The Eastern culture has a different concept of family and duty from the West. I always had a hard time explaining it until articles about tiger moms became popular. The family dynamics in Fonda Lee‘s Jade City felt stilted at first. It felt forced and unnatural, but then I realized that that was how Eastern clans truly were.
Disapproval = Love
Unlike the affectionate and encouraging western family dynamics, eastern elders are very critical of their young. You may be doing great at school or behaving exceptionally well, but they will find that one flaw and focus on it. Why? Because they want you to be the best version of yourself and want to guide you on what needs improvement. In Jade City, Kaul Lan’s grandfather always compared him unfavorably to his father. But when he died, the old man’s sorrow for the grandson who had always been destined to lead their clan showed how much he really loved Lan.
In most Eastern cultures the oldest son is destined to head the family on the passing of their parents as Kaul Lan did. The second son is tasked to protect his older brother and take his place in case he passes away as Kaul Hilo did. Although they expect less of a second sibling and are more lenient with his upbringing, he is expected to step up when called upon. And the baby of the family, Kaul Shae, is most beloved and given more freedom than the two older siblings.
But no matter the rivalries or the bickering that exists between the siblings, if you hurt one the others are sure to stand together against you. Because they’re family – it’s bred into our DNA, whether you like your sibling or not, you will fight for them.
The order of birth is very important for counseling hierarchies too. Grandparents and parents expect their decisions to be honored by the younger generation. Talking back is disrespectful – when your elders are very strict, you may not even be allowed an opinion in the discussion.
Elders assume they know best and that their decisions are what’s best for the family. The old weatherman of the No Peak clan went against what the young leader of the clan wanted. He thought he knew better than the young pillar.
Non-display of Affection
Hugging and kissing is a western tradition of showing affection. In the East there are several ways of greeting another to show respect. Jade City shows them clasping their hands together and touching their foreheads. In the Philippines, we take the elder’s hand and press the back of it to our forehead. Although we have adapted the western ways of kissing cheeks and hugging, it still feels more respectful and deeply appreciated by the adults when the younger generation observe the traditional greeting. Our forms of greeting often keep space between the greeter and the one being greeted. They are not as intimate as the western ways to display affection, but the affection is there just subtly bestowed.
I love Asian fantasy novels because there is a nostalgia about them. It makes me miss my own home and our own family traditions. I related to all three Kaul siblings’ sentiments in Jade City – their insecurities and dedication to their family. Fonda Lee captured the essence of Asian clans spectacularly in this novel.
I would recommend this book to fantasy readers who love The Godfather or stories involving the Triad.