The "present day" of the book takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a trip at the end to Guangzhou and Shanghai, China. The year is roughly somewhere in the 1980’s. The daughters’ youth therefore takes place somewhere in the 1950’s in San Francisco. The mothers, however, engage in a series of flashbacks that take place all over China: Wushi, Kweilin, Tai Lake, etc. Their flashbacks also take place across a number of years, probably ranging from 1920 to around 1940.
The different settings (China vs. America) in which the mothers and daughters grew up and spent their youth determines their values and how they relate to world. Therefore the different settings of their youths leads to much of the confusion and tension between the two generations of women. It is also important that the daughters grew up in the U.S. surrounded for the most part by American culture. The American culture and language are unfamiliar to the mothers, making them seem foreign and awkward to the daughters. For the daughters, their only connection to China is their parents.