The mother of Jing-Mei is shown to be obsessed by making her daughter a prodigy from the outset thanks to the new opportunities that living in America gave both to her and her family. As a result, it was only natural that she should want the best for her children, and desire them to exploit such opportunities, that she had never had, to the full. It is clear however that she does this to an extreme, pushing her daughter to become a prodigy in various different areas. What drives her to encourage Jing-Mei to be a pianist is watching a TV programme showing a young Chinese girl playing the piano:
"Ni kan," my mother said, calling me over with hurried hand gestures. "Look here." I could see why my mother was fascinated by the music. It was being pounded out by a little Chinese girl, about nine years old, with a Peter Pan haircut. The girl had the sauciness of a Shirley Temple. She was proudly modest, like a proper Chinese Child. And she also did a fancy sweep of a curtsy, so that the fluffy skirt of her white dress cascaded to the floor like petals of a large carnation.
Of course, the mother is so impressed by this little Chinese girl's skill and obvious dedication to her piano playing, that she immediately seizes upon the idea that Jing-Mei can be a piano prodigy. It is this that sets in motion the course of events that culminates in the overt conflict between Jing-Mei and her mother when she insists on being given the chance to fail and live her own life the way that she wants to.