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Unbound Spirit

Letters of Flora Belle Jan

Fleur Yano

Publication Year: 2008

This volume collects the letters written over a thirty-year period by a second generation Chinese American woman, Flora Belle Jan (1906-50). Born in California to immigrant parents and educated at Berkeley and the University of Chicago, Jan raised three children with her husband Charles Wang and worked as a journalist in both the United States and China. Written during the years 1918-48, these letters offer unique insight into the social and political situation of educated, middle-class, professional Chinese American women in the early twentieth century. Literate, candid, and charming, they convey the intellectual curiosity and perspicacity of a vivacious and ambitious woman while tracing her engagement with two different worlds.

Published by: University of Illinois Press


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pp. 2-5


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pp. vi-vii

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pp. vii-xii

Flora Belle Jan, my mother, and her intimate friend, Ludmelia (Ludy) Holstein, maintained a lively correspondence over a thirty-year period, beginning in 1918 when they were classmates in the sixth grade. Mother wrote from Fresno, San Francisco, Berkeley, Chicago, and cities in China. Her friend, whom I addressed as Aunt...

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pp. xiii-xiv

First and foremost, the editors are grateful to Elisabeth Nichols, daughter of Ludmelia Ralston, for the gift to Fleur Yano of the collection of letters from Flora Jan to Ludmelia, which form the body of this book. They thank Judy Yung for encouraging this project and for locating a number of published poems and...

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Editorial Note

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pp. xv-xvi

Our intention is to tamper with the text of Flora Belle Jan’s letters as little as possible. We do not intervene to “correct” spelling, punctuation, or syntax. If emendation is necessary, we enclose it in brackets. There is little of that, because even in the sixth grade, Flora was a meticulous writer. For reasons of economy, we have...

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pp. xvii-xxv

This book of letters by Flora Belle Jan records in remarkable detail the experiences of a second-generation Chinese American woman, whose life spanned almost the entire first half of the twentieth century. Born in Fresno, California, in 1906, she grew up resisting what she perceived as the conservative upbringing...

Part I California

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pp. 1-27

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1. One’s True Friend

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pp. 3-8

Flora Belle Jan’s parents, Jan Suey Ming (also known as Jan Chong)1 and Yen Shee (née Dow Gee), originally from the Chungshan District near Macao, were part of the Chinese diaspora that sent thousands of emigrants from southern China to many parts of the world.2 Jan Chong was twenty-two years old when he arrived in San Francisco in 1892.3 Six years later, Dow Gee reached San Francisco.4 She was fifteen years younger than Jan Chong. Following...

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2. Wild to Go

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pp. 9-16

The next group of letters are about young love, poetry, and publishing; work at the Lyceum Theater; jaunts to San Francisco, Selma, Dinuba, Bakersfield; meeting friends from Hanford; a lavender voile dress; and dances and flirtations. Almost all of Flora’s social activities in nearby townships were with Chinese Americans, who made up about 1 percent of the population in the area...

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3. All Chinatown Is Horrified

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pp. 17-34

During her first semester at Fresno State College, Flora’s flair for imaginative writing was immediately noticed. She became literary editor and feature story writer of the campus paper, The Collegian, and also worked on its news staff.1 She also helped to launch The Trailmaker, an annual publication of the Chinese Students’ Club in Fresno.2 In March 1924, Flora began writing feature stories...

Part II Chicago

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pp. 35-61

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4. A Plunge into Domesticity

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pp. 37-51

At age nineteen, Flora Jan traveled by the Southern Pacific train from Fresno to Chicago in late December of 1925. She had left in some haste, partly because she was eager to begin a new life outside of California, and partly to escape turmoil at home. There would be no Christmas celebration because her...

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5. Life Gives Me a Heartache

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pp. 52-66

In spite of the economic depression engulfing the country, Flora and Charles continued with work and studies and family life. They were both active in the Chinese Club, which met every Sunday. Flora was elected club president, and also edited and wrote for the literary section of the Chinese Students’ Monthly.1 There was always need of additional income to supplement Charles’s earnings from weekend jobs while...

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6. Paying for the Follies of My Youth

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pp. 67-102

It was economically important to Flora Jan to have a job, preferably a writing job. From the autumn of 1929 to May 15, 1931, she worked at the Epworth League, which published educational material for the Methodist Episcopal Church. Amid much routine work, Flora managed to introduce writing for their publication...

Part III China

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pp. 103-141

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7. I Prefer American Shoes

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pp. 105-127

Flora Jan and her husband Charles Wang and their son Hanson arrived in China in July of 1932. After a brief stay in Shanghai they traveled to Kaifeng, the capital of Henan1 Province in north China, to stay at the home of Charles’s parents. For Charles it was a reunion with his family after being abroad for twelve years...

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8. A Straw in the Wind

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pp. 128-173

During the 1930s, the political and economic conditions in China would become increasingly unstable as the opposing forces of Mao Tse-tung and Chiang Kai-shek established separate territorial control, while Japan moved to occupy northern and central China.1 However, in 1933, when Flora Jan arrived in Peiping...

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9. Chasing Mirages

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pp. 174-219

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, it became unsafe for Americans to remain in the northern part of China, occupied by Japan and governed by the puppet government of Wang Jing-wei.1 Chiang Kaishek led the government of Free China to join the Allies in World War II. The capital of Free China was established...

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10. I Have Been Loyal to China . . .

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pp. 220-246

After the surrender of Japan to the United States in August of 1945, Chiang Kai-shek moved the Nationalist government to Nanking. There was a mass exodus of personnel from Chungking. Flora Belle Jan traveled alone to Shanghai in December 1945, and within weeks found employment in the editorial department of the Shanghai Herald. Her husband Charles brought their younger...

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pp. 247-248

Flora Jan and her two daughters, Fleur and Fiore, arrived in San Francisco on February 21, 1949. The homecoming was a moment much longed for by Flora. But the reunion dinner with her family members, who had all moved from Fresno to San Francisco, was formal. The estrangement of many years could not be overcome in a short time. Her father and older brother Munn spoke...

Appendix: Publications of Flora Belle Jan

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pp. 249-254


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pp. 255-260


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pp. 261-278

back cover

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pp. 304-/

E-ISBN-13: 9780252091568
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252033803

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2008