Literary Archetypes in “The Jade Peony,” by Wayson Choy

“The Jade Peony,” by Wayson Choy, book cover.

The novel that I decided to read for my Grade 12 Online English Course was “The Jade Peony,” by Wayson Choy. The story is set in the late 1930s-1940s, and is about a Chinese family that lives in Vancouver B.C during the depression and World War II. This story is

Chinatown, Vancouver B.C, in the 1930s.

based around the three children, Jook-Liang, Jung-Sum, and Sek-Lung. This story expresses the importance of maintaining tradition and culture as a Chinese immigrant.

After I read the first half of the novel, “The Jade Peony,” by Wayson Choy, and inspecting the story through a archetypal theory (Here is the definition of an archetype), It has become really evident to me that the archetypal characters in the story are Poh-Poh, and Wong-Suk. Also, one archetypal symbol in the story as well is the red ribbon that Wong Suk gave to Look-Liang.

Poh-Poh is the grandmother of the three children. She is also known as “The Old One.” Poh-Poh lives with her son (the father of the three children) and the kids. It’s a Chinese tradition for a mother to live with her son when they are elders. I think Poh-Poh is an example of the wise family member. Even her family in the story deemed her the wise one. She heavily respected in the family because of her age, and the experience and stories she brings to the family. Poh-Poh heavily believes in keeping tradition within the family, and highly encourages for the kids to follow Chinese tradition. This can be seen when Poh-Poh constantly criticized the kids for not following tradition by saying: “You not Canada… You China”(Choy 34). This quote shows how important it is for Poh-Poh to follow and continue traditions that she was taught back in China, and she shows this by teaching the kids to follow the Chinese tradition and respect them. Apart from that, her stories she told to the kids were life experiences and she used them to offer some type of experience to the kids from China. This would teach the kids to respect and understand Chinese culture. Poh-Poh’s love for Chinese tradition, love for her kids, and teaching capabilities makes her a perfect fit for the wise family member.

Apart from Poh-Poh’s wise intellect, Poh-Poh is also a perfect representation of an archetypal trickster. In the story, Jung-Sum, who was the brother, and the adopted member of the family, was reminded about the Fox Lady that his mother used to tell stories about and warned him about, when Poh-Poh looked at him when first entering the house. The Fox Lady is “a demon creature” (Choy 89) who “loved to take on its favourite disguise of a friendly elderly old lady” (Choy 89). Their harmful or bad intentions are different from their kind and sweet act. Poh-Poh being called the Fox Lady is very parallel to her archetypal trickster character, and is a perfect example and description of a trickster like her.

The Fox Lady is a Chinese mythology. The Fox Lady is feared because she can trick you into bad things.

The next archetypal character I found during my reading in the novel is Wong-Suk. Wong-Suk is a friend of Poh-Poh that she grew up in China with. Wong-Suk was introduced to the novel when he visits Poh-Poh and comes for dinner. When he comes for dinner Jook-Liang immediately connects Wong-Suk to the character of one of China’s old ancient stories, The Monkey King. This connection suggests that Wong-Suk is an archetypal hero. In the ancient stories, The Monkey King was a hero to people around him, and was looked up to as he was the one who would fight for people’s hope and freedom by fending off evil. In the novel, Jook-Liang looked up to Wong-Suk like the citizens in the ancient story looked up The Monkey King. In the novel, Jook-Liang narrated: “Wong-Suk had promised me the ribbons many weeks ago, and my bandit-prince would never fail me, just as our hero bandit, Robin Hood, would never fail Marian” (Choy 29-30). Just like The Monkey King did not fail his people, Jook-Liang did not believe Wong-Suk would fail her. Wong-Suk being referred to as The Monkey King is a perfect example as to why he is an archetypal hero.

The Monkey King is a hero in Chinese mythology who has saved many people and given people much hope

Finally, As I was reading the novel, the one archetypal symbol I found was the red

The red ribbon that Wong-Suk gave to Jook-Liang. It’s a symbol of his love and his wishes of luck of her.

ribbons that Wong-Suk gifted Jook-Liang.”Snatching out of a small paper bag a fistful of red ribbons” (Choy 29). The red ribbons were for Jook-Liang’s tap-shoes, but what the red ribbons symbolizes is the love that Wong-Suk has for Jook-Liang, and how much Wong-Suk cared about her. The red represents good luck in Chinese culture. Giving Jook-Liang the colour red was another symbol of his care for Jook-Liang and how he wanted her to thrive by giving her a good luck symbol. The red ribbons symbolized many things. It symbolized luck and Wong-Suk’s care and love for Jook-Liang.

After reading only half the book, I am really enjoying “The Jade Peony” so far. It’s a book with so much experiences as a Chinese immigrants and immigrants in general. It expresses the importance of maintaining and continuing traditions and cultures down multiple generations in the family as an immigrant. Being the son of two Chinese immigrants, I can relate heavily to this novel and how crucial it is for parents to carry on tradition to their kids. During the story I felt that I could relate to the three kids really well and it’s fantastic to see that I went through a lot of the same things that the children in the story have been through. But these kids went through a setting of depression and Word War II. Therefore there were many other hardships involved in these kids’ experiences such as economic issues, and gives the reader an insight as to what Canada was like during the depression. Again, After reading the first half of the novel,  It has become really evident to me that Poh-Poh, and Wong-Suk play important archetypal roles, and the red ribbon represents a very special archetypal symbol in the story.


Works Cited

“Archetype – Examples and Definition of Archetype.” Literary Devices, 9 Jan. 2018,

Choy, Wayson. The Jade Peony. British Columbia, Douglas and McIntrye Ltd., 1995.

“Fox Spirits in Traditional Chinese Culture.” Global Connections, 21 Apr. 2016,

“The Story of the Monkey King.” Vision Times, 14 June 2017,



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