FrancesHuang's Blog

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Revised Writing Proposal!

In Amy Tan’s novels, several elements of traditional Chinese ideology are vividy depicted to show the readers Chinese mentality and ways of thinking. These elements include worshiping ancestors, the five elements, curse of the dead, and signs of the zodiac. In The Joy Luck Club, Lindo Jong delibrated a plot to convince Huang TaiTai that the family’s ancestors didn’t approve the marriage with her son, then she succesfully escaped from this unhappy marriage. An-Mei Hsu spoke on behalf of her dead mother to frighten Wu Tsing and ensure her position in Wu’s family. In The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Luling Young suffered from the fear of her dead mother’s curse for her entire life and thus she led herself to an unhappy life. These three characters’ lives were influenced and changed by Chinese traditional belief. However, does the supernatual power really work on their fates? Are their lives really decided by the elements such as ancestors or the five elements? The psychological reasons for these four elements of Chinese traditional belief should also be examine to see how they affect the believers’s lives.
This research paper is to fulfill the writing research credits required by Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages. In Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club" and "The Bonesetter's Daughter", superstition plays a central role in the mentality and belief of Chinese people. The Chinese believe that the supernatural power will bring them either bad luck or blessing, however, psychological impacts of superstition are also important reasons for the characters to conduct their lives to a different outcome. As a Chinese myself, I find it fascinating that Amy Tan interweaved superstition with the fiction she created so naturally. I am indeed familiar with the Chinese traditional belief in Tan’s novels, because it is the culture I am from. But for non-Chinese readers, these elements might be considered as purely irrational belief. However, I think that even if these behaviors are regarded as superstition, there must be a psychological reason for it. I am curious about the psychology behind the traditional Chinese belief, therefore, I will try to explain the belief from a psychological perspective.

Literature Review
Halmiton (1999) pointed out that Amy Tan applied three elements of traditional Chinese custom which are astrology, the five elements, and Feng Shui in the Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan, 1989). In this paper, I will narrow astrology to the twelve Chinese zodiac signs. The Chinese zodiac signs and the five elements are the main concerns for the Chinses to decide if couples will have good marriages. In the Bonesetter’s Daughter (Amy Tan, 2001), Luling frequently begged for her dead mother’s forgiveness and the guilt toward the death of her mother drove her to an irrational behavior – asked her daughter to do “ghostwriting”. Xiumei Pu (2006) indicated that Luling sought for the help of her mother’s spirit by “ghostwriting” when she faced the “crisis” and difficulties in her life. Luling was trapped in her fear and guilt, yet she searched for her mother’s spirit as her psychological comfort. One very impoartant element that has not been mentioned yet is the worship of ancestors. Francis Hsu (1948) told us that there were psychological reasons for the Chinese to believe the ancestors were there to protect the family. When members of the family respected ancestors, they would ask the ancestors to decide the family matters for them. The domestic conflicts would decrease, since the family memebers follow the ancestors’ will without insisting their own opionions. Haenel (1983) defined the term “superstition”, “faith”, and “delusion”. “Superstition” is defined as an”narcissistic attempt” for people who are not confident to find a balance for themselves. Giora Keinan (2002) experimented on the relationship of the stress that people suffer and their superstitious behavior, and agreed that people tend to have superstitious behavior to reduce the level of stress.

Research Method
This paper will analyze Chinese superstition in Any Tan’s The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter’s Daughter, focuing on worshiping ancestors, the five elements, curse of the dead, and signs of the zodiac. I will examine these four elements of traditional Chinese ideology with the episodes of Lindo Jong and An-Mei Hsu in The Joy Luck Club, and the experiences of Luling Young in The Bonesetter’s Daughter. The possible psychological reasons behind these customs will also be explained and analyzed.

Adams, Bella. 2005. Amy Tan. UK: Manchester University Press.

Chen, Ai-Min. 2005. “On the Presentation of Chinese Culture in the Chinese American Women Literature” - Foreigner Literature Studies: Journal No. 42-1060/1< Abstract. aspx?A=wgwxyj200506011 >

Dresslar, F. B. 1910. “Suggestions on the Psychology of Superstition”, American Journal of Insanity <>.

Hamilton, Patricia L. 1999. “Feng Shui, Astrology, and the Five Elements: Traditional Chinese Belief in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.” Journal Article Excerpt. < PM.qst?a=o&se=gglsc&d=5001869311&er=deny >.

Hsu, Francis L. K.. 1948. “Under the Ancestors’ Shadow – Chinese Culture and Personality”. Columbia University Press.

Keinan, Giora. 2002. “The Effects of Stress and Desire for Control on Superstitious Behavior” SAGE publications: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. < cgi/content/abstract/28/1/102>.

Pu, Xiumei. 2006. “Spirituality: A Womanist Reading of Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter.” Thesis for the Degree of Master of Arts in the College of Arts and Science, Georgia State University. < =&q=cache:fCYScd-T8rcJ: etd-07192006- 191437/ unrestricted/ >

Tan, Amy. 1989. The Joy Luck Club. US: The Random House Publishing Group.

Tan, Amy. 2001. The Bonesetter’s Daughter. US: The Random House Publishing Group.

T., Haenel. 1983. “Superstition, faith, delusion.” PubMed: A service of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health.< query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=6669970&dopt=Citation. >

Vyse, Sturat A. 1997. Believing in Magic: the psychology of superstition. Oxford University Press.


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