Watching The Tree: Chinese Daughter Reflects on Happiness, Tradition, and Spiritual Wisdom, by Adeline Yen Mah, needs to be introduced as a follow up book by the author of Falling Leaves. The first book was about her life in a family where her mother had died, and her Chinese father married a Eurasian woman. She was the youngest of her father’s first family in a new family of 7 children and felt unloved. Her struggles with fitting in and how she found strength in her roots as her life progressed added interest to the things we learned about her culture.
In “Watching The Tree” thirteen year old Adeline is concerned about having to leave school and go get a job in Hong Kong. She aks her grandfather, Ye Ye, who she is close to, for money to go back to school and go to Shanghai where she thought everything would be the same as she had left it a few years before. He brings out the “I Ching” which are like scriptures and reminds her of a teaching that “the only thing that does not change is that everything changes”.
The goal that Adeline had for this book is to bring ideas that play a role in Chinese thinking, Confucianism, Taoism, and Zen Buddhism, to the reader. She quotes this thought, “every Chinese wears a Confucian thinking cap, a Taoist robe, and Buddhist sandals. She brings together the many influences on her life as a child of the East and as a student and adult in the West and explores the centuries-old Chinese traditions.
Zen, yin and yang, feng shui, and the issues of happiness, health, and spirituality are discussed to show the cultural divide between the East and West. The stories are interesting, but they lack the drama of her first book’s struggle with her own life.
The book overall is interesting, but is a weaker follow up for the first book, and probably would be even less interesting if you had not read the first book.