Cathy Songs poem Lost Sister explores the lives of two generations of Chinese women. One generation chooses to leave China and begin a new life in America. the other chose to remain in China and experience her culture the way it was meant to be. This is a comparison of the two generations of women and how they are linked by culture and seperated by lifestyle.
In China, women were put in subservient positions to society. They were quiet, obedient creatures who “gathered patience”. Song speaks of how women learned to provide for their families, as they were “learning to stretch the family rice”. Women were expected to serve a purpose and be seen and not heard.
The following generation chose to go to America and lead a very different kind of life. American culture is vastly different from that of China and women are given the opportunity to experience freedom as a a first class citizen. This collective is described as “a sister across the ocean, who relinquished her name”, giving the reader the impression that this generation was rebelliously rejecting her culture, “diluting jade green with the blue of the Pacific”.
However, these women were both losing and gaining by their choices. Chinese women who chose to remain in China traded freedom for their culture. They were afraid to leave the familiarity of their lives thee for an uncertain future in America Had they gone to America, they would have lost the opportunity to experience Chinese culture firsthand. They lose the freedom that the next generation would have and gained the experience of living in their native culture ane accepting it as a way of life. These women were admirable because of their strength to choose their culture and family over anything else. Their dedication is at a level close to monks and saints. They were able to find harmony in their lives because it was all they ever knew.
The women who chose to go to America led a very different life. They were able to be free of Chinese expectations of women. they did not have to learn “to walk in shoes the size of teacups, without breaking”. Song indicates that “In America, there are many roads and women can stride along with men”. These women were able to experience life as people who were equal to men in society’s eyes. If they had stayed in China they never would have had the chance to experience something other then their native culture. Song emphasizes the life of these women in America to point this out. She describes the sad loss of culture in America, the “meager provisions and sentiments of once belonging” and “the possibilites, the loneliness, can strangulate like jungle vines”. She refers to how these women speak Chinese, when in America people are “making claims you don’t understand”. She offers a pale, stereotypical view on the extent of Chinese culture in America, where Americans “are tapping into your communication systems of laundry lines and restaurant chains”. They lost the cultural experience that the previous generation was able to have and gained freedom. These women were admirable because of a different kind of strength. It takes a certain combination of dertermination and stubbornness to choose to flee their homeland. These women were, in fact, a very rebellious generation.
Jade is referred to over and over in Song’s poem. She states that “even the peasants named their first daughters Jade”. She uses “a jade link” to symbolized women who were born into Chinese culture, specifically “handcuffed to the wrist” of the generation of Chinese-American women. Song almost berates this generation, claiming that they “need China” and lost their culture in “the unremitting space of your rebellion”. She also states how neither generation left any “footprints”, as one was “footless” and the other left “an ocean in between”.
These two generations of women were different and the same. They both had the strength to choose a way of life that suited them. they were bound together by their culture but they differed in lifestyle, and teir choices shaped their own lives and the lives of Chinese women who came after them.
Song, Cathy. “Lost Sister”.