Oakland Living History Program, Interview


Jade Snow Wong Interview Excerpt

Jade Snow Wong [Constance Ong], Interviewee
Amy Joseph, Interviewer

September 16, 1994

Amy Joseph: So, as someone who was Chinese American, there were advantages would you say -- were there mostly advantages on the campus? You said that there was a lot of interest in your culture.
Jade Snow Wong: Yes.

AJ: How did you feel specifically as someone with your heritage?
JSW: I don't think anybody singled me out for advantages. I think there was added interest. For instance, the Chaplain, and later he married [my husband and me] and he taught economics, which was my major, was George Headley, whose father had been a missionary in China. And he was especially sympathetic with the Chinese people, so [he] had this understanding. And then another thing which I found fascinating was seeing [China] through the eyes of Americans, as a cultural art... cultural heritage. You know, in Chinatown there's not much art. Everybody's just trying to make a living. There wasn't much Chinese art around my home, for instance. But I saw the art gallery, with the lions, and I took a course in Chinese art from Otto [Menchen?], who is quite...you know, he's dead now, but he's quite celebrated as an authority on Chinese art [and] the culture of the Huns in the north; he wrote a book on the Huns. So, I found an added dimension to being Chinese, mainly the art heritage. And then, of course I stumbled onto pottery the last semester I was at Mills, and heard Carlton Boll who was an expert technically on pottery, heard him tell the class that the Sung Dynasty in China, which was about 900 to 1200 A.D., is considered the golden age of pottery; that there's no pottery made that could exceed that in grace and beauty and quality. Well, I never knew that, going to Chinese school. So a lot of values to the Chinese culture I didn't learn until I learned it from a Western point of view at Mills. Of course, since then I've pursued it quite a lot.

AJ: How did the other students...did they seem to take an interest as well as the teachers? In the yearbook they mentioned going on tours to Chinatown with you, under your name.
JSW: Yeah, well, they asked me. And in fact the Economics class -- George Headley, because he knew me -- asked to have the class visit my father's basement factory. And, my family was kind ofmortified because, you know, there's nothing glamorous or really anything to show off in the factory to a college class. But -- I think I wrote about it in the book -- they visited my father's factory and observed the women sewing. And then they visited a unionized factory, where they were paid by the hour. In my father's factory it was piece-work. And there's a...maybe there still is...but in those days there was a continuous controversy as to which is a fairer way of paying people. It was thought that piece-work makes the workers accelerate their pace to get as many pieces out as possible, and that the hourly workers could take things easier because they have an assured wage. We found, at that particular time anyway, we found that in fact it was the other way around. The women [in my father's shop] -- they were mostly women, very few men seamsters, I guess you would call them -- the women were quite relaxed. They had children and they would stop and give the baby a bottle or whatever, and get back to work. And whatever they got done they were paid on the pieces; we don't know how many an hour. Whereas in the factory run by Western non-Chinese white people, they were really tense and trying to get the work out because if they were slow and didn't get enough pieces, they would be fired. Let's say they made $3.00 an hour. If the boss didn't see that what they were producing was worth $3.00 an hour, they'd be let go. So, there was a certain tension in the Western factory that was not in the Chinese factory. Now, I grant that the women don't make a very large wage, they worked long hours, they worked at night after dinner and all that, but they're not able to do other work. They can't speak English, and they don't want to go far away. They want to babysit their children while they sew. And for a time, when I was a little girl, my father would deliver the goods to their homes for them to sew at home. But I don't think anybody does that anymore. Nobody has the time to do that.


Amy Joseph



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Oakland Living History Program