TheDC Interview: ‘Tiger Mother’ Amy Chua speaks out, wins teaching award

“Tiger Mother” Amy Chua has said many times that she sacrifices a lot for her family, and that came through at the beginning of our interview, which was delayed by twenty minutes because the Yale University law professor’s dogs needed to go to the veterinarian for last minute shots. To the relief of this author, the canines were in good health and unscathed from the doctor visit.

“They’re totally fine now, it’s been very crazy, they’re incredibly dirty, but they’re great,” Chua told The Daily Caller of her two Samoyeds, Pushkin and Coco.

But plenty of people have argued that Chua, author of the New York Times bestselling non-fiction memoir about strict Chinese child-rearing methods, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, is anything but a model parent or family member. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal published an excerpt of her book titled, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”, a headline that Chua says she did not even write. Since the January book launch and birth of the WSJ piece, Chua’s face and list of household rules have appeared on television, in print, and all over the Internet. More often than not, others have come after the Yale professor with pitchforks and asserted that she’s a despicable person and an even worse mom. For enforcing rigid restrictions on her two daughters and forbidding them from getting anything lower than an “A” or attending sleepovers, Chua has been called a monster and abusive, and those are among the softer insults targeted at the academic instructor.

But Chua, a Harvard graduate who uses sad face emoticons in emails, isn’t sure the public knows what she’s all about. The award-winning teacher told TheDC that she’d intended for her book to read like a self-deprecating work similar to American author David Sedaris’s humor essays on his dysfunctional parents and siblings. Chua admits that a segment in her book that includes her youngest child, Louisa comparing her to Harry Potter’s evil enemy, Lord Voldemort was meant to be funny and self-deprecating. Some readers laughed and found the stories hysterical, but plenty more were outraged by Chua.

“So many people out there have only read the WSJ excerpt and totally misunderstand what the book is about,” Chua wrote in an email to TheDC, adding that outsiders would probably change their negative perspectives on her if they were to visit her website and Facebook page, both of which explain that Chua penned the memoir upon having constant disagreements and a memorable explosive fight with her 13-year-old daughter. “Also, people who haven’t read or don’t get the book often assume I’m really mean 🙁 whereas my students, colleagues and people who do know me all have a very different view, and I’d love to find a way to convey that”.

Chua, who just earned the 2010-2011 Yale Law Women Faculty Excellence Award, agreed to answer questions from The Daily Caller.

1. How has everything been going since the January release of your memoir? Have people sent you nasty and/or supportive emails? How have you been treated on the Yale campus?

Well, we were completely shocked. I would say the first ten days were pretty painful because people had only seen the Wall Street Journal headline, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”, which I did not write, I never saw. People didn’t realize it was a memoir, they just thought, well actually some people realized that it was funny and tongue and cheek, so I had huge streams of incredibly angry emails, but now three months later, I would say I went from 70 percent nasty emails to 90 percent really nice emails and things are much better now. It’s not calming down that much because the book is going around internationally now, so there’s a lag. I’m trying to clear up misunderstandings now in Asia and Europe because the Wall Street Journal thing is still circulating there. With my students, this is kind of interesting. My book came out January 11 and we were on break, so there was this two week period of all this intense, all these terrible things being said about me. You know, with Meredith Vieira on “The Today Show”, you heard questions like “are you a monster?”, so I said to my husband, Jed the day before the new semester started, it was like January 25 or something, I said, “Oh my God, what if nobody takes my class?” I usually have pretty big classes, so I was like, “What if they boycott me? What if all the students hate me and they won’t take me anymore?” So I was terrified going in, which is why I was intrigued by your question because I walked in and you were exactly right: The class actually was really big, there was a waiting list of like 100 people on it, so my Yale community really has been one of the positive things. People have been so nice. Three different groups have thrown book parties for me. I think if people read the book, they have a very different impression, and that’s one of the reasons I responded to you. I take it that you’ve actually read the book…Even if readers don’t agree with everything, if they read the whole book they will realize it’s a lot more complex than the initial media was suggesting because there’s a real arc to the book. I actually think the last third of it is very heartbreaking and very universal…I put the most extreme, darkest moments [in my book] and exposed them. If I had known the book was going to generate so much controversy, I could have made myself a lot nicer! It’s only a snapshot, the book. I didn’t portray 100 percent me. I say “I love you” to my daughters every day. My parents were very strict immigrants, but I was raised in America and we’re actually very goofy. We snuggle around in one big bed a lot, but I kind of chose to only put in all these very dramatic moments, and I think if I’d known that there was going to be so much controversy…Well, I wonder. Maybe I still would have written the same book, but I could have sterilized it. People seem to forget that I’m the one that chose to put those scenes in the book as a kind of self-reflection. It was kind of like going back and making fun of myself eighteen years ago.