Ernestine Evans

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530

[Fifth Chinese Daughter] is like one of those enticing oriental sets of boxes, one inside the other. There is more to it than its gravely simple and humorous anecdotal story of Mr. Wong's fifth daughter…. Inside its autobiographical form, told in the third person as is the Chinese custom,… it is full of provocative comparisons of cultures, and testimony on changes-in-progress, on conflicts between East and West, men and women, on education, art and industry, and for good measure, cooking! It is very seldom that so much sheer entertainment, unforced exotic scene, and cast of memorable characters, comes in a single book; or that any book on its last page invites at once to re-reading, and a wish for conversation with the author.

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It is a family story of how a young Chinese with his wife and children settled in San Francisco, bringing across the Pacific the manners and disciplines of an old civilization….

The narrative follows every step of Fifth Daughter's education, at home, in the American school, under Father's tutelage in history and calligraphy, in Chinese night school. Grandmother's lessons on growing plants and people are among the most illuminating passages in the book. Grandmother, transplanting the best of the plants would say: "We will discard the weak ones, just as in life those who do not try are left behind."…

As the suspense in the story mounts, and the reader shares with Fifth Daughter all the incidents and conflicts of school and home, of West and East, though the tale is personal, vivid and precise, the emotion in reading fans out to include an immense expectation of world events. A glow of being at once Richer by Asia, and Richer by the West, too, warms those with whom this American Chinese girl is sharing her experiences…. [The] constant effort, not to break away from her Chinese background, but to add to it a full share of American culture, and her fight to base her freedom on economic self-help, make the hard core of the story.

But, of course, it is the little profiles of people, the old characters, relations, neighbors, herb doctors, that keep one laughing or smiling at one's own recognition of her ever-polite reservations about certain American types….

It is plain that the Chinese American artist in clay is also a craftsman in words. She has given full measure on many subjects and left a unique self portrait.

Ernestine Evans, "A Chinese-American Girl's Two Worlds," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review (© I.H.T. Corporation; reprinted by permission), Vol. 27, No. 6, September 24, 1950, p. 4.

[Fifth Chinese Daughter is an] account of how a young woman of notable intelligence, good humor, and talent handled the job of dovetailing American ways with a Chinese upbringing…. [Her] recollections of her rigidly regimented family life as contrasted with her American education are told in the third person, a device that is especially successful when she is dealing with the period in her development when, to her parents' consternation, she began to break with Chinese traditions. An engrossing story, related with [skill]….

"Books: 'Fifth Chinese Daughter'," in The New Yorker (© 1950 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. XXVI, No. 32, October 7, 1950, p. 134.

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