Father and Niang, who often travel to Tianjin for business meetings, begin taking Big Sister with them. In the midst of Chinese New Year, 1948, Big Sister announces to Adeline, Aunt Baba, and Ye Ye that Niang has arranged for her to be married to a doctor. Big Sister seems thrilled, but Adeline is “sad and frightened for her.” The doctor is thirty-one years old, and Big Sister is only seventeen.
As a character, Big Sister represents a possible future for Adeline, one which she desperately wishes to avoid. Though women in China are gaining more freedoms—especially from practices such as foot binding—the possibility of Adeline’s parents arranging a marriage against her will is a real threat, particularly as a way to be rid of the burden of financially supporting her.
As wedding gifts are sent to the house for Big Sister, Niang sorts through them and takes all of the best items for herself. Grand Aunt delivers a gift to Aunt Baba and asks her to hand-deliver it to Big Sister. Aunt Baba does so and lets Big Sister open it in her room, in the company only of Aunt Baba and Adeline, discovering the gift to be a beautiful jade pendant. Big Sister does not want to give the pendant to Niang and begs Aunt Baba and Adeline to keep the gift a secret.
Once again, Niang is further characterized as utterly selfish. It is telling that Big Sister, who pretends to be Niang’s loyal acolyte, still feels the need for secrecy and thus still feels the oppression of Niang. This indicates that, within such a toxic family led by such vile people, even those who shamelessly capitulate are not entirely spared their suffering. It is simply minimized.
The wedding is lavish and expensive, though Adeline is given only an old hand-me-down from Big Sister to wear. Even worse, her brothers are shaven bald and humiliatingly dressed in ancient traditional robes, causing them to be mercilessly mocked by their classmates. All the other male guests, including Fourth Brother, are wearing fashionable modern Western clothing. The guests notice the unequal treatment of the children and stepchildren.
This further demonstrates the lengths Niang goes to humiliate the stepchildren even in public, proving that her mistreatment of them has nothing to do with finances and everything to do with dehumanizing them every chance she gets. As a character, the spite that she exhibits is unparalleled.
Near the end of the celebration, Adeline is in a bathroom stall when she hears Grand Aunt enter, followed by Niang. They are unaware that Adeline is in the stall. Grand Aunt makes a casual remark about the jade pendant she gave to Big Sister, unknowingly tipping Niang off that a gift had been withheld from her. Adeline warns Big Sister as soon as she is able, and Big Sister thanks her, saying, “I’ll never forget this kindness on your part…You’re the best sister in the world and I’ll always be indebted to you.” Third Brother later overhears Big Sister and Niang’s conversation, in which Big Sister claims that Aunt Baba forced her to keep the jade pendant a secret from Niang, but that Big Sister’s own love for Niang had overwhelmed Aunt Baba’s insistence, thus “…endear[ing] herself to Niang while simultaneously denouncing Aunt Baba.”
In contrast to Adeline’s strong character and in spite of the benevolence of her warning, Big Sister is once again shameless in her manipulation and lies. This continues Big Sister’s characterization as a completely shameless, conniving individual, making her something of a protégé of Niang. This once again demonstrates the way in which an individual raised in a toxic family under narcissistic parents will often take on the same qualities that they see modeled for them. Big Sister is set up to become just as foul of an individual as Niang, prodded and provoked to become that way by Niang’s abuse.