Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Motif #1: The Secret Fan
A fan with nu shu calligraphy
Photo to the right: artwork from a Chinese historical gallery
Before Snow Flower and Lily were bonded with their laotong contract, they communicated through this fan and an intermediary. The fan was the beginning of their relationship.
Throughout the novel, they recorded their love for each other onto the fan with nu shu. Not only does the fan symbolize their complex and turbulent relationship, but it represents all of the sweet and sour that came out of the bitter lives of women in that era. Fittingly, Snow Flower's death marked the last entry on the fan, as their relationship came to a tragic end.
Motif #2: The Taro Dish
The inside of a fried taro in Tsingdao
A dish of ba'si taro
Every year since their official laotong relationship, Lily and Snow Flower would visit the Temple of Gupo, a sacred place where women come to make offerings. It is also a festive marketplace, however, characteristically marked with stalls selling good luck couplets, embroidery necessities, and of course, food. In particular, the pair always goes to the "taro man" for the "special taro dish". This dish symbolizes the innocence of young age and purity of their relationship. In essence, it represents what their relationship should have been like--what they thought their relationship would be like forever.
Scene from the movie adaptation of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Lily and Snow Flower go to the Temple of Gupo for the first time.
The following is an excerpt from the novel. It takes place when the two girls are being sent on a palanquin to the Temple of Gupo to write and sign their laotong contract. It is the first time the girls met each other.
Later on, the two enter their marriages; one to the jinshi family and the other to a butcher. Despite their differences and recent distance, the two are doing everything they can--as every "proper woman" should do--to get pregnant. Their childhood innocence has been erased by the duties of a married woman, and their relationship marred by social influences. This is reflected through their reaction to "the taro dish".
Scene from the movie adaptation of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. The two pray at the Temple for sons.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
Motif #3: The Tea Cake
2015 Sen Zhi Kui Raw Pu-erh Tea Cake of Jing Mai, online auction
Photo to the left: 2006 Yang Pin Hao "8336" Raw Pu-erh Tea Cake of Menghai, online auction
The tea cake is the only connection Haley had to her origins and parents. She held it as the her most prized possession and her tea cake inspired her to direct her research project at Stanford at the health benefits of tea. It is with the tea cake that A-ma recognizes her, and it is, again, with the tea cake that she eventually reunites with her mother. The tea cake symbolizes Haley's Chinese origins, her fascination and frustration towards it, as well as her personal struggles regarding her identity.