Feathers from a Thousand Li Away


Before emigrating to America, a Chinese woman bought a swan that, according to the vendor, was a duck that stretched its neck so far it became a swan. As she sailed to America, the woman imagined giving the swan to an American-born daughter who would exceed all hopes. However, when she arrived, immigration officials seized the swan, leaving her with only a feather. She now has a daughter, but the woman still hasn't given her the feather as she can't explain its symbolism in perfect American English yet.

Jing-mei Woo: "The Joy Luck Club"

After her mother, Suyuan, died, her father asked Jing-mei to take her place at the Joy Luck Club – a weekly mahjong party Suyuan revived in San Francisco after one she founded in China in the 1940s. Back then, Suyuan had fled with her twin daughters to where her first husband was, but arrived there without the babies and, for years, never told her American daughter about them. At the first club event, Suyuan's friends tell Jing-mei her mother located the twins just before dying. Her friends contacted them and now give Jing-mei money to go to China.

Read a full Summary & Analysis of the Introduction & "The Joy Luck Club"

An-mei Hsu: "Scar"

As An-mei's mother became a concubine, she and her little brother went to live with their grandmother, Popo, who forbade them to speak their mother's name. When Popo becomes ill, An-mei's mother visits, caresses a scar An-mei got the last time her mother had come back for her, and cuts a piece of her own flesh to put in a soup for Popo, as a sacrifice and sign of respect, making An-mei love her again.

Lindo Jong: "The Red Candle"

Lindo was promised in marriage to Huang Tyan-yu at age two and married him at age sixteen. On her wedding day Lindo secretly blows out Tyan-yu's end of a candle to avoid sealing their marriage, but she doesn't succeed. Tyan-yu makes Lindo sleep on the sofa and, when they are forced to sleep in the same bed, never touches her. A servant girl is pregnant with Tyan-yu’s child, his marriage with Lindo is annulled, and Lindo emigrates to America. 

Ying-ying St. Clair: "The Moon Lady"

During the Moon Festival, four-year-old Ying-ying was told by her nurse, Amah, that she would see the Moon Lady, who granted wishes, but shouldn't voice her wishes to anyone else so they wouldn't become selfish desires. At the feast, held in a boat, Ying-ying smears her clothes with turtle blood. Amah takes Ying-ying's clothes and leaves her alone in her underclothes. Startled by firecrackers, Ying-ying falls overboard, but is rescued by fishermen and taken ashore to be found by her family. After Ying-ying watches a play about the Moon Lady, she makes a wish to be found.

Read a full Summary & Analysis of "Scar," "The Red Candle," & "The Moon Lady"

The Twenty-six Malignant Gates


A Chinese woman forbids her American daughter to ride her bicycle around the corner for fear that the girl will suffer an accident, as advised in the Chinese book The Twenty-six Malignant Gates. However, when the mother doesn't tell her what the dangers in the book are, the girl angrily rushes away on her bicycle and falls before reaching the corner.

Waverly Jong: "Rules of the Game"

Lindo's daughter, Waverly, tells how her mother helped her become a child chess prodigy. Waverly became a celebrity in San Francisco's Chinatown community and a national champion by the age of nine. One day, exasperated by her mother’s bragging, Waverly yelled and ran off. When she returned home later and Lindo said the family would no longer have any concern for her, Waverly went into her room and envisioned a chess game against her mother.

Lena St. Clair: "The Voice from the Wall"

Lena, the daughter of Ying-ying and Clifford, says her mother can't speak English very well. Lena translates, sometimes altering the translation to make Ying-ying sound more conventional. When Ying-ying has a baby who dies at birth, Lena hears her babbling about another son she killed but, to her father, translates her words as expressions of hope. As Ying-ying falls apart, Lena comforts herself by thinking that Teresa, the girl next door, is more miserable. When Teresa's mother locks her out, she enters her bedroom through Lena's window. Later, Lena hears Teresa arguing with her mother, but then laughing with love.

Read a full Summary & Analysis of the Introduction, "Rules of the Game," & "The Voice from the Wall"

Rose Hsu Jordan: "Half and Half"

Rose wonders how to tell her mother she is getting divorced. She remembers when her brother Bing left under her responsibility and disappeared into the ocean, leading her mother to pray and make offerings for his return. As Rose expected, her mother says she must try to save her marriage. Rose reflects that fate is shaped half by expectation, half by inattention (and that her inattention caused Bing's death and Ted's request for divorce), but that when you lose something you love, faith takes over.

Jing-mei Woo: "Two Kinds"

Jing-mei's mother, Suyuan, made her take piano lessons. Jing-mei, unprepared, gave a disastrous performance at a contest. As her mother insisted that she continue practicing, Jing-mei declared she wished she were dead. At Jing-mei's thirtieth birthday, Suyuan offers her the family's piano, saying Jing-mei could have become a skilled pianist if she tried. After Suyuan's death, Jing-mei plays her concert piece, "Pleading Child," and then the piece on the facing page, "Perfectly Contented," and realizes the two pieces are like the halves of a same song.

Read a full Summary & Analysis of "Half and Half" & "Two Kinds"

American Translation


A mother warns her daughter that the mirror at the foot of her bed is inauspicious for her marriage. To counterbalance it, the mother gives her a second mirror and places it at the head of the bed, explaining that the mirrors will now multiply the daughter's luck and show the daughter her future child on the mirror.

Lena St. Clair: "Rice Husband"

Lena says her mother, Ying-ying, can always predict evils that will affect their family but regrets never doing anything to prevent them. She remembers how Ying-ying, by associating her eating habits to her future husband's appearance, made her become anorexic. Lena describes her relationship with her husband, Harold: they keep strict accounts of the money each spends and share very little. Ying-ying comments on their list of shared expenses, making Lena argue with Harold. Ying-ying breaks a vase on a wobbly table he built, and Lena says she knew this would happen. Ying-ying asks her why she doesn't stop it.

Waverly Jong: "Four Directions"

Waverly wants to tell Lindo she is engaged to her boyfriend, Rich, but fears her mother will spoil their marriage. Waverly brings Rich to dinner at Lindo's house, but as he commits several etiquette blunders, she doesn't mention their plans. Next day, Waverly visits Lindo to unburden her resentment, but finds her asleep, looking powerless, and cries. Later, when Lindo reveals she knew about their engagement and doesn't hate Rich, Waverly realizes she has always misunderstood her mother.

Read a full Summary & Analysis of the Introduction, "The Rice Husband," & "Four Directions"

Rose Hsu Jordan: "Without Wood"

Rose finds divorce papers and a ten-thousand-dollar check from her husband, Ted, in the mailbox. After staying in bed for days, she is wakened by a call from An-mei, who asks why she doesn't speak up for herself. When Ted calls to ask for the divorce papers and says he wants the house as he is marrying someone else, Rose laughs and tells him to come collect the papers. When Ted arrives, she gives him the unsigned papers and refuses to leave.

Jing-mei Woo: "Best Quality"

As Suyuan and Jing-mei shop for a dinner party, Suyuan grumbles about their tenants accusing her of poisoning their cat. While they choose crabs, the leg of one becomes detached and Suyuan is forced to buy it. During dinner, after the guests picked the best crabs and there are only two left, Jing-mei takes the defective crab, but Suyuan insists she take the better one. Suyuan disguisedly throws her crab away. Waverly mocks Jing-mei's career, making her retreat tearfully to the kitchen. Suyuan tells Jing-mei she thinks differently from most people, gives her a jade pendant, and advises her to ignore Waverly. One day, after Suyuan's death, Jing-mei sees the tenants' cat and is relieved her mother hadn't poisoned it.

Read a full Summary & Analysis of "Without Wood" & "Best Quality"

Queen Mother of the Western Skies


A woman wonders whether she should teach her baby granddaughter to preserve her innocence or to shed it as protection from emotional injury, which she regrets teaching her own daughter. As the baby laughs, she understands her granddaughter is the wise Queen Mother of the Western Skies and has taught her a lesson: one must lose one's innocence but not one's hope.

An-mei Hsu: "Magpies"

An-mei wishes her daughter Rose would speak up for herself, as she learned to. After Popo's death, An-mei’s mother taught her that one must learn to swallow one's tears. An-mei returns with her mother to Tientsin, where she is the fourth wife of a rich merchant, Wu Tsing. After his second wife gives An-mei a pearl necklace, her mother shows it is fake and warns An-mei against her. Later, An-mei learns that the second wife, unable to give Wu Tsing an heir, manipulated him into raping An-mei's mother and took her son as her own. After her mother commits suicide, An-mei confronts the second wife with the necklace, crushing it underfoot.

Ying-ying St. Clair: "Waiting Between the Trees"

Ying-ying recounts how she married an older man, whose son she aborted after he left her. After her first husband died, she married an American. Ying-ying explains she was born in the year of the Tiger and has two natures: a fierce golden one that jumps and a cunning black one that waits. She used her black nature after her first husband left but lost her spirit after remarrying and coming to America. She decides to share her past with her daughter so that Lena, also born under the Tiger sign, can free her own spirit.

Read a full Summary & Analysis of the Introduction, "Magpies," & "Waiting Between the Trees"

Lindo Jong: "Double Face"

Waverly tells Lindo she fears blending so well with the Chinese that she won't be allowed back in America, but Lindo says the Chinese will know Waverly is American before she even says anything. Lindo recalls her early years in America, senses Waverly is ashamed of her, and ponders about their resemblance. When she notices Waverly's nose is crooked like hers and urges her to change it, Waverly says she likes how this shared feature makes them look two-faced. 

Jing-mei Woo: "A Pair of Tickets"

Canning tells Jing-mei the story of Suyuan and her twin daughters: fearing her daughters would die, Suyuan stuffed their shirts with jewelry and money and wrote their names on the back of photos with a message asking their rescuer to care for the babies and bring them to her address when safe again. She collapsed and met Canning in a hospital after learning her husband died. When the girls’ rescuers tried to find Suyuan, the address in the message was no longer hers. After coming to America, Suyuan asked friends in China to help her find the twins, and one of them recognized the sisters in a store. After Canning takes a photo of Jing-mei and the twins, she notices the combination of their three faces evokes Suyuan. 

Read a full Summary & Analysis of "Double Face" & "A Pair of Tickets"