Four Chinese women, who left war-torn China and immigrated to America, share their stories as they try to understand their daughters and what it means to be Chinese in America.
Below are some reading passages that we have hand picked to supplement this book. Be sure to read the passage summaries and our suggestions for instructional use.
This article provides a brief history of Japan’s age of imperialism throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.
Introduce this text before students begin reading the novel, in order to provide students with historical context on the relationship between Japan and China and the conflicts that have occurred. Provide students with the information that Japan’s bombing of China is why the characters in the novel are forced to flee their homes. Have students discuss the kind of things and feelings they might experience if they were suddenly forced to leave their homes for a new country.
“The Rape of Nanking and a Forgotten Genocide” offers context for the historically tumultuous relationship between the nations of China and Japan, which has been characterized by substantial aggression and violence, particularly on the part of the Japanese.
Have students read this text before they begin the novel, in order to help build critical background knowledge on why many Chinese villagers were forced to flee their homes, like the characters in Tan’s novel, between 1930 and 1940.
This ancient text urges unmarried women to treat their parents with the utmost respect.
Introduce this text after students have read An-Mei Hsu’s story in “Scar,” when she describes watching her shunned mother return home to care for her dying mother. Have students read both texts in order to examine the idea of reverence within culture and tradition. Why do students believe An-Mei’s mother, despite everything, behaved the way that she did? What can we take from Ban’s text to better understand An-Mei’s behavior?
This text provides an overview of arranged marriage today, including the cultural and historical trends that have influenced the practice.
Have students read “Would You Marry a Stranger?” before reading Lindo Jong’s story “The Red Candle,” in order to help build essential background knowledge on the concept of arranged marriages in The Joy Luck Club.
China’s first female historian Zhao Ban advises women on the proper way to treat their in-laws.
Introduce this text after students have read Lindo Jong’s story “The Red Candle,” in order to help provide background knowledge on some of the social and cultural expectations surrounding Lin’s marriage. What did Lin think of the customs she was practicing? How does Ban’s advice support the expectations that Lin is placed under after she is married?
In this early 20th-century story, a poor mother refuses to give up on her ailing daughter, and turns to a spiritual healer when a doctor tells her there is nothing left to do.
Have students read this short story after they have read Rose Hsu Jordan’s story “Half and Half,” in order to examine themes of loss through a cross-text analysis. How does the mother’s faith in Dunbar’s story compare to Rose’s loss of faith and her mother’s hope?
This article looks at how Hollywood films since the 1900s have depicted life in America and how they have helped manufacture the American Dream.
Students should read this article after they have read Jing-Mei Woo’s story “Two Kinds,” in order to examine American culture and the influence that the concept of the American dream has on the lives of the immigrants within the novel. How does the powerful promise of the American dream affect Jing-Mei Woo and her family? How does the idea of future success come to define the relationship between Jing-Mei Woo and her mother?
China’s first female historian Zhao Ban instructs women on proper behavior toward their husbands.
Assign “On Reverencing the Husband” after students have read Lena St. Clair’s “Rice Husband,” in order to examine both contemporary and historical perceptions of a woman’s role in marriage. Consider Zhao Ban’s instructions to women on behavior toward their husbands, in what ways might her instructions today be considered oppressive and restricting? What aspects of Lena and Harold’s marriage might you find oppressive and restricting?
In “Fish Cheeks,” which is about a Chinese American girl who feels embarrassed by her family during dinner, Tan explores how culture can be essential to a person’s identity.
Introduce this text after students have read Waverly Jong’s story “Four Directions,” to generate a discussion on culture and identity. How does Richard misunderstand Waverly’s mother? On what basis does Waverly’s mother judge Richard? Discuss your reasons as to why you think Waverly’s mother is being fair to him or not.
In these excerpts from Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening, Edna Pontellier struggles with what is expected of her as a mother, a wife, and a woman.
Have students read “Excerpts From The Awakening” after they have completed reading Ying-Ying St. Clair’s story “Waiting Between the Trees,” in order to examine the character transformation. Are there any similarities between Edna and Ying-Ying? How does each author use language to describe the ‘awakenings’ experienced by Edna and Ying-Ying?
This text outlines the Strauss & Howe theory that each generation is shaped and defined by the notable historical events and social trends of their time.
Introduce this text after students have completed the novel, in order for them to apply Strauss & Howe’s theory to an analysis of some of the grand themes within the novel. Ask students to use the theory to discuss the relationship between first-generation immigrant Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters. What can the mothers and daughters learn from each other? How have the expectations that men place on women, as well as those that women place on themselves, differed between generations?