The comparison of two cultures

In The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, Maxine Hong Kingston uses her Aunt, Moon Orchid, and Brave Orchid’s children to compare American and Chinese culture. On page 121, Kingston writes, “How greedy to play with presents in front of the giver. How impolite (“untraditional” in chinses) her children were.” In this statement, Kingston is giving Brave Orchid’s reaction to her children playing with the toys their aunt got them from China. In Chinese culture, giving gifts is a sign of respect and gratitude regardless if it was big or small and expensive or inexpensive. In Chinese culture, you are also not supposed to open gifts and play with gifts in front of the person who gave it to you. This is because by opening it and playing with it right away, it gives the impression that you care about the value of it more than the thought behind the gifts. For this reason, Brave Orchid scolds her children for playing with the gifts right in front of their aunt, even though growing up in America the children were used to opening up presents right away and playing with them. On Holidays and Birthdays in America, children would wake up to presents and would be able to spend their whole day playing with them. By the children playing with their presents, they are just doing what they grew up seeing around them in regard to gift-giving. 

  Chinese and American culture is also compared when Kingston writes, “No, she would stand, as her sister was probably standing in a line she could not see from here.” (115). Brave orchid is thinking this when her children ask her to sit down after Moon Orchid’s plane has arrived. This is because Brave Orchid remembers how it was when she came over to America. She would have been on a ship for many days than would have to wait at places like Ellis island for her to get processed. For this reason, she is empathic with her sister waiting in this line, so she stands and waits with her. Brave Orchard talks about how her children have no feelings towards it because they did not have to go through it. Her kids never had to wait on a line to see if they made the journey to the United States just to say one wrong thing and be turned away back to China. Kingston writes, “Her American children…” (115) when saying how they wanted to sit while waiting and Brave Orchid wanted to stand, but this was because her children did not know what it meant to stand and wait on a line that will determine your future. 

   In The Woman Warrior, Kingston makes it seems like Chinese culture is more disciplined than American culture. Kingston writes, “Her American children could not sit very long. They did not understand sitting; they had wandering feet.” (113). In her mother’s eyes, her children should be able to sit in the airport with her and wait for Moon Orchid’s plane to land. Brave Orchard feels like her children are unable to sit and wait because of the American society they grew up in. In this American society, people are unable to sit in one place for an extended period of time and instead just like to wander around and look for something to do to pass the time. This differs from what she is used to from growing up in China, being able to focus on one thing for an extended period of time. Brave Orchard feels that by her children growing up in America and not in China like her, they do not hold the same values as her. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think that the children were being disrespectful in playing with the gifts while Moon Orchid was still in the room?
  2. Do you think that the comparison between Chinese and American culture was equal within the book?

Work Cited:

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior. Vintage International, 1976.

13 Replies to “The comparison of two cultures”

  1. Amanda Cook
    Do you think that the children were being disrespectful in playing with the gifts while Moon Orchid was still in the room?

    No, the children are used of the American culture, they adapt to their culture. The children were excited they got gifts so they unwrapped them real fast and played with them. It is respectful in the American culture. Moon Orchid is learning the American culture. The chinese kids and American kids were different. The American kids were bright, but antisocial. The chinese kids were not appreciative. Brave Orchid would give them candy and they did not like it. Kingston states, “With a slam of her clever, she cracked rock candy into jagged pieces. ‘Take some’ she urged. ‘Take more.’ She brought the yellow crystals on a red paper plate to her family, one by one” (121). Moon Orchid’s children do not appreciate everything that Brave Orchid does. Brave Orchid helps her sister out a lot and the children do not seem to care. Both children are disrespectful on different perspectives. It depends on which culture.

  2. Hey Safiya, I enjoyed reading your blog and the topic of cultural indifferences. On page 125, Brave Orchid is trying to convince Moon Orchid to go and confront her husband and “claim your rights” (125). She tells Moon that the plan will be successful and that the her husband’s new children will “go to their true mother- you… That’s the way it is with mothers and children” (125). I think this again shows the difference in values and even shows a bit of naivety from Brave, thinking that this new family the husband has will magically break up and his kids will now go to Moon, who they have never met before.

  3. Do you think that the comparison between Chinese and American culture was equal within the book?
    The comparison between both cultures ultimately was a theme throughout this chapter showing the reader that both were virtually different with how each culture interacted with one another. Her sister’s children reacted differently to her unawareness to American culture, acting annoyed and rather trying to avoid their aunt that had came all the way from china. However, certain comments Moon Orchid would make about the way they dressed, defending them from her sister’s comments saying “But they enjoy looking like furry animals. That’s it, isn’t it? You enjoy looking like wild animals, don’t you?” This sparked one of the children to be angry with her responding sharply with “No!” This to me is an example of how Moon Orchid doesn’t necessarily understand American culture, yet attempted to make a remark in order to maybe bond with the child. In short, it backfires and proved to show that there are barriers between her and these children that she can’t seem to break past. While this sounds like it’s mostly her fault for not integrating into American culture more quickly, there are other factors throughout the chapter that prove to reveal the children don’t make their effort to come to terms with her, disconnecting these family members from one another.

  4. Safiya,
    You made some excellent points and one quote that I think would add to your argument of the children not knowing how to sit still due to their upbringing in America is on page 115 when Maxine Kingston writes, “Her American children had no feeling and no memory.” That quote shows how Brave Orchid feels a separation between herself and her kids due to where they were brought up and because of their upbringing in America, they don’t understand her. There’s a gap there clearly and I think from the way she talks about her children in that quote, it saddens her.

  5. The comparison of Chinese and American culture is very present throughout this story. It is clear that both cultures have extremely different ways and boundaries. Each society’s everyday behavior has become normalized and shows no flaws to its citizens. But with the Chinese and American social expectations being almost opposite of each other, judgement will most likely occur.
    1) Do you think that the children were being disrespectful in playing with the gifts while Moon Orchid was still in the room?
    I don’t think the children were being disrespectful at all by playing with the gifts in front of Moon Orchid. The children weren’t taught any different, this is the way they have lived, and they see nothing wrong with it. If the children were doing this action purposely to get a reaction or if they were told not to and still did it, then their disrespect would be obvious. Kingston proclaims, “Her American children could not sit very long. They did not understand sitting; they had wandering feet” (113). By making these comments, her mother is generalizing the American children as hyperactive or not able to do simple tasks. She is almost inferring that American children are inferior to children of Chinese society. Kingston also writes, “How greedy to play with presents in front of the giver. How impolite (“untraditional” in chinses) her children were” (121). Again, we are being shown how American children are seen as untraditional or taught incorrectly by their guardians. I see these statements as unfair and completely false because their are many correct parenting styles and many cultures that have various ways of living. The children weren’t purposely trying to be disrespectful, they were just raised differently.
    I enjoyed reading your blog and it was very well written.

    Isabelle Pastore

  6. A main theme in this book is identity. Kingston does a great job showing the difference in Chinese and American cultural by constant comparison of the two. The differences in mindset make it so rules and traditions aren’t shared with both. Thats why when the children were playing with their toys in front of Moon Orchid, they didn’t know she would take offense to it. Personally I don’t see a problem playing with their new toys and they don’t know Chinese customs.

  7. Hey Safiya, you make a lot of strong points within your blog post by using a variety of different quotes throughout the chapter that ties together nicely with your thesis. I don’t think the kids were being disrespectful when opening the presents since it is American tradition to open a gift when you receive it, but it is understandable why Brave Orchid feels this way because she isn’t used to this ‘culture shock’ that is America as opposed to China. Brave Orchid also isn’t in favor of the practices in American culture as one example we can see is when she refuses to master the English language, but her children won’t speak Chinese because they want to be seen as “American normal”. I think the narrator did a good job at comparing both cultures within the chapter as we see these conflicting thoughts and ideas that Brave Orchid has.

  8. Hi Safiya, I really liked how you discussed the culture differences of the Chinese culture in regard to American culture within the small children’s lives. To answer your question, I do not believe the children were being disrespectful by playing with the gifts given by Moon Orchid right in front of her. Kingston says, “Her American children had no feelings and no memory” (115). This goes to show that the children had no idea that what they were doing was disrespectful, as they were raised the American way, in which you open the presents and can start playing with them immediately. The children have no recollection of the Chinese culture in gift giving, so they were showing Moon Orchid respect in the only way they knew how: the American way.

  9. Hey Safiya I really enjoyed your blog post. I do think that the comparison between Chinese and American culture was equal. I feel like this common theme is displayed a lot throughout the book. Kingston displays a lot of comparison throughout the book. Kingston’s mom is always comparing her to Chinese culture and her relatives in the past. On page 46, Kingston states ‘”I got straight A’s, Mama.’ ‘Let me tell you a true story about a girl who saved her village”‘ (Kingston 46). When Kingston tells her mom about her good grades that she received her mom disregards what she says and just goes right into telling her a story about Fa Mu Lan. Later on in that passage Kingston herself also compares it to little girls in China which was interesting. This is different from American culture because here we would all be so happy to get A’s and our parents would be proud but in Chinese culture other things are more important. It is just a very opposite reaction. The comparisons were opposite of each other because of how different the cultures are, but Kingston did a good job of comparing the two.

  10. Kaylee Oliver

    Safiya, I enjoyed reading your blog post, especially the part about the narrator going back to China and being American; she only knows of Chinese culture what she was told by her mother. I think this is a large part of Kingston’s identity, that she is haunted by ghosts- in particular, memories that aren’t always her own. She shapes her perception of Chinese culture in China with the “ghosts” that are most profound in her mother’s talk stories. As a reader, we can see where there could be identity conflict in Kingston hearing stories of the past, but living in a sharply contrasting American Culture. For example, she writes, “Those of us in the first American generations have had to figure out how the invisible world the emigrants built around our childhoods fits in solid America.” This shows that Kingston and others have had trouble finding balance between the culture in China and in America, living with the “ghosts” of what used to be.

  11. Safiya,
    I like the key points you made of about the differences in Chinese and American culture. The kids seem do not seem to be intentionally disrespecting Chinese culture, they were just brought up and raised living the American culture. All of this however is causing a feeling of separation for Brave Orchid between her kids and herself and this feeling is shown in the story through the statement “her American children had no feeling and no memory. (p. 115)

  12. Hey Safiya, I enjoyed reading your blog and the topic of cultural differences and I agree that their different upbringings in the American culture separates them from Chinese culture. I believe that the kids meant no disrespect when they began playing with the toys because they are so ingrained with the culture they are living in that they couldn’t possibly understand that they did something wrong in their native culture. Culture is taught so it’s far from the children’s fault that they didn’t understand. One this that helps support this in the book is the use of the phrase “her American children”. This simple phrase highlights that the children’s culture now is of American ideals due to their upbringing.

  13. Hey Safiya, I like how you compared the two cultures- American vs Chinese. I agree that they are very different, and it is difficult for Brave because her and her children were brought up so differently. As far as the comparison between the two being equal, I think that we get a good sense the differences between Brave’s upbringing vs her daughter’s, but American culture is definitely more frowned upon. It is less traditional and defies certain values. This negative outlook on American culture is evident when Brave thinks to herself “Her American children had no feelings and no memory”(115). Not only does she feel insecure about the way her children are acting, she blames their actions on the fact that they were raised in America instead of China, and you could argue that she feels ashamed of this.

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