A Clash of Civilizations? Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Chinese-American mother and law professor at Yale, Amy Chua recently created a storm of controversy when she published her book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin, 2011). A memoir of her experiences raising her children in the United States generated a chorus of protest and support and legions on both side expressed their views on a host of blogs, social networking sites, TV programs, and interviews. Chua’s book reflects the tough, intense, hardworking, and tedious approach to child rearing usually associated with new immigrants. Amy Chua’s book and the response of its critics reflects an ongoing “clash of civilizations”—but within the heart of America. Chua’s writing has revealed another way of being in the world, of raising children, quietly intense emotional expressions of love tempered by discipline and high expectations, that have to mediate a culture of juridically & culturally sanctioned and celebrated individual independence (especially once the magical age of 18 is attained), a culture of low expectations at many schools, limited global competencies, and remarkably different cultural notions of honor, and respect for authority. The political correctness of the media and the child rearing expectations of America’s middle class clashed with other ways of being in the world—of being strict and loving at the same time and the grey and cloudy world inhabited by families caught in the midst of very different worlds, without any equivalent of a Kelly’s Blue book to provide a blueprint for cultural comparison. No doubt the reality is probably far more complex than this, and many immigrant and “native” will identify with Chua. However, she certainly deserves a more sympathetic hearing than she has received because all of us, are always, and all times, caught up in situations of painful cross cultural encounter—whether it be in our families, communities, or nation. Perhaps all of us have a battle hymn to sing; we just can’t seem to agree on how to sing it.