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About (Late) Last Night: 'Tiger Mother' Amy Chua defends herself to Stephen Colbert [Video]

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In case you hadn't heard, Amy Chua is the author of a much-hyped and highly controversial new book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." In the book, Chua, also a professor at Yale Law School, makes the case for the brutally strict child-rearing method inherited from her Chinese immigrant parents: no sleepovers, no play dates, no television, no grades lower than an A.

It's safe to say that the book has struck a nerve with Americans, especially American mothers. An excerpt published earlier this month in the Wall Street Journal, called "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," ignited a fierce backlash (the article currently has close to 8,000 comments and counting, most of them critical, many of them downright hostile). Chua, who claims to have received death threats over "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," began to publicly soften her rhetoric virtually the moment it was published.

And that's just what she did on Tuesday night's episode of "The Colbert Report." 

Not one to be intimidated, "tiger host" Stephen Colbert put Chua on the spot. "People have accused you of saying that the Chinese way of raising a child is superior to what Western mothers do. True or false?" he asked.

"Uhh ... false," Chua replied, her voice tentative.

Colbert seized the opportunity to point out Chua's inconsistency. "So you raised your children in an inferior way? Can I get you a bicycle to backpedal any faster here?" 

Chua, who clearly seems to have been listening to her publicists, hewed strictly to a set of defensive talking points, some of them more convincing than others. She described the book as "self-parody," which seemed a bit disingenuous. Her arguments in defense of strict parenting were, perhaps not surprisingly, more compelling. "I think if you give a 5- or 8-year-old free choice, I think that's going to be video games."

Colbert also noted the anxiety that seems to be driving the "Tiger Mother" backlash: anxiety over Chinese ascendancy. "There is a political component here. We are terrified of the Chinese ever since the Olympic opening games," he (sort of) joked.

Chua claimed that anyone can be what she calls a "Chinese Mother"; all you have to do is demand hard work, tenacity and discipline from your children. "I think they're fundamental American values, ones championed by our Founding Fathers."

Less convincingly, Chua denied that her book is a parenting guide or a how-to, twice pointing to the lengthy subtitle on the book's cover as evidence that her memoir has been misinterpreted as a rebuke of permissive Western parenting. "In fact, it says on the cover there. It was about 'how I was humbled by a 13-year-old,'" she said. 

Colbert promptly removed the dust jacket. "That comes off, look at that."

What did you think?

-- Meredith Blake

Comments () | Archives (6)

Stephen is hilarious! He gets the best out of his guests. I read that article in the WSJ and I thought that it had some good points. Any mother who is insulted, just fears about what she has done.

If academic excellence is the ultimate goal, there has to be better methods than hysterics and threats.

I am Chinese, and I am a mother, but I am not a tiger mother. I wanted to be a good mother, a wish that mothers of all races surely share.

In my quest to be one, I read parenting books. I sought advice from parenting experts. I talked to other parents.

Everyone had something to say to me about parenting, the Asian way to parent, the Western way to parent, the right way to parent, the better way to parent, the best way to parent, the only way to parent.

It has been more than two decades since I read my first book on parenting. And now looking back, I see that I had the best teacher in my daughter. From the minute she was born, she was telling me how I could be the right mother for her...the best mother for her...

And I learned...by listening to her...by watching her...and by knowing her...

There is no one way to parent.


As an Asian and of Chinese descent, Amy Chua and the media's attempt to shove down the TIGER MOM book is very toxic and stereotypical of Asians. From MY perspective, this is an immigrants experience because as foreigners, people need to work hard in the host country THEY live in!!! What people need to understand in the United States is they live in a bubble world because they have never lived in Malaysia, Singapore and China and have a GRAND illusion that all Asians or Chinese are smart. That is not the case at all because many Chinese are living in poverty and don't get into the Universities at all. So this book has nothing to do with Asians or Chinese being superior! The ones that are in the University system in the United States or make up a huge part of the University of California system are just lucky!! If they had a comprehensive University test or made to work as a team, many Asians or Chinese will not make the grade!!!

Way to kick ass "Tiger Mom", these kids are too soft. What these kids need nowadays is a good ass kicking.

While many of her views or actions might seem very extreme to us, I think Mrs. Chua has made some very obvious good points that are being missed. In every interview I have seen or read, she has delivered her ideas firmly, but also very fairly. If one reads them fully, they will see she has actually stated several times that it isn't just Chinese parents, but those of immigrant families that tend to use this parenting style. She also admits that she knows of other people, such as Western or African-Americans, who utilize it as well.

As for her being stereotypical or racist, it has already been disclosed that the WSJ chose the title "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" and not Mrs. Chua.
Also, she was not informed of that title until AFTER its publication.

She has demonstrated numerous times that she looks at a situation from multiple angles and makes a note to allow other the other side to have an opinion. I have seen interviews of her doing this BEFORE the Tiger Mom blow-up occurred, which leads me to believe it is part of her own character and not a publicity gimmick.

Lastly, I have heard very little in support of her, but almost every unsupportive response I have heard sounded as though the author hasn't read or heard the full story, but is simply commenting on what they've heard through the gossip-vine. If we as a nation are going to get so angry that we actual send this woman death threats, shouldn't we at least understand the full story first? Or have we become SO bloodthirsty as a nation that the possiblity of meaning or reputation it could lead to is more important to us than what it actually means?

Wow, Tiger Mom's hot! Make me a sandwich!!


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