Essay on 'Fifth Chinese Daughter' Summary

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In this autobiography, we meet Jade Snow and her Chinese American family, the Wongs. This book starts with Jade in her earliest years as the narrative simply walks us through the Wong family’s whirling world around her. Throughout this book, little Jade grows, and with her grows a more complex and complicated narrative as Jade grows more complex and complicated herself.

Jade was born into a traditional Chinese family that continued to follow homeland traditions despite being born in Chinatown in San Francisco, California in 1922. She says, “For the first five years, everything was Chinese.” Chinese is the first language she hears, and the first type of food she eats, it’s essentially the only culture Jade gets introduced to. We could assume that if Jade Snow never aged and stayed a young child forever, she may never have left that environment. She must obey her strict grandmother, respect her elders, listen to her older sister, and take care of her younger siblings. Things are very cut and dry for the first few chapters while Jade is still quite young, and her life slowly opens to the reader in a plain, almost educational way.

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Jade’s father is a strict and traditional man, and while he pushes all of his children towards a “good” education, he only agrees to pay for college tuition for his one son while his other children, his four daughters, are expected to be married off and become good housewives. It is very prevalent in this part of the book that Jade Snow begins to struggle to find peace with her identity family, her culture, and herself.

Jade, now beginning to feel American, begins working as a housekeeper until she manages to find herself a scholarship and goes to college. This book was first published in 1950, which to say simply was a very different culture for women and Asians in America than it is today. Coming right out of World War Two, there were very different sentiments towards Asians in this country, and it was not a particularly easy time for women. The fact that Jade was an immigrant, female, Chinese, and unsupported by her family makes her struggle to succeed in her American dream even more remarkable.


Fifth Chinese Daughter is not a detailed account of the character, nor does it put you into the head of the author. Instead, this book is much more focused on the linear passing of time, the struggles of culture and feminism, and the details of well-observed Chinese traditions. In this book we learn about many Asian traditions, from a baby’s first month with red eggs, pickled pigs’ feet, a typical Chinese funeral, and of course the timeless sexism towards women only an ancient culture can provide.

At the start of the book, it seems like our author Jade is very impacted by the rigors and strictness of her family. Before she ever describes the color of her mother's eyes, the sound of her baby brother laughing, or the wrinkles on her grandmother's face while she cared for the entire household, Jade introduces you to the rules. In the Wong household, a girl mustn’t question too frequently, she mustn’t use the wrong title to address her elders or even desire to get a higher education. Every time Jade was told something was inappropriate for her, it must have reinforced the idea to self-express, to be unique, and to participate in America as an individual. This is consistent with the experience of many Asian American immigrants of this time. Many of the patriarchs of the family during this time, have worked very hard to get their families to live successfully in the United States, and their expectations to uphold this feat follow suit.

When Jade moves from her first elementary school to a new local neighborhood school when her parents move homes, Jade thinks, “Everybody knows the Chinese have a superior culture.” While Fifth Chinese Daughter doesn’t overtly mention it, it’s understood that the Wong family does not hold American values or behaviors in high regard. This idea is probably reinforced after a white boy spits on her. When Jade was 11 years old it was 1933, and the great depression was in full swing. Attitudes towards Asians in America were in very low regard.

Jade gives a lot of detail and time describing the conflicts between her two cultural environments. While not written with much emotion on how it feels to be torn between two very different cultures, she demonstrates with subtlety how intelligent, hardworking, and resilient she was as a young Asian woman in America. The author’s Chinese culture causes her autobiography to be written in the third person, so we can only peek at the individual as viewed by her entire family, rather than hear her speak in her voice. This might be indicative of the collectivist culture within Asian countries. It should also be noted that struggling with identity is very common among Asian immigrants. As Jade grows up, she starts to see herself as more American. According to Goodwin’s article from our readings, there were many shifts in identity and self-image, as his case study participants grew up.

As the pages turn Jade’s interesting life story progresses fluidly, and as our protagonist begins to break away from her family’s traditionalist values, her individualistic decision-making allows the reader to start caring for Jade, and we become emotionally invested in Jade’s struggle with cultural defiance as she tries to find herself.

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Essay on ‘Fifth Chinese Daughter’ Summary. (2024, February 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from
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