Pardee Lowe Father and Glorious Descendent Essay

This essay has a total of 1438 words and 6 pages.


Pardee Lowe Father and Glorious Descendent





Pardee Lowe penned his autobiography, Father and Glorious Descendent, in 1943. In the
book, Lowe tells his story of growing up in the home of first generation Chinese
immigrants. Throughout the book he relates the trials and tribulations endured by himself
and his family in California, ranging from major events like the Great San Francisco
earthquake at the beginning of the century to everyday occurrences like dealing with
widespread racism in the white majority. In the end, the author relates his success in
attending Stanford College and later attending one of our nations most prestigious
business schools. In doing so, he presents an Asian-American success story that serves as
a tribute to the spirit and culture of a people.

During the time when the field of Asian-American studies began to emerge, many scholars
looked back upon Asian works from the past to try and build a library of books to convey
the experiences of early Asian immigrants. Father and Glorious Descendent was dismissed
by many in the field as a “document of self contempt” and a “humiliating
book” to the Chinese and thus it was dismissed in most academic circles.

Lowe begins his book with the statement “I strongly suspect that my father’s
life is a fraud,” but he does not mean this as a derogatory statement. Instead it
is a subtle compliment to his father’s ability to amalgamate into a foreign culture
and become successful. This mirrors the fact that the rest of the book is a tribute to
the ability of a people to adapt to a foreign land without losing themselves or their
culture. It is for this reason that I believe Father and Glorious Descendent deserves to
be studied by today’s scholars and students.

First, Pardee Lowe’s book is a compliment to the Chinese because it continually
paints the first generation of immigrants in a very favorable light. This story is filled
with numerous success stories of immigrants building large businesses and becoming
reasonably successful. There are families that own laundries and others, like
Lowe’s, that own large dry goods stores. The author never refers to these
businessmen in a derogatory way and often he speaks of his childhood amazement at the
wealth of some of these people. At no point does he attribute this wealth to a shedding
of traditional Chinese ways or to a complete adoption of American attitudes either.
Instead he admires the way his father can move smoothly between the two cultures and adopt
the best qualities of each. Lowe recalls travelling around town with his father on
business trips that took him from White San Francisco to the heart of Chinatown. In
conducting business with both peoples, Lowe admires the respect his father is treated with
by whites during the first part of the trip and then watches in amazement as he moves
smoothly to dealing with the more traditional Chinese. In addition to respecting the
first generation, he also talks of the advances made by the children of these immigrants.
As Asian-Americans who had never spent any time in the “old-country” these
children were more likely to reject the old culture in favor of the new American one, but
this was not so. Lowe speaks of attending American schools and learning American ideals,
but at the same time he speaks of how many of these ideas were tempered by more
traditional Chinese principles. This is not a rejection of Chinese culture but paints a
picture of the amalgamation that had to occur for these people to be productive in their
new surroundings and relates a crucial aspect of the early Asian-American experience.

Next, Father and Glorious Descendent is neither a “document of self-contempt”
nor an attempt to “derogate everything Chinese.” At no point does Lowe ever
condemn the Chinese or lament the fact that he was born into this culture. Lowe’s
belief is instead that many of the old ways were right to follow in the old culture, but
he realizes that in a new world you must attempt to adopt the beliefs of the new culture.
This is not a rejection of Chinese culture but it is the stark reality that every
immigrant must face. To succeed you need to conform and this book is the story of the
struggle of the Chinese to balance societal conformity with old world values. In fact,
Lowe writes of how his father still looks to China before adopting certain American
habits. When automobiles began to emerge the father only gains interest when he learns
that they are all the rage in the Chinese cities of Shanghai and Hong Kong. In addition,
the father continually speaks of the way traditional Chinese children should act and the
way traditional Chinese familial interaction should occur. In these instances, Lowe does
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