Ying-ying is Lena’s mother and a self-proclaimed ghost – but she wasn’t always this way. Through her narrated flashbacks, we see how she evolved from a free-spirited, proud, talkative girl to a ghost with no voice (it involved a bad, cheating husband). In this transformation, Ying-ying loses herself and loses her identity.
Ying-ying becomes almost entirely passive in her marriage to Clifford St. Clair. St. Clair has good intentions, but he does stuff like change her name to Betty and even puts her birth year down wrong on her immigration forms, changing her from a tiger (she was born in the year of the tiger) to a dragon in one second. Does Ying-ying complain? No way, and it isn’t only because her husband doesn’t understand Chinese. She basically stops caring about her life and just goes through the motions of being a wife and mother without actually feeling it.
Ying-ying also has a superpower: she can predict the future if it pertains to her or her family. For example, she knows that she will marry this bad man before it happens, she also knows that she will marry St. Clair, later knows that her baby will not be born alive, and also knows that St. Clair will die. But Ying-ying just takes this knowledge passively; she has this idea that something is fated to happen and lets it. For example, even though she thinks the man who will be her first husband is a crumby guy, she does nothing to prevent the marriage. She also didn’t act when she knew her baby would be stillborn or when she realized that her husband would die from clogged arteries.
The main problem with Ying-ying’s passivity is that she’s set a bad example for her daughter; and she can now see Lena becoming passive and ghostlike. Lena’s marriage is heading for disaster, but Lena’s doing nothing to prevent it. Ying-ying wants her daughter to be active in creating her own future, not just see the direction it’s heading in and passively go along with it. Ying-ying hopes that by telling Lena about her own tragic life story, she can prevent Lena from having an equally sad future.Ying-ying St. Clair Timeline