The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy

The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy

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The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy

The book is narrated by a little girl named Jook-Liang (or just Liang). You are introduced to her and her family who live in Vancouver B.C. during the Great Depression. She lives in a rundown house with her father; her real mom (who she's made to call Stepmother); the "old one", the children's grandmother-- Poh-Poh; and 3 brothers. The oldest Kiam; second oldest-- an orphan the family adopted Jung-Sum; and then would be Liang; and then the youngest child Sek-Lung (or Sekky).

One day an old man comes to join the family for supper-- he new Poh-Poh from Old China... the man is odd looking and Liang thinks him to be "the Monkey Man" from the ghost stories her grams is always telling. Regardless Liang and this man she comes to call Wong-Suk become great friends. They go to the movies together and get jeered at (I'm not sure if this is beacause 'Beauty and the Beast' or because they are Chinese); he tells her stories; and she dances for him.

Liang's main interests consist of movies, stories, tap-dancing, and imitating Shirley Temple. Wong-Suk buys her expensive, beautiful ribbon one day for her second hand tap shoes and Poh-Poh helps her tie them into fancy flowers. -- This is where we learn a bunch about Poh-Poh's childhood. She was born in China and so it was already too bad that she had be born a girl child. But further more she was sort of disfigured. Her forehead was sloppy and mis-shapen and immediately everyone told her mother she was the ugliest baby ever. Her mother sold her to a wealthy family; where she was a servant. The concubine would beat her and their other servants with a rod-- as if they were oxen. Poh-Poh had to learn to do things quickly and flawlessly or she would be beaten. Her fingers would bleed because she was practicing tying these intricet(abc?) patterns. She of course grew out of her 'deformity' and was quite a pretty lady.

She even married at one point, a man from a circus-- but one day he just never came back. Anyways, Poh-Poh is always telling Liang that she is a useless girlchild.

Now, so Liang got all dressed up and waited and waited for Wong-Suk to come... and he finally did, but not to see her dance.

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The family all got ready and drove him to the harbour where he boarded a boat taking old bones of Chinafolk back to Old China... he sailed away from his bandit princess (Liang) and she never saw her Prince again.

is told by Jung-Sum. He was abused by his family and at one point his father killed his mother---- Jung doesn't remember this... but this is where a neighbor took him and brought him to the Tong Association where he was put with his new family-- Liang and everybody.

Jung is a somewhat angry child (I think this stems from the abuse he suffered from and witnessed as a young boy). He gets involved with boxing at a local gym and one day gets in a fight with his mentor and just won't give up--- this is probably because he can now stand up for himself... things get carried away but in the end they are both okay.

---- I'm sure a lot more happens in this part but none of it stands out to me at this point----

There is a lot done in Pt.2 to setup the era in which the story takes place. His father works for a news reel and is always writing that the Chinese in Chinatown need to stick together and help each other; after all, if they don't... no one else will. Allot of this has to do with discrimination the Chinese-Canadians faced back then-- what with the Chinese Exclusion Act and all that was passed.

The soup kitchens cannot handle the hordes of starving people who are lined up. And the few churches that serve Chinatown are running out of clothes and food and stuff... there's not enough to go around.

Bachelor-men stay in overcrowded rundown huts where they sleep on floors and cots next to dead men until morning comes and the nuns come take the corpses away.

Jung's house is peeling paint, constantly cold, and the walls are stuffed with old newspaper. It is called a 'China man special'.

By the end of Part 2 Jung realizes that he is attracted to men; that he is gay. This is why he always felt different...

is narrated by the youngest Sek-Lung. Sekky along with Liang are stepmothers biological children. As we know, Jung was adopted; and the oldest boy, brother Kiam was born in Old China to Fathers first wife.

Since birth, and for years Sek-Lung was a sickly boy. He had lung problems and was constantly coughing--- lucky for the family it was never positve for T.B. otherwise they would be outcast and a sign posted out front their house reading "Condemned".

Because Sekky was so sick (and also a boy! -- how magnificant! :p) he was showered attention from Poh-Poh, and lots of love. He couldn't attend school for a long time and so his brothers and sister would tutor him at home. Sekky wanted desperately to go to school.

Later on in the story, Poh-Poh passes on. And poor Sek-Lung, who loved his grandma soo much sees her ghost throughout the house. Nobody else does, and at first his father tries to dismiss the boys notions... but the family was culturally somewhat superstisious, so they send her off properlly. And Sekky never sees her again. But he starts feeling better--- Poh-Poh always said one day he would be healthy enough and would get to go to school! And he does, Sekky thanks Poh-Poh for this.

At school he is admitted to a special class of immigrants. They are given special attention and lots of emphasis is placed on proper english grammar and pronunciation.

By now the war with Japan is raging, and they have attacked Pearl Harbour... there is tonnes of racism against the "Japs". And trouble on the playground between the Japanese kids and the others.

Sekky has a bunch of friends and their favourite pass time is to play war games amungst themselves and with their war toys. One day Sekky gets carried away and lights something on fire. From then on he has to go straight from school to Mrs. Lim's across the way. Here, he is babysat by a beautiful girl named Meiying (Mei).

Mei and Sekky become partners in crime when they enter in to the Japanese parts of Vancouver. Where they venture to a baseball field where Mei's Japanese boyfriend is.... they are stared at and stir up trouble for themselves. The other Jap. men say they should stick with their own kind.

But Mei is in love. This continues for some time. Then oneday they went to a public library together and when they were leaving Stepmother saw them... they tried to make it look like nothing as Meiying's guy non-chalantly walked away.

Then, the Japanese started being sent off to concentration camps... Mei would never see the man she loved again.

After this things changed a lot. Sekky would go over to Mrs. Lim's and Mei would just sit up in her room the whole time and mope. Sometimes, Sekky would see Mei coming out of his moms room... where she and Stepmother had been talking for a while; sometime one of both of them would be crying.

... A scream is heard from across the street. And Stepmother and Sekky rush on over, to a frantic Mrs. Lim.
When they get up stairs, Stepmother stares in horror at Mei sprawled out on the floor, a pool of blood flowing out from her and her knitting needles jammed between her legs, and inside of her.

Stepmother tries to shield Sekky from the sight, but she was a little too late... Sekky had seen his dead freind laying there surrounded in blood... two shiny needles prodding her.

An abulance was called but took their sweet ass time getting there... after all, its only a Chinese woman...
when they arrived, they arrived much too late and didn't handle things too nicely.

Turns out that Mei was pregnant by her boyfriend and was trying to terminate the pregnancy because the baby would not be accepted and she would not have the support of her family and/or friends. Meiying died along with her dreams of love, and that loves baby that was growing inside of her.

The novel ends with Stepmother sitting in a chair and showing Liang a "New Stitch!". Which is to symbolize that things were going to change around there... that the women were to take on a different, and more important roll!! And just before the story ends, her own children call her Mother, in lui of Stepmother.

OH! And I almost forgot; the reason for the title... Poh-Poh had a small collection of precious stones and pieces of jade. One that was given to her by her circus husband was a pink piece of jade (which is rare) and it was shaped like a peony(a type of flower). When Poh-Poh died this was passed down in the family.


The major symbol in this novel is seen as the Jade Peony, a small amulet of pinkish jade carved in the shape of a peony. It is Poh Poh's most valued possession, which is passed onto Sek Lung after her death. The Jade Peony symbolized Old China's culture and traditions which stayed strong with Poh Poh in her new country. As it was passed on to Sek Lung, he began to develop more of Poh Poh's characteristics after her death. The Jade Peony was there for Sek Lung to keep his culture in Canada. The Peony was there to keep him from losing his culture like many other new immigrant children. As his whole family went through a series of changes to become more Canadian, he and the Peony were there to remind them of their cultural roots.
Poh-Poh=grandma in chinese.
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