Guest Post: Mark Stuart Ong on His Mother Jade Snow Wong’s Legacy

The new edition of Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong includes a new introduction by Leslie Bow, Professor of English and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of ‘Partly Colored’: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South. Prior to the book’s publication in the fall of 2019, Jade’s son Mark Stuart Ong sent Professor Bow a letter that gave more insight into his mother, especially in the context of Leslie’s introduction and the legacy of Jade Snow Wong’s book. The following is a reproduction of Mark’s letter, with permission from its author.


Dear Leslie,

Your introduction reminded me of Rashomon. Nothing remains of that Kyoto gate except for a stone marker. The site reveals nothing about the story. In the same way, it’s hard to find a single narrative about Jade Snow Wong. However, her book is a gate and it still stands.

My mother grew beyond the young woman in Fifth Chinese Daughter. Over a sixty-year career, she balanced service to her parents and mother-in-law, her role as a wife and mother, her artistic goals, and her multi-pronged career. She also had to face how Chinatown and the world changed decade by decade.

The response to Fifth Chinese Daughter and her pottery may have been tainted with murky issues—racial stereotyping, fascination with Asia in the mid-twentieth-century, the reception of Asian American women (as opposed to the men), and the popularity of the memoir. You described scholars who felt that Jade Snow Wong packaged Chinatown and her family for white America. They accused her editor, Elizabeth Lawrence, of fostering a book that supported white stereotypes. Those opinions weren’t based on any facts of my mother’s life. Fifth Chinese Daughter expresses its author’s truth.

I’d especially like to address three areas: the authenticity of her name, the complex meaning of Chinatown, and the role her husband played.

The Name Jade Snow Wong

My mother’s given name was Jade Snow Wong ( 黃玉雪). Each of her ceramic bowls was incised with the ideograph jade, 玉, when the clay was still soft. Her name was an indelible part of her work.

Some have portrayed her use of the third-person as false modesty, but they are not looking at the dilemmas of a second-generation Chinese woman born in 1922 to a nineteenth-century father. The curtain she drew over many aspects of her family life—such as the existence of the first wife (a woman she never knew and who likely wasn’t mentioned often)—was a necessary decision for her. Her Chinese name was her passage between a Chinese home and an American arena. It enabled her to talk about the hermetic world of Chinatown without bringing embarrassment or shame, and it allowed her to be modest before her parents and glamorous before her audience. She steadfastly maintained a distinction between public and private all her life.

San Francisco Chinatown

Chinatown is not homogeneous, its residents depend on the outer world for income, and much of Chinatown functions as a tourist attraction. Grant Avenue could mean the glamor of the Imperial Palace Restaurant that hosted Hollywood and political celebrities. It could be the street where Jade Snow Wong went shopping on a nearly daily basis, saying hello to various people to whom she was distantly related. It could be the place of gang shootings. Fifth Chinese Daughter was Jade Snow Wong’s view of her own home community.

My mother was keenly interested in the differences between Chinese and American culture. She habitually tried to parse those differences during conversations. As much as people might imagine her as a guide to Chinese culture, she also performed the opposite role. She took my grandmothers to medical appointments, interceded when relatives had trouble interacting with the American world, and helped immigrant Chinese get established in the United States. She was an intermediary on both sides of Chinatown’s borders.

Woodrow Ong

My father was born in 1916. His Chinese name was Deng Huazhan (鄧華湛). I live with his ceramics and his silversmithing, and I wonder what happened in the years before I was born. At first, he tried to be an artist along with my mother. If he had intended to make a career as a craftsperson, it didn’t happen. He gradually sublimated himself to my mother—mastering metal spinning to make the copper forms she enameled, keeping the books and managing the business, and acting as a salesperson. When my parents were offered the chance to become travel agents and lead tours to Asia, my mother hoped that might allow my father to have his own role in business. The denouement of that came in the last month of my father’s life. He demanded that my mother learn all the aspects of the business—the accounting and banking, getting accreditation with the airlines, and writing plane tickets. It was overwhelming and it added to her grief. When you met her in 1987, my father had been dead a mere two years. As I wrote to you before, she said: “Every day since Woody has died has been drudgery.”

Some part of Jade Snow Wong’s success was due to the way Chinese American women are seen in American society. Some part of Woody Ong’s disappointment was due to the way Chinese American men are torn down in American society. My father long endured being called “Mr. Jade Snow Wong.” I cannot gauge how much he suppressed his own ambitions or swallowed his own disappointment. I look at his ceramics and his silver pieces and wonder what he would have been if his hopes had also been rewarded.

What’s Worth Saving?

From childhood, every authority figure—parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, ministers, teachers, and shop owners—declared the same rule to me: “You are forever Chinese. Don’t bring shame to your people. Preserve Chinese culture. Don’t try to change it.”

What do we keep of our Chinese American heritage? We may not be able to preserve Chinatown as a distinct neighborhood. Most of the people mentioned in Fifth Chinese Daughter, as well as its author, are dead. China itself has modernized and Chinese immigration to the United States is drastically different from the 1950s. In the ensuing years, I hope that readers realize that Jade Snow Wong is her true name and identity, that Chinatown is a living community, and that it often takes loyalty and support for a person to be successful.

Jade Snow Wong’s bowls remain and her book will be here for future readers. They will still find a deeply human story in Fifth Chinese Daughter. In the Rashomon din, we should especially give room to Jade Snow Wong’s own voice. I appreciate your effort to preserve her work.

Yours,

Mark


Mark Stuart Ong is Jade Snow Wong’s eldest son. He is a book designer, art director, and publishing consultant living in San Francisco.

The Legacy of Women’s History Month

March is Women’s History Month—a month-long celebration of the vital role women have played in American history. Observed for over thirty years, Women’s History Month owes much of its legacy to the academics and activists who in the 1970s pushed for more recognition of Women’s Studies as an important area of focus in higher education. In her book When Women Ask the Questions: Creating Women’s Studies in America, Professor Marilyn Boxer recognizes that “merely to assert that women should be studied was a radical act.”

The history of feminist publishing goes hand-in-hand with the history of Women’s Studies as an intellectual pursuit. Through the University of Washington Press’s Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies publishing, which includes our Decolonizing Feminisms: Antiracist and Transnational Praxis and Feminist Technosciences series, we join in this radical publishing legacy. Our press is dedicated to bringing emerging, forward-thinking, and global women’s voices into print.

Below, some of our recent authors reflect on their own legacy as female scholars and share the books that inspired them as academics and authors.


Meridian by Alice Walker (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976)

This extraordinary novel explores the titular character’s personal, political, and spiritual development in the heart of the civil rights movement. A sensitive girl who grows into a complex, and often suffering young woman, Meridian leaves personal hardship in her Southern hometown for college, only to return years later and emerge as a leader in the civil rights movement. The novel considers the limits of self-sacrifice in the name of collective justice, asking what it means to love oneself, each other, and the movement. Here, Walker and Meridian herself, inspired me as a young activist by offering lessons about how long it takes to really find oneself, and the role of love and care in difficult, long-term activist work.

Meridian by Alice Walker

Islam and Gender: The Religious Debate in Contemporary Iran by Ziba Mir-Hosseini (Princeton University Press, 1999)

After reading this book, I knew I wanted to pursue graduate research around questions of gender, Islam, and Iran. Mir-Hosseini takes us into the heart of religious debates in Iran by interviewing leading clerics in the city of Qom. The author charts the complexity of debates among religious scholars around gender, religious interpretation, Islamic jurisprudence, and politics. Mir-Hosseini captures Iran’s rich culture of debate, the capacity of religious discourses to accommodate contemporary understandings of gender and justice, and the heterogeneity of social actors and influences in Iran.

Islam and Gender

 

Catherine Sameh, assistant professor of gender and sexuality studies at University of California, Irvine and author of Axis of Hope: Iranian Women’s Rights Activism across Borders


Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York by Kathy Piess (Temple Univ. Press, 1986)

I read Kathy Piess’s Cheap Amusements as an undergraduate. It was the first time I encountered a scholar who took women’s cultural history seriously. She seamlessly blended together political, economic, social, and cultural history, demonstrating how clothing, theater, and theme parks offered key sites for resistance among women with limited resources. I saw myself in those pages. Piess’s work, alongside many other fantastic women cultural historians, sent me down a path of inquiry into the very real consequences of style, performance, and consumption in people’s everyday lives.

Cheap Amusements

 

Rebecca Scofield, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of History at the University of Idaho and author of Outriders: Rodeo at the Fringes of the American West


A Border Passage: From Cairo to America—A Woman’s Journey by Leila Ahmed (Penguin, 1999) 

The book that showed me the path for how to listen, reflect, process, and finally tell a story, be that one’s own or other people’s was A Border Passage by Leila Ahmed. I picked the book by chance from a counter at the library at Cal State Fullerton in 2004. I was a journalist at that time and was facing a dead-end using the lens of media studies in trying to understand the Kashmir dispute. I also was stifled because journalism is so “objectivity-centric” that one has to constantly hide oneself even in the analysis. Reading Leila Ahmed, I was struck by the clarity and insight she has when she is rendering her early life in Egypt. Her book is a memoir no doubt, but the vivid storytelling, the deep compassion it had for the people that inhabited the story, the nuanced exploration of events and incidents, and the author’s self-reflexivity opened a window that I never wanted to close. It turned out that Leila Ahmed is an anthropologist. Having grown up in Kashmir the discipline was unknown to me, but on a lighter note, now having come to know of it, I wanted to have what Leila Ahmed had. Anthropology allowed me to keep nurturing my poetic side. It had room for me to write academic analysis and treat poetry as a manifestation of serious ethnographic work. It has made the discipline even more valuable for me.

A Border Passage

 

Ather Zia, assistant professor of anthropology and gender studies at the University of Northern Colorado and author of Resisting Disappearance: Military Occupation and Women’s Activism in Kashmir

Looking to the Past in an Uncertain Present: Paula Becker on Betty MacDonald’s “The Plague and I”

Like many people struggling to understand our present moment, and to prepare for what is coming, I’ve turned, this week, to books, to history.

Life can change quickly, both then and now. Take Mary McCarthy’s straightforward description of boarding a Minneapolis-bound train in Seattle with her parents and three younger brothers during the 1918 worldwide influenza pandemic: “Waving good-bye in the Seattle depot, we had not known that we carried the flu into our drawing rooms…but, one after another, we had been struck down as the train proceeded eastward” (Memories of a Catholic Girlhood). McCarthy’s parents died shortly after the stricken family was carried from the train. I’ve reread Katherine Anne Porter’s devastating “Pale Horse, Pale Rider.” This short story spells out the reality that while individuals may survive pandemics, these diseases irrevocably alter our society. I keep thinking of Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit, a children’s picture book, which matter-of-factly describes the burning of a little boy’s favorite toy due to its contamination during his confinement with scarlet fever.

More cheerfully, I’ve also turned, as I usually do sooner or later, to Betty MacDonald. Betty’s follow up to her worldwide best selling first autobiographical book, The Egg and I, was The Plague and I, a tartly poignant recounting of her battle with and recovery from tuberculosis in a pre-antibiotic-era King County, Washington sanatorium. When Betty was admitted to Firland (called The Pines in Plague), tuberculosis was endemic worldwide. Betty’s was one of nearly two thousand cases diagnosed in Seattle in 1938. Tuberculosis still strikes today.

Firland patients lived in almost complete isolation from society, and—as much as was possible in shared rooms—from one another. The cure was mainly resting, supine, without talking or even reading. Difficult as the experience was for her, Betty’s memoir crackles with her trademark humor: “Being sent to an institution, be it penal, mental or tuberculous, is no game of Parcheesi, and not knowing when, or if, you’ll get out doesn’t make it any easier. At least a criminal knows what his sentence is.”

Despite Firland’s rigid rules governing patient interaction, living in close quarters meant coming to know her roommates’ strengths and weaknesses. “From my stay at The Pines,” Betty MacDonald explained, “I learned that a stiff test for friendship is: ‘Would she be pleasant to have t.b. with?'” Of the many women Betty roomed with during her time at Firland, her favorite was a young Japanese-American woman named Kazuko Monica Itoi. Kazi appears in Plague under the pseudonym “Kimi.” “Unfortunately,” Betty added, “too many people, when you try separating them from their material possessions and any and all activity, turn out to be like cheap golf balls. You unwind and unwind but you never get to the pure rubber core because there isn’t any. When I started unwinding Kimi I found that under her beautiful covering she was mostly core.” This friendship endured through the two women’s recovery and hospital discharge, and Kazi’s internment in Minidoka War Relocation Camp during World War II. At the height of her own success, Betty encouraged Kazi (by then married and using the name Monica Sone) to write about her experiences. The result, Nisei Daughter, provides an understanding of yet another form of isolation.

Betty and Monica’s accounts of isolation were on my mind as I maintained my now-prescribed six feet of social distance from fellow neighbors circling the path atop the lidded-over Maple Leaf Reservoir in north Seattle. We ventured from our homes this sunny day, smiling encouragement to one another while shunning contact. Isolation is different now, softened somewhat by podcasts, audio books, and streaming video. We have our social media, alternately comforting or alarming, depending on who you follow. I try to apply Betty’s standard in making that choice: look for someone who is mostly core.

I’ve not been subject to true quarantine, as I will be if Covid-19 touches me directly. I can still walk the spookily empty streets and circle the track, all the while keeping my distance. I am living a little of what Betty learned during her quarantine: health is not a given. Friendship runs deep, even when friends have been moved down the hall or aren’t allowed to visit you. Community sustains, and it is up to us to find ours even when aspects of our lives are constrained. Life, all of it, needs to be noticed. It must be deeply noticed.


Paula Becker is the author of the biography Looking for Betty MacDonald: The Egg, the Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I and the memoir A House on Stilts: Mothering in the Age of Opioid Addiction.

A Message to Our Authors, Readers, and Partners

During this unprecedented global crisis, we at UW Press share concern and solidarity with all affected. We realize that this is an incredibly challenging time for people around the world, and we are grateful for your continued engagement.

Although we are working remotely, the press is operational and open for business.

Our spring travel plans have changed as many academic conferences have been canceled. The press will no longer be attending the following meetings:

  • Association for Asian Studies (March 19–22)
  • American Society for Environmental History (March 25–29)
  • Organization for American Historians (April 2–5)
  • American Association of Geographers (April 6–10)
  • Association for Asian American Studies (April 9–11)
  • Society of Architectural Historians (April 29–May 3)
  • Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (May 7–9)
  • Berkshire Conference of Women, Genders, and Sexualities (the Big Berks) (May 28–31)

Our acquisitions editors have been transitioning their conference appointments to virtual meetings by phone and Zoom. We are eager to hear about new projects and welcome your proposals. You can find a list of our editors and their subject areas here.

In the coming weeks we will be highlighting book lists from the spring conferences we had planned to attend. Stay tuned for special announcements and promotions via our social media channels.

We and our authors look forward to launching the exciting new titles coming out this season. Our marketing team is developing creative ways to share our new books through online platforms and social media.

During these difficult times, we encourage you to support independent bookstores, many of which are offering online or curbside sales. Connect with independent bookstores here or here.

Additionally, UW Press is offering 40% off all books and free shipping through May 15. To take advantage of this offer, please use promo code WASH20 on our website or contact Hopkins Fulfillment Services (800-53705487 or hfscustserv@press.jhu.edu).

UW Press remains committed to scholarship and the publication of vital new work as a public good, and we ask that you continue to engage with us and share ideas. Thank you so much for your support.

 

Roses from Kenya

Kenya supplies more than one third of the fresh-cut roses and other flowers sold annually in the European Union, and over half are grown near the shores of Lake Naivasha, a freshwater lake recognized as a wetland of international importance. In Roses from Kenya: Labor, Environment, and the Global Trade in Cut Flowers, Megan A. Styles tells the story of the journey roses take to be grown and harvested in Lake Naivasha, shipped to the European Union, and sold around the world.

Roses from Kenya Infographic_FinalFinal

This infographic was created by Director of Marketing and Sales Julie Fergus, Marketing Assistant Audrey Truitt, and Design Fellow Camille Vance.

What to Know (And Ask) About COVID-19 With Dr. Christopher Sanford

Dr. Christopher Sanford, author of Staying Healthy Abroad, offers suggestions on how to stay informed and healthy amidst the spreading coronavirus (COVID-19).

The purpose of this article is educational. For medical advice for any health condition, please consult your physician. To learn more about COVID-19, check out the links that Dr. Sanford recommends at the bottom of the post.

There is currently so much news about coronavirus that it is difficult to step back from the deluge of information and determine what it means. Possibly the optimal stance is to realize two truths, simultaneously, which are admittedly at odds with each another.

On one hand, the outbreak is undeniably a big deal. It is rapidly spreading around the world. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO, characterized the current status of COVID-19 as “uncharted territory.” The virus could indeed spread to every country on Earth, infecting millions, and killing a large number of people. Frustratingly, with all the authorities and institutions giving recommendations, there is inevitably conflicting advice given to the public. And the first several deaths from COVID-19 in the US occurred in Washington State.

On the other hand, this illness does not herald the end of the world. Most people—whether or not they get this illness—will do well. Below are some answers and tips to address the most common questions and concerns about COVID-19.

Coronavirus Q&A

Q: How should we react?

A: The benefits of closing schools and worksites is still being debated, but there are some best practices you can follow:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
  • Keep your distance from people who are ill.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

            The same measures that ensure long-term good health will reduce your risk of acquiring this illness, and, should you acquire it, of faring poorly.

Q: How do I boost my immune system?

A: The whole notion of boosting one’s immune system by a short-term measure is a myth.

The robustness of your immune system is tied to your overall, head-to-toe health. Hence, the same measures that are linked to cardiac health, brain health, cancer risk reduction, and longevity also are linked to immune function:

  • Maintain a normal body weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Don’t smoke
  • Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, low in red meat
  • Drink moderately or not at all
  • See a medical provider regularly for routine screening—blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.

There’s no shortcut.

Q: Should I avoid international travel?

A: Given the rapidly evolving nature of this pandemic, it is impossible to make a blanket recommendation regarding travel, and risk factors for acquiring this illness are still being determined. Each potential destination must be individually assessed with the latest information. The elderly, and those with chronic medical conditions are at elevated risk of severe illness.

Current destinations with heightened risk of community spread of coronavirus: China, Hong Kong, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand.

For some of these destinations, the US State Department gives more granular guidance. Regarding Italy, for example, the current travel advisory for the country as a whole is Travel Advisory Level 3: Reconsider travel. However, for Lombardy and Veneto (two of the twenty administrative regions of Italy), the Advisory Level is 4—Do not travel—due to both high levels of community transmission and imposition of local quarantine procedures.

Q: Where can I find reliable information on this pandemic?

A: The WHO is calling the current overabundance of information, online and elsewhere—of markedly variable reliability—an “infodemic.” Three solid, evidence-based sources are:

  1. CDC. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary.
  2. AAFP. American Academy of Family Physicians, Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). Information to educate your patients and prepare your practice teams.
  3. WHO. World Health Organization. Rolling updates on Coronavirus disease.

Bottom line: COVID-19 is a huge and significant pandemic. No one knows how many people it will affect. But most people will do well. I’ve seen both Shaun of the Dead and World War Z so I know the zombie apocalypse is coming. But this isn’t it.


Christopher Sanford, MD, MPH is associate professor in the Departments of Family Medicine and Global Health at the University of Washington, and a family medicine physician who specializes in tropical medicine and travelers’ health. His research interests include medical education in low-resource settings and health risks of urban centers in low-income nations.

2019–2020 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowship

The University of Washington Press (job number 176703), University of Chicago Press (JR07717), Cornell University Press (job number WDR-00022497), MIT Press (job number 18525), Northwestern University Press (job number 38451) and Ohio State University Press (Jobs) are now accepting applications for the 2019–2020 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowship Program. The program seeks to increase diversity in scholarly publishing by providing fourteen-month fellowships in the acquisitions departments of the six university presses with the support of the Association of University Presses and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Search committees will begin reviewing applications after March 15, 2020. Selected fellows will be notified by April 15, 2020, to begin the fourteen-month fellowship on June 1, 2020.

FY20 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowship_Page_1FY20 Mellon University Press Diversity Fellowship_Page_2