If you read the fine print, you know that piece was supposedly an excerpt from Chua's new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, out this week. Oh hell no! One essay was bad enough, but an entire book on crooked, oppressive Chinese mothering according to Amy Chua? Not helping the cause.
But not too long after the initial web fury over the piece, I started hearing social media blurts from reliable colleagues who were actually reading Chua's book, saying that Tiger Mother is actually nothing like what the Journal excerpt would have you believe. Look no further than the book's cover for more clues:
This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs.So there is hope that this isn't a story about how a Crazy Chinese Mom physically, mentally and emotionally beat her kid into submission. Need to hear from someone who's actually read the book? Jeff turned to our friend Jen Wang of Disgrasian, who knows a little something about Hardass Asian Moms:
This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones.
But instead, it's about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.
Then I saw a tweet by Jen Wang, who blogs at Disgrasian about her own "hardass Asian mom," in which she also noted a disconnect between the Journal story and the book from which it was supposedly excerpted. When I reached out to her for details, she explained, "The book isn't a how-to manual, as the Journal excerpt would have you believe -- it's a memoir. As such, you'll see some truth in it, and you'll also see glaring blind spots and a sometimes-woeful lack of self-examination. That truth, instead of making you hate Chua, will cause you to reflect on your own upbringing -- and your own parenting style, good and bad. And I think this is especially important for Asian Americans who feel that they were parented Chua-style, and are bitter about it -- that is to say, most of us."And with that, Jeff got in touch with This Week's Most Controversial Author in Asian America, Amy Chua. The lowdown: Chua claims the excerpt had been edited without her input, taking the most controversial parts of the book, and there apparently much she could do about it. And the title wasn't her idea either:
"I was very surprised," she says. "The Journal basically strung together the most controversial sections of the book. And I had no idea they'd put that kind of a title on it. But the worst thing was, they didn't even hint that the book is about a journey, and that the person at beginning of the book is different from the person at the end -- that I get my comeuppance and retreat from this very strict Chinese parenting model."If anything, the book is supposedly about Chua's own humility discovered through her parenting journey. Humility? That's not a word I'd associate with the person who wrote that smug Wall Street Journal piece. While it still sounds pretty darn unfun to be her kid, it certainly makes me rethink the Voldemort-esque opinions I've formed about Amy Chua the Mom.
While the Journal article was unquestionably good for sales and awareness of the book, which has already hit #7 on Amazon and is only headed upward, it has been painful for Chua. "I've gotten scary messages. Death threats. All from people who haven't yet read the book," she says. "And while it's ultimately my responsibility -- my strict Chinese mom told me 'never blame other people for your problems!' -- the one-sided nature of the excerpt has really led to some major misconceptions about what the book says, and about what I really believe."
She points out that while she uses the term "Chinese motherhood" as shorthand for her neotraditionalist style of parenting, she states early on that many people of Chinese background don't subscribe to such methods, and many non-Chinese do. She also asserts that this is meant to be her own tragicomic story, and not a recipe for others to follow.
That said, the Wall Street Journal excerpt is still a piece of shit, and the damage has been done. I have a really hard time believing Chua had absolutely no say about what went ultimately went to print. And I definitely don't think she's the regretting any of the book sales spurred by the controversy (as I write this, it's currently sitting at #7 on the Amazon Bestsellers Rank).
By the way, does this mean the term "Tiger Mother" is here to stay?