Jade Snow Wong Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

A pioneering voice in Asian American literature, Jade Snow Wong was born to a large family of Chinese immigrants in San Francisco in 1922. As described in her first autobiography, Fifth Chinese Daughter, she grew up in a large building that served as her family’s home and its sewing factory, which specialized in denim overalls. She attended American public schools and excelled there, twice skipping a grade and graduating from high school with honors at the age of sixteen. By attending Chinese school in the evenings and receiving private lessons from her father, she also became familiar with Chinese customs, language, and culture. By her own account, her father was the strongest influence on her life: In many ways traditionally Chinese, insisting on firm discipline and his absolute authority in the home, he was also an iconoclast of sorts, a devout Christian convert who stayed in America because he admired its more enlightened attitude toward women.

Striving to reconcile her American and Chinese values, Wong gradually asserted her own independence, insisting on the right to see her own friends whenever she wanted, resisting pressure for an early marriage, and resolving to go to college even without her parents’ financial support. Unable to afford the University of California, she attended San Francisco Junior College for two years; then, after a friend arranged a meeting with the president of Mills College, she was offered a job and scholarship that enabled her to attend that college and graduate in 1942. While she majored in economics and sociology, an art class in her senior year inspired a lasting interest in making pottery and ceramics. After working as a secretary during World War II, she decided on a career as a potter and writer. Opening a small pottery business, where she worked in a storefront window, she was quickly successful: Her products sold well, received national awards, and were exhibited in...

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(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Jade Snow Wong was introduced to writing by her father, who gave her a diary when she was young and encouraged her to record the important events of her life. She continued this habit into her adult life. She also received formal training in college, where she wrote many papers about her life in Chinatown.

Wong began work on her first book, Fifth Chinese Daughter, in 1946, at the age of twenty-four. Her goal was to create a “better understanding of the Chinese culture on the part of Americans.” She wanted to show non-Chinese Americans the beauty and traditions of her culture and dispel prevalent stereotypes. Although Wong has produced two other major works, writing was not her primary occupation. Instead, she saw it as a method for exposing other Americans to her cultural heritage.

As a result of her first book, the U.S. State Department sent her on a four-month tour to speak to various audiences and to relate her experiences of breaking through race and gender barriers in America. Wong and her husband also acted as tour guides and escorted many Americans to China before her husband’s death in 1985. Wong continued this practice for a considerable time, leading one group a year. Her third book, No Chinese Stranger, was written in reaction to her first visit to China, in 1972, only one month after Richard M. Nixon’s trip. During that trip, she learned what it is like to be part of a homogenous society, and not a minority.

Wong’s works also show that each person must establish an identity regardless of race. Her wish was to share her struggles in order to encourage others who may face similar obstacles. She fought prejudice and encouraged individuals to make a place for themselves in the world where they can express themselves and be recognized for who they are.

In addition to writing, Wong expressed herself through the creation of pottery, which was sold in her own shop. She also took care of her children, which she said was the most important duty in her life. She claimed, “Our basic and greatest value is family cohesiveness.” She saw the nurturing of her family as an additional way to foster individuality and self-expression. Wong died at her home in San Francisco in March of 2006. She was 84.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Blinde, Patricia Lin. “The Icicle in the Desert: Perspective and Form in the Works of Two Chinese-American Women Writers.” The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 6, no. 3 (1979). Compares Wong to Maxine Hong Kingston.

Chin, Frank. “Come All Ye Asian-American Masters of the Real and the Fake.” In The Big Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature, edited by Jeffery Paul Chan et al. New York: Meridian, 1991. Chin argues that Wong breaks with a proper Chinese literature in two ways: She chooses Christian Chinese as models rather than Chinese who remain with their ancestral religion, and she portrays Chinese men as either lifeless or inconsequential.

Hong, Maria, ed. Growing Up Asian American: An Anthology, Morrow, 1993.

Kim, Elaine. Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982. Kim finds Wong’s very reticence about certain aspects of Chinese life admirable. Wong does not play up the Christianity or Americanization of her heroine. Kim does find the protagonists of Fifth Chinese Daughter manipulative, for by the end she is acting “Chinese” for Caucasians and “Caucasian” for Chinese.

Lim, Shirley Geok-lin. “Twelve Asian American Writers: In Search of Self-Definition.” In Redefining American Literary History. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1990.

Ling, Amy. Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry. New York: Pergamon Press, 1990. Wong is one of several writers discussed.