Ying-ying was born in the year of the Tiger, a creature of force and stealth. However, when her nursemaid tells her that girls should be meek and passive, Ying-ying begins to lose her sense of autonomous will. Furthermore, at an early age Ying-ying’s profound belief in fate and her personal destiny led to a policy of passivity and even listlessness. Always listening to omens and signs, she never paid attention to her inner feelings. Because she believed that she was “destined” to marry a vulgar family friend, she did nothing to seriously prevent the marriage, and even came to love her husband, as if against her will. When he died, she allowed the American Clifford St. Clair to marry her because she sensed that he was her destiny as well. For years she let Clifford mistranslate her clipped sentences, her gestures, and her silences.

Only after Ying-ying realizes that she has passed on her passivity and fatalism to her daughter Lena does she take any initiative to change. Seeing her daughter in an unhappy marriage, she urges her to take control. She tells Lena her story for the first time, hoping that she might learn from her mother’s own failure to take initiative and instead come to express her thoughts and feelings. Lena, too, was born in the year of the Tiger, and Ying-ying hopes that her daughter can live up to their common horoscope in a way that she herself failed to do. Moreover, in this belief in astrology Ying-ying finds a sort of positive counterpart to her earlier, debilitating superstitions and fatalism, for it is a belief not in the inevitability of external events but in the power of an internal quality.