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

January 26, 2011 |  6:52 am
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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