Dear Amy Chua,
When I first read your book, I thought it would be just another book on the differences between Chinese parenting and Western parenting and why the Chinese way was better—and definitely harder on the children. I was fully prepared to disagree with the former and nod fervently at the latter. Instead, I got a lesson in life and a viewpoint from a different perspective. As a Chinese-American, I am used to the way that Chinese parents think: “the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future and arming them with skills, strong work habits, and inner confidence.” This doesn’t always mean it is easy to accept.
I grew up in a Chinese household and a Western society. My experiences in both have revealed to me the glaring differences. I have always been a year, sometimes two years, younger than my classmates because I started kindergarten early. Being constantly looked down on due to my age made me self-conscious even though I was smarter than most of my classmates. My parents taught me to read when I was two years old, and at three, I already knew the multiplication table. In Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Sophia and Lulu were expected to be two years ahead of their classmates in math, as I was. By eighth grade, I had already taken the SATs.
At home, my parents were always telling me to study, study, study. Heaven forbid my grade should drop below a ninety-eight percent. So, it always irked me when my American friends told me their parents had given them money or taken them out to eat for an eighty percent. For me, A-pluses weren’t goals. There were expectations. Likewise, most of my friends who played instruments thought that practicing for twenty minutes was a lot, while I was being pushed to practice for an hour and a half. In these moments, I always resented my parents and wished for American parents. What gave my parents the right to constantly be on my case about grades when my friends were in Disneyland because they got an eighty-five on their latest quiz? Yes, my thoughts were definitely justified.
Or so I thought.
When I read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, at first, I sided with the daughters, Lulu and Sophia. At first, I was against you, Amy Chua. I thought you were being cruel and even more demanding than my parents. When you whisked Lulu and Sophia out of art and music lessons during school so they could go to piano or violin lessons, I shook an invisible fist. When you forced Lulu to practice violin for hours on end, I compared you to my mother, who made me practice piano as well. When Lulu fought back and cut her own hair after you refused to take her to the salon as punishment for not practicing violin, I cheered. At last, I thought, here is a case where the dominance of the parent is broken.
Through your entire book, I remained obstinately on what I believed to be the underdog side. I never once stopped to consider both sides of the story. It wasn’t until the next time that my mom berated me for idly reading instead of practicing piano that I realized what the message of the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was. I had opened my mouth to retort back (another no-no for a Chinese household) when, inexplicably, your book flashed through my mind. I realized for the first time that it wasn’t just about me. It was about my mom, too. The message of your book? It was: Chinese parenting is hard for the parents as well.
I realized that I was supposed to read between the lines when reading this book. Yes, Sophia and Lulu sacrificed most of their average teen experience to take piano and music lessons, but what about your sacrifice? Your time, your energy, your love for your daughters was all spent on making sure your daughters would be successful later in life. I realized I had never thought about what effect all my detested extracurricular activities had on my mother. It couldn’t have been easy for her, driving me to all my piano, math practice, and SAT prep lessons. She probably had to rush to finish all of her work every day in time so that she could leave work early to send me to my lesson. She also spent a lot of money on me. Piano lessons, pianos, and prep books are expensive.
Suddenly, the piano didn’t seem as much of a symbol of parental oppression as I had thought. It seemed more like a testament to all my mother had done for me. All those scoldings, all those pushes to be better than best. They were all for my benefit. Later, I reread your book. Instead of thinking of your book as a comparison to my own life in a bad way, I understood your seemingly overdone actions. I also understood my mother’s hidden meaning when she told me to go practice piano or study for the SATs. Thanks to your book, I realized all of this before I could grow old and regret my resistance to my mom’s attempts to provide a secure future for me.
One quote from your book really sums up what I had ignored: “Chinese parenting is one of the most difficult things I can think of. You have to be hated by someone you love and who hopefully loves you, and there’s just no letting up, no point at which it suddenly becomes easy. Just the opposite, Chinese parenting—at least if you’re trying to do it in America, where all odds are against you—is a never-ending uphill battle, requiring a 24-7 commitment, resilience, and guile.”
Thank you for teaching me to look past my mother’s demanding exterior, and take a glance
within, where all her courage, love, time, and energy is spent on getting me the future she
believes I deserve.