Fifth Chinese Daughter is about a path breaker. Though Jade Wong is modest, reserved, and not openly assertive, she works diligently to become an independent person. In the period immediately after World War II, when American women were being discouraged from embarking on careers—since, it was said, they would be taking jobs from the returning soldiers—the author, a Chinese American, dares to break not only with American stereotypes of females, but even with the more confining traditions of Oriental culture.
The book, then, answers the question of how a girl from a tradition that consistently downplays female worth can grow up to be a self-assured, free woman. It posits that she can do so by drawing on male role models and by choosing to follow the more enlightened strands within Chinese customs. All of this is done privately, in adolescence, and later the elements she will take from Western culture will merely supplement beliefs drawn from her Chinese roots.
Though Jade Wong feels compassion for her mother, it is by her father that she will be most molded. Like him, she will become a businessperson. He runs a garment factory, and she will make and sell pottery. Like him, she will be outraged by and speak out against injustice. In a key first moment of combativeness, when still in Chinese elementary school, she talks back to a teacher who intends to whip her for passing notes: “I am no more guilty than the girl who passed it to me. . . . If you whip me, you should also have here all the girls from my row. . . . And I won’t hold out my hand until I see theirs out also!”
Moreover, Jade Wong follows her father in believing that women should not be as debased as they have been in Asian tradition. Though Mr. Wong cannot share his daughter’s idea that a woman has the right to choose a career over a marriage, he elected to relocate his family to the United States because he was disgusted by the degraded...
(The entire section is 799 words.)