The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Dad

July 22nd, 2011
in Op Ed

by Frank Li

One type of strict Asian-American parenting philosophy was espoused by Amy Chua in her book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother".  Time made this a media sensation when it published “Tiger Moms”.

A portion of the Bookmarks Magazine review:

Most critics agreed that Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is an entertaining read—lively and humorous, written with the intent to shock. More controversial is Chua’s stereotyping of Chinese and Western cultures, not to mention her authoritarian parenting methods. Critics judged the book largely by asking the following questions: Should self-esteem come before accomplishment, or accomplishment before self-esteem?

Follow up:

If the latter, should it be achieved by threats and constant monitoring? Chua’s teenage daughters are undeniably accomplished, but at what emotional cost? While some reviewers found that Chua’s technique borders on abuse and her writing was, at best, self-serving, others were impressed by her parenting results and opined that the West could learn a few things from this remarkably driven Chinese American mother.

Now I, as a tiger dad, feel obligated to speak out.  It is an interesting book, followed by many interesting articles.   While many points in the book are valid, the book effect for sensation is everywhere, inevitably and understandably.

Although I believe the Chinese way of “tough” parenting has many merits, the American way is better overall and I have proven it!

Am I qualified to be a Tiger Dad?

Yes. In fact, I think I am more qualified to talk about the subject of “parenting in America the Chinese way” than Amy Chua.

  • I was born in China, but Amy was not. I grew up in China, but Amy did not.
  • My wife was also born in China and grew up in China, but Amy’s husband is a white man, thus nothing Chinese at all.
  • I have more complete results to show than Amy does! My two sons (ages 24 and 22) are beyond the college, while Amy’s two daughters have yet to go to college.

America vs. China in education

While the students in China are obviously better in math, the students in America are better overall (e.g. leadership, critical thinking, and social interaction) after high school. I mean those at the top brackets, such as the top 20% students in top 20% schools.

My Chinese way in America

When in Rome, do it the Roman way! I was determined to raise my two sons the American way, which simply means this: Be good at some sports. After having them try several sports, I decided on swimming for them in 1997. Both of them eventually became IL state champs and the rest is history. Along the way, they gave up many Chinese things, such as piano playing and the Saturday Chinese school. No, neither of them speaks Chinese today.

What about the schoolwork (through high school)? It’s mostly in the genes! Additionally, I did set up a positive environment for them, such as scattering many good books around them when they were very young. Two things for sure though: (1) my wife and I never really helped them with any schoolwork, and (2) neither of them studied for the college exams. Strangely, they both ended up with the same ACT score (34) and almost identical SAT scores (~1500, math and verbal combined). These scores were hardly impressive by the Chinese standards. But swimming got my elder son into Yale (Economics) in 2005 (and he is now a successful trader on Wall Street), while overall quality led my younger son into GE (the leadership program) in January 2011, after three and a half years at Michigan (Business).

The Way I See It

There are many ways to do the same thing. In parenting, between the Chinese way and the American way, I chose the latter and I am very happy about it!

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About the Author

Frank Li Frank Li is the Founder & President of W.E.I. (West-East International), a Chicago-based import & export company. Frank received his B.E. from Zhejiang University (China) in 1982, M.E. from the University of Tokyo in 1985, and Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in 1988, all in Electrical Engineering. He worked for several companies until 2004, when he founded his own company W.E.I. Today, W.E.I. is a leader in the weighing industry not only in products & services, but also in thought and action. Dr. Li writes extensively and uniquely on politics, for which he has been called "a modern-day Thomas Jefferson" (see page 31).


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