Full Glossary for The Joy Luck Club
AIDS Waverly says that because Jing-mei's hairdresser is gay, he could have AIDS. He is cutting hair, "which is like cutting a living tissue." There has not been a single reported case of anyone contracting AIDS through a haircut; this scene is proof that Waverly can be prejudiced, misinformed, and even cruel.
baby boomers people born between 1946 and 1964. Raised during the affluent post-World War II period, many of these people have high expectations for material success. Some of them, however, like Lena, have discovered that material success does not ensure happiness; they find their lives empty and unsatisfying. Others, like Harold, are very satisfied with the fruits of their labors — he is proud of his fine house and his Jaguar automobile. A baby boomer herself, Tan is especially sensitive to this dichotomy.
Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, a young prince born in 563 B.C., near the present-day India-Nepal border. When he was twenty-nine years old, he embarked on a quest for peace and enlightenment and renounced all earthly pleasures. Eventually, however, he adopted a middle path between self-indulgence and self-denial. Sitting under a bo tree meditating, he rose through levels of consciousness until he reached the state of enlightenment that he had been seeking. He then began to teach. Buddhism, one of the major religions in the world, developed from his teachings. Today, an estimated 150-300 million people are Buddhist. Scholars estimate that the number may be much higher in China, but the country does not recognize any religion.
The candle was a marriage bond that . . . meant I couldn't divorce and I couldn't ever remarry, even if Tyan-yu died. The traditional Asian value placed on marriage is illustrated in the customs surrounding its dissolution. When one partner dies, for example, widowers and widows must often wait a prescribed time before remarrying; they must also wear mourning clothing and perform ceremonial duties for the dead. While many cultures permit divorce, in some societies divorce is uncommon because it requires the repayment of dowries or other monetary or material exchanges in order to prevent the violation of religious laws. In pre-revolutionary China, women were never allowed to remarry, even if their husbands died.
her first marriage . . . before the Japanese came As early as 1920, Japan tried to conquer China. On September 18, 1931, they seized all of Manchuria. The following spring, they set up a puppet government, Manchukuo. In 1937, Japan and China plunged into full-scale war.
IRS the popular name for the Internal Revenue Service. Empowered by the U.S. government to collect taxes, the IRS has traditionally triggered fear because of its power to examine tax records, impose fines, and seize property to pay off tax money owed. Tan likens Mrs. Jong to the IRS to humorously illustrate how much Waverly fears her.
jade a gemstone that ranges in color from dark green to almost white. In ancient times, it was used for weapons, utensils, and ornaments. Today, it is used for rings, necklaces, earrings, and other articles of jewelry. Jade has always been prized by the Chinese as the most precious of all stones. The finest quality jade carvings come from China.
the Kuomintang From 1928 to 1949, the Kuomintang was the main political party of China; founded by Sun Yat-sen in 1911 and later led by General Chiang Kai-shek, it has been the main political party of Taiwan since 1949.
Life magazine a large format, pictorial newsmagazine. Founded in 1936, it was widely circulated and imitated through the years. Long celebrated for its outstanding photographs and ability to capture the news as it unfolded, Life ceased publishing on a weekly basis in 1972.
mah jong an ancient Chinese game introduced to America in 1920. The game is played with dice, racks, and 144 domino-like tiles, divided into seven suits — bamboos (bams), circles (dots), characters (cracks), dragons, winds, seasons, and flowers. The game is usually played by four people. After the tiles are mixed, each player builds a wall two tiles high and about seventeen tiles long. The walls are pushed together to form a square. Players take tiles from the square to form specific combinations.
number-three concubine Polygamy is a form of marriage in which a person has more than one mate. Polygamy has been widely practiced at various times by many people throughout the world but has never been the norm. Usually only rich and powerful men have more than one wife. Polygamy sometimes results in the maintenance of separate households for each wife, as in some wealthy, pre-revolutionary Chinese families. The shared household was more frequent — especially with Muslims and many Native American tribes before the colonization of America. Polygamy is still common in some Muslim countries and in parts of Africa, but the practice is illegal in most of the world. Concubinage is a form of polygamy. The concubine's status is inferior to that of the primary wife. Her status declines the further removed she is from the primary wife. A number-three concubine, therefore, would have almost no status at all within the household. This practice was legal at one time in many countries, including pre-revolutionary China.
partner/associate Partners are people who own a percentage of a business. Lawyers, architects, and accountants, for example, are often partners in their business. As partners, they share in a firm's liability, which means that if the firm is sued, for instance, they all are responsible for the costs. Partners take this risk because they usually make much more money than associates. Associates are salaried employees. They get a set amount of money each pay period — no matter how much money the firm makes.
pawn one of eight chess figures of one color; it has the lowest power and value. Pawns are usually moved one square at a time vertically; they capture diagonally. The word has come to mean a person who is used or manipulated to further another person's purposes.
Price Club one of a series of enormous warehouse stores. These cavernous stores are stripped of amenities such as dressing rooms, music, fancy displays, and a multitude of salespeople. Sometimes one must belong to a union or other large organization to be a member. There is also a yearly membership fee. Since the stores are so stripped down, their prices tend to be far less than department stores. Like the "twice-used Macy's bag," Tan mentions the store to let the reader know that the mother is very concerned with getting her money's worth. Unlike the daughter, the mother is very thrifty.
queen the most powerful chess piece of either color. The queen can move any unobstructed distance in any direction.
sanddabs any of a number of West Coast flatfish.
she died just like a rabbit Suyuan's stroke occurred in her brain, killing her instantly, just as one would club a rabbit in the head — without warning. She had no symptoms. One moment she was alive; the next, she was dead.
Shirley Temple a famous child actress. Born in 1928, she made her film debut at age three in Stand Up and Cheer. Admired for her mop of blond ringlets, her coy, flirtatious pizazz, and her affected, plucky singing and dancing, she became one of the most famous and popular of all child stars in the 30s. Among her best-loved films are Little Miss Marker (1934), The Little Colonel (1935), Heidi (1937), and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938). She continued to appear in films through her teen years, and after her second marriage, she became active in politics. After an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 1967, she served as a United Nations delegate (1969-70). In 1974, she was named U.S. Ambassador to Ghana. Today, she uses the name Shirley Temple Black.
So you see, to Popo we were also very precious People from non-Western cultures often refuse to praise their children for fear that a vengeful god will seek retribution. They also follow specific rituals in order to ensure their children's safety from such spirits. Some Italian people, for example, wear charms to ward off evil spirits; some Jewish people hang a red ribbon on a baby's crib to protect the child from harm.
tofu bean curd. The small white squares have a soft, spongy texture and a bland taste. Tofu is considered a nutritious food because it is an excellent source of protein, is fat free, and low in calories. Tofu can be eaten plain, but it is usually cut into small squares and used in lieu of meat, fish, or chicken in stir-fry recipes. It can also be used in making cold salads. Tofu is often sold in deli departments of large supermarkets or small food specialty stores.
the village matchmaker came to my family when I was just two years old . . . Many generations ago, most marriages were arranged without the consent of the man and woman involved. The rise of a strong middle class, however, and the growth of democracy gradually brought tolerance for romantic marriages, based on free choice of the partners involved. Nonetheless, arranged marriages are still common in some cultures today, including some Indian cultures and aristocratic families. The most extreme application of the custom of arranged marriages was in pre-revolutionary China; then, a bride and groom often met for the first time on their wedding day.
When I turned sixteen on the lunar new year . . . Traditionally, Chinese people reckon their birthdays on the new year. Everyone becomes a year older on the day of the New Year — not on the day they were born. For Chinese people, the year, rather than the month in which a person is born, is important because the Chinese zodiac cycle changes each year.