Kingston remembers her mom telling stories about heroic Chinese women, like the woman who invented white crane boxing or Fa Mu Lan, the girl who went to battle for her father and came back a national hero. Kingston muses, her mom did equip her with the legends of strong women she could grow into. This is how Kingston knew she could be a warrior woman.
Kingston says she was seven when she answered the call of the bird that got her chasing round the mountain. She describes all this as though she has jumped into the world of a painting, or as though her world were a painting.
The next chunk of this chapter is a bit of a mythological dive, where we follow Kingston as she writes herself into the story of Fa Mu Lan. (OK, yeah, kind of the story that Disney took their Mulan from, but notice how Kingston's retelling of Fa Mu Lan is pretty different from Disney's. And we're not just talking about the fact that there's no talking dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy.)
Kingston takes shelter in an elderly couple's glorious home in the mountains. They offer to make her into a warrior who will be able to save families; or, they say, she can go back home and return to her family. She decides to train with them.
Kingston describes the training process that takes more than seven years. She learns to let the world around her teach her, with patience and the listening abilities to think of animals as wise masters. She sometimes sees her family in a water gourd that the elderly man has. Kind of like a magic mirror but it's in a gourd.
When she is fourteen (she started off this adventure as seven), the elderly couple walk her up to the mountaintop and then vanish. This is her tiger challenge to survive on her own in nature, to be resourceful and live off of minimal water and nourishment. Somewhere in the middle of this, when she has run out of food, a rabbit appears and sacrifices itself in the fire for food (2.36).
Otherwise, she is pretty much a vegetarian.
Hunger changes the way Kingston sees. She begins to see a different truth in things and in people, a type of dancing (2.37).
The elderly people return and bring her back to the awesome treehouse. For the next years, Kingston continues to train, this time for the dragon test. She explains that dragons, unlike tigers, are too immense to be seen in their entirety (2.42).
Not only does she train her body, but also her mind, working to make it as expansive and paradoxical as the universe (2.44).
In the water gourd, the elderly couple shows her the people she is to fight against. She also sees that her family has married her to her childhood friend so that she will be looked after whether alive or not. In the water gourd, she sees the baron come to the village and draft one man from each family to fight. To her dismay, her husband and brother enlist. Kingston wishes to save them, but the elderly couple insists that she needs to continue training. They tell her she has been trained to save families, not just two boys.
Kingston describes the door she has within her that helps her control her feelings (2.70). She explains that she must momentarily close the door, so that the two boys because don't distract her from her training.
After years, Kingston is trained and ready to return to the village. The elderly couple equips her with certain goods, like the fifteen beads, men's clothes, and armor. When Kingston turns to wave to the elderly couple, she continues to see them for a long distance.
She returns to her village and is surprised to see the changes, like the newborns.
Kingston volunteers to take her father's place in the army (2.79).
In the morning, Kingston's parents take her into the family hall. They carve the family names and oaths into her back with blades and wine. Yeah, it hurts, but they do it so that even if their daughter dies, her body will be marked as a reminder of where she comes from and of her humanity.
As soon as her back heals, Kingston prepares for battle. An awesome white horse enters the family courtyard. They take it as a sign that it is time. The villagers present her with all sorts of presents, like dresses and food. Kingston only takes a metal bowl to cook with on her journey.
Kingston goes in drag and everybody says she looks beautiful (2.90). Slowly young men from the peasant town enlist to fight with her.
Kingston's training has turned her into a great warrior. She can guide her horse with just her knees, so both arms are free to fight. She leads her army with dignity and honor, only taking food where there's plenty of it and not raping or pillaging villages. She builds up her army to fight the opponents she saw in the water gourd some pages ago.
Her first major opponent is a giant. She slashes it with her sword, revealing that it is really a snake (2.101).
The emperor sends enemies her way, but she continues to lead her army northward.
It's not really clear whether or not her fellow soldiers know she's a woman. Kingston writes that she could not reveal that because the Chinese would execute women who were soldiers or scholars in drag (2.103).
One morning, her husband finds her. They fight in the army together. They're lovey dovey, but only in their tent. She becomes pregnant. The only time she hides from battle, Kingston proudly writes, is when she gives birth to her son (2.108). They go through traditional customs with the baby, like giving him a full-month ceremony and doing this red boiled egg and grapefruit juice tradition.
Kingston sends her son with her husband to go home safely. She sends funds for her family. Without them, she is lonely and is caught off-guard in an attack one day. A cool telekinetic sword fight ensures but she is not at her best (2.113). The bandit takes her fifteen beads.
Kingston gathers her soldiers and rides after the bandit, but eventually she calls the other soldiers off and goes on her own. She overlooks the city of Peiping and, with her army, overthrows the emperor, cleans out the palace, and puts a peasant on the throne (2.116).
Kingston goes to the Long Wall (a.k.a. Great Wall of China). It's a somber moment as people mourn the lost ones; Kingston had found her husband, but not her brother.
Kingston goes home, where she knows she has one more battle: with the baron. She, in drag, announces herself as a "female avenger" (2.123). The baron makes a series of sexist remarks, not understanding why she (whom he thinks is a "he") would take offense. She cuts off his head. Then she goes to town on the people on the baron's side who refuse to reform.
In her search for wrongdoers, she finds a locked room of women with bound feet. No families claim them. Kingston gives each of them a bag of rice. She later hears of how these women formed a band of swordswomen who taught and trained girls and killed only men and boys (2.137).
Kingston and the villagers turn the great hall of ancestral tablets into a community center for plays and talk-story.
Her husband introduces their son to Kingston. The son is happy to learn that the heroic soldier is also his mother. Kingston goes to her in-laws and tells them she's ready for life as a domestic goddess now that she's done her nation proud (2.140).
Kingston's narrative now goes back to a conversation with her mother. Kingston proudly says that she earns straight A's in school. Her mom's not impressed, referencing Fa Mu Lan and how she saved her village.
Kingston retells some sexist sayings that she hears circulated and how upset they make her. She's frustrated by the fact that she and her sister walking out in public could be seen as somewhat embarrassing for her family, since they have no sons. Later on her parents gave birth to boys. She remembers when her great-uncle would visit and just take her brothers out. She is secretly glad when her great-uncle dies.
Kingston tells about her college years at Berkeley in the sixties. She had big dreams to change the world. She decided she didn't want to live up to the expectation people had of Chinese women. Kingston wanted to do more with her life than marry into another family. She decides not to marry at all. She stops getting straight A's. She refuses to cook. She doesn't want to be a domestic goddess.
Kingston proudly says she wants to grow up to be a "lumberjack in Oregon" (2.164). The idea of this decisive refusal of all things "girly," doesn't totally sit right with her. She doesn't want to depend on a man, but she does want to be loved.
Kingston voices her confusion with how to go about changing the world. She starts to see her enemies as business men in suits. She stands up to one of her bosses when he makes yet another problematic remark. She's fired.
She's not sure how to go about doing her family right. How do you avenge your family when that would mean going back to China and righting communism's wrongs and also righting America's discrimination? Kingston waits and looks out for the bird to call her, but whenever she sees the bird, it is very far away.
Stuff going on in China is bad news bears. Kingston's relatives write to her family in America asking for money and prayers. They write horror stories of the Communists destroying their homes, killing their family members one by one, and leaving the others to starve (2.182). Whether of not the give money, Kingston's parents feel bad. Kingston shares the story of her aunt (presumably not the nameless one in Chapter 1) and uncle who had miraculously survived a raid. They gathered twigs and yams to sell, but neither of them could yell and advertise on the streets. Frustrated with her husband, the aunt scorns him for not having the balls to do what needs to be done to feed his family. The husband follows some birds up a tree. Communist soldiers find him there and leave his murdered body as a warning. Kingston thinks it's ironic and sad that birds would ever mislead and that peasants like her relatives would be killed like the corrupt baron (2.185).
"Fights are confusing as to who has won," writes Kingston. She got in fights in junior high and they were always awful (2.186). Growing up in the slums was dangerous. Her mom would keep the children locked up to avoid street fights and dead bodies. However, Kingston felt she needed to know death in order to be a swordswoman, so she would bust out into the world.
Kingston reflects that she now lives in a place with Chinese and Japanese people, but is no closer to becoming a warrior. She feels like she is just "one more girl who couldn't be sold" (2.188).
Kingston reflects that she and swords people are not so different: they both have words on their backs. She thinks about the idioms for "revenge" in Chinese and notes that it is the reporting that matters, not the fighting (2.189). Kingston writes that she has more words than can fit on her back.