Jade Snow Wong is an American writer and ceramic artist of Chinese origin. She was born in Chinatown of San Francisco, California. Jade Snow Wong’s family included seven members, five children, and two parents. Being a daughter of the Chinese immigrants that grew up in China, Jade Snow Wong got to experience the traditional style of up-bringing practiced by her father.
Even though Wong’s family lived in the United States, her parents did not adopt any western behaviors or beliefs. Instead they preferred to stick to the old traditions of their original society and culture that is known as one based on patriarchal relationships. Jade Snow Wong’s novel called “Fifth Chinese Daughter” was first published in 1945 and is an autobiographic work introducing the author’s life and obstacles she had to face on her way of becoming a renowned and recognized author.
The novel is written from a narrator; this way, Jade Snow Wong refers to herself in the third person. This could be the result of the difficulties the author experienced writing about her own life experiences and intimate details and expressing her deep feelings.
The novel follows the complicated relationships within Jade’s family where she, as the youngest child had to obey everyone else, besides, as a female she was to blindly respect the authorities of the male members of the family – her father and her older brother. This brings the reader to a multi-dimensional theme of the social and gender role of females and the Chinese culture and society and the ways they are viewed and treated by males.
In a traditionally patriarchal society, men are always in charge of all decisions, while women are put into a submissive and weak position and disciplined strictly. Jade Snow Wong’s family was not an exception. Jade grew up having a very strong father figure in her life. Her father’s authority was out of the question in every single matter; this way, the strength of his influences and his unlimited control over different aspects of Jade’s life overpowered all other impacts.
As a result, through the course of her life, Jade Snow Wong was under the constant pressure to please her father and gain his recognition for everything she did. This mission was complicated by the fact that her parent was traditionally demanding and hard to impress; he was also convinced that giving praise to Jade for her achievements was needless. At the same time, he willingly took credit for all the success his youngest daughter gained over time.
The strict and demanding attitude of her father made Jade constantly seek for his approval. The novel shows how in her very young age, the girl respected the authority of her father referring to him as “the great Father.” In the perspective of the modern views on the relationships between men and women Jade’s father’s attitude towards his daughter and the other women of his family could be called highly sexist.
Such an attitude was culturally based on the belief that women cannot continue the family name, but only bury it within some other family’s name. As a result, females could not be considered as worthy members of the family, and they were treated respectfully, as the disposable workers and useless consumers of resources.
Being a young and inexperienced child, Jade truly believed that her father was a fair man; for years she was under the impression that this state of things and attitude is the only right one. Growing up in the Chinese family, she believed that being oppressed by her father and all the time focusing all of her efforts to impress “the great Father” was a norm for all families. After attending school and witnessing cultural diversity in the United States with all its multiple features and habits, Jade was surprised.
The behaviors of her classmates did not seem common to her. This revelation became one of Jade’s first encounters with the cultures of the West. Spending more time at school than at her surrounded by her family members, Jade started to adopt some of the behaviors and points of view not typical for the patriarchal culture of her upbringing enforced by her father. This leads to the first disappointments. Jade’s perspective on her father’s judgment shifts radically under the Western influences of her peers at school.
She stops seeing her father as a fair and reasonable man; instead, she finally realizes that she is being oppressed. This changes her relationship with her father drastically, as the girl starts to rebel against her parent’s orders and views. Even though she is a very good student, she gets no approval, all of her achievements are belittled or taken for granted. Eventually, Jade becomes tired of her father’s constant criticism and decides to leave home.
Jade’s disappointment in her father’s methods and personality make her re-evaluate the relationships towards women in society. Besides, Jade becomes intolerant to all forms of restriction and oppression; this is why she starts writing. Jade’s longtime oppression makes her starved for self-expression, and this makes her a wonderful artist and a writer.
This new occupation empowers Jade and eventually leads her to social appreciation and approval. Of course, after gaining everyone’s respect, she finally becomes a valuable person for her father, as earning honor for her family is the only thing that makes him start to appreciate his youngest daughter.
The male-female relationships in “Fifth Chinese Daughter” revolve along the lines of Jade’s relationship with her father. Her gradual realization of her self-worth and her father’s lack of appreciation towards all of her achievements and efforts reflects the young girl’s path towards social maturity and understanding of the values and roles she prefers to stick to. The main character of “Fifth Chinese Daughter” makes an important decision rebelling against her father and the sexist beliefs forced on her through childhood.
In my opinion, such a drastic decision would take a lot of courage, as one’s family is the first society they encounter in their life, which shapes people making them who they are. Unfortunately, in Jade’s situation, her family was not her source of strength and confidence; on the opposite, they believed that humbling down all of the girl’s achievements was the right way to behave. I believe that Jade was lucky to find another source of support and express herself as an artist.
I overall disapprove of sexist beliefs and relationships, but about Jade’s experience, these negative practices turned her into a resilient fighter and an independent woman. It is ironic because the role of sexism was initially to oppress and victimize females, but in this case, the opposite effect was achieved.