I have not read the book (nor do I plan to do so if that requires me to purchase it), but from reading the WSJ article, I have to believe that Mrs Chua is overstating and/or sensationalizing her point for the sake of making the point (and thus boosting book sales).
In essence, Mrs Chua characterizes herself as a prototypical "Chinese" mother. In contrast to prototypical "Western" mothers who often employ permissive parenting, Mrs Chua stresses that (quoted from the WSJ article)
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.To put it simply, this is ridiculous. In fact, her elder daughter's response depicts Mrs Chua as a caring mother who, while strict, also encourages her daughters to expand their horizons. This clearly contradicts the WSJ article, which depicts Mrs Chua as totally controlling from both time-management and thought-management standpoints.
I furthermore find her use of the term "Chinese" distasteful. After all, she construes Chinese so broadly that it loses nearly all meaning (not to mention the fact that she barely qualifies as Chinese in the real sense of the word). All this suggests a blatant emotional ploy to conflate her parenting philosophy with the pervasive American fear of losing economic competitiveness to China (and thus boosting book sales).
Of course, stereotypical Asian parents are more strict than stereotypical Western parents. No one denies this. But Mrs Chua's sensationalist characterization is so extreme it borders on the absurd. To pigeonhole all model Asian parents into Mrs Chua's caricature is very misleading. And even should some Asian parents mirror Mrs Chua's description (and these people do exist), it is folly to think that the children are always better off having received such an upbringing.
Take my upbringing, for instance. It is true that, as a child, my parents often criticized my work and were generally dismissive of my accomplishments. If I succeeded, it was to be expected. If I failed, it was a disappointment. Sure, they had high expectations. But I still participated in my share of school plays. My mom still picked me up from after-school rehearsals. I still sang in a choir for thirteen years. And even though my parents thought such activities were mostly a waste of time, they also recognized that childhoods are fleeting. In fact, over the years, their opinions have slowly changed to the point where they now value the fact that I participated in so many extra-curricular activities. Some of my proudest moments include performing in front of my family.
I most certainly agree that strong parenting should include an element of "tough love" and setting high expectations for success. That is basically the philosophy that Mrs Chua is advocating if one overlooks the overly controlling manner in which she executes this philosophy (at least by her description).
But I also think that true success must come from within. People of all ages find the greatest satisfaction when they are inspired to work hard and succeed. The real reason I was motivated to work hard was not because my parents shamed me by telling me that I was garbage whenever I did not wholly succeed. There are two real reasons. First, I was surrounded by friends and teachers who encouraged me to tap into my imagination. Second, my parents are inspiring people in their own right.
Despite all the childhood angst I endured, I love and look up to my parents. As first generation immigrants, they found the strength to thrive and provide for their family, when many with lesser willpower would not have succeeded in their situations. That is true inspiration.
And of course, when the worst side of Asian parenting becomes too oppressive, then one runs the risk of sad endings.