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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