Different is Not Bad

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The novel The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy explores the struggles of being different in a multicultural society. The protagonist, Jook-Liang, is a Chinese-Canadian girl who wants to fit in with Canadian culture and idolizes Shirley Temple. Her family looks down on her for this and also because she is a girl, which is considered useless in Chinese culture. However, Jook-Liang is able to resist this negative view and find support in her friend Wong Suk. The novel ultimately emphasizes the importance of valuing and embracing differences as precious.

Table of Content

Is it really so bad to be different? Jook-Liang is deeply influenced by the Canadian culture and behaves as if she is solely Canadian rather than Chinese-Canadian. Poh-Poh remarks, “You are not Canada, Liang” (page 34). Jook-Liang desires to conform to the Canadian way of doing things. She longs to use the “paper years” system to determine her age as fourteen, while her parents adhere to the Chinese way, making her age only nine. Jook-Liang questions, “Am I Clark 2 ourteen?” (page 49).

Jook-Liang’s parents brought her up with a strong emphasis on proper behavior. Even at the young age of five, Jook-Liang understood the importance of treating others with respect. As she explained, respect meant refraining from mocking or asking insensitive questions about someone’s differences. Unfortunately, Jook-Liang’s family perceived her differently because of her admiration for Shirley Temple, as she revealed that her favorite movies featured the beloved actress.

Jook-Liang’s family disapproves of her admiration for someone outside the Chinese culture, as Poh-Poh remarks, “This useless only-granddaughter wants to be Shir-lee Tem-po-lah” (page 37). However, Jook-Liang manages to overcome this negative perception by embracing the Canadian culture and finding support from her friend Wong Suk. Among all her family members, Wong Suk is the only one who believes in her and attends all of her performances, as Jook-Liang mentions, “I was going to delight Wong Suk with my best performance” (page 37).

According to Chinese cultural beliefs, Jook-Liang’s family perceives her differently due to her gender. In their eyes, girls are often deemed as “useless”. Poh-Poh reinforced this belief by stating “Mo yung girl” on page 33. Furthermore, Poh-Poh refused to impart her knowledge of making simple toys, such as paper cranes, toss rings, and wind chimes, to Jook-Liang. Poh-Poh’s reasoning for withholding these skills from Jook-Liang stemmed from considering her as “useless”. This sentiment is evident from Poh-Poh’s statement “Job too good for mo yung girl!” on page 32.

Despite Jook-Liang facing discrimination for being a girl, her brothers Sek-Lung and Jung-Sum also experienced unequal treatment. Poh-Poh gave Jung-Sum a moon piece, remarking that each piece is unique and valuable. By referring to the jade pieces, Poh-Poh was actually conveying the message that everyone is distinct and valuable. Each person possesses their own individuality, and this should not diminish their importance in relation to others.

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Different is Not Bad. (2018, Feb 02). Retrieved from


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