By Greg Hugh, Staff Writer

Prior to the start of the 11th Annual Bob and Kim Griffin Building U.S. – China Bridges lecture “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: Increasing Mutual understanding Between U.S. and China” by Amy Chua, the audience that was gathered in Memorial Hall at the McNamara Alumni Center, was greeted by various administrative members of the University of Minnesota.

Erick W. Kaler, President of the University welcomed the gathering by stating that the University has a long-term relationship with China and currently has over 2,500 students from China attending the University and over 10,000 Chinese alumni. Next to speak was Joan Brezinski, Interim Director of the China Center and Director of the Confucius Institute who noted that the lecture received special support from the Chinese Heritage Foundation and Dorsey & Whitney, LLP. She then introduced Bob Griffin, President, Griffin International Companies, and benefactor of the lecture series. In his comments, Griffin stated that he has made approximately 158 trips to China and in his 20 years of experience, notes that China is a very complex country.

The introduction of Amy Chua was made by Meredith McQuaid, Associate Vice President and Dean of International Programs. She noted that Chua, John M. Duff, Jr. Professor of Law at Yale Law School, was named one of the 2011 Time 100’s Most Influential People. In additional to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, she is the author of two other books on global economics and international politics. Chua also has taught law at Duke, Stanford and New York universities. She has been a Wall Street lawyer, Executive Editor of the Harvard Law Review and worked on international transactions throughout Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Amy Chua began her talk by immediately acknowledging that the last 13 months have been very tense. Chua explained the flame of controversy when Tiger Mother was released last year was fueled by media grabbing headlines as appeared in the Wall Street Journal and questions like “Are you a monster” from Today Show host, Meredith Vieira. In addition she received over 500 disparaging emails immediately after the book was released.

According to Chua, she wrote this book in a moment of crisis, when her younger daughter seemed to turn against everything she stood for and it felt like she was losing her and everything was falling apart. After one terrible fight that took place in Red square, she sat down at her computer, and even though she usually has writer’s block, this time the words just poured out. She states that she showed every page to her daughters and husband. It was like family therapy. In retrospect, she thinks writing the book – going back eighteen years when her elder daughter was born and she was a very different person – was an attempt to put the pieces back together and work things out for herself . . . and the story is unfinished!

Chua’s Chinese immigrant parents came from the Philippines to the United States and brought up their children in an extreme environment of high expectations. While Amy finally rebelled by choosing her own college far away, she says her parents’ high expectations were “the greatest gift they gave to her.” She intended to pass on that gift to her children. All went well until headstrong Lulu was born.

She let Lulu quit violin, get an iPod and go to sleepovers. But, she believes in the way she raised her girls and thinks Westerners, in general, should ask more of their kids. Chua’s girls, Sophia and Lulu, are very close to their mother, although Lulu still argues. Husband Jed is the balance between mother and daughters.

While Chua acknowledges that the book was not intended to be a parenting book in the United States, it has received a completely different perception in China where it is being accepted and marketed as a serious parenting book. Not exactly what she had intended.

Although she avoids stating whether the Western or Asian style of parenting is the better approach, Chua concludes that each style can learn something from each and proceeded to offer examples. She feels children in China are offered too few choices while children in the West have too many.

In conclusion, Chua acknowledges that her book has been controversial. Many people have misunderstood it. She believes that there are many ways to be a good parent; it is complicated and that the Chinese way of parenting and Western parenting should find a balance and we should be able to learn from each other.

Following the lecture, a question and answer session was conducted during which there were a variety of questions presented that reflected the makeup of the audience. One audience member asked Chua which was more rewarding: teaching contract law or writing books to which she answered that while teaching law provided education, writing books provided a more creative outlet. Another question was is it easier being a mother in China or the United States and she answered that it was probably easier in China since there is more family support whereas in the United States, the mother must do almost all of it by herself. As for social skills, Chinese children are more lacking while U.S. children appear to develop high social skills. In response to a question by a Chinese student that stated that his mom called him “garbage” Chua responded that this was not literally what his mother meant but that she was trying to encourage him to try to do better.

At the end of the Q & A session, Chua made herself available for a book signing during which she was gracious, while posing for photos and chatting. There evidently was a lot of interest since this lasted well over an hour and a half and there was no evidence of a tiger being in the room.

Although the lecture was sold out weeks before the scheduled event, it appears that quite a few of the people that requested the free tickets, many chose not to show up which is too bad since they missed a very interesting lecture and denied those that would have attended, the opportunity to do so. Editor’s Note: To read another perspective, the book was reviewed by Ray Lum in the June, 2011. 

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CHINAINSIGHT (CI) is published monthly ((except July/August and November/December are combined) by China Insight, Inc., an independent, privately owned company started in 2001 and headquartered in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota.

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