Study Guide

Dragonwings Chapter 1

By Laurence Yep

Chapter 1

The Land of the Demons (February-March, 1903)

  • We meet our narrator, who remembers his boyhood with his mother in the Middle Kingdom (or "China," if you don't want the Chinese to English translation) while his father worked in the Land of the Golden Mountain (the USA, "the demon land," etc.).
  • We learn that the narrator's father is working overseas to earn money.
  • The racial tension and violence in America is immediately addressed when we learn that the narrator's grandfather was lynched thirty years ago (1.1).
  • The narrator's mother pulls the weight on the family farm in China. Her mad busy schedule also doubles as a convenient excuse to avoid the narrator's questions about his father and America.
  • Not only is she busy with the chickens, the rice fields, and the pig, the narrator's mom also prays and burns incense for her husband in the village temple.
  • We also learn that the narrator has never met his father. He and his mother cannot live in the Land of the Golden Mountain with his father because of political reasons both on the American front and the Chinese side. We learn that this affects many families, the narrator's being one.
  • The narrator refers to his race of people as people of the Tang, not as Chinese (1.5). This specificity alludes to the long history of what we know as China and the multiple dynasties that have ruled its people.
  • We learn that the narrator's mother and grandmother are illiterate, much like the majority of the people in their village. The family relies on the village schoolmaster to read and take dictation to write letters to Father. We learn that Father's letters arrive on a weekly basis (1.6).
  • The narrator knows very little about his father, but he is thrilled by this one thing his mother has told him: his father makes amazing kites. Not like the kind you get for a couple bucks at the grocery store, mind you – but kites that "were often treasured by their owners like family heirlooms" (1.7).
  • The narrator recounts moments when he and his mother would go out flying his father's kites. One of these kites was a swallow, an especially fast kite. Another was of a caterpillar.
  • We learn that the narrator is seven years old (to an American catalogue of time); he shares that the Tang people include the gestation period of a baby as its first year, so by his count he's eight.
  • Mother comes alive whenever the narrator and she go fly kites, chattering away about the times she and Father would go kiting together.
  • Grandmother tells the narrator about the Land of the Golden Mountain, explaining that the name for the land abroad comes from the huge mountain there where gold is plentiful. She tells the narrator that "the demons" (that seems a fair way to refer to Americans, eh?) patrol the mountain and beat up anyone who does other than they're told (1.16).
  • We learn that the narrator's grandparents were only married for one year before Grandfather left for the Land of the Golden Mountain (1.18).
  • The narrator recalls the dismembered men who have returned to the Middle Kingdom – physically ill men and, even more hauntingly, the coffins of men.
  • After the narrator's eighth birthday (or ninth, by Tang count), Hand Clap visits and reads a letter from Father. Father wants the narrator to go overseas to be with him, figuring it'll be easier for him to learn "the demon tongue" (English) in America (1.26).
  • We learn that the narrator's family name is Lee. Because Hand Clap shares the same family name, the narrator's family refers to their visitor as a cousin.
  • During the conversation among Hand Clap, Mother, and Grandmother, we learn that the narrator's name is Moon Shadow.
  • Amidst the debate amongst the adults, Moon Shadow announces that he wishes to go to the Land of the Golden Mountain. His decision is informed by his wish to know his father as well as his wish to obey his father's request to join him.
  • Moon Shadow details the meaning of calling something a demon or a devil. He explains that there are demons in the Middle Kingdom as well, and they are trickier because you can always be assured that an "American devil means you harm" (1.35).
  • The narrator is frightened to go to America. He has heard loads of creepy stories about cannibalism and torture in the Land of the Golden Mountain. Plus, in recent years the narrator remembers the demons banning over twenty thousand people from returning to America, not to mention the people who were excluded from admittance to begin with (1.38). For more grisly details, go to your book.
  • Nevertheless, Moon Shadow goes with Hand Clap on a ship across the Pacific Ocean. Hand Clap tells him what information to give to the authorities: subtracting a year to his age as conversion, and putting his family name last instead of first.
  • Upon arrival in America, Moon Shadow and Hand Clap are kept in a building for a week before questioning begins. Conditions are rough: sleeping and eating off the floor, no showering, the constant smell of sewage...
  • The U.S. authorities try to trip Moon Shadow up by asking him tougher questions about his family than Regis on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? They have extensive papers on his father and the answers he gave, and they create new records based on Moon Shadow's responses.
  • Moon Shadow passes the test apparently because he is admitted. He remarks that, though there are plenty of hills, he does not see a single golden one.
  • Moon Shadow has brought his possessions with him in a wooden box, which he hugs close to his body as he walks with Hand Clap toward the crowd of Tang people.
  • Hand Clap points out people in the crowd; these people are the Company that the family refers to. We meet Uncle Bright Star, a "fat, old man" (1.45).
  • We meet Father just as Moon Shadow does, a "tall man" (1.45). Moon Shadow runs to him and they embrace.