Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Yesterday night, lying on the sofa in our living room I decided to read Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother, perhaps motivated to be a Chinese mother myself after a small quarrel with my wife about the need to get our daughter to sleep early. I started to read and felt bored a little due to the monotonous lecture by author Amy Chua on Chinese way of parenting.

Of course, it is never a book on parenting like a DIY parenting guide available in the market wooing you as an aspiring parent to spend hard earned cash on it, only to realise later that all those things were known to you since childhood while you had your own temper tantrums with your parents. In spite of that this book is on the parenting experience of Amy and the value conflicts she had to go through with her daughters Sophia and Lulu, the book is not primarily about parenting. The book is more about the clashes of the culture faced by immigrants from eastern world to the western world. Their dilemmas when age old traditions and values they believe in is questioned by a different value set of the native population.

Sophia is a typical Chinese kid, who obeys her parents without a question and strives hard to please her parents, especially the Chinese mom. Amy relates it to her Zodiac animal according to Chinese astrology which is monkey.

Intelligent, eloquent, adaptable, flexible. The Wu Xing (Five Elements) sign of the Monkey is Metal (Jin), so the animal stands for brilliance and perseverance. According to Chinese zodiac analysis, people born in a Year of the Monkey always have smart, agile and active characteristics.

The book became interesting the moment Lulu – the second daughter enters the scene. She defies all laws of childhood known to Amy and creates an entirely different crisis for the Chinese mom. Amy continues the battle without compromise with all her weapons to succeed at times and fail at other times. The Zodiac sign Boar comes to play.

Pig is not thought to be a smart animal in China. It likes sleeping and eating and becomes fat. Thus it usually features laziness and clumsiness. On the positive side, it behaves itself, has no plan to harm others, and can bring affluence to people. Consequently, it has been regarded as wealth.

The description pulls us through different achievements by both her daughters Sophia and Lulu and amount of perspiration that has to be put in behind the curtains. The entertainments are denied to the children as a part of Chinese or perhaps Asian parenting style while they are supposed to obey every command without question and work hard on their grades in school as well as in a hobby chosen for them by the parents. Sophia excels in Piano forced upon her and the hours of practice put into her everyday results in a huge success. But Lulu, though she is successful as a violinist, defies the mother with her unwillingness to practice and dislike to follow the path made by her mom.

As a tiger by Zodiac, Amy fights with all the surroundings to end. She fights her children, she fights her family, she fights her colleagues and students to ensure that her daughters always ends up with a podium finish and are sources of applause for the family.

Tigers, considered to be brave, cruel, forceful, stately and terrifying, are the symbol of power and lordliness. In ancient times, people usually compared emperors or grandees with the tiger. Court officials often said that ‘accompanying the emperor is just like being at the side of a tiger’. There are also many legends about this animal.

But, disobedience of Lulu becomes a huge issue for the Chinese mother and it grows day by day. The health issues faced by her own sister adds to the agony. Amy tends to have tantrums which even forces the soft spoken Sophia to react. It all culminates in a fight between Amy and Lulu in a restaurant in Moscow where they have gone for a vacation.

After the huge explosion in the restaurant, Amy reinvents the parenting method and finds that all laws may not be applicable to everyone.

While Amy focuses on Chinese mothers, I would rather say that the basis of this book would have been same for any Asian. Once I heard a story of an Indian father who was punished for beating his son while in Americas, who brought the son to vacation in India to just beat him and show him who sets the rules. Similarly there was an Oslo couple who got divorced and their child was taken over by the state for better protection because the parents used to feed the kid with hands. In India feeding some one with your hands is an epitome expression of love and kindness while abroad it is considered wrong and unhygienic. Thus the culture is sometimes too narrow and law sometimes ignore very fine humane values.

If I have to summarise in a sentence about the book, I would say ‘an interesting book of experience of an immigrant Asian in Americas within the household and the sharp contrast with the view points of their children who are born and brought up in America’. The difference in culture plays the lead role in whole of the book. The Chinese parents concept that the children should be grateful to them and should obey them unconditionally in contrast to independence offered by western parents. Chinese parents belief that they knows better than their children what is best for them. All these cultural aspects comes into the interplay in Battle Hymn.

Post Script:

I am born in the year of Dog and my daughter in the year of Monkey.

As Dogs are not good at communication, it is difficult for them to convey their thoughts to others. Therefore, Dogs tend to leave others with the impression that they have a stubborn personality.



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