Summary and Analysis Shaman


Although "No Name Woman" and "White Tigers" are anthologized more often than the other individual chapters in The Woman Warrior, "Shaman" is arguably the novel's most pivotal chapter. As the middle chapter in Kingston's memoir about growing up listening to her mother's talk-stories, "Shaman" contains Brave Orchid's personal history, how she earned a medical degree of midwifery in China, then moved to America to be with her husband, and raised their American-born children.

The chapter's title, a tribute to Brave Orchid, refers to a person who acts as a medium between the physical and spiritual worlds, and who usually has healing powers. Brave Orchid is a shaman who exorcises ghosts, both in the Chinese women's school of midwifery and in Stockton, California. In Stockton, for example, when the garbage man walks up to the window from which Kingston and her siblings are taunting him, Brave Orchid hurriedly shuts the window, effectively securing the house from this "Garbage Ghost." However, more important than Brave Orchid's exorcising ghosts is that her story, coming as it does halfway through the novel, provides a transition between events in China and life in America. The novel's first two chapters detail stories based in a Chinese context; the last two chapters focus predominantly on the narrator's and Brave Orchid's lives in America. Bridging the gap between these two opposite realities is the chapter "Shaman," which begins in China but ends in America with Brave Orchid finally accepting that she will never return to China.

Kingston opens this chapter by describing Brave Orchid's three scrolls of medical certificates, a photograph of Brave Orchid herself, and a photograph of the medical school's graduating class. Note that when Kingston opens the canister that contains the scrolls, "the smell of China flies out, . . . a smell that comes from long ago, far back in the brain." Although the phrase "far back in the brain" indicates that the adult Kingston is remembering an event that occurred when she was younger, the phrase also suggests that her impressions of China were somehow subconsciously ingrained in her at birth, as if she could "smell" China because her mother once lived there and smelled odors that she associated with China, and then passed on these sensations to her daughter. However, China remains only a smell to Kingston, an intangibility made all the more confusing by her mother's talk-stories.

Brave Orchid's photographs fascinate Kingston, who notices how differently her mother looks into the camera: "She has spacy eyes, as all people recently from Asia have." Brave Orchid's "spacy" look underscores the intense fear and hesitancy that many Chinese emigrants felt leaving their homeland for America. However, Kingston points out that after these emigrants reside in America for a few years, they "learn the barbarians' directness — how to gather themselves and stare rudely into talking faces as if trying to catch lies." For example, photographs of Kingston's laughing father, who looks directly into the camera and wears a straw hat "cocked at a Fred Astaire angle," show how Westernized he has become since moving to America. Emphasizing the transitional nature of this chapter, Kingston writes that her mother, who has lived in America for many years, now "has eyes as strong as boulders, never once skittering off a face." Also, Brave Orchid's style of dress has dramatically changed. In the medical school class photograph, she wears a dress that suppresses any hint of sexuality: "Chinese dresses at that time were dartless, cut as if women did not have breasts." In old age, Kingston notes toward the chapter's end, Brave Orchid dresses in "American fashions."

Kingston uses the photographs of her mother as a narrative device to introduce Brave Orchid's personal story. Like many Chinese men during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Brave Orchid's husband — Kingston's father — immigrated to America in search of work. Intending to return to China, instead he sends money to his wife for her boat fare to America. During the time of Brave Orchid's husband's absence, their two Chinese-born children die, and only after a sufficient period of mourning — "In China there was time to complete feelings" — does Brave Orchid decide to attend a medical school of midwifery. Note that on the side of the boat that carries Brave Orchid to the medical school from her hometown, a sea bird is painted to protect the boat against "shipwreck and winds." As in previous chapters, Kingston closely links birds to her family's history; for Brave Orchid, at least, birds bring good luck.

At school, Brave Orchid feels pressure to appear smarter than her fellow classmates: Because she is older than they, traditionally she is expected to be wiser. She seeks out hiding places in which to study secretly so that she will appear more knowledgeable than her peers. These hiding places also symbolize the importance that the female students place on personal space. For example, in her section of the room that she shares with other female students, Brave Orchid "placed precisely" each of her personal items. Her cataloging these items emphasizes the pleasure she gets from organizing her own belongings rather than someone else's: "The locks on her suitcase opened with two satisfying clicks; she enjoyed again how neatly her belongings fitted together, clean against the green lining." Although the "daydream of women — to have a room, even a section of a room, that only gets messed up when she messes it up herself" — seems limited at best, most likely the majority of the female students came from homes headed by either a father or a husband, and the women would have been treated by the male figures as second-class citizens in their own homes. "Free from families," Kingston writes, "my mother would live for two years without servitude. She would not have to run errands for my father's tyrant mother with the bound feet or thread needles for old ladies." Ironically, however, "neither would there be slaves and nieces to wait on her."

The incident in which Brave Orchid spends the night in the haunted room and is sat on by a Sitting Ghost recalls many details from the previous two chapters. Kingston begins this section of the narrative with the word "Maybe," which signals that she is reinterpreting her mother's talk-story to understand better how the tale affects her own American life. This narrative strategy is similar to Kingston's inventing a personal history for No Name Woman and introducing Fa Mu Lan's talk-story using the subjective "would." By creating one possible scenario of Brave Orchid's bravery, Kingston emphasizes how her mother is herself a woman warrior, who is unafraid to sleep overnight in a haunted room. Brave Orchid exerts her independent spirit not only when she accepts the other students' challenge to meet whatever ghost awaits her, but intellectually when she daringly questions the traditional belief of life after death: "How do we know that ghosts are the continuance of dead people? . . . Perhaps human beings just die, and that's the end. I don't think I'd mind that too much."

Another, more important example of Brave Orchid's independent, warriorlike spirit is her decision to retain her own name rather than take her husband's after they married. The power to name oneself, to have an individual identity, is further emphasized when Brave Orchid, after arriving in America, keeps her own name rather than Westernize it. "Even when she emigrated," Kingston writes, "my mother kept Brave Orchid, adding no American name nor holding one in reserve for American emergencies." That Brave Orchid retained her own name, that she had a name at all, contrasts with Kingston's aunt's namelessness. Kingston suggests throughout the novel that people who control the power of language can survive any ordeal because they cannot lose their personal identities. For example, she notes that when Brave Orchid got scared as a child, "one of my mother's three mothers had held her and chanted their descent line, reeling the frighted spirit back from the farthest deserts." Likewise, after Brave Orchid, who herself is "good at naming," faces the Sitting Ghost at night in the school of midwifery, the following morning the other female students "called out their own names, women's pretty names," to guide Brave Orchid's spirit back to the school. A person like No Name Woman, however, whose identity is figuratively buried along with any memory of her, has no power to stand up for herself and combat the violence inflicted against her. She is a lost soul because her family refuses to call out the list of their ancestors' names in order to guide No Name Woman's spirit back home.

Waiting in the haunted room for the ghost's appearance, Brave Orchid wraps herself in a quilt made by her mother. Of special note is Kingston's description of the quilt: "In the middle of one border my grandmother had sewn a tiny satin triangle, a red heart to protect my mother at the neck, as if she were her baby yet." This protective talisman is identical to the "tiny quilted triangle, red at its center," that Fa Mu Lan had sewn for her baby. The use of the word "quilt" is especially effective in linking Brave Orchid's and Fa Mu Lan's stories. In addition, at the end of "Shaman," Brave Orchid will cover Kingston with a quilt, "the thick, homemade Chinese kind." These images of quilts unite the many woman-warrior influences in Kingston's life.

Two other details recall Fa Mu Lan's story. As Brave Orchid waits for the Sitting Ghost to appear, she reads from a textbook but soon grows tired. Kingston describes the text in Brave Orchid's textbook as her mother's eyes begin to droop: "Soon the ideographs lifted their feet, stretched out their wings, and flew like blackbirds; the dots were their eyes." This description of the textbook's ideographs as birdlike is similar to Kingston's personification of the bird that led Fa Mu Lan to the old couple: "In the brush drawings it looks like the ideograph for 'human,' two black wings." Also, when Brave Orchid first becomes aware of the ghost's presence in the haunted room, Kingston writes of her mother, "She had been pared down like this before, when she had travelled up the mountains into rare snow — alone in white not unlike being alone in black." In "White Tigers," Fa Mu Lan journeyed up into the mountains to gain spiritual enlightenment and became a woman warrior.

After graduating from the women's school of midwifery, Brave Orchid returns as a doctor to her home village, which welcomes her with garlands and cymbals. "My mother wore a silk robe and western shoes with big heels, and she rode home carried in a sedan chair," Kingston writes. "She had gone away ordinary and come back miraculous, like the ancient magicians who came down from the mountains," another reference to Fa Mu Lan. Brave Orchid returns to her village as a medical warrior to save lives. Her reputation grows with every home she visits because she has only success: "She would not touch death; therefore, untainted, she brought only health from house to house."

Although Brave Orchid's intention in telling her personal history to Kingston is to present herself to her daughter as an alternative to the traditional Chinese female roles of child bearer and caretaker, Kingston remains anxious about being a female. Her anxieties stem from listening to her mother's talk-stories about females who are placed in vulnerable positions within Chinese society. One such story involves the village crazy lady, "an inappropriate woman whom the people stoned." Here, Kingston uses the benign adjective "inappropriate" to contrast the woman's insane, uncontrollable actions with the villagers' violent, premeditated killing of her. In the wake of Japanese bombing that "drove people insane," Kingston suggests that the village crazy lady tried to reestablish a personal, ordered identity out of public chaos by wearing a headdress made of mirrors, which attracted the Japanese bombers' attention because the mirrors reflected sunlight and pinpointed where the villagers were hiding. However, the villagers, understandably fearful for their own safety, stone the woman to death rather than simply remove her headdress. For Kingston, this episode must have reminded her of when Brave Orchid warned her in "No Name Woman," "Don't humiliate us. . . . The villagers are watchful."

Other sources of Kingston's apprehension about her gender include the stories of baby girls being deliberately suffocated to death in ashes, which account for her recurring nightmares of babies being hurt. Unknowingly, Brave Orchid's sharing these horrific tales with Kingston undercuts any positive effect she might be trying to instill in her daughter. Rather than increase Kingston's self-esteem, these talk-stories cause her to question her own sense of self-worth. "My mother has given me pictures to dream — nightmare babies that recur, shrinking again and again to fit in my palm," Kingston writes. "I curl my fingers to make a cradle for the baby, my other hand an awning. But in a blink of inattention, I would mislay the baby. . . . Or bathing it, I carefully turn the right-hand faucet, but it spouts hot water, scalding the baby until its skin tautens and its face becomes nothing but a red hole of a scream." In this extended passage, note the repetitive "I" that begins each declarative sentence; Kingston tries to reassure herself that she "would protect the dream baby, not let it suffer, not let it out of my sight." However, no matter how many times she dreams of saving the baby, she fails to protect it, and the baby "recedes" from her.

Against this backdrop of dead baby girls and babies who die because they cannot defecate, Kingston struggles to keep her sanity. Her anguish is worsened by her uncertainty as to whether or not her mother might have taken part in these infanticides, or baby killings. "To make my waking life American-normal," she writes, "I turn on the lights before anything untoward makes an appearance. I push the deformed into my dreams, which are in Chinese, the language of impossible stories." Again, China is "invisible," a subconscious world that threatens Kingston most at night. She can smell China; she can hear China ("my mother funneled China into our ears"); she can even taste China ("Mother! Mother! It's happening again. I taste something in my mouth, but I'm not eating anything"); but she cannot see China for herself. In contrast, America is the observable, physical world of the every day. Even when Kingston speaks of the innumerable ghosts that surround her in her American life, she differentiates between these intimidating ghosts' physicalness and the unknown — and, therefore, more terrifying — forms of ghosts that she would encounter were she and her family to move to China: "I did not want to go where the ghosts took shapes nothing like our own."

Kingston's childhood fears about the expectations placed on females also stem from Brave Orchid's talk-stories involving female slavery. The sorrowful descriptions of the Chinese girls who are sold as slaves heighten her own fear about being an unwanted daughter who could potentially be sold as a slave were she and her parents to move to China. "Whenever my parents said 'home,'" she writes, "they suspended America. They suspended enjoyment, but I did not want to go to China. In China my parents would sell my sisters and me."

In addition, Kingston struggles with the paradox that Brave Orchid might have favored the quiet girl who was her slave more than Kingston herself: "I watch them with envy," she writes of her mother and the girl. "My mother's enthusiasm for me is duller than for the slave girl." Believing that her mother showed more concern for the slave girl than she does for her own daughters, Kingston suggests that her sister also must compete with this slave for their mother's affection. "Throughout childhood," she explains, "my younger sister said, 'When I grow up, I want to be a slave.'" In "White Tigers," to please her mother, Kingston endeavored to be like Fa Mu Lan, but her attempts to live up to her mother's expectations were ridiculed by Brave Orchid; in "Shaman," her sister chooses the girl-slave as a model. However, Kingston's sister's wanting to win her mother's affection by taking on this role is paradoxical: She will have to accept that she is an unwanted daughter since only unwanted daughters are sold or given away as slaves.

Kingston also finds it contradictory that her mother, who is medically trained as a midwife, could believe in superstitions. As an adult writing the stories of her mother's encounters with ghosts and monsters, she must recognize the deep vein of ingrained Chinese lore in Brave Orchid's talk-stories. She suspects that all of the women at the To Keung School of Midwifery were like her mother's three female roommates, who eagerly obeyed Brave Orchid and pulled earlobes and chanted spirits away. Although Kingston writes that the students were "new women, scientists who changed the rituals," despite their scientific training they continued to believe in ghosts and other spirits, a contradiction that the adult Kingston cannot reconcile.

However, as a child, the impressionable Kingston believes in her mother's extraordinary exorcistic abilities. Left on her own to make sense of her mother's stories, Kingston recalls one perplexing story in which Brave Orchid confronts "Sit Dom Kuei," ghosts that appear as snake-like whirlwinds. Because of her limited understanding of the Chinese language, Kingston cannot translate what "Sit Dom Kuei" means, except that "Kuei" is Chinese for ghost. Hopelessly asking "How do they translate?" Kingston's language fails her, ironically because Chinese is not her native language. Also, her inability to translate "Sit Dom Kuei" is another symbol of the cultural gap that separates her from her parents. Only at the memoir's end, after having secured a private, personal identity as an adult, a woman, a Chinese American, an American, will Kingston confidently proclaim about her own talk-story, "It translated well."

In "Shaman," as in the previous chapters, Kingston cannot ask Brave Orchid questions and expect understandable answers that are relevant to her own life. Instead, she depends on her own imagination and concludes only that her mother, like the legendary figures about whom she talk-stories, was powerful against ghosts because she could eat anything and everything. In making this conclusion, Kingston begins to accept that she will need to reconcile, or learn to live with, the differences between her American life and the values and practices expected of her in her Chinese home life. However, integrating her mother's horrific talk-stories into her American life, or at least discounting their believability to lessen their vivid sensationalism, severely threatens Kingston's psychological stability. For example, when she endures yet another telling of the monkey story, in which participants sit around a table and literally eat the brain of a monkey, whose head is trapped within a cutout hole in the table's middle, Kingston unsettlingly writes, "a curtain flapped loose inside my brain." She is so horrendously shocked by this gruesome account that she again loses the power of language and is unable to tell her mother, "Stop it." This account's graphic depiction is intensified even more when we — and Kingston — learn that the monkey was alive when the participants began eating its brain. "It was alive?" Kingston incredulously asks. "The curtain flaps closed like merciful black wings." In addition, Kingston directly follows this talk-story with her mother's telling her children, "Eat! Eat!" Humorously, what Brave Orchid wants them to eat — "blood pudding awobble in the middle of the table" — looks too akin to the monkey brain that they have just heard about to be digestible.

In the last section of "Shaman," which chronologically takes place after the next two chapters, Brave Orchid confronts Kingston about why she doesn't visit her parents more than once a year. "The last time I saw you," Brave Orchid exaggeratedly complains, "you were still young." Although both women still hold decidedly opposite outlooks on life, Kingston emphasizes that she and her mother are not as different as she perhaps would like to believe. Physically, both women have white hair; emotionally, they are equals who have strong, independent identities. However, Kingston is painfully aware that her mother is slowly losing her will to live, to function independently of her husband and children. At one point in this section, Kingston chides her mother not to eat pills lying around the house if they are not hers: "You shouldn't take pills that aren't prescribed for you. 'Don't eat pills you find on the curb,' you always told us." Like many adults with parents who are aging quickly, Kingston is becoming the caregiver to her mother, who previously was the caregiver to Kingston.

Brave Orchid's complaint that she does not see Kingston often enough introduces a preoccupation with time that dominates Kingston and Brave Orchid's conversation here at the end of the chapter. Earlier, Kingston noted that even after her mother began living in America, Brave Orchid never stopped "seeing land on the other side of the oceans." Brave Orchid's goal was to return someday to her Chinese ancestral village and live out her life there, but now she admits that she and Kingston's father will never return to their homeland. "We have no more China to go home to," she concedes. This realization is apparent in the answer she gives when Kingston asks her about the two children who died in China: "No, you must have been dreaming. You must have been making up stories. You are all the children there are." Whether or not Brave Orchid truly has suppressed memories of her life in China now that she knows that she can never return to the land of her birth is unclear. The possibility remains that her memories of her two dead children are too painful to discuss, much like No Name Woman's family refused to honor her memory.

Culturally, Brave Orchid and Kingston perceive time differently. Brave Orchid honestly believes that time in China is paced more slowly than in America: "Human beings don't work like this in China. Time goes slower there. . . . I can't sleep in this country because it doesn't shut down for the night." For her, China symbolizes youth because that is where she spent the earlier years of her life. "Time was different in China," she reasons. "One year lasted as long as my total time here. . . . I would still be young if we lived in China." For Kingston, however, "time is the same from place to place." Time is universal because geographical location is universal: We all share the same earth, no matter where on it we are physically located.

Kingston exhibits concern and caring as Brave Orchid's caregiver by helping her mother understand that China is still as much a part of her world as America is. Hoping to arouse her mother's defeated spirit, Kingston tries to reason with her: "We belong to the planet now, Mama. Does it make sense to you that if we're no longer attached to one piece of land, we belong to the planet? Wherever we happen to be standing, why, that spot belongs to us as much as any other spot." Struggling to comprehend her daughter's meaning, Brave Orchid seems to have forgotten that earlier in the chapter, while she was waiting for the Sitting Ghost to appear, she herself voiced a similar thought in relation to the moon and stars: "'That is the same moon that they see in New Society Village,' she thought, 'the same stars.'" And, in the parenthetical sentence directly following Brave Orchid's thought, Kingston notes that growing up, she heard her mother similarly say, "That is the same moon that they see in China, the same stars though shifted a little."

Although Brave Orchid remains inconsolable at the chapter's end, both she and Kingston gain a better understanding of one another from their conversation. Brave Orchid genuinely accepts that her daughter visits her only once a year because physically and emotionally she needs that separation from her parents to keep her sanity. When Kingston tells her mother, "Here I'm sick so often, I can barely work. I can't help it, Mama," Brave Orchid finally acknowledges her daughter's needs: "It's better, then, for you to stay away. . . . Of course, you must go, Little Dog." The affectionate term "Little Dog," perhaps prompted by Kingston's own use of the childlike "Mama," greatly affects Kingston, who now understands that her mother loves her, even if she doesn't say that she does. "The world is somehow lighter," Kingston contentedly writes. "She has not called me that endearment for years — a name to fool the gods."

The dragon imagery at the end of the chapter symbolizes a resolution between Brave Orchid and Kingston. Earlier, when Brave Orchid faced the Sitting Ghost, Kingston wrote, "My mother may have been afraid, but she would be a dragoness ('my totem, your totem')." Here at the chapter's close, Kingston reaffirms that she and Brave Orchid are both women warriors: "I am really a Dragon, as she is a Dragon, both of us born in dragon years. I am practically a first daughter of a first daughter." Although the chapter's last paragraph strongly suggests that nights still hold unseen terrors for Kingston, she tacitly acknowledges that she owes her creative abilities to Brave Orchid, whose talk-stories are the impetus for Kingston's own power of language as a woman warrior, as a dragon in her own right.


Canton known today as Guangzhou, the largest city in south China and the capital of Kwangtung Providence (Guangdong); it is one of China's main commercial centers.

Singapore an island country in Southeast Asia controlled by the British from 1824 to 1965; the city of Singapore is the country's capital.

Taiwan an island country less than a hundred miles southeast of mainland China; in 1949, Chinese Communist forces drove Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the Kuomintang, which means "national people's party," and other Chinese nationalists to this island, formerly known as Formosa, where they established the Republic of China — in contrast to the People's Republic of China, which is Communist mainland China.

midwifery the practice of a midwife, a person — usually a woman — who assists women during childbirth.

pediatrics the medical field that specializes in the care of infants and children.

gynecology the medical field devoted to the healthcare of women and their reproductive organs.

"Medecine" medicine.

"Surgary" surgery.

therapeutics the treatment of diseases, either by medical science or holistic means.

ophthalmology the medical field that specializes in the care of eyes.

bacteriology the study of bacteria.

dermatology the study of skin.

embossed carved or adorned.

"Ex-assistant étranger à la clinique chirugicale et d'accouchement de l'université de Lyon" French, meaning "The former foreign assistant at the surgical and birthing clinic of the University of Lyon [France]."

zinnia a stiff, hairy-stemmed flower with a single flower head; except for blue, zinnias bloom in all colors.

chrysanthemum also called mums; a popular garden plant that has large flower heads.

Coney Island during the 1920s, a popular amusement park and famous boardwalk located in Brooklyn, New York, along the Atlantic Ocean waterfront.

biplane an airplane with two sets of wings, one set over the engine and the other located on the tail; during World War I, and through the early 1930s, biplanes dominated both military and commercial aviation.

Fred Astaire (1899-1987) Hollywood's famous male dancer who teamed with Ginger Rogers in ten popular movies for RKO Studio during the 1930s, including Top Hat (1935) and Swing Time (1936).

concierge generally, a hotel employee who assists guests; Brave Orchid is fortunate that the To Keung School of Midwifery provides a concierge for its students.

largess generosity.

figs the fruit of the fig tree, a Mediterranean tree or shrub; gathered when they fall from the tree and then dried, figs are so widely used in Mediterranean countries that they are called "the poor man's food."

yang and yin Yang is the masculine element of Chinese philosophy — that is, aggressive, hot, active, dry, and bright qualities. Yin is the feminine element of Chinese philosophy — that is, receptive, cool, inactive, moist, and dark qualities.

Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925) leader of the Chinese Kuomintang, a political party that overthrew the Manchu dynasty in 1911; Sun served as the first provisional president of the Republic of China (1911-12) and later as its de facto ruler (1923-25).

gnomes mythological dwarflike creatures who live underground.

adamantine chin a strong-looking chin.

totem an object or animal used to represent membership in a group, clan, or family.

talismans objects that supposedly give their owners magical powers; for example, a rabbit's foot is a popular good-luck talisman.

ferule a rod used to punish children.

Kwangtung Province also called Guangdong, a province of southeast China; incorporated into China in 222 B.C., when the first emperor of the Ch'in dynasty conquered the area.

Gobi Desert a desert that extends from southeast Mongolia south into northern China.

whorls spiraling forms; for example, a tornado.

surfeited excessive.

tarry oil thick, black oil made from tar.

boas large snakes that coil around and suffocate their prey; or, long scarves made of soft material, such as feathers or fur, wrapped around the neck or slung over the shoulder.

lion here, a large puppet, like a parade float, but manually operated, probably by men inside the lion.

lichees the nutlike fruit of the litchi, or lichee tree, indigenous to China.

zenith here, the highest region of the sky.

nadir the diametrical opposite of the zenith; an astronomical term representing the lowest point below the observer.

phoenix notes Traditionally, only one phoenix, a fictional bird from ancient eastern Mediterranean lore, lives at any given time. The one-of-a-kind phoenix lives its five-hundred-year life span, then climbs onto a funeral pyre and sets itself aflame. From its ashes springs a worm that develops into a new phoenix decked in radiant red, purple, and gold plumage. The Chinese believe that the song of the phoenix is especially beautiful, and that the phoenix has an appreciation for human music.

metempsychosis reincarnation, the belief that after the human body dies, its soul is reborn — in human, animal, or even vegetable form; this process continues until the soul reaches perfection. Buddhists believe that the soul has five skandhas, or groups of elements: body, sensations, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness. In death, the soul ceases to exist, but its karma — perhaps what Kingston alludes to as the six paths, the five skandhas plus karma — is reborn in a mother's womb, in the body of a new baby. This system of regeneration continues until a person reaches the state of nirvana, in which personal desires do not exist.

Ch'in the Ch'in dynasty (221-206 B.C.), from which China gets its name.

hexagrams that are the I Ching The I Ching, or "Book of Changes," the majority of which was written by Wen Wang (twelfth century B.C.), is an ancient Chinese text concerning Confucianism. Of great importance in the history of Chinese philosophy, the work explains ethical principles through a system that involves the oneness of humans and nature in daily communion. The complex hexagrams — six-sided figures — of the I Ching represent different positive qualities; the more hexagrams you "build" on top of one another, the closer you are to an understanding of the world.

anemia a deficiency of red blood cells, which contain hemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying pigment; because one symptom of anemia is paleness of tissue and the skin, Brave Orchid checks the color of the tissue under the female slave's eyelids.

felicitous pleasing.

pantomimed here, communicated using hand gestures.

were-people for Kingston, another term meaning ghosts, or spirits.

cervixes necks, or other necklike structures.

nether underground, or the underworld.

Animalcules microscopic organisms.

Chung-li Ch'uan one of the Eight Sages who probably lived sometime between 206 B.C. and A.D. 220; he is usually depicted as a fat, bearded, wine-drinking hermit.

night soil buckets portable containers used primarily for nighttime urine.

magpies Related to jays, magpies have long tails, black-green plumage, and white markings over their shoulders.

sea swallow also known as terns, graceful water birds that inhabit seacoasts and inland waters; most terns, which form breeding colonies of millions of individuals, lay their eggs on the ground, and in some parts of the world, including Malaya, their eggs are gathered for human consumption.

Malaya the peninsula directly south of Thailand, in Southeast Asia; Malaya gained its independence from British rule in 1957, and became part of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963.

hairpin a small metal clip used to hold hair in place.

magistrate a government employee who administers and enforces the law.

Shantung means "Eastern Mountains"; a northern coastal province in China, including the Shantung Peninsula, and China's third most populous province.

Changchow also known as Changzhou, a city in eastern China, west of Shanghai.

yellow croaker a saltwater fish; in China, yellow croakers are caught mainly in Kwangtung Province, which supplies about one-fifth of the fish consumed in China.

Hanchow possibly Hangchow, a city southwest of Shanghai, in Chekiang Province; capital city of the Southern Sung dynasty (960-1279).

ingots any standardized shapes of metal; for example, gold bars.

bantams small, aggressive chickens.

purple dromedaries one-humped camels; "purple" dromedaries are only imaginary.

First Emperor of Ch'in refers to Chao Cheng, who came to the throne in 247 B.C., and, by 221 B.C., had solidified the Ch'in dynasty, mostly through conquests of rival territories; during the Ch'in empire, which lasted until 206 B.C., the Great Wall of China was begun, and all books except those on such subjects as medicine were burned to halt subversive thought.

jasper a red, yellow, or brown variety of the mineral quartz.

Mount Fuji Japan's highest mountain, located sixty miles southwest of Tokyo; Mount Fuji, which is sacred to the Japanese, is a volcano, dormant since 1707 but still classified as "active" by geologists.

strafed randomly attacked with machine gun or cannon fire.

Li T'ieh-kuai one of the Eight Immortals; Li is depicted as an old man, with a gourd slung over his shoulder; the gourd holds medicine, which Li dispenses to the poor, and at night serves as his bedroom.

impish mischievous.

Ellis Island an island off of New York City that served as the primary immigration station from 1892 to 1943.

dirigibles airships, or blimps.

atavistic the reappearance of some characteristic in a family bloodline that has not been evident for generations.

rheumatism inflammation of muscles or joints, causing stiffness and pain.

varicose veins blood-swollen veins, commonly occurring in the legs.

tubercular handkerchiefs Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by bacteria, called tubercle bacillus; because the disease can be spread from person to person, people already infected with tuberculosis would hold handkerchiefs or other material to their mouths whenever they coughed to lessen the chance of spreading the disease.

lepers' socks Leprosy is a chronic disease characterized by skin sores, gangrene, and even paralysis; because the disease is contagious, people with leprosy — known as lepers — often cover their skin to restrain the disease from spreading and because of the social stigma attached to the disease.

peat dirt highly organic soil derived from peat, decomposed vegetable matter used as a fertilizer and, in some countries, as a fuel.

chick mash highly nutritious food fed to baby chicks.

loquat tree a small evergreen tree, native to China and Japan, with white flowers and yellow, edible fruit.

Romany Romany is a catchall word that means gypsy, the language that gypsies speak, and the location from which gypsies come, although Romany is not a physical country or place.

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