Lions, Tigers, and Bear Moms- Oh, My! (from Contexts)

A piece I wrote on the aftermath of the Tiger Mom Amy Chua controversy recently appeared in Contexts-- a sociology magazine for the general public. Hope you enjoy it and would love to here what you think!

On January 25, 2011, Stephen Colbert announced, “My guest tonight is a Yale professor who has written a controversial book about the demands Chinese mothers put on their children. Not Harvard? Her mother must be so disappointed. Please welcome Amy Chua!” Chua’s appearance on The Colbert Report capped off a whirlwind media tour that most academics can only dream of. Today Show? Check. CNN? Check. And, then, of course, Colbert.  Chua’s month of controversy started on January 8, 2011 when The Wall Street Journal ran a story, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” in advance of the January 11th release date of her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. 

The Journal article, comprised of excerpts from the book, spread like wildfire as people emailed, tweeted, and shared the link on Facebook.  Over 8,000 people commented on the article on the Journal’s website, telling Amy Chua their thoughts on her parenting practices, which include: calling her daughters trash when they do not perform up to her expectations, forcing the girls to practice their musical instruments for at least three hours a day, and even denying them dinner if they do not perfect a piece.  The comments definitely weren’t all pretty.  But the press helped propel Battle Hymn to the New York Times’ Bestseller list, giving credence to the adage “all press is good press.”

One of the most common memes in press coverage was an attribution of public agitation to abiding fears of the “China Threat.” A few weeks before the Chua controversy, educators had been stunned by the superlative test scores coming out of Shanghai on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  Some commentators thought Battle Hymn could be America’s new “Sputnik moment”—except that Amy Chua was born in the United States and her parents grew up in the Philippines as Chinese immigrants.