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Author Study: Lisa See Curated by Emilie Zhang '20

This is a Libguide dedicated to Chinese-American author Lisa See, her works, and the intricate aspects of Chinese culture within them.



Lisa See gets her Chinese blood from her great grandfather: Fong See; "the one who started it all". Using fake immigrant documents, Fong See arrived at California in 1871 when he was fourteen. He was searching for his father who, a decade earlier, had undergone the same journey to "Gold Mountain" and worked on the transcontinental railroad.  By the mid-1890s, however, Fong See had already managed to make his own business in Sacramento selling crotch-less underwear to brothels. Eventually, with the help of Ticie Pruett, his business veered towards that of Chinese antiques, which allowed him to become one of the wealthiest businessmen in Los Angeles's Chinatown. His legacy created a cultural environment for Lisa See that prompted a fundamental setting for all of her future works: China.


                Young Lisa See at the F. Suie One, 1963                                            Lisa with her family in Fatsan, China



Photo Above: Ticie Pruett (second woman from the right) & Family

Photo RIght: Lucinda Pruett, Ticie's mother


"Letticie wrote her brothers of her marriage, and received a terse letter back, in which her family disowned herHow could she marry a Chinese? It was disgusting, they wrote, and she was no longer their sister. She knew she would never see or hear from any of them ever again."
Lisa See, "On Gold Mountain" 


Ticie Pruett, Fong See's second wife, was a Caucasian woman that evenutally became Lisa See's great grandmother. Orphaned as a baby, Pruett was passed around by her relatives until she finally chose a path for herself. It was not a conventional path. 



Propaganda against the Chinese race

Fong See as a young man

Pruett was 18 when she stumbled into Fong See's shop in Sacramento and asked to be employed. This was 1894.

The Chinese Exclusion Act that legally forbade Chinese immigrants had been effective for 12 years. Interracial marriage was illegal. 

However, after refusing her request on three different occasions, Fong See finally gave in and allowed Ticie Pruett to enter his life. 

Ticie Pruett became the "game-changer" for Fong See's business. Her entrepreneurship brought huge expansions to the store, finally ending them a business in Chinese antiques. 

Their relationship and intimacy continued to grow until they "married" on January 14, 1897 through a legal contract. If not for Pruett, Fong See would not have become the Chinese monarch of the Los Angeles Chinatown. However, their marriage ended in Fong See's unfaithfulness. 


“The way Fong See saw it, Ticie wouldn’t obey him, didn’t respect him, and refused to see him as the person he had become...Finally, Ticie stole the letter Fong See had written Uncle, took it to a professional letter reader, and discovered positive proof that her husband had married again.”
Lisa See, "On Gold Mountain"


In 1921, Fong See made another trip back to his hometown in China. There, he married a 16-year-old Chinese girl in secret. When Pruett realized this, she filed for legal separation from Fong See and their relationship ended. However, her love and compassion for her children did not end and it was she that taught Lisa See strength and character.


"There’s a character that has appeared in almost all my books. In Dreams of Joy, she was Madame Hu; in Shanghai Girls, she was Pearl’s mother-in-law; in Peony In Love, she was the grandmother; in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, she was the matchmaker; in my three mysteries, she was the Neighborhood Committee Director; and in On Gold Mountain, the book about my family, she was my actual grandmother. Writing about my grandmother, who’s been gone many years now, allows me to be with her every day."
Lisa See, in an interview



Photo Above: Ticie and her daughter, Sissee

Photo Right: Ticie in her late years