The Pursuit of Self-Identification

Last Updated: 28 Jan 2021
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In the novel The Jade Peony, author, Wayson Choy, intelligently writes about two siblings who struggle in the pursuit of self-identification. Their struggles vary as they do not share the same problems during this tough period of their lives. This leads to the debate, whose childhood experiences will affect them more as an adult? Although Jook-Liang had to go through the tough situation of always being under prioritized and always being undermined, her childhood troubles and experiences could never truly be compared with the experiences of Jung Sum.

To put it bluntly, Jung Sum’s childhood experiences will affect him more as an adult than Jook-Liang’s experiences would. The reason for this is because, firstly, Jung Sum, as a child, was never truly showered with love, neither was Jook-Liang, but she did not have to suffer the pain of losing her birth parents as Jung Sum did. Also, Jung Sum had to experience the pain of losing a treasured person or pet multiple times, and while Jook-Liang did lose a person close to her heart, she only experienced it once.

Finally, as both Jook-Liang and Jung Sum struggled with identification, Jung Sum was met with problems while identifying his sexual identity, which was not accepted by any society at that period of time. On the other hand Jook-Liang was only required to identify culturally which would cause problems but eventually allow gain acceptance into at least one society. To start with, Jung Sum never had the privilege of being showered with love during his childhood and even though Jook-Liang was greatly oppressed and unfairly treated by people around her, such as Poh-Poh, she would still ocassionally be loved by those surrounding people.

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This is evident when Poh-Poh helped Jook-Liang to tie her shoelaces while she was getting ready to dance for Wong Suk (Choy 30). As for Jung Sum, although he was only a child, his birth father would violently abuse him and his mother when he was drunk. The quote “I waited for Daddy to get up from the kitchen floor, half-drunk, waited for him to beat me with his belt. ” (Choy 96) clearly shows that Jung Sum had to face the unlucky circumstances of child abuse, something Jook-Liang had the privilege of avoiding as her family never resorted to physical abuse.

It would be a scarring memory to be violently abused by ones’ own father as a child, a memory that could be carried for a lifetime. This may affect Jung Sum in his latter years as he may recall the abuse of his father and feel dysfunctional. These unresolved issues could cause a severe case of depression in his life. Furthermore, as Jung Sum was adopted into a new family, he immediately felt like an outsider. “He thought I was too weak to be his brother, a real brother,” (Choy 93) shows that Jung Sum clearly felt marginalized by his new older brother, Kiam.

To be adopted into a family full of new and unfamiliar faces and be rebuked immediately by his own “brother” was a tough situation to be in, especially after losing both his parents. Jook-Liang did not have to go through the process of being adopted into a new family or having to lose her family members prematurely while Jung Sum did. This could possibly go on to affect Jung Sum and make him feel as though he had no one to rely on but himself, possibly causing him to have a lack of trust for other people in the future.

Additionally, his childhood experiences may lead him to develop into an adult influenced by those experiences. These unresolved child issues could dwell within him and could cause him to either be more aggressive or more reserved as an adult. He may recall those experiences when dealing with his own children in the future and could possibly treat them the same way his own father treated him or otherwise, might not even attempt to have a close relationship with them.

As Jook-Liang did not undergo any extreme circumstances of child abuse, she would probably be less affected as an adult when compared to Jung Sum. Therefore, Jung Sum has a relatively greater impact on his future life from his adolescent experiences as his experiences produces permanent scars where the problem was not greatly alleviated afterwards. Another problem faced by both of the siblings was with different aspects of identification. Jook-Liang had to struggle with cultural identification while Jung Sum faced problems with sexual identification.

Homosexuality is an unaccepted identification which will not be tolerated by any society back in the 1930s, while switching cultural identities will still allow the person to gain acceptance in at least one society. His sexual identity was first suggested in the novel by Poh-Poh as he says that “Jung Sum is the moon” (Choy 88). Jung Sum then figures out his own sexual identity as it was Frank Yuen that he desired most at that moment during Frank Yuen’s farewell instead of courage (Choy 138) and that “Frank Yuen is the Sun” (Choy 132) while he is the moon.

Having to figure out his own sexual identity at such a young age without any guidance was a hard chore as back then love relationships were known to be present only between females and males. In addition, love between the same gender was not only unaccepted in the society, it was greatly rejected. As a result, Jung Sum had to keep his love for the same gender a secret. The inability to reveal his sexual identification would cause him to have the lack of freedom in the pursuit of a preferred life partner.

This could affect his happiness as a whole as he is unable to share life experiences in the love aspect of his life as others normally do because of the inability to express his love for his preferred partner. On the other hand, even though Jook-Liang struggled with her cultural identity, no matter which culture she decides to identify with, she would be still accepted, eventually. Jook-Liang’s desire to assimilate into another culture is evidently shown as she looks up to Shirley Temple, an American dancer and actress.

Wanting to assimilate into the western culture, she even hoped to see her own reflection in the mirror possessing a westerner’s features, specifically, Shirley Temple’s features (Choy 41). Her struggle comes in as Poh-Poh constantly reminds her of her cultural roots and where she belongs. In the novel, Poh-poh repeatedly tells Jook-Liang that she is not from Canada... and that she is from China (Choy 34). In comparison of their situation as they struggle to identify themselves in the different aspect, Jung Sum is clearly portrayed to have a harder time even in the future.

Not being able to be what he really is, his future would be oppressed as he suppresses himself, such that his secret would not be revealed. To put on a mask his entire life and never reveal his sexuality will take a toll on his adult life and he could never truly bring himself to enjoy his life as a whole. Jook-Liang’s preference of either culture will still allow her to be accepted and although she may not gain the acceptance of one society, she will still gain the acceptance of another, allowing her to lead a normal life.

Thirdly, both parties went through the turmoil of losing their loved ones, but Jung Sum had to experience losing many loved ones, losing his mother to violence Frank Yuen to the marines and even his pet turtle, Lao Kwei, to Dai Kew. On the other hand, Jook-Liang only had to experience losing her loved one, Wong Suk, as she never saw him again after he left to go back to China (Choy 71). From when Jung Sum was just a kid, life was tough for him as his father would often abuse him and his mother when he was drunk.

His mother was the only one who would protect him from harm from his drunk father as Jung Sum would always be waiting for her to “tell him to stop…[and] twist against the falling belt and take the blows” (Choy 96). Having such a rough childhood is scarring enough for Jung Sum and yet, he lost his mother at that young age. He went through various foster homes and eventually ended up with the Chen family where he finally found a place called home. In the Chen family, the life for him from the beginning was not exactly hard, as Father and stepmother treated him relatively well.

However, he still took time to adapt and at his time with the Chen family, he discovered Lao Kwei and was ecstatic that he could finally own something, having something that he felt that truly belonged to him. Not long after, he lost his beloved turtle as his family decided that it would be okay for Dai Kew to claim back his turtle as he required it for his own personal purposes (Choy 85). Next, when he came to realize that he had a strong attraction to Frank Yuen, it was not long after that he Frank Yuen left him too.

As Frank Yuen left to Seattle to join the marines, he left Vancouver and was not expected to return for the next few years (Choy 134). It is evident that Jung Sum had to experience more pain and suffering than Jook-Liang as he had to repeatedly lose loved ones to different circumstances while Jook-Liang only had to go through that process once. This could cause Jung Sum to gain an insecure mentality that will cause him to always expect the least out of something, possibly causing him to lose hope in many things in the future.

Although Jook-Liang may feel sad and depressed about the departure of Wong Suk, she would not have to endure the pain of losing another loved one anytime soon. Coming to a conclusion, both Jook-Liang and Jung Sum had to undergo many challenges and experiences as a child which could affect them as adults. Although Jook-Liang did experience tough trials during her childhood, Jung Sum was a victim of severe turmoil as a child and therefore, his experiences will affect him more as an adult. As a child, Jung Sum never had the opportunity of being showered with love by his own family as Jook-Liang did.

Other than that, he also had to experience the pain of losing a loved one or a treasured pet a few times while Jook-Liang only experienced it once. Lastly, his homosexuality was adamantly not accepted by any society in the world at that moment in time while Jook-Liang had to only face the troubles of cultural identification, which still allowed her to be accepted by at least one type of society. All in all, Jung Sum had a tougher childhood experience than Jook-Liang and that would affect his adult life greatly in the future.

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The Pursuit of Self-Identification. (2017, Feb 20). Retrieved from

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