takes for the dynamism and creativity and innovation. But nobody wanted to talk about the book at the time. And, this book, which is not a foreign policy book, is raising all these questions. And I think the reason for that is because we have tremendous anxiety, you know the rising Tiger country. It is true that Chinese kids can put in very long hours. There are many, many things that I really do value and think are great about the Chinese culture. The certain kind of respect for elders, a certain kind of self-discipline, the ability to sit in one spot and work hard for two or three hours, delayed gratification, you know, other things not so good. Again I think they have a problem with dynamism and creativity. So the book isn't about foreign policy but my own decision, where I end up, is I think that-- just for parenting I think some sort of hybrid is the best thing. Not the extreme, you know, you only play the piano or violin, but maybe not also the sort of prevailing Western place where we've come, which by the way is very different from the way it was 50 years ago.

JIM GLASSMAN:
But just getting back to what you were saying earlier, you certainly understand how Americans are fearful of let's say being displaced by China as the kind of top dog in the world or top tiger in the world. And that this book may well have struck a chord there where you're saying Chinese are better than Americans at so many things, they're much more accomplished, and that's because Chinese are just tougher and more serious about getting down to work.

AMY CHUA:
You know that's not how I would put it. I don't think Chinese are tougher and I don't think they are more accomplished at more things than, you know, Americans. I mean, my family we're like the biggest Americans. My parents came here-- land of opportunity, love this country. I think my message is more this; look China right now knows their education system focuses on drilling and memorization and discipline and focus really well but they are looking to the west. They are all trying to have more creativity and self-questioning and they're trying to learn from the west. So we, greatest country in the world, should try do the same. We know our strengths, which I value, independence. The book has a huge under theme of being in favor of sort of rebellion and questioning authority. If you read it properly right from chapter two I tell you that I'm disobeying my parents and that my father turns out to be a big rebel but I think those are our strengths and maybe we can also learn a little bit from other cultures. But maybe it's not about learning from other cultures, again, on the last page of my book I have myself going into a frenzy and I say, 'What are the historical origins of the play date anyway? Do you think our founding fathers had sleepovers?' I think our founding fathers had Chinese values. And I have my oldest daughter who actually said this say, 'Mommy, I hate to tell you this but if our founding fathers had them then they're American values.' I mean seriously Jim, striving for excellence, be the best that you can be, take responsibility don't make excuses-- these are American values--

JIM GLASSMAN:
But do you think we've lost those values?

AMY CHUA:
Well I think that we need to reclaim them. I think that they maybe have faded a little bit. When I think of toughness-- pioneer days, colonial America, you know, the Great Depression, I think of Americans being tough. I don't think Chinese are tougher.

JIM GLASSMAN:
Let's talk about some specifics about your own life with your children. You know some people have said to me, 'Wow you know I read the book and it's amazing what Amy Chua has done. I just don't have time to do that.' So how did you make time? You're a law professor. How did you make time to really concentrate on your children and give them the kind of discipline and mentoring that you talk about in the book?

AMY CHUA:
Honestly when I read the book now I'm exhausted. I can't do it anymore. But at least when they were littler and I was younger and you know what it was fun for me. People who read the book they say, 'Oh my god this was miserable.' But it's a great way for me to be close to my kids. A lot of the music we learned together. It wasn't a chore for me--

JIM GLASSMAN:
So just outline a typical day.

AMY CHUA:
I would wake up at 5:30 and I would do all of my writing and academic work pretty much always in the morning. Not checking emails, not doing anything--

JIM GLASSMAN:
Is this by the way the secret to life, is you wake up at 5 or 5:30?

AMY CHUA:
[Laughs] Well I go to bed really early.

JIM GLASSMAN:
That's what I mean.

AMY CHUA:
Yeah but I could only think creatively or do anything serious, the early hours. And sometimes it's a good day if I just put in two or three hours really. In the afternoon I teach. After teaching I would rush to school, pull out my girls. I was lucky because I was an academic. I couldn't have done it if I had a 9 to 5 job.

JIM GLASSMAN:
So your children finished school at what time?

AMY CHUA:
Well when they were little like 3:30 or so.

JIM GLASSMAN:
And then you were at home when that happened? When they were out of school?

AMY CHUA:
I wasn't but I would race home and I would do a little thing and I would often go back to school and meet with students from you know-- it was a little crazy. By the end of the book things were a little crazy when Lulu was sort of saying, 'Stop this, this is madness.' You know we've really dialed back a little bit.

JIM GLASSMAN:
What kind of quick and dirty kinds of tips would you give to mothers today? Things that you've learned that you think can apply in many cases.

AMY CHUA:
You know, I really don't feel that I'm in a position to give tips. So things I believe in, not tips, I didn't want my kids to always take the easy way out, I didn't. I didn't want them to choose the easiest instruments, write the easiest paper, take the easiest classes. Another thing--

JIM GLASSMAN:
Did you help your kids when they wrote papers?

AMY CHUA:
No. This is an interesting thing. The Chinese mom is the opposite in some ways of the helicopter mom because I think it's about early child rearing. I was drilling the multiplication tables and doing all the stuff-- it's like up to seventh grade or something. By the time my oldest daughter went to high school I never-- I mean I didn't help her with her homework and in fact the opposite thing is if-- never-- if you say-- this is funny you know. My husband and I are so different. Child comes home; 'Mommy it's so unfair the teacher put something on the test that she said wasn't going to be on the test.' My husband, the Westerner, would say, 'That is outrageous, I'm going to email the teacher.' What I said is what my father said to me which is like, 'Why did you only study what the teacher said was going to be on the test? You should have studied it all.' And I actually like that value. It's just hard work, don't make excuses, it's a good way to get better, you know.

JIM GLASSMAN:
And as far as letting your children go out you just had a complete ban-- I mean if your child was in tenth grade and she wanted to go out on a date with a boy was that completely forbidden?

AMY CHUA:
Well things have changed in my household. One of the things that I had to give in on when my second daughter rebelled was I loosened up socially. So my fifteen year old just had a slumber party for seven girls, ok, that's one of my no-nos. I'm pretty unapologetic, although I may be losing the battle, but I'm pretty unapologetic about having my kids grow up more traditionally and more slowly.

JIM GLASSMAN:
So no dates with boys?

AMY CHUA:
Well my eighteen year old does have a boyfriend but I probably didn't let them go to all of the parties that they wanted to go to unless I knew exactly what was going to be going on there-- talked to the parents. As kids get older it is really true that I'm not so-- I'm not completely-- I think the sleepovers are often romanticized-- if you really knew what was going on at some of those. I would say that, you know, they complained a lot and my younger daughter certainly-- I'm a lot more liberal socially now, it's a work in progress.

JIM GLASSMAN:
So are your children happy?

AMY CHUA:
Incredibly happy. I have to say I am proud of my girls and the way I raised them. You know, I made a lot of mistakes but my girls are strong, definitely happy. They're confident. They are creative. They have huge personalities. You know, forget this robot thing. And, most important to me we are very close. I was terrified of my own parents. I can't say that I was friends with them. But I think that my daughters and I, I think that we're friends. I think, you know, they talk to me and knock on wood so--

JIM GLASSMAN:
So that's interesting, so why this difference between the relationship between you and your parents and your children and you?

AMY CHUA:
That's another sub theme of the book. I tried to do what my parents did and I somehow didn't have the same authenticity. I wasn't a poor immigrant who wore the same pair of shoes for eight years. You know, I mean, my kids grew up much more privileged. They see me doing fun things, going out to cocktail parties. So I think that's one of the reasons. You know, it never occurred to me that I would say to my father, 'Why can't I get an A minus?' I was like, 'Of course.' But my daughter Lulu everything is why. She's-- 'justify yourself. What's wrong with an A minus? Why can't I go out with my friends?' And sometimes I don't have the answer. So it's just a different relationship. I'm still working it out with her really. I mean literally just got off the phone, still negotiating.

JIM GLASSMAN:
Just final question, does Sophia resent the fact that she was brought up in this kind of tough, Chinese way and her younger sibling Lulu because she rebelled was not?

AMY CHUA:
I don't think she does now but to be honest when she was a little bit younger, fifteen, sixteen, she would have these explosions when I got mad at her and she would say, 'I can't believe it, I'm the-- I do everything you say and you get mad at me for one little thing whereas'-- and she was right about that. She was absolutely right. I spent all my time worrying about my 'more difficult' child. But where she is now, she's in a great place. She's not anxious about colleges. She has a lot of independence. She can choose whatever she wants to be. I don't think she feels resentment now in the same way that I don't feel resentment against my parents. When I was younger I thought 'why am I as the oldest the one that has to do everything and take the blame for everything and I can't do anything fun?' But now I feel like, you know, I really do feel that I owe my parents everything in the best sense.

JIM GLASSMAN:
Thank you Amy Chua.

AMY CHUA:
Thank you so much for having me Jim.

JIM GLASSMAN:
And that's it for this week's Ideas in Action. I'm Jim Glassman, thanks for watching. Keep in mind that you can watch Ideas in Action whenever and wherever you want. To watch highlights or complete programs just go to ideasinactiontv.com or download a podcast from the iTunes store. Ideas in Action because ideas have consequences.

ANNOUNCER:
For more information visit us at ideasinactiontv.com. Funding for Ideas in Action is provided by Investor's Business Daily. Every stock market cycle is led by America's never ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions. Investor's Business Daily helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge. More information is available at investors.com. This program is a production of Grace Creek Media and the George W. Bush Institute, which are solely responsible for its content.


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Amy Chua

Author, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother"

Amy Chua is the author of the best selling book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” – a memoir relating her experience raising two daughters using strict parenting techniques similar to the ones used by her Chinese immigrant parents. Amy Chua is the John M. Duff Professor of Law at Yale Law School. She specializes in the study of international business transactions, law and development, ethnic conflict, and globalization and the law. She is the author of two other books: “World on Fire: How exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability” and “Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance – and Why They Fall.”

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