Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 652
The substance of Fifth Chinese Daughter is concerned with the conflicts and subsequent drama of the collision of worlds within the Chinese-American girl. At first, in the excitement of having discovered the new world, she tried to change the old ways of her family, but her efforts were unappreciated. This discovery becomes the turning point in the life of any member of the second generation as he asks, "Am I of my father's race or am I an American?" Since the familiar pattern has been made part of his emotional fiber, his heart may ache with the decision. Everyone is liable to make mistakes before he finds his own right answer. To what degree should he reject the old to make room for the new? In other words, it is not easy to find yourself even in this country of multiple opportunities. (p. 442)
The book I wrote not only emphasizes the specific and philosophic differences between the old world and the new. It tries also to tell that the greatest values are the same in both worlds. Honor, courage, honesty, uncompromise in the face of personal conviction, service to fellow man—these do not differ.
My story was written during many hours when I unhappily asked myself why I ever chose to write it. Of course, I knew that the English-reading public had rarely had a clear picture of Chinese-American family life as a Chinese saw it. Other writers had been neither conscientious nor accurate in their various concepts of San Francisco Chinatown as a wicked, dangerous place, or in their classification of the Chinese as characters of evil or amusement. Nevertheless, it is not easy to be first in anything and I had grave doubts about breaking traditional silence as I wrote. (p. 444)
Jade Snow Wong, "Growing Up between the Old World and the New" (originally a talk given at the American Library Association Conference, Chicago, July, 1951), in The Horn Book Magazine (copyrighted, 1951, by The Horn Book, Inc., Boston), Vol. XXVII, No. 6, December, 1951, pp. 440-45.
[Fifth Chinese Daughter] tells the story of a girl growing up in the Chinese community of San Francisco. Confucian precepts and standards of behaviour ruled the family and Jade Snow Wong was sternly trained from an early age to obey her parents without question and to accept the assumption that girls were naturally inferior to boys. The conflict of this background with the Western standards she met outside her own community and her struggle for independence and success are the themes of the book, and they are worked out in a setting of home, school, streets and shops, all vividly realized, and busy with varied and intensely human personalities.
In spite of its unusual setting there is much in [Fifth Chinese Daughter] of general appeal. The natural frustration of an intelligent and ambitious girl when her elder brother automatically receives the help with his college fees that is denied to her, the equally natural jealousy when a younger and prettier sister receives all the attention from relations, the problem of asserting her right to run her own life without alienating herself from her parents; all these will find a sympathetic reception. It is not, however, everybody's book, for the author's very sincerity prevents her from adding the touch of exaggeration that would heighten a scene or the suspense that would build up to a climax, and there are one or two sections that move rather too slowly. Above all she refuses to dramatise herself and the frustrations and loneliness are presented without self pity while her struggles and eventual distinguished achievements are very modestly set down. She emerges from the book as a most likeable person, affectionate, courageous and sincere, and it is contact with her personality that will be the most valuable result of reading this book. (pp. 195-96)
"For the Intermediate Library: 'Fifth Chinese Daughter'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 16, No. 3, October, 1952, pp. 195-96.
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