Amy Tang's fourth book, The Bonesetter's Daughter, is a story divided between two perspectives - Chinese born LuLing, and her American daughter Ruth. The book starts when Ruth is in her forties, worrying about her mother's forgetfulness, which grows worse and worse as time passes. The second story is written by LuLing in Chinese about her own life experiences, which Ruth has translated in order to learn more about her mother and ancestors.
A CONNECTION TO ANCIENT CHINA
One of ancient China's biggest practices was ancestor worship, something done with rituals and sacrifices of food and money in order to gain ancestors' favor, as they were thought to help and guide their descendants. The belief, veneration of ancestors, was reflected strongly in the book. LuLing believes that Ruth has the power to communicate with "Precious Auntie", LuLing's nursemaid, who was later discovered to be her mother as well. After Ruth hurt herself and stopped talking for the moment, her mother brought back a tray of sand for which she could write on to communicate with others. However, when Ruth wrote "doggie", as she thought her injury and momentary disability was the perfect time to ask for a long yearned-for pet, LuLing took it differently. She was under the impression that Precious Auntie had came back to communicate with her, as "doggie" had been her nickname when she was young. LuLing began to believe that Precious Auntie, or Bao Bomu (宝伯母), was speaking to her through Ruth.
Another practice of Ancient China that goes far back, to the Shang Dynasty, is Precious Auntie's family tradition of bonesetting. They gathered dragon bones (also known as oracle bones) and used them for medicinal purposes. Oracle bones were most popular in the Shang Dynasty, where a bone or shell of an animal had a question concerning battle tactics or some other question of the future written upon it. Afterwards, the diviner inserted a hot nail into the bone until it cracked, interpreted the cracks, and then wrote the answer to the question on the other side of the bone.
The book also mentions yin and yang more than once during Ruth's perspective, showing Daoism's emphasis on the belief of nature's balance, prevalent even in her San Francisco life. Amy Tang mentions it twice in the book — once when Ruth is talking to her husband Art soon after she met him about vapor, and once when she described a short list of books she had helped edit and write.
"Like yin and yang?" She ventured. "Duality of nature. Exactly."
She took a deep breath as she stared at the shelves of books she had helped edit and write. The Cult of Personal Freedom. The Cult of Compassion. The Cult of Envy. The Biology of Sexual Attraction. The Physics of Human Nature. The Geography of the Soul. The Yin and Yang of Being Single. The Yin and Yang of Being Married. The Yin and Yang of Being Divorced