Jade Peony

Essay by Vinceron29 February 2004

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Culture is an important part of any individual's identity. This is especially important when moving and adapting to the culture of a new country. Wayson Choy, in his novel The Jade Peony explores issues of culture through the eyes of four siblings. He defines Chinese culture in his book and describes the many details of it through the characters. Where Jook-Liang, Jung-Sum and Kiam reject what it means to be Chinese, Sek-Lung the youngest, accepts all of his grandmother's teachings.

Before exploring character, it is important to establish what Chinese culture is in the novel. Wayson Choy, set out to depict Chinese culture of the 1930's and 40's in the most accurate way possible, by consulting Historians and Language experts of the area (Vancouver's Chinatown). He used authentic references to Chinese culture of the time, most of which were shown through the character of Poh-Poh. She represents old traditions and culture in the family.

Throughout the story, she uses many dialects that were spoken by Chinese immigrants of the time. These dialects serve not only to tell about the various forms of the Chinese language in Vancouver at the time but they also reveal Poh-Poh's history and past status through the dialects that she knows, "The old one had a wealth of dialects which thirty-five years of survival in China had taught her, and each dialect hinted at mixed shades of status and power, or the lack of both." (Page17) Choy also includes traditional beliefs of the Chinese people, "Grandmamma had taught me that spirits and ghosts were everywhere because the Chinese were such an ancient people." (Page 156) Ghosts play a major role in the book because only Poh-Poh and Sekky (the youngest son) believe in them, and the rest of the family believes in modern western teachings.