Over the course of the past couple weeks, Amy Chua has been accused of child abuse, ethnic stereotyping, and just about every parenting sin under the sun, but she certainly can’t be accused of biting her tongue. In a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal, provocatively titled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” Chua argued that her strict mothering style — which she ascribed to her Chinese-American values and which precludes most playdates, requires hours of music practice a day, and occasionally calls for harsh verbal admonishments when the rules are broken — has produced more successful kids than that of her American counterparts. Not surprisingly, the piece went viral almost immediately, and less than a week after it had been published, had generated over one million hits and spurred heated debate in all concerns of the Internet and beyond. Though Chua has since rebuked the Journal article — saying her words were taken out of context from her memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and that the book is less a parenting how-to than a personal journey — she has, fairly or not, been labeled a firebrand.
So it’s only fitting that when Chua comes to Berkeley next week to promote the book, she’ll be met by someone equally as outspoken: Aimee Allison, formerly the host of KPFA’s Morning Show and currently an editor at OaklandSeen.com. Allison’s not known for pulling punches, and she’s certainly not planning on it this time. She said she disagrees with what she believes to be Chua’s premise that Chinese-American parenting is inherently superior to Western models, and is, as she stated in a recent Facebook status, “ready to rumble.” Suffice it to say this won’t be your typical book-tour ego stroking. “I think the crux of the conversation will be, did you believe all this, or did you throw it out there for us to think about? Is there some part of you who wants us to discuss what success really means?”
There’s evidence that Chua is struggling with some of these questions herself. The book’s subtitle says that it was “supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising their kids than Western ones” (emphasis hers). And, moreover, Allison posited that Chua’s book extends to anxieties broader and deeper than just parenting or race: As the specter, real or imagined, of foreign dominance in education, technology, and productivity looms, and as the recession has turned a generation of highly educated college graduates out into a largely stagnant job market, American parents have more reason than ever to worry about whether or not their kids are as successful as they should be. Chua’s book has touched a nerve in a way that’s not just personal, but political. Amy Chua and Aimee Allison discuss Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother on Thursday, January 20, at the Hillside Club (2286 Cedar St., Berkeley). 7:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m., $12, $15. KPFA.org/events or 510-967-4495