Crossing the Bridge

Lehan Zhang

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Imagine growing up as a second-generation Chinese-American girl who lived in Chinatown, San Francisco, and the next twenty years of your life have already been planned perfectly by your parents. You would have an above-average job, marry a nice Chinese boy, and give birth to an auspicious son who would carry out the family legacy that the husband will leave behind. Yet, soon you would be forgotten by your descendants because girls are never supposed to make history; they are just witnesses of it. It sounds like a rather depressing future, right? Indeed, Jade Snow Wong, as it turns out, had already foreseen that she would have a similar outcome, and decided against it. Her autobiography excerpt, “Fifth Chinese Daughter” (1950), portrayed her early independence from the boundaries of the rigid set of family transitions, which enabled her to find an identity and determine her own future. Wong recounts the inevitable conflicts between the old-fashioned beliefs of family and the newly found freedoms of the outside world, leading one to break free from the strict obedience of customs and arousing others to treasure their human rights. 

Wong narrates that cultural traditions lead to blind obedience, which binds one to an unfair system without ever questioning its overruling authority. Growing up under the roof of Chinese patriarchy, the author characterizes that the “oldest brother incurred unusual expenses of luxuries [due to] birthright—” a system that she unknowingly accepts yet mindlessly honors, in which all privileges bestows upon the male heirs in order to sustain their long-lasting household name (Wong 289). As Chinese culture sets up a successful road for the boys, it sacrifices the girls with gender prejudice, leaving them astray and deprived of opportunities. Furthermore, when a girl is born, the Chinese ideals worshiped by her parents already appoint her destiny, for Wong defines that “a female followed three men during her lifetime:” a father, husband, and son as she grows old and passes on this legacy (Wong 289).  She had been taught that they would forever rule over her life as she abides by their influential decisions. Due to such unfair yet unquestionable standards, girls’ fates have already been set in stone. The patriarchal system of Chinese culture deems girls as powerless, for they are not even allowed to participate in the major decisions of their lives. Feeling oppressed over the burden of such confinement, one must learn to stand on their own feet in order to grasp the determination of the future and freedom. 

Through the unhopeful years of broken desires, Wong, feeling immense chagrin for her parents’ apathy, portrays that one’s self-reliance can bring higher education which elevates and preserves a bright future. Upon graduating high school, she still had a craving for the pursuit of knowledge and wished to continue her education into college; however, when Wong pleads her indifferent parents for assistance with finance, she recounts the shock that she felt towards her parents’ narrow mindset that if only “she had the talent, [she] could provide [her] own college education,” so the indignant girl had to walk away and create a path for her own with avidity (Wong 289). Wong never dares to question the authority, and once a decision was made, further discussions just seemed alien to the orthodox customs. The bleak tone of her parents’ words is strong enough to crush all hopes for a supported future, which pushes her to walk on the road of self-reliance. Furthermore, the Chinese traditions would often leave girls embittered about the significance of their worth since their investments would only be able to sustain and uplift all glory to boys. As cruel as it sounds, this unfair culture will often lead girls to be independent; therefore, creating curious minds about the outside world. Yet Wong was among those girls, as she narrates “at fifteen, [she worked] for room and board and a salary of twenty dollars per month” away from home in order to provide for her ambitions about a brighter future (Wong 289). She had to subsist independently with a part-time job during high school; since only then could she have a chance to attend an affordable college and fulfill her dreams. So with unshakable faith, she entered junior college without knowing that she had just unfolded an array of newly discovered opportunities. 

Not only did higher education mentally excite Wong, but she also recites that it is a place where one can foster new yet daring ideas and explore modern experiences. While fully embracing Western concepts through the instruction of her sociology professor, she re-defines that “children should be regarded as individuals with their own rights” in a healthy yet contemporary family relationship (Wong 290). This concept deeply contrasted her family’s beliefs of unquestioning obedience and harshly condemned their indifference to human rights. This statement voiced her sentiments of freedom, and from then, it exposed her family’s corruption for justifying their welfare and alluded to its later downfall. Moreover, educational institutions granted her social skills, and with that comes the once-forbidden gift of friendship. While dressing up for a movie date with a boy she met in college, Wong describes the feeling of knowing that “[she] must be breaking rules, [but she was] excited at this newly found forwardness” that she’s experiencing for the first time in her life (Wong 290). This feeling of uncertainty and happiness is the sapling of her freedom as she learns to approach the obsolete Chinese obedience with new courage and strong defense. 

Wong recounts that one’s desire for freedom will face strong oppositions by the strict family traditions, which leads to the ultimate conflict and clashes between two different cultures, inevitably defeating the family’s old beliefs. Upon her departure from home, commotion arises from the opposition against it, and Wong, now drenched in the thundering wrath of her parents, narrates that “[she] must be bent on disgracing the family name, ruining [her] future,” and echoing the dishonorable opinions of human rights (Wong 291). In her parents’ ideology, her new belief in Western freedom disregarded the superiority of Chinese culture and family strength based on obedience. Therefore, they are enraged and criticize the shamefulness of her going out in defiance. However, Wong unfolds that she is “too old to beat and too bold to intimidate,” although scolded for tearing down her reputation, which from now, was only to be whispered in the family legacy (Wong 291). She clings to the proclamation of her freedom, knowing that in between those disappointed yells of her parents conceded the ultimate defeat of the old Chinese theories and the breakdown of their years of traditional training. Now, she grows older with the strength to protest and the ability to turn the tables around, understanding the outside world better and owning the independence of her own beliefs. 

On the journey of breaking free from the ancient traditions of families, one will reach the destination with a strong sense of self-identity and a clear purpose in life. Jade Snow Wong showcases a better understanding of Chinese culture on the part of being an American, which helps all Americans explore the backwardness of beliefs and encourages one to embrace the immense possibilities of the present society. Wong establishes a brave yet earnest tone, drawing one to ponder over the power utilized by their own ancestral customs and appreciate those present-day freedoms found in abundance.

Lehan Zhang

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