Jade Peony Essay, Research Paper
The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy, is a novel depicting Vancouver’s Chinatown in the early thirties. The story that takes place before the times of World War II, and is told through the eyes of three different siblings: Jook-Liang, Jung-Sum and the young Sek-Lung; three children born from a Chinese family, but raised in Canada. For this immigrant family, life in Vancouver’s Chinatown is difficult; both parents are forced to work constantly in order to provide a satisfactory and safe living environment for the three children. Life for the children is seemingly safe, however, each is not without his or her own internal struggles. Individually, they continually strive to form a self-identity, while battling to meet expectations set by a society that often makes its judgement based on age, gender, and ethnicity. Nevertheless, each child has found his or her own way in coping with this immutable struggle through the exploration and fabrication of their own imaginative world. For Liang, she finds encouragement and pleasure from Wong Suk, whom Liang believes, is a “bandit-prince in disguise”. For the adopted Jung, his mistrust for others has made him believe that Poh-Poh is the Fox Lady; and for the young Sekky, he is able to find comfort and a sense of security through his Old China grandmama. With the absence of both working parents, Poh-Poh is left with the responsibility to take care of Liang, the “useless only-granddaughter that wants to be Shirlee Tem-po-lah,” (Choy, 34) as Poh-Poh has described her. To Poh-Poh, Liang is a “mo yung girl,” (36) as she is born into the female gender and traditionally thought as an unfavorable and useless child within the Chinese community. This in term has caused relationship between Poh-Poh and Liang to become relatively distant in comparison with the imminent relationship between Poh-Poh and Sekky, who is born into the male gender. Poh-Poh cannot tolerate Liang’s “Canadian” ways and constantly scolds Liang for “too much playing, and learn nothing.” (39). Liang’s dream of becoming Shirley Temple is also disapproved by the Old One as being foolish, who invariably reminds Liang that she will always be Chinese, not Canadian, and Liang cannot become the blonde hair and blue eyed movie star she dreams of. Despite all the criticisms and negative comments forced upon Liang by Poh-Poh, Liang realizes that she is in fact not useless nor ugly. Wong Suk, an old family acquaintance, unlike grandmama, addresses Liang as the “pretty one,” (25). This intimate relationship between the monkey-faced, crippled Old Wong and the “mo yung” girl is a rewarding and positive one for each. Liang’s affectionate attitude toward Old Wong is reciprocated with constant attention from Wong; an attention that Liang fails to receive from both her own parents and Poh-Poh. Instead of giving constant scolding like grandmama, Wong Suk encourages Liang to tap dance and further emulates her idol, Shirley Temple. The Monkey King pampers Liang and addresses her as the “bandit-princess,” (34). To Wong Suk, Liang is everything but a “mo yung” girl. She is precious, like a princess, perhaps someone even more precious than a princess. As one of Chinatown’s bachelor man, Wong Suk is not married, and Liang may as well play the closest role as a daughter to Wong Suk.
Like Liang’s uplifting belief in Wong Suk as the Monkey King and “bandit-prince in disguise,” Jung makes the contrary belief that Poh-Poh is the malicious and evil Fox Lady. Jung, a boy that is always looking for the hidden enemy, is told the story of Fox Lady. As related by his mother, the Fox Lady often disguises herself as an elderly lady to prey on innocent children. Through an unfortunate early childhood, Jung develops a sense of mistrust for the people surrounding him; this mistrust may well have stemmed from the brutal abuse from his birth father at an earlier age. This makes him observant and defensive; someone who is always looking for a sign that others are not trustworthy, or who may posses the qualities of a Fox Lady. To Jung’s young mind, everyone seems to be a potential danger, he is constantly looking for that “furry tail waving frantically” (83) behind someone back. Although this mistrust towards the others presumably shapes Jung to appear to be tough and wary, but in reality, Jung’s own uncertainty for others creates an unrelenting alienation, which makes him more vulnerable, and weak rather than the tough and wary, as he himself would like to believe. Just like Liang’s love for tap dancing helps her cope with the constant scolding of being the “mo yung” girl, Jung’s love for shadow boxing helps him to overcome his feeling of alienation and weakness. Shadow boxing also represents another interesting notion in which it serves as a parallel of Jung’s constant battle with himself; the internal existence constantly in conflict with the external image. He refuses to cry under any circumstances, and is to uphold a tough exterior. He is a child who has to learn and cope with the lost of both parents; a child being forced to grow up fast, but within him, there’s a part of his past childhood that he cannot control nor change. With Jung attempting to resolve his own internal struggles, the young Sekky, a “child with no language,” is confused and puzzled as to whether to identify himself either as Chinese or Canadian, neither, or both. Sekky finds himself divided within in a world that practice China’s old way, and yet with the necessity of learning new customs. With all these burden Most favored by Poh-Poh, Sekky gets the most attention from the old one, and as youngest of all the siblings, Sekky also finds refuge and enjoyment through grandmama’s story telling of all the mythical stories and ghost tales. Sekky’s believe in ghost and the supernatural keeps Poh-Poh alive within him even after the old one has passed away. Although Sekky is most favored by Poh-Poh, he too, gets scolded by the old one as being “mo no,” or brainless, a child “born neither this nor that, neither Chinese or Canadian.” (135). Though the setting and cultural inferences are instrumental in shaping Choy’s depiction of the children, by the end of the novel it is apparent that all of us, despite our cultural heritage, we share the same personal misgivings, self-doubts and dreams. While each character is drawn from the ‘traditional’ Chinese family, each person’s soul is recognizable throughout the world.