There’s been a lot of hullabaloo surrounding this whole “Tiger Mom” thing. Amy Chua claims that when she first wrote it, her parents and her children told her, “No one’s going to want to read that.” Oops.
Then again, maybe they’re right. It’s possible people don’t want to read it – they just want to argue about it.
Yesterday, Chua and the entire Tiger family (the author herself, her parents, her husband, and of course her two daughters, Sophia and Lulu) gathered at the Westin Chaoyang for the first part of a “China tour” organized by the China Times that includes a quick hop to Shanghai.
So why a China tour?
In all the back and forth, the more interesting question (that lacked any real attention in Western coverage, save for one now well-worn Newsweek article is how Chinese readers are responding to her parenting memoir. To Americans, Chua represents Chinese parenting, but many Chinese parents would disagree. Some of the most common responses from Chinese readers, according to hosts, organizers and attendees of yesterday’s event:
“A lost childhood can never be regained! This is a travesty!”
“Who’s this Tiger Mom?”
“You mean that Chinese woman?”
“You mean that American woman?”
“We’re just learning to be more relaxed as parents, and this ABC is telling us to be strict? We can’t accept that.”
“Qinghua and Beida are filled with students who are #1, but every year we hear tragic stories. What about that?”
With all the backlash she’s gotten, Chua seems to have her PR game on. She came onstage in a short sheath dress, her hair in flouncy waves, huge smiles flashing left and right. In painstaking though accurate Mandarin, she apologized to the audience, saying her mother tongue is the Min Nan dialect, so she’d have to give her talk in English. She then provided a 45-minute summary of her book, with brief explanations of Western culture: “In America, ‘obedient’ is not a good thing. It’s bad. Only dogs are obedient.”
Her message: I’m about balance. I had to be strict with my kids to fight off the liberal Western culture, but here, parents will need to be more relaxed to provide kids relief against the high-pressure Chinese education.
If she didn’t have the audience eating out of her hands, her oldest daughter Sophia was bound to: she joined Chua and a panel of education experts onstage for a discussion about how education can contribute to a country’s soft power. (The somewhat forced but not uninteresting intersection between Chua’s memoir and her two earlier books about foreign policy.)
Of course, Sophia spoke perfect Mandarin – often translating others’ comments for her mother – and was a staunch defender of Chua’s viewpoints.
She also emphatically cried, “I’m not a robot! Really.”
When asked later about whether she enjoys speaking at these events, Sophia replied, “You know, it’s not that different from everyday life. Because every single day, I have people asking me about this, and I’m always having to convince them that I’m not a robot.” From my angle, she had a nice tan, her speech displayed proper human-like modulation and her joints moved smoothly. Definitely not a robot. Would have been a nice twist to the whole saga, though.
To be honest, it’s hard to say what’s going on here. Upon meeting the family, everyone seemed genuinely nice and well-adjusted. Sophia and Lulu were joking around, talking to their dad, rushing around taking photos. And, let’s face it: Sophia’s Harvard-bound, has several lifetimes’ worth of achievements in language and musical training under her belt and carries herself well amidst people far more experienced and qualified than she. As far as the hundreds of Chinese parents and media in attendance, that kind of evidence is hard to argue against. Nice move, Chua.
On the other hand, I couldn’t help feeling the way I did next to Grandma’s mah-jong table as the wrinkled ladies exchanged stories about their grandkids: this is an all-too-convenient chance to show off one’s successes, but there’s gotta be a shoe ready to drop somewhere. Right? Right?
Then again, Amy Chua also shared her belief that most people who rage against her book and her viewpoint often do so out of insecurity.
As a Chinese-American who started piano at 4 and did NOT play Carnegie Hall, and was in about three extracurricular activities too many and did NOT get into Harvard, I might have to give her that one.