Published in 1995, The Jade Peony is author Wayson Choy’s first novel. Though the family at the center of the narrative is Chinese, the story is set about as far away from their homeland as possible, both geographically and socially. The juxtaposition of a Chinese traditions awkwardly being assimilated into the Canadian culture of Vancouver is at the heart of the conflict creating the drama.
Related through the first-person perspective of the three children of the Chen family, the novel is separated into sections that provide a historical overview through personal recollection of living in Vancouver’s Chinatown as the world heads inexorably to a second world war. The emotional center of the novel is the passing away of the children’s grandmother who is the embodiment of the family’s strongest ties to its Chinese traditions. Touching upon the different ways in which Chinese and Canadian cultures view the same life events shared by people of all nations, The Jade Peony is best described as a novel illuminating a culture clash that has not been covered much before. Underlying the dramatic statements is an implicit cool reminder that the very same clash of cultures tends to get magnified in English-speaking countries like England and the U.S.
The Jade Peony brought Choy the 1995 Trillium Prize and the 1995 City of Vancouver Book Award. It also earned the distinction of becoming the first book to be selected for the One Book, One Vancouver program initiated by the city’s public library. In 2004, Choy published a sequel titled All That Matters which is set during the exact same period as The Jade Peony, but features a different narrative told through the perspective of the older brother of the three narrators of the original story.