Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother bears a disclaimer on the cover that it was originally meant to be a book about the clash between Chinese and Western parenting practices but instead is about Chua's own humbling experience with raising her daughters. As the book begins, Chua describes the strict rules that she established early on for her two daughters, Sophia and Louisa. The rules primarily address forbidden activities such as attending sleepovers, getting less than an A in classes, and being involved in school plays. The author admits that while her standards might seem rather stringent to most, they are common among Chinese mothers.
In Chapter 2, Chua introduces her firstborn child, Sophia, and with her description of Sophia's rather passive personality and ability to learn quickly, it seems that Chua's strict Chinese parenting methods will prove to be successful. Chua's husband Jed is Jewish, and they decided upon marrying that they would bring up their children Jewish, instead of focusing on Chua's Catholic religious heritage. For Sophia, this decision seems to work perfectly. She demonstrates the questioning nature of her father's ideology along with her mother's obsession with rote and drill.
Chua's second child, Louisa (nicknamed Lulu), possesses completely different attributes. The author admits that Lulu inherited her "hot-tempered" and "viper-tongued" personality. That commonality is most likely the impetus for their "nuclear warfare" relationship. Chua also points out that according to the Chinese calendar, Lulu was born in the Year of the Boar, which supposedly predestines one to be willful and obstinate. The author herself was born in the Year of the Tiger, which causes one to be powerful and authoritative. The first recorded clash between the Boar and Tiger occurs when Lulu (the Boar) is three. Chua, who has already obtained a piano teacher for Sophia, attempts to begin Lulu on the piano at a very young age. Lulu refuses to do anything that her mother asks of her in regards to the piano and eventually wins the face-off. At this point, Chua admits that she might have to try different tactics with Lulu, but she is unwilling to change any of the goals or rules that she has set for her two daughters.
While Chua's standards for her daughters might seem unreasonable to most, she inherited her ideology from her parents. Her mother and father were raised in the Philippines by Chinese parents who had fled their country. Chua's own parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1960 and raised their children there. Chua acknowledges that she and her sisters always felt different from the other children in their Midwestern and California schools, and she knew that her parents held much higher standards for her than did her classmates' parents. One example she offers of those standards is when she earned second place as an eighth grader in a history contest. After the awards ceremony, Chua's father tells her never to disgrace him again by earning second place. From a Westerner's standpoint, this comment seems cruel and demeaning, but Chua grew up with the philosophy that she must do better and that her father not only wanted, but demanded her best. In Battle Hymn, Chua practices this same philosophy with her children, in part, because she is afraid of generational decline. She acknowledges that she has strayed a bit from her Chinese roots and wonders how much further away her children will wander.
After explaining her family background, Chua discusses her piano teacher choice for Sophia. While at first she and Sophia disagree about practice times and Chua's demand for perfection, Sophia begins to win competitions and follows her mother's instructions without much complaining. Lulu, however, presents an immense challenge. Lulu demonstrates her natural musical ability during piano lessons, but Chua cannot rest with that. She believes that her two daughters should excel at different instruments so that they will not seem to be in competition with one another; hence the violin lessons for Lulu. Lulu does not go easily to her first lesson, but eventually settles into a tense truce with her mother. Every one of Lulu's Saturdays is spent practicing at home for three hours before going to the Neighborhood Music School in NYC for an individual lesson, followed by a group violin lesson, and a piano-violin lesson with her sister. Sometimes, Chua admits, she throws in more practice time at home after the girls finish their lessons at the NMS.
In Chapter 10, Chua explains the essential differences between Western and Chinese parents. She argues that while Western parents are overly concerned with their children's self-esteem, Chinese parents function in a completely opposite fashion. They believe that their children owe them everything and that they, as parents, know what is best for their children, even if that means overriding their children's seemingly natural desires and preferences. While Chua's husband Jed was raised in a vastly different environment, he and Chua choose the Chinese parenting model. Throughout the book, Chua offers examples of Jed's disagreeing with her stringent methods and harsh words toward their children, but he acquiesces early on, because the success of Chua's methods is indisputable. People constantly approach Jed and Amy and comment on their daughters' maturity and accomplishments.
As Chua's battle with Lulu over violin practice begins to intensify, she sometimes questions her strategy and sanity, but then Lulu reaffirms her mother's methods by relishing an achievement on the violin. The author uses that to convince herself that she has chosen the right path for her headstrong daughter. At the end of Part I, after one particularly intense argument with Lulu over her perfecting a specific violin piece for a recital, Chua promises Lulu that she will get her and Sophia a dog if she delivers a perfect performance at the recital.
Part II begins with a description of the girls' new dog Coco. True to her nature, Chua cannot resist trying to apply Chinese parenting to raising a dog. Coco is a Samoyed and is immune to Chua's instruction. Eventually, Coco inadvertently alleviates some of the pressure on Sophia and Lulu because Chua is distracted just a little from badgering them as she tries to train Coco. That distraction ceases, however, when Chua, Jed, and Chua's parents take the girls on a trip to Europe and Asia. While this is not the girls' first trip abroad, Chua uses it as an example for her readers to illustrate her intensity when it comes to the girls' practicing every day. Lulu's violin obviously travels well, but Chua faces unique challenges with Sophia's piano practice sessions. She somehow always manages to find a place for Sophia to practice but does exhibit some concern about whether her daughters when grown up will tell others that their mother was a control fanatic who ruined their vacations or that she provided them with opportunities to play in beautiful and unique settings.
Shortly after the family's return from Europe...
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