The Joy Luck Club Chapter 1, Jing-Mei Woo, The Joy Luck Club
After Jing-Mei Woo's mother, Suyuan Woo dies of a cerebral aneurysm, Jing-Mei's father, Canning Woo, asks Jing-Mei to take Suyuan's place in The Joy Luck Club. The club is composed of three other women: Lindo Jong, Ying-ying St. Clair, and An-mei Hsu. The women, who all live in San Francisco, met in 1949, before Jing-mei (who calls herself June) was born, at a bible study group at the First Chinese Baptist Church, and Suyuan started the club. She understood that all of them had painful pasts, and knew that the idea of Joy Luck would cheer them up.
Suyuan had had the idea even longer ago, when she was first married in Kweilin, and always told Jing-mei the story when she was talking about her days in Kweilin, so Jing-mei thinks of the story of Joy Luck as her "Kweilin" story. "Over the years, she told me the same story, except for the ending, which grew darker, casting long shadows into her life, and eventually into mine." Chapter 1, pg. 21
Speaking Chinese, her mother used to tell Jing-mei that she dreamt about Kweilin before she ever went there--everyone in China did, because it was supposed to be so beautiful. But when she finally got to go there, it wasn't for the beauty of the place. It was because her husband thought it would be safe for her and their two baby daughters. He was in the army and had to go to Chungking. The Japanese were winning the war, and everyone knew it, though the newspapers pretended it wasn't true. People of all races and classes flooded into Kweilin, looking for a safe place to stay. There was violence everywhere, and Suyuan nearly went crazy with fear and anxiety.
She decided to try to overcome her feelings of helplessness by starting a Joy Luck club with three other women. They would play mah jong and place bets, so that each week they could look forward to winning, and they could eat, gossip and joke. People thought they were crazy for laughing, and for treating themselves to what good food they could afford. But Suyuan knew that she had a choice: she could either sit quietly and wait for death, which could come at any time, or she could take happiness where she could find it. Jing-mei, listening to the story, always thought it was made up, since her mother always changed the details. Then one night her mother tells her a totally different ending to the story. Suyuan says that she was told to go to her husband in Chungking immediately. She walked with a wheelbarrow for days, surrounded by other fleeing people, until the things she carried got harder to bear and she had to discard them, one by one. When Jing-mei asks what happened to the babies, her mother simply says, "Your father is not my first husband. You are not those babies." Chapter 1, pg. 26
Jing-mei arrives late to the Joy Luck Club meeting, which is being held at the Hsus' house. She remembers how stuffy and unchanging the house has always been. She has been coming here since she was very young. She sits down, feeling uncomfortable--how can she replace her mother?--and Mr. Hsu reads the notes from the last meeting. He formally extends sympathies to Jing-mei and her father, and that is the only mention of Suyuan's death. Jing-mei is taken aback. The club has started investing in the stock market, because some people were better at mah jong than others, but no one can be "skilled" at the stock market: it's just luck. They don't play mah jong until after midnight. Jing-mei watches An-mei make wonton (dumpling skins stuffed with meat and spices) and thinks about what her mother always said about An-mei: she could never make up her mind. She didn't think clearly. Jing-mei wonders why her mother was so critical of everyone, even people she loved, throughout her life. Jing-mei could never convince her mother to stop criticizing her.
The members of the club begin to eat a wonderful traditional Chinese meal. Everyone eats greedily. Then they begin the game, the four women playing separately from the men. The old women are very serious about whether Jing-mei will be able to take her mother's place or not. Jing-mei is nervous: she doesn't play well and worries that the other women will get angry. Lindo is aggressive and intimidating, but Ying-ying is kind to Jing-mei. They play for a while, gossiping, and Jing-mei begins to get bored. Then Ying-ying suddenly says she has a story: a neighbor's son was arrested for selling stolen TV's. An-mei sits quietly, because her son was recently arrested for selling car stereos. Lindo begins to talk about how rich people are in China, which hurts An-mei even more. She went to China a few years ago to visit relatives, bringing candy and California-style clothes. Her relatives didn't want what she brought them, but they did want her money: she ended up spending nearly nine thousand dollars on appliances, vacations, and everything in between. Lindo seems oblivious to An-mei's pain. Jing-mei recalls that Lindo and her mother were best friends and arch enemies throughout their lives. They competed through their children: Lindo's daughter Waverly was a chess champion, and it drove both Jing-mei and Suyuan crazy. Jing-mei gets up to leave, but Ying-ying tells her they have something important to tell her...from her mother. The others look upset that Ying has brought this up now. The women tell Jing-mei that her mother spent her life looking for her other daughters, and just after she died, Ying-ying, An-mei and Lindo made contact with them. The Joy Luck club wants to send Jing-mei to China to meet her sisters. Dumbfounded, June just nods to everything the women tell her. She sees that the women are afraid that their own daughters are like Jing-mei: ignorant about Chinese ways, and not interested to learn. She reassures them, and they relax a little.