After LuLing has been at the orphanage for two years, she receives a letter from GaoLing. It has taken GaoLing that long to track down LuLing’s location since the family refused to tell her where LuLing was sent. GaoLing married into the Chang family in place of LuLing, as part of a business deal where the Chang family lent the Liu family money to rebuild the shop. Now, both the Chang and Liu families have serious financial problems, and many members of the Chang family are also addicted to opium. GaoLing leads an unhappy life, but LuLing’s life has recently transformed: she has fallen in love with Kai Jing.

Analysis: Part Two: Change–Destiny

As LuLing matures into a teenager, her previously happy relationship with Precious Auntie becomes much more tense and fraught. LuLing’s behavior is similar to the defiant arrogance Ruth will display decades later, which implies that regardless of time and place, there are some universal realities about mother-daughter relationships which play out time and time again. Because LuLing hides her history from her own daughter, they are doomed to repeat it. The way in which LuLing’s rebellion manifests reflects the cultural values of the time. LuLing becomes increasingly interested in money and status because these are values that are prized by the Liu family. Because she has lost her connection to her bonesetter heritage, LuLing has also lost her connection to the values of integrity and tradition. She cannot understand why Precious Auntie will not sell the valuable bone or condone her marriage into the Chang family. While LuLing’s self-centered approach is partially a function of her being a spoiled teenager, it also results from her ignorance. Because she does not know the full story of who she is or what Precious Auntie’s history has been, she cannot have compassion for her. This ignorance mirrors the way Ruth has often been frustrated and impatient with LuLing without knowing the context of her suffering.

While the winds of change impact the relationship between LuLing and Precious Auntie, forces of modernity also invade the traditional lifestyle of the village. In 1927, a team of Chinese and Western scientists excavate a site near Peking after discovering what appeared to be fossilized remains of a previously unknown subspecies of the prehistoric species Homo erectus (a species of archaic human). This discovery attracted worldwide attention, and excavations yielded approximately 200 human fossils from at least 40 different specimens. The subspecies became known as the Peking Man. Tan uses the backdrop of this historical event in her novel, presenting it in the context of a local family. The presence of bones in the caves where the fossils were eventually found had been part of local lore for generations, but the local people did not have the archaeological or scientific knowledge to identify these bones as the remains of early humans. Precious Auntie’s father and forefathers, however, had long recognized a special power and value in these bones, calling them “dragon bones.” As forces of contemporary capitalism and colonialism encroach, the stakes for decisions like LuLing’s marriage become even more heightened.

LuLing’s stubborn defiance produces tragic consequences that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Firstly, she refuses to engage with Precious Auntie’s fears and forebodings about the Chang family. Precious Auntie is not just being spiteful; she is committed to keeping her daughter safe. Precious Auntie knows of the history of domestic violence within the Chang family and fears what might lie ahead for LuLing. However, LuLing is not interested in Precious Auntie’s fears because she assumes she herself knows best and thinks of Precious Auntie as superstitious and out of touch. LuLing feels disdain for Precious Auntie’s mistrust of the Chang family in a way that parallels the disdain Ruth will feel for LuLing’s devotion to Precious Auntie’s spirit. LuLing cannot be bothered to read the manuscript Precious Auntie gives her and lies when she says she has read it. While Ruth fails her own mother in similar ways, she is, at least, transparent about delaying reading the manuscript.

Because Precious Auntie mistakenly believes that LuLing rejects her even after learning that they are mother and daughter, she is unable to bear her grief any longer. She has lived her whole life in the hope that she might someday tell the truth to her daughter, and now that her revelation has failed, she has no reason to live. Thus, LuLing lives with the tragedy Ruth narrowly avoids: she learns the truth of her mother’s story only after her mother is dead and gone. LuLing finds her mother’s body and then the corpse is thrown into a ravine. In a culture where veneration and commemoration of deceased family members was an important cultural and spiritual practice, the erasure of Precious Auntie’s body is a particularly devastating blow. Additionally, in light of this lack of burial, the loss of Precious Auntie’s name is even more devastating. Other than LuLing’s memories and a photograph, there is no evidence that Precious Auntie ever lived.

Like her mother, LuLing ends up ostracized by conservative social forces. Suicide was considered unlucky and shameful, and the Liu family does not want the circumstances of Precious Auntie’s death to be revealed. This incident forms the root of LuLing’s superstitious beliefs because of how seriously her family takes the idea of curses and ghosts. They cannot take responsibility for their own complicity in harming others and forcing individuals to keep secrets, so they blame supernatural forces instead. There is also an implied misogyny in the way they treat both Precious Auntie and LuLing. Once LuLing’s marriage is called off, she no longer has a role within the family or society at large. She is effectively banished, and when she gets to the orphanage, she realizes that the family has not even arranged for her to be taken in there. Part of LuLing’s bitterness and suspicion comes from the abrupt abandonment she experiences at the hands of the Liu family. LuLing becomes self-reliant and unwilling to trust others.