Last Sunday, the Wall Street Journal ran an essay by a Yale Law School professor named Amy Chua boldly titled, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” The smug title of the piece set the tone for what Chua ostensibly had to say. The essay offered a fiery condemnation of “western” style parenting, along with Chua’s specific descriptions of her own “Tiger Mom” (Chinese) parenting practices, which included things like denying water or bathroom breaks to a child for many hours as the child struggled to perform a particular piece of classical music to Chua’s demanding satisfaction.
Response to Chua’s essay, which was represented as a direct excerpt from her new book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” was swift and huge. Critics jumped all over her (myself included) and the essay went wildly viral. Readers left thousands of comments on the WSJ story, most harshly negative. And all of the publicity and uproar had its intended impact; Chua’s new book is now an Amazon bestseller in its first week out.
Well, now Amy Chua tells San Francisco Chronicle that the “excerpt” from her book that ran in the WSJ was actually created via – in Chua’s own words – “stringing together the most controversial sections of the book.” Chua also says that she had no idea that the WSJ would “put that kind of a title on it.” Last, she notes that the WSJ piece basically mischaracterized her book, which she says is not a polemical tirade at all, but instead a reflective, self-deprecating memoir about her own journey as a parent, and how she learned to temper her traditional Chinese view of parenting over time.
Since I wrote my critical blog post about Chua’s WSJ essay, I’ve spoken to a few folks who have finished the whole book, and they tell me it’s a terrific read, very funny, and is in fact, exactly as Chua describes it. They say it bears no resemblance to the tone or apparent intent of the standalone WSJ essay. I plan to buy the book and read it myself.
I am glad Chua has spoken up, but I am a little confused by what she’s saying. Is the essay not, in fact, a coherent, whole section of the book, reprinted as an essay in the WSJ? Or is it a cut and paste job that the WSJ editors created, without consulting Chua or her publisher? The latter is what Chua seems to imply when she refers to the piece being “strung together” from “the most controversial sections of the book?” I guess I won’t know ’til I read the whole thing. I also don’t quite understand why Chua didn’t speak up until now to object to what she now claims was blatant misrepresentation of her views and her book by the Wall Street Journal. As a writer myself, I’d be raising some hell immediately if a publication edited my work without my okay, slapped a crazy-ass title on it, and then published it, leading to a near unanimous national consensus that I was an abusive, crazy, culturally bigoted mother. According to Ms. Chua, that’s what happened in her case – she says she’s even gotten death threats since the WSJ essay ran – but she didn’t speak up to object for almost a week after the story ran, and even then not until a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle contacted her, and asked her to comment.
I guess that when controversy and criticism catapult your book to bestseller status, it’s best to stay quiet.
How about you? Have you read the essay? Have you read the whole book? Are you surprised by Amy Chua’s new remarks indicating that the Wall Street Journal altered her work in some way and thus, misrepresented her views? If this had happened to you, would you have proactively spoken up more quickly, or would you have remained quiet in order to keep generating book sales from the controversy? Talk about it in the comments below.