Thursday, 26 February 2015

Wayson Choy's The Jade Peony

Please feel free to post your presentations and/or thoughts on Wayson Choy's novel  The Jade Peony here.


  1. Hi everyone,

    I just thought I'd leave some of my notes for the presentation last Thursday, in case anyone missed them. They don't quite contain all the things I said but a lot of them are there.


    1. Jook-Liang’s white taffeta dress/tap shoes represent the transformative power of clothing. Jook-Liang is constantly seeking to imitate Shirley Temple, a popular child actress at the time. Shirley Temple is someone who inhabits a completely different world – a world where society does not strongly discriminate against girls and adults appreciate either pastimes like dancing and singing or feminine qualities. Wong-Suk appears to be the only adult who derives enjoyment from her actions so it is important to Jook-Liang that she can fulfill his expectations. The ribbons that Poh-Poh tie for her transform her secondhand tap shoes so that they look new. In turn, these shoes, along with her dress, which is also newly cleaned, help her to reach the decision to actually “become” Shirley Temple. With these clothes, she becomes a different person.
    2. Wong Suks cloak was originally given to him as a form of symbolic repayment from Johnson, a man whose life he saved. At the stage of his life in which we are introduced to him, Wong-Suk is always seen with this cloak. This becomes such a familiar part of him that Jook-Liang is surprised upon seeing a younger photograph of him in which he is not wearing the cloak. In the case of Wong-Suk, his clothes become part of his identity. While clothes, especially cloaks, are usually meant to hide and cover up, his cloak actually identifies and reveals him. This cloak also seems to have a unique personality of its own. Several times, Jook-Liang observes it moving as if of its own accord. This is especially apparent near the end, when she imagines the cloak wrapping around her as she travels alongside her friend. In these lines, the cloak is personified which gives the impression that it is moving of its own accord.

  2. 3. Old Yuen’s jacket plays a significant role in Jung-Sum’s story. Originally, the coat belonged to Old Yuen, who holds it as a status symbol to present an impression of a self that is wealthy. The idea that clothing can be a marker of identity is shown here. On Granville street, money is what matters – even Chinamen are respected if they have it. To have enough money to purchase an expensive coat like that shows that the owner is one of “the best.” The coat is renewed through the combined efforts of many people (Father, Stepmother, Frank, Gee Sook) to help build the identity of Jung-Sum. It reveals certain aspects of his character, such as his desire to be a fighter, which is so obvious that the people around him notice. For Jung-Sum, the most important thing is not to be wealthy but to be respected as a military man. As an adopted child and second son, he is constantly receiving secondhand things that don’t quite fit. This is the first major time that he has had the opportunity to make an article of clothing completely his. He is “reborn” into a different person, which reflects the same kind of transformative power that Jook-Liang’s dress had on her. Also, as one of Old Yuen’s most prized possessions, it should have been passed onto his son, Frank. Frank’s refusal of the coat, however, reveals the rift between father and son.

    4. The death of Poh-Poh is told from Sek-Leung’s perspective, in which he constantly points out her favorite blue coat. Out of the family, she is the one with the closest relationship to Sek-Leung. It is with her that he feels most safe and welcome. Other Chinese people often ostracize him due to the fact that he is most out of touch with Chinese culture. It is interesting that the character with the most knowledge of old Chinese culture is closest to Sek-Leung. This closeness is seen when Poh-Poh repeatedly appears to Sek-Leung after her death, always wearing her quilted blue coat, which has become part of her identity in a way similar to Wong-Suk and his cloak.

  3. I'd like to include my notes on the presentation too! Keep in mind they're not formally written but I hope they're of use to you. :)

    Poh-Poh calls Jung-Sum the moon, by doing so it implies that she knows that Jung-Sum is gay.
    In the past, homosexual men were thought to be more feminine. This means that by relating Jung to the female side of Yin-Yang, she knows that he is different.The moon is very associated with feminine qualities

    But further:
    In Chinese culture the moon is a symbol for gentleness and moodiness. An unbalanced state of emotions.
    By viewing it this way, Poh-Poh may be seeing the internalized conflict Jung-Sum has over his affections rather that simple associated feminine qualities with being gay

    The sun is a symbol of positive brightness. With Yin and yang, one can not exist without the other and a part of each is within the other. Meaning that both Frank and Jung-Sum reflect each other's characteristics in one way or another. An example of this is the fight they have in Chapter 6. They both put each other's lives at risk during this fight but in the end,
    when they are together, Jung-Sum and Frank Yuen balance each other. One cannot be without the other.

    Jung-Sum doesn't know what to do with his feelings towards Frank Yuen and it causes him to doubt his identity. Inside, he accepts that he has feelings for Frank but due to the punishment he would receive if he let his feelings be known, he doesn't. The moon reflects light from the sun, but there are always parts of the moon which exist in shadow. Frank recognizes this darkness in Jung-Sum.

    The watch Frank gives Jung-Sum is a symbol of their relationship. Now that Frank is leaving to join the army, the moon and the sun will be apart.The watch shows a rising moon and a setting sun depending on the time of day. By giving Jung the watch, Frank recognizes their relationship as being two halves of a whole. The watch gives comfort to Jung by reminding him of this.

  4. Hi all, here are some notes for my section on "Bai sen" and Ancestor Worship.
    As I have mentioned, the information provided is pretty specific to clues from "The Jade Peony" and my personal experiences/research, so keep in mind that it is not necessarily universal in all aspects. Feel free to talk to me if you're new to the concept and you want to hear about my personal experiences with it, or if you feel I've made a mistake in my information. For those who want more information, there are plenty of good sources online/in the library that can help with your own research.

    If you want more of a summary of my section you can always go to the Prezi at

    “Bai sen” in Ancestor Worship
    - In ancestor worship, ancestors are not necessarily venerated as gods or deities – instead, it is more of a ritual for showing respect and gratitude towards the ancestor in question, for allowing his/her spirit peaceful passage into the spirit world, and for ensuring that the spirit remains happy and peaceful in that world. Misfortune may be a sign that the ancestor’s spirit is not at peace and that his/her family hasn’t performed the rituals properly; in a more symbolic sense it may also be a sign that one is failing to maintain respectful relations with deceased ancestors (and is therefore likely to be neglectful towards connections with living family members, creating an imbalance in harmony)

    Usually, the setup involves a small table or stand where the ancestor’s portrait or name will be. Joss sticks, (sticks of incense) are lit and placed there, as are food offerings; money is also burnt and prayers are said in front of the table, facing
    Gratitude and respect may be expressed through things like food offerings, paper money (which is burned in offering), burning incense, or prayers.


  5. con'td...

    Ancestor Worship (and other philosophies in Chinese culture)
    - Note that ancestor worship is not the same as Buddhist philosophy. However, many Buddhist aspects have been incorporated into ancestor worship (e.g praying to ancestors at Buddhist temples; observing beliefs about spirits, spiritual life, and harmony or balance between spiritual and earthly existence when making decisions about sacrifices to ancestors).
    Confucianism is also closely linked to ancestor worship – although Confucian philosophy itself is more concerned with earthly society rather than divine spirituality, filial piety is of highest value. Failure to pay respects to family members – especially older or deceased ancestors – is sure to bring misfortune in some way. Ancestor worship and Confucian beliefs are intertwined.
    Ancestor worship as a ritual emphasizes the unity and dependency between family members, even after death (the living depend on ancestors to influence their world and protect them from misfortunes; the ancestor’s spirit depends on the family to pay respects so that they may at peace in the spirit world)

    - For some modern people of Chinese descent – even those who may not necessarily believe in all or any aspects of the traditional beliefs that form the basis of such rites – ancestor worship rituals may still be an important part of life. This may be for many reasons, such as filial obligation, a desire to connect to one’s own heritage and the traditions associated with it, or a belief in spiritual symbolism, in which case such rites are performed as symbolic expressions of spirituality or gratitude towards one’s ancestors. Whether or not you believe you are actually connecting to your ancestors’ spirits, performing such rites can be a way to show gratitude to your ancestors or to acknowledge the hard work and the traditions that may be associated with them, and to ensure that they are able to “rest” peacefully because you are respecting their memory.


  6. .

    When Poh-Poh dies, she connects the family to their heritage in terms of the obligation to observe such traditional ceremonies/rites (thus connecting them to their historical heritage regardless of their current state or perceived identity). Her death also gives them an opportunity to actually perform these rites, allowing them to come to terms with questions about their heritage and their feelings towards it.

    - Sek-Lung seems to genuinely believe it; although the other family members are skeptical at first, in the end they go through the proper motions in order to grant Poh-Poh’s spirit peace. Whether they genuinely believe that her spirit requires it – as Sek-Lung does – or they are doing it as a more symbolic gesture, it is interesting that they finally have someone for which to perform ancestor worship rituals when Poh-Poh dies – after all, you can’t really offer direct respect or sacrifices to your ancestors if you don’t know who your ancestors were. The family members either have little connection to their “official” blood-related ancestors (in the case of Stepmother, Jung-Sum, Kiam) or they do not have deceased ancestors to worship (in the case of Jook-Liang, Sek-Lung)

    This is especially significant to Sek-Lung. He is the only Canadian-born member of the family, and the diluted ideas of Chinese culture that he might get from his siblings does not offer him a connection to his Chinese heritage as much as his close relationship with Poh-Poh does.
    *- Interestingly, as the only Canadian-born member of the family (and therefore the least connected to his Chinese heritage in terms of birthplace and nationality), Sek-Lung is the closest to Poh-Poh and the only one who can see her spirit; he is also the one who insists that the family should bai sen in order to appease Poh-Poh’s spirit.
    This might seem contradictory due to his birthplace and his struggles in trying to connect to his Chinese heritage – in some cases he outright rejects it, preferring the Western “Sir” to the multitude of Chinese kinship terms. But this might suggest the complicated nature of such identities: Sek-Lung may be Canadian-born but this does not restrict him to being fully Western or even fully Chinese. The fact that Sek-Lung is, in a way, barred from his Chinese heritage due to his birthplace and preferred language, does not stop him from looking to the heritage that he still has.

  7. These are the three sections of my part in our presentation:

    Prior to the 20th century, women in China were considered essentially different from men. Despite the association of women with yin & men with yang – two qualities that were considered equally important by Daoism – women were believed to occupy a lower position than men in the hierarchal order of the entire universe. The “I Ching” – which was an ancient divination text that encompassed a series of philosophical commentaries – stated that “Great Righteousness is shown in that man and woman occupy their correct places; the relative positions of Heaven and Earth.” What that essentially meant was, women were to be submissive and obedient to men, and were consequently forbidden to participate in government counsel or community institutions. So here you have one whole alienated gender where half of Old China’s population owned absolutely zero right or say in the order of social hierarchy nor social construction. As a result, people in power brainwashed the nation into believing that all women were considered weaker, dumber, inferior to men, and should only be valued for their ability to complete housework and give birth. Women could not own land, choose their marriage partner, receive an education or divorce their husbands. She would always be considered a possibility of a worthless object sold into slavery, and the ONLY way to raise her status would be to deliver a son. Traditional Chinese values against girls and women in general were sexist, degrading, manipulative, often putting them at risk of domestic violence and chronic depression. Their fates were determined by society, carried out within familial relations, and obeyed by the victim.

  8. Continued ...


    a) “Jook Liang, if you want a place in this world do not be born a girl-child. A girl-child is mo yung - useless” – Poh-Poh (27).
    It is a very natural emotion for elders and parents to be extremely harsh with words and physically abuse females. When Poh-Poh repetitively reminds Jook-Liang that she is useless and worthless, she is reinforcing cultural values upon the younger generation. This is a vicious and manipulating cycle that may have continued if Jook-Liang had grown up in China rather than Canada.

    b) “A waste of good money. All useless!” – Poh-Poh (29).
    Poh-Poh said this right when Wong Suk had spent $0.15 on the ribbon laces for Jook-Liang’s tap shoes. Again, we see that the grandmother clearly doesn’t value the granddaughter as someone worthy of another person’s money, attention, care or love.

    c) At seven, Grandmother was told how lucky she was to be a house servant and not one of the field servants. Then, the First Concubine’s fists fell on her lucky body; some days, her thin child’s back was whipped with a knotted belt and beaten with a switch. Cowed, shaking, Grandmother was dragged by her long hair and flung back into her narrow bedding by the kitchen door. “Learn or die,” First Concubine screamed, her long fingernails clawing at the air (32).
    Here we are given a very graphic background story of where Poh-Poh had learned to be so ruthless and unforgiving of Jook-Liang’s playful ways. We see that Poh-Poh was atrociously trained at a very young age under the brutal surveying eyes of her housemasters. This included the required willingness to comply to all orders, mature faster than other kids her age and learn all the necessary tasks by a certain time. She is so used to the social conditioning of girls and women of her time, that she has become blind-sighted to how they should actually be treated be society, and thus is completely unaccepting of Western ideals regarding gender equality.

    The Chinese tradition of foot binding started thousands of years ago and is believed to have been a sign of wealth and beauty. Women of noble birth all had their feet bound, while only the eldest daughter of a lower-class family who intended to be brought up as a lady had her feet bound. Her normal-footed sisters would grow up to be bond-servants or domestic slaves, and, when old enough, the concubines of rich men or the wives of laboring men – would work in the fields alongside. In contrast, the tiny narrow feet of the "ladies" were considered beautiful and made a woman's movements more feminine and dainty. It was assumed these eldest daughters would never need to work. Eventually foot binding became very popular because men thought it to be highly attractive.

    One of the overarching themes with the narration of Sek-Lung heavily involves anti-Japanese sentiments. From the quotes above, readers can feel the child’s innocent hatred, distrust, intimidation and fear of the Japanese. I want to emphasis on the word “innocent,” because it is a proven fact that our physical surrounding and social upbringing vastly shape how we see ourselves and where we stand within our given circumstances with the world. Sek-Lung at the time is a 7-year-old boy who is thrown into a world of war and chaos, of grievance and dehumanization, and is essentially just a boy who is consistently being told of who “the real enemy” is. His family and society does not give him enough time to form opinions of his own, nor does he have the sufficient mental capacity to effectively organize his thoughts and evaluate moral reasoning because he as well is just as discriminated and treated unfairly as the Japanese. All he is told is what has been done by the Japanese, what bloodshed and harm have the Japanese caused to his own kind, and what the right way to see this war is.

    Sek-Lung had just witnessed “the enemy” with his own eyes in Japtown due to being dragged around by Meiying. Scurrying off after being shooed by the Japanese community, Sek-Lung is thrilled to have met the enemy, and strangely proceeds to feel empowered, even relieved, to have been in the heart of Little Tokyo. Then he suddenly remembers that his Father had joined a rally in Chinatown that piled goods from Japan and either smashed them or set them ablaze.This puts Sek-Lung in a very difficult position, as he attempts to weigh in the pros and cons of reporting Meiying and her Japanese boyfriend Kazuo, or simply keeping it to himself. He understands that she has entrusted him with such a treacherous secret, and he quickly gives in to the favour. As the story goes on, we still see a trail of indecisiveness from Sek-Lung, where he warms up to Kazuo and actually enjoys going on these adventures with Meiying to Japtown, yet nonetheless feels like he needs to be guarded and watchful at all times, hence his contemplation of acquiring a Jung’s scout knife.

  10. Continued ...


    a) “There were tales of incredible enemy cruelty. A cousin wrote from Shanghai how the Japanese army were burying people alive, women and children. Another wrote how she witnessed living people, tied to posts, being used for bayonet practice. There were even darker rumours: the Japanese had camps for medical experiments and women hostages.” (225 – Sek-Lung)

    b) “On June 20, 1941, at 10:15PM, shelling from a Japanese submarine hit Estevan Point on Vancouver Island; then, a day later, shells hit the Oregon coast. An unidentified submarine was spotted in the Strait. It’s true, I thought. The enemy is everywhere.” (196 – Sek-Lung)

    c) Behind all the grown-up war talk, my tanks and planes roared, killing every Japanese in sight. I absorbed Chinatown’s hatred of the Japanese, the monsters with bloodied buck teeth, no necks, and thick Tojo glasses; I wanted to kill every one of them.” (227 – Sek-Lung)

    d) I thought of secretly borrowing Jung’s large scout knife. After all, going back to Japtown could be dangerous, just like in a real war zone. A few years ago, one Halloween night, mobs of white men in masks and armed with clubs had rioted in Japtown, smashing plate glass windows, kicking down doors, looking whatever they could carry away.” (248 – Sek-Lung)

    e) A half block away, I turned around and could see the row of store display lights clicking off early to meet the blackout rules. These were the same Japanese stores selling Japan-made goods that everyone in Vancouver was boycotting. Buy their toys and foodstuffs, and you buy a bullet aimed at the Chinese. (247 – Sek-Lung)

    f) “That first week of January 1942, Father came home to say the Japanese were being taken away. Camps were being built for them. Chinatown heard that Japtown was to be seized and auctioned to the highest bidders.” (272 – Sek-Lung)


    This was a time of great discrimination against immigrants, particularly those from China. The Canadian government was constantly trying to dig up any reasons for Chinese immigrant families to leave, and so therefore many false immigration stories were fabricated in order to prolong survival, thus secrets were to be kept within families pertaining to any suspicious familial relations (paper sons, paper uncles, paper years).

    The Chinese head tax was a fixed fee charged to each Chinese person entering Canada. The head tax was first imposed after the Canadian parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 and was meant to discourage Chinese people from entering Canada after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway.


    a) “… half-folded documents stamped CP RAILROAD, B.C. with Chinese words in black ink, signed with red chop marks … all important papers. “One day they say Old Wong okay-okay. Next day, Wong stinky Chink.” “(47 – Jook-Liang)

    b) “There were papers dated in the year 18-something that said Wong Suk was to pay back, through his labour, the steerage fare from Canton, his bonding tax, plus give back so many years of his wages for shelter, food, and the privilege of being allowed to pay interest on his debts.” (50 – Jook-Liang)

  12. I forgot to add it early, but here are the links to the other interpretations I found. My notes aren't of much use because most of what I talked about was from my head. Hopefully being able to read the links will still help.
    Anthony Burke:

  13. Wayson Choy's The Jade Peony is a great piece of Canadian literature. It tells the story of the experience of Chinese Canadians living in early Chinatown. The theme of identity appears in the novel. Identity is derived from the culture that one is exposed to. As Chinese Canadians, our character have trouble with conflict between the two cultures. As if two cultures is not enough, the characters must learn to accept their Japan town neighbours. Unfortunately, this does not seem to happen as the visits are uncomfortable and hostile.

    Secondly, in the novel, the Chinese people face discrimination from the Canadian government. It was obvious that they wanted them to leave. A head tax fee was applied for any Chinese person entering Canada.

    Furthermore, we see gender biases embedded in traditional Chinese values. Some examples include viewing women in a lower position than men. Women were to be submissive and obedient. We see examples from Poh-Poh. She shows signs of devaluing her granddaughter when she complains about Jook-Liang's ribbons. Poh-Poh says they are too expensive, as if stating that her granddaughter is not worth an expensive gift.

    Next, readers see the significance of clothing. Jook-Liang idolizes Shirley Temple. With her tap shoes and dance clothing, she "becomes" Shirley Temple, breaking out of her useless child stereotype.

    Lastly, The Jade Peony introduces readers to ancestor worship. It is a ritual for showing respect for the spirit world. It is preferred that the deceased would have a peaceful passage. It is important to remain happy in the afterlife. When Poh-Poh passes away, it forces the family to connect to their heritage.

    Overall, I quite thoroughly enjoyed the novel. It was quite educational regarding Chinese culture and heritage. I would definitely recommend it to my friends, classmates, and coworkers.

  14. I absolutely loved this novel; it was incredibly beautiful! I've actually already recommended it to one of my best friends who also loves to read.
    It was very unique to me; the subject matter, time period, and area were all areas I knew nothing about, so the story felt very fresh and unexplored. I felt the writing style in particular was beautiful, mixing in various aspects of Chinese dialect with "modern Canadian" dialect.
    The symbolism was really powerful and added so many layers to the story, many of which I didn't pick up on when I first read it. Talking about it in class and hearing the presentations really helped me understand the more subtle aspects of the story.
    One part that really stuck out to me was Sek-Lung's story of being in Miss Doyle's class. I really loved Miss Doyle's character, because she goes out of her way to make her classroom a safe space where each child is valued and can feel comfortable to learn what they need, particularly when they feel rejected by "mainstream" Canadian society.
    I also really loved Meiying's character, and was honestly upset when she died. She is so kind to everyone around her, and smart and talented, but the cultural and societal barriers around her that prevent her from loving who she wants are really powerful and sad.

  15. I loved this novel, particularly because of the way Choy is able to examine such a complex socio - historic time in a very subtle way. While I am not an english major I still have a love for literature and found Choy's writing style particularly interesting. By narrating the story through the lives of the three children he is able to explore very complicated issues such as identity and racism in an innocent and almost naive way.

    I really agree with Mischa and the significance of Miss Doyle's class. This was definitely my favourite part of the book and demonstrated to me the significance of multiculturalism during this time. I found this part interesting because through out the novel we see the three siblings struggle with their identity as Chinese - Canadians, but through the narrative of Miss Doyle's class we can see that this struggle is not uncommon. The class is made up of children from a variety of backgrounds that are all struggling to fit in society, but in Miss Doyle's class they feel a sense of unity, and solidarity in their struggles. I think that this sentiment is exemplified in this quote "At recess our dialects and accents conflicted our clothes heights and handicaps betrayed us, our skin colours and backgrounds clashed but inside Miss E. Doyle's tightly disciplined kingdom we were all - lions or lambs - equals. We had a glimpse of paradise."

  16. One unmentioned detail in The Jade Peony is the names which Wayson Choy has placed upon his major characters. Jook-Liang, the only sister, is likely derived from "candlelight"; this may signify her dreams of being an "illuminator", by becoming a performer like her idol Shirley Temple. The second brother, Jung-Sum, is literally translated as "loyalty" or "devotion". This is most ironic given that Jung-Sum is not of biological lineage to the family, but rather an adopted son. Giving him a name which signifies such fidelity may instead indicate Jung-Sum's instability as a character, desperately seeking approval with his community, and his loyal bonding with his love, Frank Yuen. Sek-Lung, the youngest brother, has the most literal name of the three narrators. His name likely refers to "stone dragon". While Chinese myths do not refer to any stone dragons, Choy's naming convention may indicate Sek-Lung's dragon-like vigor and passion coupled with a stony resistance seen from his character.

    1. Oh wow, I had no idea! Thanks for letting us know about this, Michael!

    2. That's super interesting, thanks a lot.

  17. Wayson Choy's cultural background and the setting in which he lived in while growing up gives him a unique and accurate perspective of the setting in the Jade Peony. One thing I always wondered of was what the Jade pieces represented. This was found to be the realities of the world.
    Pieces of jade are not just jewelry to Chinese. It’s a magical stone, inheriting the spiritual qualities of the person who wears the stone – these jade pieces are then passed on that represent history (of the grandma) but the children don’t know the full history – but to Poh-Poh, it is a symbol of how she survived – tale of survival (humor/tolerance/kindness in order to survive - People can survive, no matter how terrible the times)
    I also found oppression to sharing a role in the theme of the novel. Oppression of people can give people the strength to survive (irony) – Chinatown community – history and culture that they refer to as pride – added strength to how to stand together

  18. I listen to loads of podcasts (hit me up for a recommendation).
    I was listening to this during my commute and I immediately thought of The Jade Peony. It's about a lot of things (war, Vietnamese culture, nail salons, music, loss, etc.), but in part it's about how a Vietnamese woman became a U.S. citizen after the Vietnam War and renamed herself Shirley, after Shirley Temple. She says, "When I become U.S. citizen I change directly to Shirley Huynh. My Vietnamese name kind of difficult to pronounce: 'Hang' ...My life is change, I should change my name too, because I live in the United States." Her part comes up at around 9 minutes in, if you wanted to listen:

    So there's the obvious connection to be made with Jook-Liang. I also thought about Jung-Sum renaming Lao Kwei to King George, because he wasn't a Chinese turtle, and he couldn't be named Hopalong because that's an American reference. Kiam wants to call himself "Ken" and Jook-Liang adds, "Jenny [Chong] says we should all have real English names. When we're outside of Chinatown, we should try not to be so different."

    1. Everyone in my family, other than my gran, has an English name as well as a Vietnamese name (becoming our middle name). We use our Vietnamese names at home & in family situations, and our English names for everything else. My parents wanted to keep things simple when naming my brother and I, as they did when they chose English names for themselves. My dad's name is Phuong, and in English he's Phillip. My mum's name is Nhan, and her "English" name is Kim, except Kim is also a Vietnamese name and one that's been a part of our family for a long time, so she sorta cheated. My Vietnamese name is also Kim. They wanted to give me a longer name but decided it would be alienating/strange so I have a little name that would compliment the English name they wanted for me. "Kathy" meant "pure" which was good, especially good when "Kim" means gold, and it had the "K" sound. Continuing with the themes of alliteration and desire to help their kids be socially accepted, they named my brother "Shawn." His Vietnamese name being "Son" (prn. Shuhn) combined with our family name: Thai, refers to Thai Son, a mountain in China that has significance to Vietnamese people (sacredness, presence in a well known proverb espousing Confucian morals + ideal of filial piety) as you've probably noticed by the numerous Pho restaurants named after it.
      So yeah, in my family it boils down to meaning and acceptance. It probably also just seemed like the thing to do. Like Shirley says in the podcast, or the children in the Jade Peony, they felt that it was only right to have a name in the language in which they now reside. Names come from books with meanings, but also from pop culture. For example, my cousin Michelle was named after -- you got it dude -- the Full House baby. In the case of my aunt and uncle, they saw this cute kid on television in a quaint, loving American family, and my cousin said they sought to emulate the lifestyle.

  19. Hey everyone, here are my presentation notes from the Jade Peony. I chose to focus on language, and the was in which language relates to identity throughout the book.

    Throughout the book, language plays an important role in each of the main characters lives but in different ways. As the story is about the lives of three Chinese Canadian kids growing up in Chinatown Vancouver, the significant languages in the book are Chinese and English. While the book is mainly written in English, the author uses Chinese phrases and words often the text, especially in conversations between the characters.

    The function of alternating between English and Chinese throughout the story serves several purposes. Often the author switches from English to Chinese for the purpose of emphasis when a character is speaking, but other times Chinese is used to convey thoughts, emotions, and practices that are a-typical of Canadian culture and society.

    It is particularly interesting to see the variety of Chinese dialects that are found throughout the text, ranging from dialects supposedly only found in small towns in provinces in Southern China, to broader Cantonese and Mandarin. I believe that one of the ideas that the author was attempting to convey through the use of so many forms of Chinese language, spoke to the diversity and the vast range of areas across China that people had immigrated to Canada from.

    As I mentioned earlier language plays an important role in each of the three characters lives, but in different ways for each. For the first character, Jook-Liang, it seems that both Chinese and English are equally significant languages for her. As she is pretty young in the story, it makes sense that she is surrounded mostly by adults at this point in her life, many of which speak a variety of dialects around her, so as her character develops it becomes apparent that while she is quite proficient in English, she also understands or at least acknowledges quite a few different dialects, and to a greater extent than her other two siblings do. This gives her character an interesting perspective as she seems to be equally as comfortable communicating in both Chinese and English, a skill that many others in the story don’t seem to possess, and also seems to have a more intimate understanding of Canadian society for a person of her age.

    For the second character, Jung-Sum, the first significant occurrence relative to language is when his new family who speaks a completely different dialect that he does adopts him. As he lives with his new family and learns this new dialect, components of the language play a role in his identity, for example the pronunciation of his name in this new dialect is different than he has ever heard his name before, so its essentially as if someone gave you a new name when they adopted you. Obviously it would have some sort of impact on your identity.

    For the third character, Sek-Lung, language plays an interesting role. Whereas the other two siblings do not seem to struggle with speaking both Chinese and English, Sek-Lung is portrayed by often being frustrated by the various Chinese dialects that are spoken by the other characters. As a result, he seems to struggle more than the other two siblings with respect to two identities, Chinese and Canadian.

    Common for all three characters is an interesting resentment of Mandarin and being required to learn it in school. They all lament learning Mandarin and claim that they are Cantonese speakers, and find Mandarin confusing. I found this interesting because it seems to be a shift as now most Chinese Canadians speak Mandarin and not Cantonese.

  20. Hello, everyone! I am just going to post my part of the Jade Peony presentation here!

    Three important Chinese myths were mentioned..

    "She was midway through telling me a story about the Monkey King, who was being sent on another adventure by the Buddha" (15)
    Monkey King: A main character of the Chinese classical novel Journey to the West. The monkey king was born from a stone egg that was fertilized by the grace of Heaven and Earth. He ruled over a kingdom of monkeys on a remote island but realized that he was destined to die like everybody else. Knowing this, the Monkey King made it his goal to become immortal. He became a disciple of a daoist priest and learned martial arts, cloud dancing (an art that enabled him to leap thousands of miles with one jump) and how to magically transform into 72 different images. The Monkey King caused a lot of mischief with these new abilities: he seized the Dragon King's crown treasure: a huge gold-banded iron rod that can expand or shrink at his command and wiped his name and all of the monkeys from the God of Death’s registry of Life and Death. The Jade Emperor, which is the ruler of Heaven, decided to offer the Monkey King an official title in Heaven to stop this mischief without telling him he would have little authority. When he learns that he is just the object of ridicule in Heaven, he gobbles up longevity pills, stuffs his face with the Peaches of Immortality, wreaks havoc in Heaven and goes back to Earth. The Jade Emperor then sends the Heavenly Army to punish the Monkey King but with the help of his stone sturdiness, the pills, the peaches, and his immortality, nothing can be done to him. The Jade Emperor finally calls on Buddha for help. Buddha imprisons the Monkey King under a great mountain for five hundred long years until a monk comes along. Buddha arranges for the Monkey King, along with Pig and Sandy (who used to be celestial generals) to become disciples of the Monk and escort him on his journey to the West to get the Sutra (Buddhist holy book).

    "A strand of hair fell over the Old One's narrow eyes and made me think of the cunning Fox Lady my mother had warned me about." (89)
    Fox Lady: A fox demon capable of acquiring human form. Fox demons can be seen as good spirits: both being helpful and being involved in love stories but they were typically seen as dangerous demons. Some of the dangerous fox demons were said to have the ability to disguise themselves as an elderly woman and gain the trust of children. While the children least expect it, the fox demon will devour them as their next meal.

    "In spite of myself, I was sure his ancestry belonged to the Great Turtle in Old China..." (81)
    Great Turtle in Old China: A sea turtle that had its' legs cut off by a creator goddess to prop up the sky after a sea monster destroyed the mountain that was previously holding up the sky.

    In the Jade Peony, the Monkey King and the Great turtle myth were altered to appeal more to children. The Monkey King in the Jade Peony was more about adventure than the consequences and the Great turtle myth in the Jade Peony became less gruesome because instead of chopping off legs, the world rested on the turtles back. Although some of these Chinese myths were transformed, we are given a sense of Chinese culture by getting a glimpse of the popular myths that are exchanged within the Chinese community.

  21. Alongside these Chinese myths, there were also mentions of things that were more from the western culture with the most notable mention being Shirley Temple.

    "I took my favourite pose, the one Shirley Temple does with her tiny hands tucked under her chin; you know, bright eyed -- My goodness! -- just before all the grownups praise her for a song well sung, a dance well danced." (33)
    Shirley Temple: Born on April 23rd in the year 1928. She was a leading child actress during the Great Depression. When Shirley was just 3 years old, she landed a contract with Educational Pictures, making her acting debut in a string of low-budget movies dubbed “Baby Burlesques” and at the age of 3 ½, her mother enrolled her in dance classes. The exposure through “Baby Burlesques” led her to a contract with the Fox Film Corporation. By the age of 6 years old, she appeared in her first Hollywood feature film, Carolina. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called her “Little Miss Miracle” for raising the public’s morale during times of economic hardship. This changed, however, as Shirley Temple began to mature. Her popularity with audiences waned because they struggled to accept that their “Little Miss Miracle” was growing up. Her career as a popular film star ended much earlier than most entertainers’ had begun. From then on, Shirley Temple focused her attention on politics. She became a United States diplomat for the United Nations. Shirley Temple died of natural causes on February 10th, 2014 at the age of 85 in her home near San Francisco, California.

    The fact that Jook-liang is aware of Shirley Temple and even dreams of being like Shirley is proof of her Chinese-Canadian identity. Their family is influenced by both the Western and Chinese culture as we hear about both Shirley Temple and Chinese myths such as the Monkey King.

    These stories, however, do not only function as a proof of their Chinese-Canadian identity. It also shows how traditional Chinese values can be pushed aside. In particular, in the Jade Peony, Jung-sum believes the turtle's ancestry belonged to the Great Turtle in Old China. Jung-Sum wants to name it "lao-kwei" (Old Turtle), in regards to the Great Turtle myth and Bobby Steinberg states it is "not a Chinese Turtle" with disgust (pg. 82). Jung-Sum then settles with naming the turtle “King George” instead of using a Chinese name. This shows how easily Jung-Sum turned away from the traditional Chinese values because he did not embrace these old values and defend it. Rather, he accepted the disregarding of the importance of this Great Turtle myth and settled with naming it something that is not Chinese because it "is not a Chinese turtle."

  22. The Jade Peony has actually become one of my most favourite books. The first time I encountered this book was in grade 12 where we read a short part of the book. The selection was the part where Grandmother was looking through the garbage cans with Sek-Lung to find more items to add to the wind chime. I think that the reason this part of the book was selected out of all the other scenes is because of its immense significance in the book. The wind chime, in my opinion, is very significant because it reflects how similar it is to the plot of the book, where everyone serves as a different piece of the book and may appear like a piece of “garbage” at first, but when put together with the other pieces, they form a wind chime/an item that can help unite all the family members together. What I find also significant in this scene is how the grandmother is the one who takes the initiative to create this wind chime, which can be interpreted as her being the one who tries to unite the family together. She is the one who starts to look for the pieces to put together the wind chime and asks Sek-Lung to help her with this task. Perhaps this is why she gives the jade peony piece to Sek-Lung, because she hopes that when she is gone, Sek-Lung can take over her role in making sure the family stays united.

  23. The relationship between Jook-Liang and Wong Suk influenced Jook-Liang. This relationship helped Jook-Liang's identity as her grandmother kept pressuring her to adopt to the Chinese lifestyle. Meanwhile, Wong Suk pushed her to persue her dreams. He also helped her feel wanted as she became a member of their family and a solid contribute to society. The second most important relationship in the novel is between Jung-Sum and Frank. This relationship helps Jung-Sum find his true passion for life: boxing and Frank. He becomes very shy and keeps himself within the closest with his same sex interests. When Frank leaves for the US Marine, Jung-Sum is crushed and we could never truly find out about his full potential. The friendship between Sek-Lung and Meiying is also important. When May brought Sekky to Powell Ground, in Japtown, he was quite skeptical. After meeting Meiying's boyfriend to go to the park, Sek-Lung's perspective of the Japs changed. Not liking one person due to their race should not influence one’s perspective of that race as a whole. People are rude because they are rude, not because of their racial background.

  24. This was a pretty impactful read to me. A lot of times in the past when I had expressed how as someone who was born in China, I failed to feel meaningfully connected to a lot of Canadian history, I would often get told something like, "oh, but the railways! but the wars!" and I would just accept it with a shrug. This novel gave insight into the lives of Chinese-Canadians living in Vancouver nearly a century ago and if anything, it has only reaffirmed the feeling of difference. Their struggles and the struggles I face now are so different, and having grown up not in Vancouver, where I feel like "race issues", or however you'd like to call it, are rather different from back home, I don't feel any particular connection to these characters (who mostly can't even speak Mandarin, my mother tongue). It was a very interesting and eye-opening book to how I might approach my own identity and those who would fit under the same sort of label as "Chinese-Canadian".

  25. One of the novels I really enjoyed was The Jade Peony. It gave a really good idea of how Canadian Asians, who were born and in Canada, feel growing up in a bicultural environment. I found some of the characters similar to those in Tales From Firozsha Baag because they were also struggling with the concept of identity. Both novels had characters that struggled to figure out who they were and felt out of place in both cultures.

    I think symbolism was a very important part of the story and the class presentations helped me pick up of many of the symbols that the novel had. Until the presentations I did not know just how much significance the white cat held. The cat symbolizes that it is Grandma’s time to move on to her next life (one where she will be reunited with the Juggler). The cat not only symbolizes this but it also brings back memories of her lover and the feelings that she has for him. After grandma saw the cat she was ready to pass away and she felt that the cat was to bring her into her next life.