Living Color - The Bonesetter's Daughter Rachel Zhu - Ms. Wiegand C Period


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.

The drastic difference between the two story settings - an old Chinese town and the urban San Francisco.


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.

An excerpt from The Bonesetter's Daughter, describing oracle bones.

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


Though connected to all aforementioned ancient Chinese doctrines and practices, The Bonesetter's Daughter is centered around the idea of guanxi. Guanxi is a Confucian belief, meaning relationship. Confucius sorted all relationships into five categories - ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife, older brother and younger brother, and friend and friend. At the beginning of the book, Ruth and her surrounding characters have rocky relationships, whether with her mother LuLing or her husband Art and his two children, Dory and Fia. However, at the end of the book, after Ruth finishes reading her mother's life story and begins to understand more about why her mother seemed so obsessed with Precious Auntie, their bond grows closer.

A photo from the opera of the bonesetter's daughter

“The other day Ruth’s mother called her. She sounded like her old self, scared and fretful. “Luyi,” she said, and she spoke quickly in Chinese, “I’m worried that I did terrible things to you when you were a child, that I hurt you very much. But I can’t remember what I did. . . .”

“There’s nothing—” Ruth began.

“I just wanted to say that I hope you can forget just as I’ve forgotten. I hope you can forgive me, because if I hurt you, I’m sorry.”

After they hung up, Ruth cried for an hour she was so happy. It was not too late for them to forgive each other and themselves.”


The Bonesetter's Daughter illustrated and brought to life not only Ruth and LuLing's individual stories, but through their fairly modern lives showed another ancient China through her connections to the Shang Dynasty's oracle bones and veneration of ancestors, Daoism's yin and yang, and the guanxi between her and her loved ones. Though Ruth only continued the sand writing to please her mother - and on the rare occasion - convince LuLing to do something she desired, it showed that the legacy of ancient beliefs had still lived on throughout the years.

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