On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

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Imagine the challenge of relocating to a foreign country and raising a family away from your homeland. This is a decision that countless individuals make regularly. However, a crucial question arises: which traditions and values should you pass on to your children? Should they be taught the traditions of their homeland or those of their new country? In Lisa See’s book, On Gold Mountain, Fong See faces the dual challenge of seeking acceptance in American society while also striving to preserve his Chinese heritage and values within his family.

In his second marriage, Fong See managed to gain acceptance from American society, but struggled to uphold his Chinese traditions. However, in his third marriage, he successfully maintained all of his Chinese customs while attempting to shed his American ways, despite being socially accepted by Americans. Fong See’s acceptance as a member of American society was not immediate; it took numerous years for him to be acknowledged. Ultimately, he was only embraced by American society due to his immense wealth, accomplished business ventures, marriage to an American woman, and willingness to conform to her customs.

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At the age of 14, Fong See immigrated to America and faced discrimination due to his Chinese background. During the late 1800s, Chinese individuals were not respected and faced social prejudice. Despite his lack of skill as an herbalist, Fong See inherited his father’s business. However, he began selling items directly to customers and eventually opened his own shop at the age of 17. In order to assimilate and blend in with Americans, Fong See adopted Western clothing and attire.

He altered his name and company name multiple times in order to make it simpler for Americans to pronounce, as he desired acceptance in American society. He went to great lengths to achieve this goal. Ultimately, Fong See ended up having four wives, following a Chinese custom. However, his second wife, Letticie Pruett, was an American. Letticie was the only wife Fong See married out of genuine love. Within this marriage, Fong See faced challenges in preserving his Chinese traditions, values, and cultural heritage within his family.

Letticie respected some of Fong See’s traditions and values, but she believed that their children should be allowed to enjoy typical American activities like playing outside and roller-skating, as they were still young. On the other hand, Fong See insisted that their children should focus on studying calligraphy and that their daughter, Sissee, should engage in needlework. Letticie compromised by enrolling their children in calligraphy and Chinese schools approved by Fong See. However, when her child was disciplined by being hit on the hand with a bamboo stick, a Chinese tradition, Letticie decided to withdraw her children from that particular school.

Fong See and Letticie had differing beliefs about raising their sons. Fong See valued self-reliance and responsibility in men, as per Chinese culture. He wanted his boys to grow into independent individuals who could provide for their families. However, Letticie believed that a mother should offer care, sympathy, and affection to her children, prioritizing their protection above all else. Despite these conflicting views, Letticie found a compromise by secretly allowing the children to play with roller-skates – a gesture that pleased both Fong See and herself.

Through these examples, it is evident that Fong See made efforts to uphold his traditional Chinese customs within his family. However, his wife Letticie’s upbringing posed a challenge, as she had a different cultural background. Despite Fong See’s best endeavors, it proved impossible to maintain Chinese traditions in the face of Letticie secretly teaching their children contradictory customs. Thus, the endeavor to preserve Fong See’s Chinese traditions alongside his wife Letticie was unsuccessful. Throughout the year, the See family commemorated a variety of American and Chinese holidays. When it came to these celebrations, Letticie incorporated elements from both heritages.

According to the author (See, 104), Letticie believed that if someone was Chinese, they had the freedom to incorporate both Chinese and American customs in any way they desired. To illustrate, their Thanksgiving celebrations included unique ingredients like water chestnuts and fresh ginger in certain dishes. Additionally, the See family honored Chinese New Year by setting off firecrackers and engaging in Chinese rituals. From this example, it is clear that Letticie made an effort to preserve Fong See’s Chinese traditions. However, it appears that ultimately she had the final say in determining how much of these traditions Fong See could pass down to their children.

Fong See’s struggle to maintain his Chinese traditions within his family is showcased in this text. Despite finding success in his business career, Fong See opted for the fashion of prosperous American businessmen, wearing custom-made three-piece suits. Both Fong See and Letticie had a fondness for Chinese antiques and sold them to Americans, even renting out Chinese furniture to movie studios for film shoots. His wealth originated from his antiques business, which ultimately granted him acceptance in American society.

During that time, it was uncommon for Americans to welcome non-Americans into their society. Nevertheless, Fong See used his wealth to alter this situation. He engaged in business and public affairs with the aim of being accepted and embraced by American society, as if he were a native. Fong See regularly journeyed to China to buy Chinese goods, and upon his return, he had to go through customs. However, once customs officials identified him as Fong See, the proprietor of the F. Suie One Company, he no longer endured the lengthy questioning experienced by other Chinese individuals.

Fong See, a clever individual, strived to distance himself from his fellow immigrants to be accepted in American society. As stated in the quote, “He made his reputation and maintained his strength by avoiding the traditional roles of his fellow immigrants” (See, 233). By refraining from working in factories or low-paying jobs like his counterparts, Fong See aimed to emulate successful American businessmen and maintain a positive reputation in business endeavors.

Like many successful American businessmen, Fong See found a way to be his own boss. He made sure to preserve his Chinese heritage, traditions, and values. He held the belief that the first-born child is always the special one and prioritized his sons over his daughters, following a Chinese custom. Every morning, he had his brother read the daily Chinese newspaper to him. He also subscribed to the Chinese approach to healthcare and believed in using traditional Chinese medication and herbs. He even made the decision to leave his fourteen-year-old son, Eddy, in China to take care of his grandmother.

Despite trying to adhere to Chinese customs in his personal and private life, Fong See’s marriage to his only wife, whom he married out of love, ended due to his belief in having multiple wives. However, his success in America helped him gain acceptance in American society, prompting Fong See to aspire to be more like them. He wanted to distance himself from the negative perception of Chinese immigrants and began dressing like a successful American businessman. Eventually, he desired for his children to attend American schools.

He spoiled his children, having a passion for cars and buying a new car once a year. He enjoyed flaunting his wealth to gain acceptance into American society, striving to impress Americans and earn their approval for him to truly belong as an American rather than just a Chinese immigrant. Fong See’s third marriage to Ngon Hung was more rooted in Chinese customs and values compared to his first marriage. Unlike Letticie, Ngon never engaged in arguments with Fong See.

According to Chinese custom, women are expected to obey and fulfill all the requests and expectations of their husbands. The couple’s children attended Chinese schools. However, Fong see went against this custom by preventing his daughter from joining the Girl Scouts. Additionally, he chose to embrace his Chinese identity by changing his attire. He abandoned his finely tailored three-piece suits in favor of traditional mandarin robes. He also gave up his stylish lizard-skin shoes for the comfortable cloth slippers that he sold in his shop.

He either forgot or pretended to have forgotten his English language skills (See, 246). He desired to abandon his “American ways.” Fong See achieved partial acceptance in American society during his second marriage to Letticie, although I believe that his Chinese traits prevented him from being fully accepted. Additionally, he was unable to follow Chinese customs in his second marriage as Letticie did not permit him to raise the children according to his cultural practices.

In his third marriage to Ngon Hung, the man deliberately chose not to be accepted as a member of American society, despite his previous efforts to achieve this status. It appears that he no longer desired the life he had previously built. Perhaps this was because he missed his former American wife, Letticie, and wanted to forget the loss of his true love. Nonetheless, in his third marriage with Ngon Hung, he successfully preserved his Chinese traditions.

Despite his success in business, he made a conscious effort to preserve his Chinese customs and beliefs. His actions exemplified this commitment, such as altering his attire and even intentionally “forgetting” English, instead exclusively speaking in Chinese. Additionally, he adopted the clothing style of other immigrants from China and diminished displays of his wealth, embracing the appearance of his fellow Chinese immigrants. By relinquishing his American identity and prioritizing his Chinese heritage, he thrived in upholding his cultural traditions.

In summary, Fong See faced challenges in gaining acceptance in American society and in preserving his Chinese customs and values within his family. Although he achieved acceptance within American society through his second marriage, he was less successful in upholding his Chinese traditions. However, in his third marriage, he successfully maintained all of his Chinese traditions while also being accepted by American society. Despite this acceptance, he actively sought to abandon his American ways.

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On Gold Mountain by Lisa See. (2018, May 04). Retrieved from


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