Unpolished Gem


Alice Pung

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The Mao Suit Symbol Analysis

The Mao Suit Symbol Icon

In Unpolished Gem, the Mao suit, a traditional pants suit worn in Southeast Asia, symbolizes Alice’s connection to her traditional Chinese culture. When Alice’s grandmother, Huyen Thai, first arrives in Australia, she is wearing a Mao suit, and when Kien’s parents arrive, they are wearing the suits as well. Huyen Thai even dresses Alice in a Mao suit as a child. Alice dreads wearing it, and the Australian climate is too warm for the heavy outfit, but Huyen Thai worries that Alice will freeze like a “communist peasant” if she doesn’t wear the suit. Alice unhappily wears the suit for her school pictures, and the other children at school think she is wearing pajamas. Alice even suffers the ultimate humiliation of twice peeing her pants in the suit at school, and most of her memories about the suit are awful. Ultimately, the Mao suit serves to highlight just how different Alice is from her Australian classmates, and it is just another reason why she doesn’t quite fit into Victoria’s “whitewashed” society. As a young girl, Alice wants to wear a dress like the rest of the girls at school, but she is stuck with a masculine suit. During the “colonial dress-up parade” at school, Alice is denied an apron because she looks like a boy in the Mao suit; she is doubly humiliated and acutely aware of her differences.

The Mao Suit Quotes in Unpolished Gem

The Unpolished Gem quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Mao Suit. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Plume edition of Unpolished Gem published in 2006.
Part 5 Quotes

At Footscray Retravision, there was a propensity for some mainland Chinese to refuse to buy items made in China. Whenever they said haughtily, “O, zhonggno zuo de wo buyao”—I don’t want anything made in China—I couldn’t help myself. I would ask with salesgirl innocence, “But sir, aren’t you made in China?” Of course, I always had to feign that little giggle that sounded like two brightly coloured balloons rubbing rapidly up against each other. Unlike my younger sisters, who grew up in tastefully bland pastel dresses, I had spent my childhood with a grandmother who packaged me into padded Mao suits and made me aware that I had to defend myself against all the other blandly dressed banana-children—children who were yellow on the outside but believed they could be completely white inside. My grandmother had warned me that those children grew up to become sour, crumple-faced lemons. I now believed her.

Related Characters: Alice Pung / Agheare (speaker), Huyen Thai
Related Symbols: The Mao Suit
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Mao Suit Symbol Timeline in Unpolished Gem

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Mao Suit appears in Unpolished Gem. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
Gender and Inequality Theme Icon
...purchased for her—they aren’t warm enough, she says. Instead, she dresses Alice in a padded Mao suit sent from Hong Kong. (full context)
Part 2
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
...had been kindergarten picture day at school and Alice was, as usual, wearing a padded Mao suit . Despite the warm spring weather, Huyen Thai still worried that Alice would “freeze like... (full context)
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
...but she knows she will never find one in her home. So, of course, “the Mao suit comes out,” Alice says. (full context)
Culture and Assimilation  Theme Icon
...Cambodia once their immigration papers were processed, and they arrived in Australia wearing brand new Mao suit s. Chia Teng, Kien’s father, quickly turned his new backyard into a Chinese vegetable garden,... (full context)