Amy Chua’s memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother attracted plenty of critical response when it was published last year. The excerpts in the Wall Street Journal suggested it was a guide to parenting which praised the superiority of the ‘Chinese’ method. But this is misleading. Chua tells us she started to write the book in summer of 2009 when the family returned from Moscow, where, during a break in a café in Red Square, she finally admitted defeat over her parenting methods, at least in the case of her younger daughter Lulu, and allowed her to make her own choices about where to focus her efforts and her own choices about how much dedication and intensity to invest. The presentation of herself as an extreme ‘Chinese’ mother is delivered dead-pan, which makes it very funny.

The Wall Street Journal knew what it was doing when it printed extracts from the earlier chapters, because there can be fewer more contentious activities than bringing up the next generation. The polarities of ‘Chinese’ parenting and ‘Western’ parenting can stand in for most of the conflicts between strict and liberal and traditional and modern. I think there are at least four objectives involved in bringing up children: transmitting culture; preparing for life, developing an individual and protecting the experience of childhood.