I was born in the Year of the Dragon. I don’t take much (any) stock in astrology, much like Amy Chua, the Tiger mother who tells her own story as a Chinese mother raising two daughters in her satirical memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  Persons born in the Year of the Dragon are “usually a group of people who are lively, intellectual and excitable, they can tell right or wrong clearly, upright and frank. However, they are also a bit arrogant and impatient. Female Dragons tend to be over confident. They hate hypocrisy, gossip and slander. They are not afraid of difficulties but hate to be used or controlled by others.”  If this description is at all accurate (and I might acknowledge some consistency), the world should be grateful that I am not a Chinese mother.
Amy Chua’s memoir provides an insightful, humorous, candid overview of the challenges she faced trying to raise her American born daughters according to her commitment to sustain Chinese culture and tradition. It was not smooth. Chua starts her memoir with a brief overview of Chinese parenting values. These, as read by an American, may sound a wee bit harsh.
“Unlike your typical overscheduling soccer mom, the Chinese mother believes that (1) schoolwork always comes first; (2) an A-minus is a bad grade; (3) your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math; (4) you must never compliment your children in public; 95) if your child ever disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach; (6) the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can eventually win a medal; and (7) that medal must be gold.” 
I can hear in my mind the gasps of the American mothers who read this. I can hear the complaints forming about stereotyping and having too high expectations and the potential psychological damage that such a style would cause children. Indeed, Chua writes in her afterward that there was significant backlash when her book was published and she was virtually crucified on news shows and in social media. But this book communicates so much more. In owning her own biases and values, she also communicates how she succeeded, failed, changed, and adapted to the different personalities of her two daughters. She pulls no punches. She reports her own exaggerated threats and shouts, her screaming matches with her youngest daughter, as well as the moments of joy in which she stood back while her daughters excelled. She does so with a satirical wit that made me laugh out loud at points.
I want to highlight two take-aways for me. First, Chua speaks significantly about the high expectations and boundaries she set for her daughters. She was usually unyielding. But the value guiding her behavior was a strong belief that her children were able to accomplish all that they set out to do. It wasn’t just that failure wasn’t an option; but rather, that failure did not reflect the potential and skill of her children. Chua writes, “First, I’ve noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self esteem…. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result, they behave very differently…. A Chinese parent demands perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them.”  Throughout the memoir, Chua stresses these high expectations and clear boundaries, but also demonstrates strong attachment to her children. Resilience researchers stress over and again that resilience is developed through having high expectations, clear boundaries and rules, and healthy bonded relationships. There may be some debate about high yet reasonable expectations, but the message is that if the expectations are low, the results are often low. Resilience research also teaches that individuals need opportunities to learn and practice new skills. Chua did this for her children.
I find that while I didn’t agree with everything Chua did, her results were good. Her daughters (and husband), read every page of her book, made edits and suggestions. In the end, her younger daughter, with whom she had the most conflict, was grateful.  It seems to me that many Western parents could learn a few lessons from the Chinese model.
My second key take-away was how effective Chua was in communicating the context of her culture. Yesterday I had the opportunity to fly to Boise and back to participate in a mediation. I did not meet all of the people involved in the issue. But throughout the day, as I heard the complaints, behaviors, and reactions of one of the individuals (whom I did not meet), I kept wondering, “Is she Chinese?” After the meetings were adjourned, I asked. And indeed she was. In fact, she is a first generation immigrant. I cannot explain exactly what led me to question her cultural background; it was just the little comments, subtle reactions, and difficulty asserting herself with authority figures. I would immediately think, when hearing one of these comments, how it sounded like what Chua was describing. I cannot, by any means, say that I now understand Chinese culture. But I can say I have some better insight.
I loved this book. I’ve told three different people about it in the past 24 hours. I think it is an excellent tool for increasing my ability to try and understand another person’s thoughts and feelings given their cultural context. Which I call cultural empathy.
 Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, New York: Penguin Books, 2011.
 TravelChinaGuide.com, “Chinese Zodiac – Year of the Dragon,” http://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/social_customs/zodiac/dragon.htm.
 Chua, p. 5.
 Ibid, pp 51, 52.
 Ibid, p. 227.