Chinese Traditions in “The Jade Peony”

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We have all been in a situation where we have immigrated to a new country for different reasons regarding, better future, or education. In the book Jade of Peony, Wayson Choy describes a struggle of a Chinese family as they settle in Canada, with their new generation of kids born here, the family struggles to keep their children tied to their Chinese customs and traditions as they fit in this new country. The Chinese culture needs to be more open minded as it limits the future generation’s potential. Chinese culture limitations are seen through the relationship expectations, education, gender roles and jobs. Firstly, the relationship expectations in Chinese customs and traditions were strongly held onto. The daughters of the Chinese family were considered as a shame for the family. The sons of the family were given more honour than the daughters.

In addition, some daughters were even discriminated. “If you want a place in this world … do not be born as a girl child” (Choy 27). The girls from the Chinese family were considered useless. They were always looked down upon in a family; they felt as if the girls cannot provide a family with wealth. Chinese society is throwing away its little girls at an astounding rate. For every 100 girls registered at birth, there are 118 little boys in other words, nearly one seventh of Chinese girl babies are going missing (Baldwin 40). The parents from Chinese family had a preference for boys as they thought; boys could work and provide the family income. Due to Chinese culture preference to having boys, girls often did not have the right to live. In the Chinese ethnicity, the family always obeyed the elder’s decision. When the family was trying to adapt to the new country and they were trying to learn the new rules and customs they were not permitted to forget the rule they had previously learned regarding the behaviour towards their elders.

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Liang the family’s only daughter says, “Because of her age, the wiry ancient lady was the one person Father could never permit for any of us to defy” (Choy 147). Even though the Grandma in the novel was following her ancient rules and regulations the Father of the Family and the son of the grandma never, let his kids with any opportunity to disobey the olden ways. He did not stop them from trying to be modern but also wanted them to be aware of their background and their cultural values. In an article written by Citizen’s Compendium it was said that the elder people in the family played an important role because they were considered as people who would guide the family, during their dark times. This article supports how the elderly people were given all the authority to order the family, the way they wanted to. Because the children knew the elderly had gained a lot of wisdom and experience in the past that they could drive the family in the right direction, during hard times, they were assumed to give full respect to them. The Chinese culture is very strict about the relationship expectation of the family. The first wife of a husband was irreplaceable.

Even if the husband remarried, the second wife would not be treated with the same respect and honour as the first wife. In the novel, the elderly people were teaching the kids how Stepmother was an appropriate way to describe the second wife. “’ Stepmother’ was a ranking much more respectable than ‘family servant’ honourable than ‘concubine,’ but never equal in honour or respect to the title of First Wife or Mother” (Choy 147). The children in the family realised that Stepmother was a title that was better than a family servant or concubine, but not as good in honour or respect, equal to the title of First wife. In the Chinese culture, it is seen that, the First Wife retained the primacy and authority in the family; the Second Wife was attained to produce additional male heirs for the family (Yee 22). Since nobody could replace the responsibility the first wife held, the second wife’s job was to give birth to male babies as, female were not preferred in the Chinese families. Consequently, the Chinese culture requires being more accessible, as it limits the future generation’s potential due to their relationship expectation.

Secondly, the education in the Chinese culture made the children struggle between counter culture. Education was a very important to the Chinese culture. As they settled in a new country, the elders wanted their children to receive Chinese and English education, this created pressure for children to follow the traditions set by their elders. The youngest son of the family saw how his sibling struggled between their school and work. Sekky says, “Father, Stepmother, brother Kiam and Jung and even sister Liang, were all working to wherever, whenever they could, our household was constantly short of money. My older sibling also, went to Chinese school” (Choy 213). When children were not busy in English they, had to follow their cultural traditions and earn an education in Chinese. This created a lot of pressure for the children because what he or she was learning in English school could have been totally different then what they were learning in Chinese school, and when the children were not attending school, they were busy working to earn money for the household.

This was also witnessed during 1937; Vancouver’s ten Chinese School has had an enrolment of 700 students. The schools only provided elementary- level language classes (Yee 32). Chinese Schools compare to the population of the students were very low, if the schools only provided the students with elementary- level of classes, and were only open in the afternoons. Having the new generation grow in a new country was very hard, in order for the new generation to fit in; they started to question their appearance, and saw how people from a different race were running away from them. Children separation from Chinese culture was often seen. This was true when Sekky said, “I sometimes wish my skin turned white, my hair go brown, my eyes widened and turn blue” (Choy, 150). This shows how after settling in a new country, the younger generations were exposed to meet new people, they questioned about their appearance as they saw how, people from other race were treated more appropriately, than theirs. In an article, it showed how people from white race were at unease, and decided to move away because their children were the only whites in Class and their neighbour did not speak English (“Coming to Gum Sun”).

After Chinese children see how people from a white race, moved because they were the only Chinese people living in the neighbourhood Chinese children start to wonder why are these people running away from them, as if they contain a disease. The Family with Chinese background did not want their children to learn English or adapt too much to the English culture, hence they taught them to read and write Chinese as well, this created confusion for Children and resulted into conflict between two cultures. The young generation born in Canada like Jung thought, “But born – in Canada children, like myself, could betray one. For we were mo no children. Children with no Old China history in our brains… Beneath the surface, of course, nothing was simple: I was the Canadian- born chid of unwanted immigrants who were not allowed to become citizen.

The words RESIDENT ALIEN were stamped on my birth certificate” (Choy 153). The children who were growing up in a new country were confused between where they belonged, because they did not know the history of china, and when they were trying to adapt to the new culture and customs in the new country, it was impossible because the law did not even considered them as citizens of the country. During the 1930’s the first generation of Chinese that came to Canada had children, but neither them nor their children were considered Canadian citizens (Yee 26). The Canadian law did not grant the children nor their parents with Canadian citizenship, it looked as if the government used the men as labourers, without granting them citizenships making sure they realise that they are here for temporary reasons. Hence, the Chinese culture needs to be more unbiased as it restricts the newer generations potential to grow in a new country, due to their education.

Lastly, the gender roles and expectations in the Chinese culture resulted in inequality between the role of men and women. The main role for women’s was to look after the house and take care of the children but, when the household was short of money, the women mostly worked in garment industries or as a domestic labourer. “ Around the Mah Jong tables mother took me to while father was many times away at different seasonal jobs during the Depression” (Choy 61). During the depression when many household were running out of money, many women were not able to the hard labour jobs as men, many women took that time to get together with friends and socialize. In 1931, a study showed there were over 46,000 Chinese in Canada. The ratio of men to women was 13:1 (“Citizen’s Compendium”).

The amount of jobs available for women compare to men was low. Since during the great depression women had to contribute money to run the household, have less jobs for women, with lower wages than men. Women were not allowed to complain about their husband’s cruel actions even if it included physical abuse. The law did not allow women to separate from their spouse. “He went home and beat up Mrs. Yuen and she did not cry” (Choy 116). For a women it was normal for her husband to beat her, women like Mrs. Yuen gave up hope to fight, because they knew there is no way to stop their husband from abusing them so, why should they express themselves. In the Chinese culture, husbands could divorce their wives, but no matter how badly the wife was treated, she could not divorce her husband (“Citizen’s Compendium”). Women did not have the right to file a divorce, against their husband, even if the husband treated the wife with cruelty or treated her abusively. If women desired to work and earn money for the household, they were not paid the same amount of money as men or someone from a different race as them.

Having a Chinese women being paid high amount of money for a small job was shocking for some people. The youngest son of the family Sekky was surprised to see his sister earning money, “Liang dried and stacked dishes at Hon Lee’s Café (and would get ten cents for that too)” (Choy 221).The younger brother in the family, Sekky, was shocked to hear his sister earning ten cents jut for drying and stacking dishes in a Café. Sekky did not consider the Liang’s job was challenging, and was shocked to see she was paid ten cents for simple job that required stacking dishes. Studies show, women during the 1930’s only held 25% of the jobs. Women’s work experience was influenced by their race and ethnicity, gender, and class, for some it was a privilege for others it was a disadvantage (“Coming to Gum Sun”).

When women were not competing with men for equal pay, they had to compete with women from different race and background to earn the same amount of money as any other female working in the same field would. Therefore, the Chinese culture resists the new generations potential, due to the gender roles and jobs. In conclusion, Chinese cultures prohibition is seen, by observing the relationship expectations, education, and gender roles and jobs. The Chinese culture needs to be more cultivated as it constricts the newer generation’s capability in Canada. In Wayson Choy’s book The Jade of Peony, he describes the struggles of a immigrated Chinese family, as they try to follow two cultures to adjust in a new country like Canada, but still hang on to the old traditions of China, the kids of the family struggled as they tried to follow these two cultures. We have all been in a similar situation where we have immigrated to a new country to seek a better future where we have a better lifestyle and education, to help our family grow.

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Chinese Traditions in “The Jade Peony”. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

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