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The Joy Luck Club

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Sara Bihlmaier

on 7 April 2014

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Transcript of The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club
by Amy Tan tells the story of four women born and raised in China in the early 20th century (the Mothers) and their daughters, born and raised in the United States. The story begins with the death of one of the Mothers, Suyuan Woo. After her death, her daughter Jing-mei "June" replaces her in the Mothers' mahjong group, called the Joy Luck Club. Over the course of a mahjong game the Mothers share their life stories which are intermixed with the stories of the four Daughters.

The Mothers The Daughters
Suyuan Woo Jing-mei "June" Woo
An-mei Hsu Rose Hsu Jordon
Lindo Jong Waverly Jong
Ying-ying St. Clair Lena St. Clair
The Joy Luck Club
by Amy Tan

Lindo and Waverly Jong
Lindo grew up in Taiyuan, China, in the countryside. When she was two years old, a matchmaker promised her to a boy named Tyan-yu from a much wealthier family. Ten years later, a large rain flooded a nearby river and destroyed Lindo's family home. The family was forced to move, but instead of taking her with them they sent Lindo to live with her future husband's family. After learning to be an obedient wive, Lindo married Tyan-yu when she was sixteen. Her mother-in-law was very anxious for grandchildren, but Tyan-yu had no interest in Lindo. Lindo then thought of a plan to give her mother-in-law grandchildren while also getting out of her marriage. Upon noticing that a servant girl's stomach was growing larger, Lindo claimed that she had a vision from their ancestors that Tyan-yu's heir would be born from the servant girl who was really descended from royalty, and if they did not get married he would die. After this news, the servant was welcomed into the family as Tyan-yu's new wive, and Lindo was given enough money to leave the house and eventually reach America.

In America, Lindo met and married a Cantonese man named Tin Jong. They had three kids, two boys and Waverly, the youngest, born in 1951. Waverly, named after the street where she lived so she would always have a connection to home, became interested in chess at an early age. She practiced for hours everyday and, much to her mother's delight, became a national chess champion by age nine and the pride of Chinatown. After a few years of success, however, a fight with her mother made Waverly refuse to practice anymore. Waverly started to lose competitions and eventually retired from chess at age fourteen. Many years later, Waverly married, had a daughter, and divorced. She eventually met another man, an American named Rich, and became engaged. After her failure at chess, Waverly's relationship with Lindo was never quite the same, and she was nervous to tell her about her fiance. Lindo, however, was well aware of her daughter's upcoming marriage, and the two were able to talk things over and repair the damage between them.
Ying-ying and Lena St. Clair
Ying-ying was born into a very wealthy family in Wushi, China in 1914. She was very wild and spoiled when she was young, but shortly after she turned sixteen her family arranged her marriage to a much older man. Ying-ying became an obedient wife, very unlike her normal self, but her husband frequently left on business for longer and longer periods of time. Not long after Ying-ying became pregnant at eighteen, her husband abandoned her for an opera singer in the city. The love for her husband turned to hate, and Ying-ying decided to have an abortion which was an acceptable practice at that time. After several years living with a poorer family member, Ying-ying moved to the city to make her own way in the world. There she met an American, Mr. St. Clair, who married her and brought her to the States.

Lena was the only child of the St. Clairs until her mother became pregnant with a baby boy. Unfortunately, the baby died immediately after it was born and Lena's mother became depressed and paranoid. Ying-ying had an uncanny ability to know things before they happened and always regretted never trying to stop them. Lena tried hard over the years to pull her mother out of her depression, but she always remained very withdrawn. Lena eventually married an American named Harold who wanted everything to be shared equally. All the couple's expenses were split between the two based on what each one used. Lena became increasingly unhappy with her marriage, which her mother had known would happen, but continued to struggle though it. With the encouragement of her mother, however, Lena began to think about how to put her life back together.
Suyuan and Jing-mei Woo
Suyuan, born and raised in China, was married to a Chinese military officer. When the Japanese arrived in China, they moved to Kweilin to escape with their twin baby daughters. Suyuan's husband had to move on to a different city, leaving her and her daughters alone. It was then that she created the original Joy Luck Club with three of her neighbors. When news arrived of the approaching Japanese soldiers, the people gathered what belongings they could carry and walked out of town. Suyuan walked for days, having to drop her belongings and even her food along the way. Incredibly sick, and knowing she was on the edge of death, Suyuan reluctantly left her babies under a tree by the side of the road. She tucked the jewelry she had left into their blankets and a note explaining their situation. Shortly afterward, Suyuan fainted and was taken to a hospital by American missionaries. It was there she learned her husband had died, and met her future husband. After several years spent unsuccessfully searching for her lost babies, Suyuan and her new husband left for America although she never gave up hope that the girls were still alive.

Jing-mei was born in the United States, an only child, and grew up attempting to be a prodigy like her friend Waverly. Jing-mei unsuccessfully tried music, acting, and many other pursuits at the request of her mother before Suyuan reluctantly gave up. Jing-mei went to college but never finished, which further disappointed her mother. After Suyuan's death, Jing-mei learned from the other Mothers that the twins Suyuan left were still alive and had sent a letter to their real mother. The letter came too late for Suyuan to know her children were alive, but upon the urging of the Mothers Jing-mei decided to go to China to meet her sisters. Knowing her sisters would want to know about their mother, Jing-mei set out to learn more about Suyaun's past. Eventually, Jing-mei and her father went to China and met the twins that Suyuan had given up years before.
Historical Context
The early 20th century was a turbulent time for China. In 1911, the Chinese Revolution brought the end of imperial rule and created the new Republic of China. After numerous uprisings during the course of the revolution a republican government was established, although the communist party would struggle for dominance until their victory in 1949. Although the Revolution created a new Chinese government, the impact on the lives of ordinary people was very slight. The Mothers in the story, born in the 1910s, recall little change in their families. The poor remained poor, and the rich remained rich.

Several years after the Chinese Revolution, World War II arrived along with the Japanese. This time, people across China felt the effects of the invasion. People living in the cities, such as Suyuan Woo, fled to rural China to escape the Japanese. Although the Chinese newspapers claimed that the Japanese were losing, those in the path of the approaching armies knew the truth. When the Japanese arrived in the town of Kweilin in the 30s, Suyuan and other refugees fled with whatever belongings they could carry.

Those who fled their towns often tried to find the family and friends they had left behind; unfortunately many were never reunited. As a result of their losses, and the continued conflicts in China, many people fled the country and often came to San Francisco, California. Perhaps because they had lost so much in China, people retained much of their culture which they tried to pass on to their children, while at the same time attempting to make them American. The four Mothers in
The Joy Luck Club
each arrived in San Francisco in the late 1940s, and it was there where they met, became friends, and raised their daughters.
Cultural and Religious Context
Religions and Philosophies
Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism were common belief systems in early 20th century China. Buddhism includes elements such as worshiping at temples, meditating, and living simply. Also, much like how Catholics will pray to a specific saint, Buddhists will pray and give offerings to specific forms of Buddha to ask for help and advice. Characteristics of Taoism include reverence of nature and of ancestors. The belief that one should honor their ancestors and elders (a belief also found in Confucianism) influenced many aspects of Chinese life and is a major element of the culture.
Confucianism, traditionally considered a school of thought rather than a religion, was incorporated into politics as well as into daily life. Its founder, Confucius, made sayings that are still used today, such as: "
Do not do to others as you would not wish done to yourself,
" and "
One should see nothing improper, hear nothing improper, say nothing improper, do nothing improper.
" In addition to its morals and values, Confucianism also emphasized a hierarchical family structure which plays a large part in
The Joy Luck Club
. Children answered to parents who answered to grandparents, up to ancestors. Women were also expected to obey men, first with their father and then their husband. Young girls, however, did have extra responsibilities to their mothers and were expected to learn from and obey them.

An element of Chinese culture in the early 20th century was arranged marriage. Two people would be connected by a matchmaker early in life, in adolescence or even as early as infants. The matchmaker, using the birthdates of the children, would use astrology to determine if the marriage would be successful. Marriages were typically made for political or social gain and to continue the husband's family line with a male heir. It was not uncommon for wealthy men to have multiple wives, although the first was considered the most important. Also, if the match was not made in infancy, women would often be married to an older man.
Chinese culture also involved many traditional superstitions and practices. Chinese characters for luck or "double happiness" were incorporated into weddings and other important events, and the color red was incredibly important. Feng Shui was also a common practice and was essential for orienting buildings and arranging furniture and objects. Incorrect placements could cost someone their wealth, make them unlucky, or prevent them from having a child. Another Chinese superstition was The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates. The Gates were like a handbook for mothers that illustrated the twenty-six different disasters that could befall a child based on when they were born. An-mei Hsu, one of the Mothers in the book, tried to protect her children from different dangers based on advice from the book.
An-mei and Rose Hsu
An-mei Hsu was raised in Ningbo, China in the early 1900s by her aunt and uncle. Her mother had been disgraced and shunned by the family, but several years later she returned to retrieve her daughter. She took An-mei with her to the house where she was Fourth Wife to a wealthy man. An-mei lived there, seen as a lesser child because of her mother's position, until her mother committed suicide. Her wealthy husband believed that he would be haunted by her ghost if he didn't treat An-mei well, so she became an important member of the family.

Many years later, An-mei married and came to America where she had seven children. Rose was in the middle with two older sisters and four younger brothers. While on a family outing at the beach, Rose's youngest brother Bing wandered off while she was supposed to be watching him. He fell in the water and drowned, and Rose blamed herself for letting it happen. After dating in college, Rose married an American man named Ted, much to the disappointment of her mother. Several years later, after struggling to make the marriage work, Rose and Ted decided to divorce. Although she had been indecisive for much of her life, Rose found the courage to stand up for herself and refused to let her ex-husband take her beloved house in the divorce.
Clean your plate because kids are starving in Africa
Furniture placed anywhere
Attend church because you're religious
Behavior based on own personality
Comfortable with where you came from
Growing up as a Nebraskan
Don't want to listen to parents
Encouraged to succeed
Fighting with siblings
Being told there are monsters to get you to behave
Wanting to know family history
Clean your plate otherwise you'll get a bad spouse
Furniture placed according to feng shui
Attend church to assimilate
Behavior based on birth year and facial features
Uncomfortable with where you came from
Growing up as a Chinese-American
United States vs. China
United States
Area (sq. miles)
Total Fertility Rate
Infant Mortality Rate
Literacy Rate
Per Capita Income
Average Life Expectancy
3,794,101 sq. mi.
317 million
$16 trillion
1.89 births per woman
6.17 per 1,000
77 yrs (male) - 82 yrs (female)
3,705,407 sq. mi.
1.35 billion
14.79 per 1,000
1.58 births per woman
73 yrs (male) - 77 yrs (female)
$8.227 trillion
The Joy Luck Club
is an amazing book, which not only tells the story of mothers and daughters, but the story of a culture as well. I enjoyed how the stories of the Mothers and their daughters gave insight into Chinese culture, and made it seem clearer and more relatable. My favorite element of the book was Amy Tan's ability to write the accents of the Mothers. The dialogue allows you to practically hear their broken English and mispronunciations. The variety of stories told in
The Joy Luck Club
helped me understand the reasons behind what can seem like very foreign beliefs. It helped me better appreciate how differences between cultures are far fewer than the similarities. Despite some differences in parenting, mothers and their daughters are the same the world over. Understanding immigration, specifically push and pull factors, was very helpful for understanding the reasons the Mothers came to the United States. Being aware of the aspects of culture was of course very important for understanding the roles things like religion, tradition, and even food can play in people's lives. Another useful cultural concept was the difference between high and low context cultures. The high context Chinese culture of the Mothers and the low context culture of the Daughters caused many of the misunderstandings between the two groups. One reason why I connected so much to this book is because it focuses on mother-daughter relationships. My mom and I are very close, but I can relate to the tensions and arguments that arise from being too much like your mother. Having finished the book, I'm now curious to know the number of Chinese that immigrated to the United States during and after World War II, as well as the emigration process for leaving China. I'd also like to know more about the cities where the Mothers lived, like Kweilin and Taiyuan.
These differences result from different cultural beliefs. The reason for cleaning one's plate and how furniture should be placed for a Chinese-American are the result of growing up with a parent born and raised in China. The Mothers in The Joy Luck Club pass on certain Chinese superstitions to their daughters. Whereas an American parent today will guilt their child into eating their vegetables, a Chinese parent in the 50s would find preventing a bad marriage to be better motivation. Feng shui is also largely important, and the Daughters often find their houses criticized due to their arrangement. Religious practices are another distinct difference between the two groups. Most Nebraskan parents who were raised as Christians often raise their children as Christians. For Chinese-Americans, however, Christianity was a way to assimilate to American culture and also to receive assistance finding housing, schools, and other services. The behavior of an American child is only based on who they are, but for a Chinese-American child their actions were considered to be the result of what zodiac year they were born in and how they looked. For example, a low forehead meant hardship early in life while small nostrils meant that good luck couldn't escape. Finally, most Nebraskan teenagers are comfortable with where their families have come from and what their heritage is. However, being a Chinese-American in 20th century could cause problems and as a result many were uncomfortable with their Chinese heritage.
Despite many differences, there are also many similarities between a Nebraskan and a Chinese-American. Many of them are the result of simple human nature. Many kids don't like to listen to their parents, no matter what culture they're from. Children also get into fights with their brothers and sisters and often have to babysit younger siblings. Parents in all cultures also want their children to succeed and always encourage them to do well. Another similarity is some of the methods parents use to get their children to behave. An American child might be told about the Bogeyman to frighten them into behaving and similarly a Chinese-American child would be told about the Five Evil Spirits. A final commonality is a curiosity about where one comes from. Even though the daughters in the story are uncomfortable about their heritage, they still have a desire to hear their mothers' stories and learn about their past.
Kweilin, China
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