Summary and Analysis White Tigers


Having reclaimed the discarded memory of her aunt by telling her story in "No Name Woman," Kingston continues her search for a Chinese-American identity in a more assertive and positive tone in "White Tigers," which relates the heroic struggle of Fa Mu Lan, one of the women warriors from whom the memoir gets its title.

Whereas the previous chapter begins with an entreaty for silence, "White Tigers" confidently proclaims that many successes are possible for women and, more specifically, for "Chinese girls." Prominent among the many talk-stories Kingston heard while growing up is one involving a woman warrior accomplished in martial arts, a story that Kingston narrates in the chapter's first paragraph as a segue between No Name Woman's history and the tale of Fa Mu Lan. The description of this woman's "combing her hair one morning" recalls how Kingston wanted to believe that No Name Woman "combed individuality into her bob." Also, the comment, "Perhaps women were once so dangerous that they had to have their feet bound," evokes the implied threat in Kingston's mother's telling her daughters that they should be glad that they were not forced to have their feet bound when they were seven years old, and foreshadows the later incident in "White Tigers" in which an evil baron's wives, once freed from the cruelly inhumane bandages used to wrap their feet, become fierce women warriors themselves.

For most of this chapter, Kingston relates the talk-story of Fa Mu Lan, the woman-warrior heroine about whom she learned as a child. She blends aspects of the Chinese legend of Fa Mu Lan with other myths stemming from Eastern philosophy and religion. Some of the talk-story's images that appear most extraordinary or fanciful, such as people and swords flying through the air, are based on Chinese popular culture and folklore; Kingston saw these images depicted in Chinese movies while she was growing up in Stockton, California.

Kingston's talk-story about Fa Mu Lan is derived from a classical Chinese folk story about a woman named Mu-lan. Anonymously written in the fifth or sixth century by a Chinese poet, "The Ballad of Mu-lan" sketchily details how Mu-lan, about whose deeds many different versions have since been composed, fights in place of her father when he is drafted into the emperor's army. After the war ends, Mu-lan returns home to her family and resumes her normal life.

The scarcity of detail in the many versions of Mu-lan's story is markedly different than in Kingston's revision of the tale. For example, one version of "The Ballad of Mu-lan" begins with the folk heroine volunteering to fight in place of her father, whereas Kingston details Fa Mu Lan's education as a woman warrior; Fa Mu Lan has an older brother who replaces his father in the first round of army conscription, but Mu-lan has no older brother so must go in place of her father when the army first drafts him; and Kingston's woman warrior fights against the emperor, but Mu-lan fights for him.

The greatest similarity between Mu-lan and Kingston's Fa Mu Lan is that each heroine returns home after fighting and assumes her traditionally female duties. In one version of "The Ballad of Mu-lan," when the folk heroine, who is weaving at the beginning of the poem, comes home from fighting, the first thing she does is remove her "wartime gown" and put her "old-time clothes" back on, an act that symbolizes that she will resume her duties as a daughter in the household. In Kingston's talk-story, in which Fa Mu Lan marries and has a son, the woman warrior conforms to Chinese custom by going to live with her husband in his family's home. Kneeling at her parents-in-law's feet, she tells them, "I will stay with you, doing farmwork and housework, and giving you more sons."

Whether or not Kingston personally sees herself as Fa Mu Lan has been hotly debated in recent criticism. Is she the woman warrior? Much of the confusion occurs because Kingston initially believes that she first heard the Fa Mu Lan story only after she became an adult, but then she remembers that she and her mother used to sing about the woman warrior when she was yet a child. "After I grew up," Kingston writes, "I heard the chant of Fa Mu Lan, the girl who took her father's place in battle. Instantly, I remembered that as a child I followed my mother about the house, the two of us singing about how Fa Mu Lan fought gloriously and returned alive from war to settle in the village."

Also adding to the confusion surrounding just how much Kingston personally identifies with Fa Mu Lan is Kingston's use of the subjunctive mood — "would" — as the narration transitions from her remembering hearing the talk-story as a child to the actual tale itself, which is told from the first-person "I" perspective of Fa Mu Lan. This narrative technique of using the subjunctive mood begins with Kingston's recalling how her mother told the young Kingston that she would grow up to be a wife and slave, but she rejects these roles and instead promises, "I would have to grow up a warrior woman." This promise is then immediately followed by the transitional section that begins, "The call would come from a bird that flew over our roof," which signals a change in who is narrating the story: "our roof" seems to refer to Kingston and her mother's house, but "The call would come from a bird" begins Fa Mu Lan's story. Only after the old couple on top of the mountain asks Fa Mu Lan if she has eaten yet, and she replies that she already has, does it become clear that the persona of Kingston appears for the last time. After Kingston breaks into the narration at this point and says in a child's pouting voice, "No I haven't. . . . I'm starved. Do you have any cookies? I like chocolate chip cookies," she transitions this modern-day childlike voice into the long-ago voice of Fa Mu Lan, who was seven years old when she began her training as a woman warrior.

The legendary Fa Mu Lan remembers being led by a bird through brambles and over rocks. The narrative then changes to the present tense: Fa Mu Lan finally reaches the summit of a mountain, atop of which stands a thatched hut. There, an old man and an old woman, who represent ultimate wisdom and enlightenment, greet her. They offer to teach her to be a warrior if she will stay with them for fifteen years, but the choice is hers: Either she can return home to pull sweet potatoes in the fields with the rest of her family, or she can become a young woman warrior who will "avenge [her] village" and "recapture the harvests that the thieves have taken." "You can be remembered by the Han people for your dutifulness," the old woman assures her. Fa Mu Lan gladly agrees to stay with the old couple and so spends the next fifteen years undergoing intensive martial arts training in mental and physical activities and disciplines.

The seventh year of Fa Mu Lan's training culminates in a test in which she must demonstrate her survival skills. The old couple leads her — blindfolded — to the mountains of the white tigers, where they abandon her to seek her own way back to their hut, which she eventually finds. Most notable among the many episodes of Fa Mu Lan's ordeal is one in which a white rabbit sacrifices itself for Fa Mu Lan's nourishment. On the brink of despair because she is famished, Fa Mu Lan builds a fire to warm herself and is joined by the white rabbit, which hops close to the woman warrior, sitting next to the fire. Fa Mu Lan resists killing the rabbit, but the animal freely jumps into the flames and turns into meat, "browned just right." "I ate it," Fa Mu Lan explains, "knowing the rabbit had sacrificed itself for me. It made me a gift of meat." This important episode, which symbolizes Fa Mu Lan's attaining enlightenment by refusing selflessly to kill the rabbit, which in turn sacrifices itself for Fa Mu Lan, parallels a similar mythical ordeal attributed to Buddha, the venerated Eastern mystic who preached self-enlightenment. During a period of testing in which the starving Buddha achieved nirvana only after setting aside all thoughts of personal comfort and hunger, a white rabbit self-immolated itself to feed the hungry man.

For the next eight years, Fa Mu Lan acquires adult wisdom through a training process in "dragon ways." According to traditional Chinese myth, dragons — a metaphor for nature, including the problems and paradoxes in life — encompass the whole world: "The dragon lives in the sky, ocean, marshes, and mountains; and the mountains are also its cranium . . . and sometimes the dragon is one, sometimes many." However, the old couple tells Fa Mu Lan, "You have to infer the whole dragon from the parts you can see and touch." Because dragons are too immense to be seen in their entirety, only by understanding their individual parts can the woman warrior grasp their totality.

Getting to know the different parts of the world as represented by dragons enables Fa Mu Lan to face difficult situations. "I learned to make my mind large," she states, "as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes." In other words, she learns to broaden her mind in order to accept the contradictions in life. And, of course, reconciling cultural paradoxes is what Kingston herself is seeking by writing The Woman Warrior: She integrates her mother's talk-stories — and her own versions of these same tales — into her identity as a first-generation Chinese American and, perhaps more significantly, as a female Chinese American who is not limited to the subservient gender-biased position that Chinese patriarchal society traditionally demanded of its women.

Throughout her absence from home, Fa Mu Lan views her family and village by looking into a water gourd that the old man possesses. She sees her brother taking their father's place in the army conscription, an act of perfect filial piety — complete obedience and service to one's parents. She also watches her own wedding ceremony, in which her parents wed her to her childhood friend, who marries her despite her absence. He, too, is conscripted into the army.

When the village families are called upon once again to send male family members for service in the army, Fa Mu Lan, having trained for fifteen years with the old couple, returns to her village to take her father's place. Upon arriving, she is showered with glories by her family "as if they were welcoming home a son." However, before her parents allow her to leave to take her father's place in the army, they force her to kneel before the family's ancestral shrine while her father uses a knife to carve a "list of grievances" into her back. Fa Mu Lan does not cry despite the pain. Should she die while fighting in battle, the list, including the oaths, names, and address of her family, will serve to remind everyone of the sacrifices she and her family made.

Fa Mu Lan's father's physically carving words into his daughter's back is a shocking act that seems cruel and inhumane, yet another example of a patriarchal society that sanctions violence against women. Paradoxically, however, his actions are also a testament to the power of language. Fa Mu Lan becomes a text — literally — of written words: "My father first brushed the words in ink, and they fluttered down my back row after row. Then he began cutting; to make fine lines and points he used thin blades, for the stems, large blades." The ideographs, or symbols, of revenge that Fa Mu Lan's father carves into her back transform her into a woman who is revenge incarnate — revenge made flesh. Earlier in the chapter, Kingston noted the bird that led Fa Mu Lan up into the mountains: "In the brush drawings it looks like the ideograph for 'human,' two black wings," and the mountains themselves "look like the ideograph 'mountain.'" By drawing attention to how much these ideographs — revenge, bird, and mountain — look like the very idea or objects that they represent, Kingston emphasizes how language defines experience, which otherwise would remain unrecorded — for example, No Name Woman's life story, or Maxine Hong Kingston's own identity as a female Chinese American.

Her back healed, and now disguised as a man, Fa Mu Lan forms an army of her own rather than fight in anyone else's. Becoming the rallying point for her family, her village, and, eventually, the whole country, she leads her army into battle, fighting for justice and overthrowing the corrupt and morally depraved. Although she remains disguised as a man throughout her crusades, her husband recognizes her, and together they conceive a child. She hides her pregnancy by altering her armor to allow for the increased girth of her waist, and when the child is born, her husband takes it home to his family.

After overthrowing the country's evil emperor and slaying the corrupt baron who had terrorized Fa Mu Lan's village for years, the woman warrior returns to her village to fulfill her filial duties to her husband's family. She declares to his parents, "Now my public duties are finished. . . . I will stay with you, doing farmwork and housework, and giving you more sons." She has also fulfilled her filial duties to her own parents: During her absence, she did not neglect them, but rather ensured that her "mother and father and the entire clan would be living happily on the money [she] had sent them." With these words, Fa Mu Lan, the perfect woman warrior, embraces her traditionally female Chinese moral obligations.

Kingston abruptly concludes Fa Mu Lan's story with an ironic proclamation: "My American life has been such a disappointment." Having encouraged us to believe that it is possible for a woman of Chinese descent to gain respect and success, she reveals a sense of betrayal in her mother's talk-stories. She tries to please her mother by modeling herself after Fa Mu Lan, who, she acknowledges, is "the swordswoman who drives me," but when she announces that she earned "straight A's" in school, her mother, instead of praising her daughter, undermines her success by reminding her of "a girl who saved her village." Again, as in "No Name Woman," Kingston finds herself confused by the messages in yet another of Brave Orchid's talk-stories. Recalling her sense of confusion, Kingston writes, "I could not figure out what was my village. And it was important that I do something big and fine, or else my parents would sell me when we made our way back to China." To Kingston, who views getting straight A's as something her parents should be proud of, her mother seems to put impossible and confusing demands on her.

What the appropriate role of a village is in relation to its individual members constantly changes throughout the memoir and is one of the major paradoxes that troubles Kingston. Because each female protagonist in The Woman Warrior interacts differently with her respective village, Kingston is unable to summarize categorically how a woman should be treated by her village, and what that individual's responsibilities are to her fellow villagers. In "No Name Woman," both Kingston's aunt's family and village ostracize her because she gets pregnant by a man who is not her husband. However, whereas we might then expect No Name Woman to reject her family and certainly her village, her separation from these two social communities is more than she can stand psychologically, and she wavers precipitously between consciousness — represented by comforting thoughts of her family — and unconsciousness — symbolized in her fear of open spaces. Kingston imagines of her aunt, "Flayed, unprotected against space, she felt pain return, focusing her body. . . . For hours she lay on the ground, alternately body and space." No Name Woman's desire to be contained — both physically and socially — within some structure finally drives her to seek refuge in a pigsty: "It was good to have a fence enclosing her, a tribal person alone."

Fa Mu Lan's relationship with her village is diametrically opposite of No Name Woman's with hers. Returning to her home after training for fifteen years with the old couple, Fa Mu Lan is greeted by her parents "as if they were welcoming home a son"; in other words, they are ecstatically happy. The villagers, represented by two cousins of Fa Mu Lan, question where she has been during her absence, but no one takes seriously the possibility that she "went to the city and became a prostitute," as one giggling cousin suggests. When Fa Mu Lan is finally ready to leave her village to fight the evil emperor and tyrannical barons, her departure is radically different from No Name Woman's: The villagers present the woman warrior with gifts — including "their real gifts . . . their sons" — that honor the self-sacrifice that she is making on their behalf. Ironically, the villagers note how beautiful Fa Mu Lan is only after she disguises herself as a man; however, they at least acknowledge that this warrior is a woman dressed "in man's fashion" when they continue referring to her by using the female pronoun "she": "'How beautiful you look,' the people said. 'How beautiful she looks.'"

Later in the chapter, as Fa Mu Lan and her army approach Peiping, the governmental seat of power, the woman warrior basks in the sight of a united Chinese population acting as one total, all-encompassing community. Although Kingston, of course, created the words she attributes to Fa Mu Lan, even she must realize that her own search for an identity as part of a larger community never will produce the pride and sense of belonging felt by Fa Mu Lan as she looks down at her people from atop a hill: ". . . the land was peopled — the Han people, the People of One Hundred Surnames, marching with one heart, our tatters flying. The depth and width of Joy were exactly known to me: the Chinese population."

Listening to her mother's talk-stories about women warriors, young Kingston does not even understand whether the village that Brave Orchid alludes to when she chides her daughter, "Let me tell you a true story about a girl who saved her village," is the family village in China or the Stockton, California, community in which she and her family live. Because many immigrants considered their sojourn in America to be temporary, Kingston's parents might have discussed returning with their family to their village in China, which would have confused the young girl trying to fit into an American culture but hearing stories only about China.

Desperate to win her mother's approval and to do something "big and fine," Kingston does not recognize that her mother uses the story of Fa Mu Lan to make the point that sacrificing oneself for the family and village is more important than gaining individual success. Fa Mu Lan's sacrificial acts of fighting in place of her father and saving her village from the tyrannical baron are more important than any actual glory she earns in battle. Brave Orchid downplays her daughter's success at school because, according to the moral of Fa Mu Lan, the self-sacrificial act deserves recognition, not the glory Kingston gets from school, especially since females are not expected to excel in school or in their careers.

As in "No Name Woman," Brave Orchid uses talk-story to provide morals and guidelines for her daughter, who admits of her mother, "At last I saw that I too had been in the presence of great power, my mother talking-story." This admission is especially flattering of Brave Orchid because Kingston uses the same phrase, "the presence of great power," to describe the spirit of the white crane that helped a woman warrior invent white crane boxing. But Kingston interprets Brave Orchid's woman warrior stories differently than her mother intended. Again, because Kingston relates these stories to her personal American context, she reads different meanings into them.

In her own experience as a girl growing up in a Chinese family and community, Kingston knows that girls are not favored. After all, she points out, "There is a Chinese word for the female I — which is 'slave.' Break the women with their own tongues!" However, she believes that she could receive the recognition that is reserved for sons if only she traded her female identity for a male's, just as Fa Mu Lan does. Ironically, she finds that by doing things that are considered anti-feminine, she is still unfavored: "I refused to cook. When I had to wash dishes, I would crack one or two. 'Bad girl,' my mother yelled, and sometimes that made me gloat rather than cry. Isn't a bad girl almost a boy?" By giving up her femininity, Kingston also realizes that she will be unsuccessful in getting dates with boys. She finds that the role model provided in the Fa Mu Lan story cannot help her to escape the denigrating remarks made about girls — "Girls are maggots in the rice. It is more profitable to raise geese than daughters" — or to debunk the traditional roles expected of her.

Kingston reveals her disappointment in Fa Mu Lan and shows how the story is of little use to her American reality. For example, when she stands up as a "heroine" to one of her bigoted and chauvinistic American bosses, the real barons in her life, he simply fires her. She also has difficulty understanding why, in communist China, her aunts and uncles were slaughtered as if they were the barons, when in fact they were the villagers who needed saving from the barons' tyrannical rule. She feels tricked by these stories of her descendants because they create paradoxes that she cannot reconcile. One such contradiction involves birds: A bird leads Fa Mu Lan to the old couple on the mountaintop, but birds also lure Kingston's uncle to his death at the hands of the Chinese communists. Resignedly, Kingston notes, "It is confusing that birds tricked us."

Kingston also cannot conceal her conflicting emotions about wanting to have a family of her own but fearing that to do so would only prove her mother right, that women are raised to be only wives and mothers. Jealous of Fa Mu Lan's ability to be swordswoman, wife, and mother, and of the woman warrior's network of support from her family, husband, and village, simultaneously Kingston is angry that she herself does not have any of these things. "Then," she writes, "I get bitter: no one supports me; I am not loved enough to be supported. That I am not a burden has to compensate for the sad envy when I look at women loved enough to be supported." Ironically, the greater she tries to distance herself from her Chinese heritage, the more she realizes just how affected she has become from listening to her mother's talk-stories about her female ancestors. Although she wants most to identify herself as an individual who lives in America and who has very few ties to China, nevertheless she admits, "Even now China wraps double binds around my feet."

As an adult, Kingston continues to struggle with "dragons," the paradoxes in life. She describes her pain about the emotional distance between herself and her Chinese-born parents in these words: "When I visit the family now, I wrap my American successes around me like a private shawl; I am worthy of eating the food. From afar I can believe my family loves me fundamentally. They only say, 'When fishing for treasures in the flood, be careful not to pull in girls,' because that is what one says about daughters." However, there is still a bitter irony in what she says about her parents and her relationship with them.

In the chapter's last paragraph, Kingston finds consolation that she and Fa Mu Lan serve a common purpose. Both women are concerned about the welfare of their people, and both testify to the strength and determination of women who create their own destinies rather than let others decide their futures for them. Fittingly, the Chinese god of war and the Chinese god of literature are one and the same: Kuan Kung. "What we have in common are the words at our backs," Kingston writes, speaking of herself and Fa Mu Lan. "The idioms for revenge are 'report a crime' and 'report to five families.' The reporting is the vengeance — not the beheading, not the gutting, but the words. And I have so many words — 'chink' words and 'gook' words too — that they do not fit on my skin." Using her gift for talk-story, Kingston fights the many paradoxes in her life with words rather than with a sword.


white crane boxing a style or system of martial arts, or fighting arts.

Shao-lin temple Shaolin, which developed in northern China, is a form of martial arts that emphasizes strength and speed. Martial arts training centers would have been called temples.

fighting monks a Buddhist order of monks trained in martial arts, often depicted in folklore and movies.

Confucius Latinized spelling of the name K'ung fu-tzu (probably 551-478 B.C.), an itinerant teacher and sage. Three important doctrines of Confucius include believing in benevolence (doing unto others as to yourself), acting with benevolence, and acting in accordance with propriety. Confucius' teachings are recorded in Analects, compiled by his disciples.

ideograph a symbol that represents an idea; for example, the symbol "@" means "at."

drinking gourd a dried and then hollowed-out melon or squash, often oddly shaped, that can be used as a drinking vessel.

the Han people people of the Chinese race; the word "Han" is derived from the name of the dynasty that ruled China from 202 B.C. to A.D. 220.

homonyms words that sound alike but differ in spelling; for example, "meat" and "meet."

peony here, the tree peony, a woody-stemmed perennial with large white- or rose-colored flowers that bloom on three- to four-foot stalks. Tree peonies, which grow slowly, are native to western China but have been hybridized in the United States and throughout the world.

monk's food scant, meager portions of food; Fa Mu Lan eats only nuts and dry roots during most of her time on the mountains of the white tigers.

fungus mushrooms.

Javanese pertaining to Java, the most heavily populated of the islands that comprise Indonesia, a country in Southeast Asia.

self-immolation deliberate self-sacrifice, often by burning.

transmigration here, changing physical shape.

quarries excavation pits from which materials such as stones, minerals, or coal are mined.

strata horizontal layers of rock material, usually stacked one on top of the other.

poppies flowers admired for their beautiful petals; perennial Oriental poppies are best known for their red blossoms with blackish-purple centers.

red carp an inland-water fish common throughout North America, Europe, and Asia; the red carp derives its name from its reddish-colored scales and fins.

mallard a colorful wild duck found throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.

cranium the skull.

red money Giving money is one of the many customs associated with the Chinese New Year, a fifteen-day festival beginning either in late January or early February. The focus of the celebration is the payment of debts, housecleaning, and the ending of quarrels to prepare the way for a peaceful new year. Often the money is given in red envelopes.

foreheads tied with wild oaths scarf-like material wrapped around the forehead and tied at the back of the head; ideographs like those that Fa Mu Lan's father carves on the woman warrior's back would have been stitched into the fabric to spur warriors to perform great deeds.

scythes tools with long, curved blades used for hand-mowing or harvesting grains.

descent line the chronological history of a person's ancestors; a genealogical family tree.

baron socially and economically, the most important group of landowners — next to a country's ruler — during feudal times.

conscription forced drafting into service, usually military.

bonded as apprentices made to serve a specific length of time as a helper to an experienced craftsman; after learning trades through their apprenticeships, apprentices become master craftsmen themselves.

Eight Sages also called the Eight Immortals, eight mythological Chinese men of great wisdom; although unacquainted in real life, the eight are frequently depicted as a group in Chinese art.

basin here, a shallow bowl used to hold water.

ink block a container in which ink is stored.

Peiping means "Northern Peace"; present-day Beijing, the capital of China.

marauders raiders.

fiefdoms a land-holding system in which large tracts of land are owned and run by feudal lords; mini-kingdoms.

Chen Luan-feng probably a reference to a mythological figure who cut off the leg of Lei Kung, the thunder god, also known as Lei Shen. Lei Kung, who punishes humans guilty of secret crimes, uses a drum and mallet to produce thunder and a chisel to punish wrongdoers.

palanquins Formerly used in eastern Asia, a palanquin is an ornate chair, often covered by a roof to protect the inhabitant and carried on the shoulders of servants using two poles fastened to the chair.

sedan chairs similar to palanquins.

gestation the time period from conception to birth of a baby.

paisley fabric distinguished by its swirling pattern of shapes.

nape the back of the neck.

fontanel an anatomical term used to describe a baby's soft membranes between its skull's unformed bones.

Long Wall the fifteen-hundred-mile Great Wall of China; begun in the third century B.C. as a means of defense against invading marauders from the north.

Mongols traditionally, the nomadic people of Mongolia, situated north of China; throughout their histories, Mongolia and China always have had a very contentious and uneasy relationship with each other.

abacus a mathematical device used to solve addition and subtraction problems; invented in China in the twelfth century, the abacus is made up of beads strung on rods in units of ten.

the ancestral tablets lists on which ancestors' names are inscribed; in ancient China, and to a great extent still today, ancestor worship was universally practiced. Because the dead are believed to have the same needs as the living, the actions of the living affect the dead, and the dead continue to help the living. By tearing down the evil baron's ancestral tablets, Fa Mu Lan defames the evil baron's ancestors and, thus, the evil baron himself.

exorcised to have cast out evil spirits.

Joan of Arc (1412-31) the French heroine who, claiming that she regularly talked with dead Catholic saints, inspired the French to victory over the English at Orléans in 1429; she was later captured by the English, tried for heresy, and burned at the stake.

CORE Congress of Racial Equality; established in 1942 to improve race relations, one of CORE's major projects is voter-registration drives in the South.

NAACP National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; created in 1909 to help abolish segregation and end discrimination against people of color.

Hong Kong formerly, a British colony on the southeast coast of Kwangtung Province (Guangdong); Hong Kong reverted to mainland Chinese control in 1997.

Fourth Aunt and Uncle The title of a relative is accorded by the rank at birth; for example, Third Sister would be the third daughter born into a family.

yams sweet potatoes, starchy root vegetables associated most with the southern United States.

faggots bundled small branches, often used as kindling to start a fire.

gurus spiritual advisors, or leaders.

crank here, a person who shams innocent people out of their money.

tong ax A tong is an association of Chinese individuals in the United States, believed to be involved in organized crime; Kingston speculates that an old busboy she encounters is really a swordsman, and that this busboy-swordsman uses an ax to kill people opposed to the tong.

flotage loose material adrift in water.

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