Sweet Sour, Sour Sweet

David Chung '94, English 34, 1993

To the Chinese, the yin-yang principle applies to all aspects of life, from food to martial arts to personal conduct. It plays a prominent part in the world-view of Lily, and certainly in her view on food:

Lily Chen always prepared an 'evening' snack for her husband to consume on his return at 1.15 a.m... It was far too rich for him...Chen would be perspiring heavily by the time he finished, abandoning the spoon and applying the bowl to his lips to drink the last awkward inches, the beads of moisture on his forehead as salty as the broth...Chen would have liked a biscuit but Lily was unrelenting here as well. Sweet after salty was dangerous for the system, so she had been taught; it could upset whole balance of the dualistic or female and male principles, yin and yang" (2).

Mui has just finished serving mince to grandpa's guests and is feeding the old lady at the end of the bench jam tart and custard when Lily admonishes: "'Don't make her eat too much,' Lily called quickly. Sweet too soon after salty could upset the balance of the system, disturb the whole relationship between yin and yang" (252). Her adherence to this relationship shapes her own relationships: parental roles are to be divided according to male and female principles (her role and Chen's are not interchangeable), and the parent-child relationship is to be respected (she obeyed her father's wishes, and Man Kee is expected to do the same for her). Lily's system perpetuates binary oppositions of this and that, us and them, which characterizes her relationship with anyone not Chinese. Although the goal is to strike a balance between yin and yang, there is no promise that the two can be synthesized.

Mo's Sour Sweet United Kingdom Overview

Last Modified: 20 March, 2002