Jing-Mei’s mother wants her to be like Shirley Temple.
Jing-Mei’s mother really wants her to be successful. She decides that her daughter should be a prodigy. To this end, she has her watch movies with a very famous child star, Shirley Temple, watching carefully so she can mimic her.
We didn't immediately pick the right kind of prodigy. At first my mother thought I could be a Chinese Shirley Temple. We'd watch Shirley's old movies on TV as though they were training films. My mother would poke my arm and say, "Ni kan.You watch.”
Unfortunately, Jing-mei and Shirley Temple have little in common. First of all, Jing-mei has little natural talent in the areas of singing and dancing. She also doesn’t have much of a work ethic, so she is not likely to get better at these things.
Jing-mei and her mother try other ways to make her special, such as memorizing capitals or math facts. Jing-mei gets frustrated though, looking at herself in the mirror and getting sad and angry with what she sees. She tells her mother she will never be a genius. This only upsets her mother more, because her mother feels she is missing the point.
My mother slapped me. "Who ask you to be genius?" she shouted. "Only ask you be your best. For you sake. You think I want you to be genius? Hnnh! What for! Who ask you!”? "So ungrateful," I heard her mutter in Chinese, "If she had as much talent as she has temper, she'd be famous now."
Her mother does not want her to be a genius, or even a star. She just wants her to learn the value of hard work. When she sees the children on television and in movies who have been successful, that is what she is really recognizing. To this end, she sets Jing-mei up with piano lessons.
Unfortunately, Jing-mei does not understand what her mother is trying to teach her. All she feels is the pressure to be perfect. So she cheats, and never really learns to lesson of the value of hard work paying off. She hardly learns the piano either. She just takes advantage of the deaf piano teacher. In the end, the lesson Jing-mei does learn from the whole thing is that when you cheat others, you are really cheating yourself.