What Do Chinese Americans Think of Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother?

Amazon reviews show many Chinese Americans angered and insulted by Chua's book.

Posted Mar 14, 2011

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My last post was a negative review of Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It is a sad sign of our times that many people in North America are taking this book seriously, as if it contributes meaningfully to discussions about parenting and education.

I found it interesting that the strongest negative reactions to the book, in the discussion section of my last post, came from two Chinese Americans. This led me to wonder how other Chinese Americans feel about Chua's book. Throughout the book, Chua talks about her method of parenting as the "Chinese" way. If this is true, and if this method is as successful as Chua claims it to be, then one would expect Chinese Americans to feel happy about the success of the book and to express praise for it. To satisfy my curiosity, I analyzed the reviews of the book that are posted at Amazon.com. I compared the reviews by those who identified themselves as Chinese Americans with all of the other reviews.

As of March 12, 2011 (the cutoff date for my analysis), there were a total of 368 Amazon reviews of Chua's Tiger Mother book. Of these, by my reading, 42 were by people who identified themselves as Chinese Americans. In order to write an Amazon review you must assign a certain number of stars to the book. One star means you strongly dislike the book; two means you dislike it; three means you are neutral; four means you like it; and five means you strongly like it. Based on these ratings, the Chinese American reviewers were two-fold more likely to strongly dislike or dislike the book than were other reviewers. Here are the percentages--in each case I give the percentage for Chinese reviewers first and that for the other reviewers second:

1 star:    40.5% vs. 20.9%
2 stars:  11.9% vs.   5.8%
3 stars:    2.4% vs. 11.7%
4 stars:    9.5% vs. 15.0%
5 stars:  35.7% vs. 46.6%

Polarized reactions to the book are reflected in these data, for both the Chinese and non-Chinese reviewers. In both groups, most people gave the book either 1 star or 5; few felt lukewarm about it. However, the Chinese group gave the book more 1-star reviews than 5-star reviews, while the non-Chinese group gave the book more than twice as many 5-star reviews as 1-star reviews.

My reading of the positive reviews indicated to me that those Chinese American reviewers who gave the book 5 stars generally like it for the same reasons that other 5-star reviewers do. Few in this category claimed to approve of the extremity of Chua's parenting methods, but many felt that the book provides a good balance to what they perceive as over-permissive Western parenting practices. Some of the Chinese-American 5-star reviewers said they liked the book despite strongly disapproving of Chua's parenting methods. They liked it because of Chua's "honesty" and "humor" in describing what she did and/or because it helped them understand why their own parents treated them as they did.

Here, however, my focus is on the Chinese-Americans' 1-star reviews. Most of these were written with great passion and eloquence, by people who obviously feel strongly moved to separate themselves, as far as possible, from Chua. Some are several pages long and would be terrific blog essays by themselves. Here I present just a snippet from each review, organized into three categories: (1) reviews by people who are products of "Tiger parenting" or have witnessed others who had such parenting; (2) other reviews that focus on negative consequences of such parenting or on Chua's misplaced values; and (3) reviews that focus on Chua's stereotyping of Chinese parenting methods.

Reviews by People Who Were Products of "Tiger" Parenting, or Who Witnessed Its Effects in Others

• "Having been the product of such parenting and as a ‘failure' by these ‘Chinese' standards, I have much to say. ... This method of parenting is very close to dictatorships in the past or to oppressive parties, in how they impose their will upon others. This book may have been a last ditch attempt to resurrect the hands on, suffocating, coercive, and never ending demands style of parenting that some Chinese parents (not all) have done at some point in time. ... The biggest problem is that most kids need to explore and understand for themselves what is truly important in their lives. Not every child will grow being a happy professor, doctor, and lawyer and then go to their parents and say, ‘Thanks mom and dad for driving me so hard to achieve these goals.' This is why some people, too depressed from this type of parenting, end up committing suicide or losing motivation to drive him or herself forward, because they did not develop their own capability to drive themselves. .... If people think the ‘Chinese' method can create another Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Peter Drucker, Albert Einstein, Ludwig van Beethoven or another visionary person who all of history will celebrate for ages, then they are gravely mistaken. From my experience, the ‘Chinese' method of childrearing only worked for the first 18 years or so; then everything fell apart with myself suffering a period of hopelessness and despair."

• "As a person born in China back in the 80's and raised in a family with a similar father, though less abusive, I have to say the F word straight to her face! ... She is very clever at selling books, but low or lacking in humanity. She isn't rare for Chinese parenting, even though she isn't Chinese at all. It proves that abusive parents are everywhere, not limited to China. [In] my generation, abusive parenting was very common in China; slapping your children, beating them up with any weapons were not unheard of. The result? Lots of children committed suicide or had to swallow anti-depressant pills each day when they grew up. Prodigy? Nah, I haven't seen a single one among my abused Chinese classmates. ... [T]he academic fame Amy Chua has allowed her to sell her book more quickly than everyone else. Imagine if a nobody wrote a book talking about abusing her daughters; she'd probably be tried for child abuse."

• "I am Chinese American. I had a Tiger Mom. Yes, I recognize the cultural similarities. ... Yes, I had parents who criticized an A on a paper rather than an A+. ...Ms. Chua's ‘insights" are merely for show. There is no critical evaluation of her own motivations, nor any attempt at inquiry at whether her children truly are happy. Merely a laundry list of accomplishments to add to the author's formidable curriculum vitae."

• "I have witnessed several of my very outstanding friends with successful careers, who are still deeply struggling with the negative impacts from their childhood. ... Among them, Chinese or Americans, there is one thing in common -- a narcissistic mother who believes that she owns her child. Our children come through us, but not from us. Each child is a life of his or her own and one that each parent should respect and cherish."

• "I am from Taiwan. I spent the weekend reading two books. One is Amy Chua's ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother' in English and the other one is ‘Thank you, my son---A father's regret' in Chinese by Mr. Jing, who is also a professor in Taiwan. The latter story is sad; Mr. Jing exercised strict parenting in his family and insulted his elder son on his bad grades like Amy Chua did. The pain actually rooted in the son's heart. Then, when the son was 24 years old and left Taiwan in 2007, he emailed to his family not to email him or call him anymore. In short, he decided to disconnect his family since he cannot bear the words, of killing his self-esteem, from his family members who love him most and hurt him most."

Other Reviews Focusing on the Negative Effects of Such Parenting and on Chua's Misplaced Values

• "No matter what message the author wants her readers to get from her book, the message I get after finishing the book is ‘A story of an emotionally (maybe physically as well) abused daughter who tried to escape from her control freak mother in a very confined household with nobody to turn to. Her father and her older sister turned a deaf ear on her. She finally succeeded when she grew old enough and realized that if she cries out in public, she will get enough attention and her abusive mother has no choice but to give in.' The scary part is that it is not written by the abused but the abuser. ...Oh, one last thing, [this book has nothing to do with being] ‘Chinese'. She is only using it as an excuse. Maybe more mothers in China behave her way because they are in a socialist dictatorship environment and they don't know better. But for the author, I don't think she can use this ploy because she is an American and a ‘Yale law professor'. ... I don't see her publishing such a book as courageous and honest but as ignorant and arrogant."

• "You know what happens when you raise children to judge their efforts by test scores? They do anything to get test scores. And so you have rampant cheating in China's higher ed. Even Chinese scholarly research is tainted. ///     You know what happens when you raise children to play music like sweatshop workers? They play music like machines. They may not inspire emotion from audiences, but maybe they will inspire jealousy of their technical proficiency from nearby mothers. (Oh, but that is the whole point of music, in her ‘Chinese' mindset, anyway, right?) ///     You know what happens when you deny your kids the chance to develop interpersonal skills? They become bitter and isolated from the world, and achievement-based recognition becomes their only 'interface' for social acceptance. A fragile interface indeed. ///    This is the passing of guilt, from generation to generation. It certainly breeds performance."

• "If she is trying to be funny, I find her writing more disturbing than funny, and I find her tone unclear. Moreover, given that there exist a few parents who use her unusual techniques, it isn't funny to know that there are children familiar with the types of scenes she describes. ... The author simply comes across as not a balanced person and one who has a lot of deep issues she has not fully looked into and doesn't understand about herself. .... It is like a very rough draft private journal of someone who has just begun therapy and will need several years of serious treatment finally to understand why she vents on people and intrudes so much on her children the way she does."

• "From the way she talks about others -- 'American moms', her in-laws, her daughters' friends, etc.., I felt she has no respect for others including her kids. ... PLEASE DON'T BUY THIS BOOK, unless you want to learn how to make your kids run away from home and never talk to you."

• "I cringed putting the book down after realizing Amy Chua actually was NOT finished being a parent... ... Ironically, the success or failure of her book's rhetoric now firmly rests on the shoulders of her adolescent girls; if they get into teen drugs, college pregnancy, or, hell, simply don't get the grade they thought they deserved -- are they now a failure? I don't think so; however, Amy Chua will be ...and her book will go down as a testament of self-righteous adulation from a racist bourgeoisie mother."

• "[I'm] a little amazed that so many non-Asians would embrace this as a rosy story with high praise for being a super mom. ...Let's be real. ... Asian doctors, lawyers, bio-scientists, engineers, musicians--most must have a Tiger Mom?! Oh, puh..llease. ..Touting ‘Tiger Mom' as a true parenting model that ‘Westerners' should emulate is so weird, so out of touch. Children under such circumstances will only perpetuate the same ugly cycle that the author had gone through during her childhood. It wouldn't be a surprise if one day these children rewrite the history of how they had been scarred and survived this Tiger's vicious claws. ... To think that ‘Tiger Mom' Asian parenting style has some value, it is so sad. ... Please save your hard earned money and get something more entertaining. May I recommend Amy Tan's ‘The Hundred Secret Senses: A Novel.'

• "The keywords in Ms Amy Chua's book title, ‘Battle', ‘Tiger', ‘Superior,' reflect her own personal traits. Those are not the words or values that I want to instill onto my children. I have raised my daughters to do their best, to understand the importance of collaboration, and to have empathy toward those who are in disadvantaged positions."

• "Parenting is not war. Relax, love your children, spend time with them and enjoy!"

• "This is a sensational book about a mother who uses her Chinese ethnicity to cloak her cruelty. ... One message that I don't think the author addresses is how she expects her children to treat others if they learn from such a mean unpleasant role model. ... Every Chinese person I've talked to whose parents weren't like this are, right now, yes, at this moment, THANKING their parents."

Reviews that Focus on Chua's Stereotyping of Chinese Parenting

• "It is offensive, repugnant and irresponsible for her to present such an unfounded stereotype just to sensationalize and sell her book. .... My Chinese mother, my grandmothers, my relatives and most of the Chinese mothers I know and have heard of are not as Amy Chua portrays. ... If one delves into Chinese history and the upheld examples of heroic Chinese mothers, you get a different picture--good mothers are loving, nurturing, sacrificial and wanting what is best and happiest for their children, not the monster portrayed by Amy Chua. Amy Chua is more like an example of an abusive mother, driven by blind ambition and cruelty, and quite sadistic."

• "AS A CHINESE MOTHER, I DON'T WANT TO BE REPRESENTED BY AMY CHUA! ...All the Chinese parents I know here in the US are not parenting their kids in Amy Chua's way either. Education is important, but we also value many other things, such as healthy personality, happiness, kindness, and responsibility.... Success and fame to us are not as important as they are to Amy Chua. ...If Chua wants to talk about ‘permissive mother' or ‘demanding mother', she should say so. Or she can just use ‘mother Amy Chua' to represent herself. Why does she use an ethnicity-orientated term, which is inaccurate and offensive! ... I felt hurt when reading Amy Chua's writing. Chinese mothers are not those cold-blooded controlling monsters ..., the impression Amy Chua creates."

• "No, being an American-Chinese, I can tell you most Chinese mothers DO NOT raise their kids by the way the author described, may they live in USA or Asia! ... My daughter is going to study in an ivy-league school this fall, but by no mean was she raised by these extreme cruel parenting ways. ... Please, next time when you meet a successful/bright Chinese kid, do not automatically think his/her mother is like a ‘Ms. Chua'! ...Well, I guess if she didn't sell her book using the Chinese label, it may not draw in as much attention. What a smart market gimmick!"

• "I am a Chinese mother with two daughters. I have a Ph.D. from Yale, so I am not one of the ‘losers' described by Amy Chua. I am absolutely appalled by her characterization of ‘Chinese mothers'. ...Amy Chua is doing a lot of damage to a lot of people with this book . ... What concerns me the most is the damage to Chinese American children. They already need better grades, better records, more extra curricular activities and what not to get into college or post-graduate schools than their counterparts in any other groups. Now they have to deal with the stereotype of having a ‘Tiger mother' behind their excellence, too? But I doubt Amy Chua would worry about that, given what she put her own children through in the name of ‘love'."

• "Her book leaves the unfortunate impression that the extreme practices she employed during her daughters' formative years -- practices that have been roundly condemned by the American public as extreme and abusive -- could well be the norm among Chinese American parents. That impression is reinforced not only by the many references in her book to ‘The Chinese way,' ‘Chinese parents,' ‘Chinese mothers,' the ‘Chinese strategy,' or the ‘Chinese method,' but as well by her standing as a Yale Law School professor."

• "The latest ‘it' book about China has arrived, and in typical corporate publisher fashion, the author is no more Chinese than Britney Spears! Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School, was born and raised in Illinois and lived in Indiana and Connecticut. I can think of no less-Chinese states in America. Not to mention that she is married to a Jewish-Caucasian. Chua's parents spent more time in the Philippines than in China, nor does Chua speak a lick of Mandarin! How is it, then, that Chua is an expert on anything Chinese when the only Chinese word she speaks is her own name?

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I hope that American and European readers who think that Chua is adding something of worth to discussions of parenting and education will read and learn from these Chinese Americans, who know better. These people cannot accept the book as containing useful advice, nor as an insightful memoire, nor as humor.  The fact that so many people have spoken approvingly of Chua's parenting methods is real cause for concern.

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