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Protest and Punishment

Gérard Delechelle

Protestation et identité culturelle

Yellow Rage: new pages of Asian-American literature

Jane Bataille

Texte intégral

1Asian-Americans have only begun to emerge in the last ten years from their ghetto-fortresses and the "protective coloring" of an acceptable stereotype: the submissive, hard-working, law-abiding "model American". A set of circumstances prevailed which allowed for the release, in the early 1970s, of pent-up yellow rage, especially in literary and dramatic form. Undeniably, the most important influence was the example of black writers who stirred racial pride and whose works led to a general raising of ethnic consciousness among all Americans. The war in Vietnam brought to public consciousness the racist structures of American society which were responsible for the disproportionate number of blacks and chicanos who lost their lives in South East Asia.

2One of the direct results of this raised consciousness was solidarity among American ethnic and racial minorities and their identification with Third World victims of American foreign policies. The moral problem directly faced by Asian-American soldiers in Vietnam was that of "a yellow man killing a yellow man", while experiencing racism and discrimination on the part of white comrades-in-arms.

  • 1 "The New Ellis Island", Time Magazine, June 13, 1983, p. 14.

3A third factor which influenced Asian ethnic consciousness was demographic in nature. Both the Chinese-American and Japanese-American communities were traditionally tightly controlled, both through self-imposed discipline, as well as through behavior control sanctioned by older, respected leaders. These older community members have been progressively losing their moral and economic control as their children and grand-children outnumber them and are more heavily influenced by American values. The arrival of large numbers of new immigrants from Asia, since the abolition in 1965 of immigration quotas based on national origin, has severely disrupted the status quo and equilibrium of these communities. In Los Angelos, for example, the Chinese population mushroomed from 41,000 in 1970 to 153,000 in 1983.1

4Particularly in the Chinese-American community, these foreign born are resented and cruelly mocked for being backward and ignorant of American habits. They pose a threat to the American born who are desperately seeking a new identity which takes into account their Oriental heritage and the fact of their being a part of a visible minority; however, they are alienated from the anachronistic immigrant culture of their quaint parents and they feel no bond of sympathy for those strangers from Hong Kong and Taiwan whose dialects they find incomprehensible. The American born Chinese generation lacks self-assurance and feel that culturally they have no recognized existence. But they are not ready to capitulate to the inexorable pressure to assimilate into white society. They have too many accumulated grievances for past treatment.

5The Asian immigrants have been the unique victims of certain American racist policies. An 1870 law excluded Asians from the right to become naturalized citizens. Sinophobia led to the first Exclusion Act of 1882 which specifically barred immigration of Chinese workers. All first generation Asians were legally deprived of the right to own property in states which passed Alien Land Bills. The 1921 Immigration Act effectively stopped ail immigration from Japan. During World War II over 110,000 Japanese-Americans. in a totally unprecedented way, were kept in internment camps because their loyalty to the United States, as an ethnic group, was put in question.

  • 2 Irving Howe, "Strangers", in Celebrations and Attacks: Thirty Years of Literary and Cultural Comme (...)

6Despite the exceptional treatment of Chinese- and Japanese-Americans, their experiences as immigrants have much in common with those of European immigrants. Like all American writers, Asian-American writers have, in the words of Irving Howe, "had to make, rather than merely assume, America as their native ground".2 They have been subjected to American popular culture, to vulgarization and misrepresentation of their native culture, to the "organized forgetting" of their people's history in America, perpetrated by both their elders and by their missionary teachers. They have suffered from a sense of dislocation and a terrible feeling of inadequacy as they tried to identify with the American myths of the founding fathers and the ideal of rugged individualism.

  • 3 Ibid., p. 12.

7Like the children of Howe's Eastern-European Jewish immigrants, the Chinese- and Japanese-American children "did not come as empty vessels".3 Their minds were filled with heroic and terrifying stories of the old country. But these stories of venerable ancestors, of gods and warriors from the Mountains of Jade, when torn from their context and left unexplained, were to become a source of mystery and anguish to American-born Chinese and Japanese children, as well as an ambiguous source of identity. The curious blend of Oriental and Western values and myths is the focus of most Asian-American writers work. They are seeking to define what makes up the Asian-American identity and experience.

  • 4 Frank Chin, et. al., "An Introduction to Chinese and Japanese-American Literature", in Aiiieeeee!: (...)

8Up until 1970 Asian-Americans had published fewer than ten works of fiction or poetry.4 There was no first generation literature describing the fundamental immigrant experience, the dreams of new arrivals, or their disappointment when confronted with the harsh realities of ghetto life. The Chinese and Japanese did produce newspapers, journals and diaries. Part of the intensive research of Asian-American scholars today is to seek out vestiges of this past. A recent publication relies on the fortuitous discovery of 135 calligraphic poems which were carved or ink brushed onto the walls of the barracks on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay which served as a detention and processing center for Chinese Immigrants from 1910 to 1990. One of these poems conveys the mixture of moral anguish, resentment, and determination which characterizes the immigrant experience.

  • 5 Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, Judy Yung, Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Isla (...)

The low building with three beams
merely shelters the body.
It is unbearable to relate the stories
accumulated on the island slopes.
Wait till the day I become successful
and fulfill my wish!
I will not speak of love when I level
the immigrant station!,
By One From Taishan5

  • 6 New York: Pantheon Books, 1973.

9The first serious history of Chinese-Americans as told from their point of view is Victor and Brett Nee's oral history of immigration to San Francisco, Longtime Californ: A Documentary Study of an American Chinatown.6 The authors interviewed three distinct communities within Chinatown: the bachelor society of immigrant laundry, textile and restaurant workers which was characteristic of the nineteenth and early twentieth century; the small- business centered family which emerged in the later twentieth century when female immigration became possible; and the new working class families which have arrived since 1965.

  • 7 Aiiieeeee!, see note 4 for publication details.

10Frank Chin collaborated in 1974 with other Asian- Americans to edit Aiiieceee! the first anthology of Asian-American Literature presented from a radical point of view.7 Its polemical introduction serves to divide Asian-American authors of the past into "assimilationists" or true representatives of Asian-American sensibility. The editors characterize a true Asian-American sensibility as that belonging to:

  • 8 Ibid., preface, p. vii.

"Filipino-, Chinese-, and Japanese-Americans,
Americans born and raised, who got their China and Japan from the radio, off the silver screen, from television, out of comic books, from the pushers of white American culture that pictured the yellow man as something that when wounded, sad, or angry or swearing, or wondering whined, shouted, or screamed "aiiieeeee!".8

11That battle cry signaled the emergence of an Asian-American militant personality. Like blacks and chicanos. Chin adopted a once pejorative epithet, "Chinaman", from the name given to all Chinese during the gold rush period, "John Chinaman", which implied that all Chinese were identical and interchangeable. Chin's ideal Chinese-American, the "Chinaman", speaks poetry that has the rhythms and accent to be found in Chinatown, but is distinctly different from the fictional examples of assimilated Asian-Americans like Susie Wong or Charlie Chan.

  • 9 Frank Chin, Chickencoop Chinaman in Two Plays by Frank Chin, introduction by Dorothy Ritsuko Mc Do (...)

I am the natural born ragmouth speaking the motherless bloody tongue. No real language of my own to make sense with, so out comes everybody else's trash that don't conceive. But the sound truth is that I AM THE NOTORIOUS ONE AND ONLY CHICKENCOOP CHINAMAN HIMSELF that talks in the dark heavy Midnight, the secret Chinatown Buck Buck Bagaw.9

  • 10 Aiiieeeee!, intro., p. xxi. The Chinese-American authors to whom they are refering are Pardee Lowe (...)

12According to the editors of Aiiieeeee!, in over 140 years only five serious attempts at literature by Chinese-Americans had been published by 1973.10 They considered all but one of these authors as assimilationists, "white-washed", justifying the stereotype of the "model minority" who forgets past injustices and tries to make the best of things on white America's terms. These authors can afford to be docile and "respond to racism silently and privately" because they are convinced of the superiority of Chinese culture; this is, in Chin's opinion, a white stereotype that serves white supremacy by maintaining Chinese-Americans in a compliant, inferior position. Chin denounces the myth that Asian-Americans have maintained cultural integrity as Asians and can derive some ethnic pride from the high culture of a China of 500 years ago. One of the characters in Chin's first play objects strenuously:

  • 11 Chickencoop, p. 22.

I am not Japanese! Tarn ain't Chinese! And don't give me any of that "If-you-don't-have-that- Oriental-culture, -baby, -all-you've-got-is-the-color-of-your-skin" bullshit. But we're not getting into no silk robes and walk around like fools for you!11

  • 12 Cerald Haslam in Forgotten Pages of American Literature, (New York: Houghton 1970) n.p., quoted in(...)
  • 13 Ibid., intro., p. xxv.
    In socio-economic terms, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census and Nat (...)

13The editors of Aiiieeeee! disagree violently with the notion that this so-called Chinese heritage represents a distinct advantage when compared to "… the abject cultural deprivation long foisted upon Afro-Americans".12 They disagree with the widely accepted idea that Asians "… have suffered less and are better off than the other colored minorities… that Asians are well liked and accepted in American society…"13

14A major dilemma for Asian-Americans is created by the ambiguity of their situation as a minority.

  • 14 Diana Fong, "America's 'Invisible' Chinese", New York Times, May, 1, 1982, p. 27.

We straddle an awkward middle ground - the buffer between whites and blacks. We're accepted and we're not accepted - "better" than other minorities but not good enough. Though we're included in affirmative action programs, we're not perceived as a "disadvantaged" group… As a group we "out-white the whites" in scholastic achievement, occupational status, and median income levels.14

  • 15 Ibid., p. 27.

15Diana Fong imputes Asian invisibility to the fact that the Chinese do not generally consider politics in terms of group goals, nor to they see themselves as a unified group. On the whole, the Chinese-Americans have accepted the American ideology of individualism and have striven to achieve success through scholarship or commerce. She considers, however, the relatively high rate of intermarriage between whites and Asians as an indication of increasing acceptance.15

  • 16 Aiiieeeee!, intro. p. xxxviii.

16This kind of acceptance through intermarriage is precisely what worries Chin. He is convinced that Asian-Americans as an ethnic group are an endangered species. If Asian-American women "marry out", it is because of low esteem for the Asian minority and because there is no "recognized style of Asian-American manhood".16 The editors of Aiiieeeee! make the point that the stereotype of male behavior for Asians is unlike that of other races.

  • 17 Ibid.

The white stereotype of the acceptable and unacceptable Asian is utterly without manhood. Good or bad, the stereotypical Asian is nothing as a man. At worst, the Asian-American is contemptible because he is womanly, effeminate, devoid of all the traditionally masculine qualities of originality, daring, physical courage, and creativity. The mere fact that four out of five American-born writers are women reinforces this aspect of the stereotype.17

  • 18 Frank Chin, "Frank Chin at Home", interviewed by Forrest Gok, San Francisco Theatre, Summer 1977, (...)

17Frank Chin concurs with this opinion. "My shelf is full of books by Asian-American women, and all of them are saying how rotten Asian American men are."18 Machismo and low self-esteem of Asian males are dominant themes in Chin's play, Chickencoop Chinaman.

18A Eurasian woman passing for a white in Chickencoop Chinaman chides a Chinese-American, Tam, for his lack of masculinity.

  • 19 Chickencoop, p. 24.

I Knew you hated being Chinese. You're all chicken!
Not an ounce of guts in all of you put together!
Instead of guts you have…all that you have is
culture! Watery paintings, silk, all that grace and
beauty arts and crafts crap! You're all very pretty,
and all so intelligent. And… you couldn't even
get one of your own girls, because they know…19

  • 20 Ibid. p. 43.

19All the characters in this play are struggling to overcome their inferiority complexes as Asian-Americans. Both Tarn, the Chinese-American, and Kenji, a Japanese-American, grew up in a culturally mixed ghetto in Oakland, California. They play at being black, imitating black voices and gestures. Kenji's nickname is "Blackjap" and as an adult he chose to live in the black ghetto of Pittsburgh called Oakland, thereby avoiding contact with Orientals. One experience in particular symbolizes for Kenji and Tarn a moment of shared masculity and negritude. They kidknapped their childhood hero, an old black boxer named Ovaltine Jack the Dancer, and after an evening's drive, they finished by urinating with him in the bushes. This is what Tam calls "fakin' blackness for balls".20

20It is precisely because of the fact that the Asian-Americans as a minority group are considered to be well-integrated, "to have out-whited-the whites" that Frank Chin looks to black writers, and blacks in general, as role models.

  • 21 "Frank Chin at home", pp. 17-18.

Unlike the Blacks, who have achieved an American dream by being self-begat, having no historical continuity, we haven't made it yet. For the Blacks, their historical continuity was restored late, as represented by Roots. They created an identity and culture that was strong enough to keep them together when it became possible for them to be absorbed.21

21Frank Chin's characters envy black men for their sexual assurance but also for having created a black idiom and a black style. Second generation Asian-Americans find themselves in an ambiguous situation; they denounce "the tyranny of language", of both the root culture and white mainstream culture. They argue that blacks and chicano writers have established their own vernacular modes of expression which are accepted and recognized by their respective communities as well as by white critics. But Asian-American writers are denied the legitimacy of their own dialect because they have been able to assimilate when they desired to do so.

22Just as the Chicanos look for chicanismo in Aztec legends, so Chin seeks to establish a spiritual link with the first Chinese miners and builders of the transcontinental railroad.

  • 22 Ibid., p. 18.

What Asian-Americans need to write about, if they're to have any pride, are heroes - mythological, larger-than-life, Asian-American heroes who live in the Sierra Nevadas, the Mother Lode, or the mines…"22

23In his search for cultural continuity with nineteenth century immigrants. Chin has unearthed a popular Chinese folk hero, Kwan Kung, the god of war and protector or writers and scholars. The legend of Kwan Kung was told in the epic Cantonese opera. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which was performed frequently in all American Chinatowns.

24But in its transposition to America, the opera took on a particular Western American character which reflected the living conditions and the experiences of the Chinese immigrants in the mining and railroad camps. In speaking of the fraternal "Oath in the Peach Garden" scene from the Opera, Chin says:

  • 23 Frank Chin, Letter to Michael Kirby, ed., The Drama Review, 22 Oct. - 23 Nov. 1976, p. 11, quoted (...)

Nothing charitable, necessarily honorable, in any Western sense, passive or timid about it… It encouraged an aggressive self-reliance and trust nobody, watch out killer's sense of individuality that reached a peak in China with the Cantonese, took to the image of what the Chinamans scratching out mountains for gold thought of themselves, grew roots in California and sprouted a Kwan Kung happy race of people who wanted to hear, read and rewrite, only one story, and sing and sit through and pass with one opera only.23

25The traditional statue of Kwan Kung which was to be found in every Chinese-American home in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries represented the god sitting on a tiger throne, his left side robed like a scholar and his right side protected by a soldier's armor. This is the image of self-sufficiency that Chin would like to substitute for the effeminate Charlie Chan stereotype.

  • 24 Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts, (New York: Alfred A. (...)

26Because of the exaggerated machismo point of view of Frank Chin (undoubtedly a necessary step in his development as a writer), it seems desirable to examine how a woman writer tries to free herself from double bondage. In 1976 a Chinese-American woman published an extraordinary novel that used as its primary symbol of a new kind of Asian womanhood a "female avenger", the feminine equivalent in all ways to Kwan Kung. The new Chinese-American woman is seeking to avenge the wrongs done to her people, but also to liberate herself from the status of wife or slave, to reject subordinate roles dictated by Chinese tradition. The blend of dream, myth and memory which characterizes Maxine Hong Kingston's autobiography. The Warrior Woman: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts, conveys perfectly the ambiguity, confusion and, sometimes, terror which fills an immigrant child's mind.24 Kingston's story about a childhood spent in a Californian Chinatown is the story of a second generation Chinese-American's struggle to resolve the conflict of values of the two societies of which she is a part; her experience concerns primarily her efforts to free herself from the weight of the past and her incapacity to do so completely. She describes the enormous relief she felt when, as an adult, she entered a mainstream American society founded on material and rational beliefs. She ironically contrasts the apparent simplicity and utilitarian values of Western culture with the occult notions she associates with her oriental heritage.

  • 25 Ibid., p. 204.

I had to leave home in order to see the world logically, logic the new way of seeing. I learned to think that mysteries are for explanation. I enjoy the simplicity. Concrete pours out of my mouth to cover the forests with freeways and side-walks. Give me plastics, periodical tables, t.v. dinners with vegetables no more complex than peas mixed with diced carrots. Shine floodlights into dark corners: no ghosts.25

  • 26 Ibid., p. 205.

27Part of her relief is provided by breaking a conspiracy of silence concerning all things Chinese, in at last being able to separate truth from fiction. "I like to look up a troublesome, shameful thing and then say, 'Oh, is that all?'… It drives the fear away and makes it possible someday to visit China, where I know now they don't sell girls or kill each other for no reason."26

  • 27 Ibid., p. 184.

28Many Chinese-American children grew up with an obsessive fear of white authorities and immigration officials, owing to the necessity of maintaining a tissue of lies and false identities. The 1882 Exclusion Act did not stop all immigration. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake, in which all immigration records were destroyed, provided an administrative loophole which would allow for a continuous trickle of illegal immigration. Any Chinese who had been residing in the United States at the time of the earthquake could claim he had been born in San Francisco and was therefore an American citizen. He was entitled to bring over foreign born children. In this way the "slot system" racket run by slot brokers enabled numerous "paper sons", sons on paper only, to immigrate to the United States to be reunited with their fictive fathers. "Lie to Americans. Tell them you were born during the San Francisco earthquake. Tell them your birth certificate and your parents were burned up in the fire".27

  • 28 Ibid., p. 206.

29Other restrictive measures resulted in the creation of a primarily bachelor community; it was illegal for an American citizen (even of Chinese descent), to marry a Chinese person. Anti-miscegenation laws also applied to the Chinese. The Chinese-American community which numbered over 100,000 in 1890 was to steadily decline until the 1943 repeal of the Exclusion Act and more liberal immmigration laws in the 1970s. However, the succeeding generations of Chinese continued to look toward the East, to support large families there with the money they could spare from their earnings. The communist revolution in 1948 had a profound psychological effect on the older population because their seldom realized dream of retiring to China was effectively killed. But the tradition of sending money continues to weigh heavily on second generation Chinese-Americans. Maxine Hong Kingston observes sardonically. "When we overseas Chinese send money, do the relatives divide it evenly among the commune? Or do they really pay two percent tax and keep the rest? It would be good if the Comniunists were taking care of themselves; then I could buy a color t.v."28

  • 29 Paul Jacobs and Saul Landau with Eve Pell, To Serve the Devil, Colonials and Sojourners, II (New Y (...)

30The techniques developed to ensure survival and minimize conflicts with the mainstream society also served to consolidate the power of the patriarchal Chinatown establishment known as The Six Companies. The Chinese-American establishment maintained dual stereotypes of Orientals: the fiction of a hard-working, puritanical, law-abiding community with no social problems; and the survival of Chinese values and culture which were interpreted as "yellow inscrutability" in a "psychologically impregnable" Chinatown.29 The district and clan organizations regulated all conflicts within the community and used intrigue and flattery to keep white officials at a distance.

  • 30 Kingston, p. 184.

31The Chinese community, which is marked by class stratifications, was oppressed from inside as well as from outside. The "Uncle Tongs" or "war lords", as the well-to-do members of the Chinatown establishment were called by radical Chinese-American youths, were able to employ helpless illegal immigrants under sweatshop conditions. Racial and cultural pride also contributed to maintain this barrier of silence concerning the abominable living and working conditions and the physical and mental ills which afflict the Chinese-American community. "Don't report crimes; tell them we have no crimes and no poverty. Give a new name every time you get arrested. The ghosts won't recognize you. Pay the new immigrants twenty-five cents and hour and say we have no unemployment."30

  • 31 Lu Ling-chi Wang, "Chinatown and the Chinese", a document circulated by Intercollegiate Chinese fo (...)

32In the words of a Chinese-American college activist, "… for the majority of Chinatown residents, especially the recent immigrants, it [Chinatown] is a concentration camp where they must fight for a minimum survival means and where their way of life is poverty and degradation." 31

  • 32 Ibid., p. 161.

33For the youthful Chinese-American writers, it is as important to denounce the superhuman, but subordinate stereo-type of a "non-militant people with lasting endurance and self-respect [who are able to] take the worst in stride" as it is to reject the negative, racists ones.32 The desire to live up to popular expectations and the fear of detention, deportation or physical violence have had equally crippling effects; indirect coercion has prevented the Chinese community from demanding their civil rights and from acting and thinking independently.

34The older members of the Chinese-American community, as well as the recent political and economic refugees, are secure in their cultural identity; they hold the white American "barbarians" and their materialistic culture in contempt. They have no desire to assimilate as they came to America for economic reasons and their thoughts are still turned toward the homeland. The usual term of contempt used by Chinese to refer to whites is Bok gwai low, meaning white devil. Maxine Hong Kinston uses the supernatural term, "ghost", to describe the strange, inexplicable (by Chinese standards) beings who interfere in Chinese affairs. Both terms suggest inhumanity and a potential threat to the well-being of the Chinese community. The ambiguous situation of second generation Chinese-American children is perfectly conveyed by the fact that Chinese born parents call their offspring "half-ghosts".

35The younger generation of American born Chinese college radicals reject both the stultifying world of their elders as well as the racism of white mainstream society. But they lack the self-assurance of the older community. They are ridiculed and scolded for their ignorance of the Chinese language and Chinese customs. They are also resentful of discrimination in the white world and the wide-spread stereotypes concerning the Chinese, whether they be patronizing or vicious.

36In their search for a positive identity, Chinese-American radicals looked to the Black Panthers and the People's Republic of China for ideological models; in emulation of the former, they created the Red Guards in San Francisco and New York towards the end of the sixties. Their activities were primarily aimed at breaking down the prosperous facade that hid the social, racial and economic problems of the Chinese ghettos.

37The Asian-American community seems to be in constant danger of being blown apart. A major conflict portrayed in numerous Asian-American plays is generational stratification and opposition, a problem shared by all immigrants, but which is particularly acute among Asians because of the Confusion tenet of Filial Piety. This principle regulates all relations within the community.

  • 33 Warrior Woman, p. 203.

"You don't even say hello to the villagers."
"They don't say hello to me."
"They don't have to answer children. When you get old. people will say hello to you."33

38Traditionally there is little outward show of affection and physical punishment is frequently harsh. Furthermore, each individual is expected to sublimate individual desires for the benefit of the family, clan or community. The notion of filial piety is utterly opposed to the American concepts of individualism and self-improvement. It is no wonder then that first generation parents think of their children as half strangers, uncooth, illmattered and selfish. Daughters are even more harshly judged as they find themselves torn between conflicting criteria of femininity.

  • 34 Ibid., p. 72.

Normal Chinese women's voices are strong and bossy.
We American-Chinese girls had to whisper to make ourselves American-feminine. Apparently we whispered even more softly than the Americans. Once a year the teachers referred my sister and me to speech therapy…34

39A conflict expressed in all Asian-American literature is the difference in expectations concerning male and female roles.

  • 35 Ibid., p. 141-142.

Their brother got toy trucks that were big enough to climb inside. When he grew older, he got a bicycle and let the girls play with his old tricycle and wagon. My mother bought his sisters a typewriter. "They can be clerk-typists," their father kept saying, but he would not buy them a typewriter.35

40Many Asian women in the American context, particularly second and third generation, begin to refuse to be treated in the customary subordinate way. Sisters are jealous of their brothers' unwarranted privileges; they refuse arranged marriages and begin to desire independence which can be acquired through higher education and professional status.

41Probably the most critical dilemma for all immigrants is the linguistic barrier. Parents are held apart from their children and mainstream society because of their lack of fluency in English. Their children, despite many years of instruction in special language schools rarely master their parents' language. The children learn just enough vocabulary and elementary grammatical structures for day-to-day communication with their elders. The adults often find themselves in the humiliating situation of relying on their children to interpret the outside world for them. Communication problems within the Chinese community have been intensified by the arrival of immigrants who do not speak the same dialect as those who came first.

42Frank Chin and Maxine Hong Kingston, who both grew up in Northern California, studied at the University of Berkeley and are now in their forties, are part of an anti-nostalgia generation. The war of the sexes plays a part in both their works, though in The Warrior Woman the question is rather one of obtaining independence from one's parents while escaping from arranged marriages, and liberating oneself from the burden of tradition.

43In terms of the immigrant experience. Chin's first American born ancestors are several generations removed; he identifies with his grand-father who worked on the Southern Pacific Railway, and all the Chinese sojourner miners and railway workers. Kingston's narrator is one generation removed from her family's Chinese village, which is a source of fantasy and anguish for her. The communist revolution in China had a direct effect on her family.

  • 36 Ibid., p. 190.,

So while the adults wept over the letters about the neighbors gone berserk turning Communist…, I was secretly glad. As long as the aunts kept disappearing and the uncles dying after unspeakable tortures, my parents would prolong their Cold Mountain stay. We could start spending our fare money on a car and chairs, a stereo.36

44The situation of the mutilated family, families separated by racist immigration laws, is a theme common to both authors. Fear of deportation and the necessary conspiracy of silence weighs more heavily in the background of Kingston's novel. For both authors, Chinatown is at the same lime a place of oppression and a place of refuge. The white world beyond is seen as a haven of escape from community control but also as dangerous and alienating.

45Chin is more concerned than Kingston in denouncing sentimentalized Asian culture stereotypes (Charlie Chan, Susie Wong, the Hong Kong Dream Girl) that are to be found in popular American culture. Both authors react violently against the passive "lotus pod" behavior which is sanctioned by tradition. Chin denounces the attempts of mission schools to Americanize and assimilate the Chinese, whereas for Kingston, the public school, with its white teachers, allowed her to achieve and receive the recognition that she was systematically denied in her home. University studies represented a means to economic independence. One of Frank Chin's characters, sacrificed a college education in order to support his family. He only succeeded in demeaning himself in his father's eyes while remaining at the mercy of his father's capricious exercise of authority. The generation conflict that hinges on filial piety is at the heart of their works.

46It is interesting to note that both Chin and Kingston looked for alternatives to crippling stereotypes in Chinese folk tradition. They were both to influence a young Californian Chinese-American of upper-middle-class background, raised in the suburbs, who had never experienced first-hand the kinds of conflicts which absorb Fred Chin and Maxine Hong Kingston. David Henry Hwang, in a sense, bridges the generation and gender gaps by drawing inspiration from Kingston's mythical woman warrior. Fa Mu Lan, and Chin's god of war, Kwan Kung. Not unnaturally, both authors chose warriors as salutary antidotes to the harmless lotus pod stereotypes.

  • 37 David Henry Hwang, F.O.B., in New Plays U.S.A., ed. James Leverett, intro. by Michael Feingold. (N (...)

47Hwang acknowledges his debt to Kingston and Chin in his notes to his first play, F.O.B. (an acronym for "Fresh-Off-the-Boat", a disparaging epithet applied to recent immigrants).37 Hwang's first play throws together three Chinese-American college students whose backgrounds are very different. Dale, the A.B.C. ("American-born-Chinese") of upper-middle class origins is competing with Steve, the F.O.B. of the title, whose father is a rich industrialist in Hong Kong, for the affections of Grace whose parents immigrated to California only ten years earlier and who run a Chinese restaurant. The situation allows Hwang to treat the variety of conflicting attitudes to be found in each socio-economic category, as well as conflicting attitudes concerning sex roles.

  • 38 Eric Pace, "I write Plays to Claim a Place for Asian-Americans ", interview with David Henry Hwang (...)
  • 39 Don Shewey, "His Art Blends the Best of Two Cultures on Stage", interview with John Lone and David (...)

48Since 1981 Hwang has written four other plays, all of which were produced in New York by Joe Papp's Public Theatre. His second play which is set in 1867 during a strike of Chinese construction workers on the railroad, traces the history of "a strong and hardy and rebellious men who considered themselves warriors, adventurerers or soldiers."38 Hwang has begun to bridge the cultural gap between the old world and the new world by a fortuitous collaboration. He encountered John Lone, a thirty-year-old actor who was born in Hong Kong and who received a rigourous ten year training in the Peking Opera style. Lone influenced Hwang immensely during the writing of his second play in which the author tried consciously to use Chinese theatre techniques, a certain kind of stylization, applied to a Western style play. Hwang used the real names of the two actors whose roles had elements in common with their real life situations. The character Lone had the ambition to become a professional dancer, but for economic reasons he was obliged to immigrate to America, hence the title: The Dance and the Railroad. Hwang concludes in an interview which appeared in the New York Times, "What John has made possible is for me to physicalize a relationship between the two cultures."39

  • 40 Ibid.

49John Lone has finished directing two one act plays by Hwang which opened at the Public Theatre in early November 1983 and he plays one of the leading roles. The plays suggest more than ever through mythical subjects an oriental attitude toward age and beauty, love and death. The House of Beauties relates the relationship which develops between an elderly writer and "the proprietress of a sort of Platonic brothel where old men prepare for death by sleeping next to beautiful young women."40

  • 41 Ibid.

50The Sound of a Voice is also inspired by Eastern folk tales and follows the adventures of a warrior who becomes enamoured of the witch he is supposed to kill. Such a plot is reminiscent of Peking opera which "…is complex, mixing myth, legend and history, dealing with such timeless matters as loyalty, filial piety, chastity, justice and righteousness".41 Hwang is fulfilling the desires of his elder, Frank Chin, in drawing on a root culture and creating a new expression which is authentically Chinese-American.

51Given the quality and diversity of the works by Asian American authors, there seems to be sufficient evidence to suppose that Asian-Americans will mark the eighties in the way that chicano theatre dominated the seventies, and black literature and theatre the sixties.


1 "The New Ellis Island", Time Magazine, June 13, 1983, p. 14.

2 Irving Howe, "Strangers", in Celebrations and Attacks: Thirty Years of Literary and Cultural Commentary, (New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979) p. 11.

3 Ibid., p. 12.

4 Frank Chin, et. al., "An Introduction to Chinese and Japanese-American Literature", in Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian- American Writers, (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1974, 1983) p. xxi.

5 Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, Judy Yung, Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940, (San Francisco: The San Francisco Study Center, 1981)., reviewed by Fred Ferretti, "Calligraphic Cries", New York Times, Feb. 20, 1981, P. 24.

6 New York: Pantheon Books, 1973.

7 Aiiieeeee!, see note 4 for publication details.

8 Ibid., preface, p. vii.

9 Frank Chin, Chickencoop Chinaman in Two Plays by Frank Chin, introduction by Dorothy Ritsuko Mc Donald, (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1981), p. 7. The play was first performed May 27, 1972 at the American Place Theatre, New York City.

10 Aiiieeeee!, intro., p. xxi. The Chinese-American authors to whom they are refering are Pardee Lowe, Father And Clorious Descendant (1943), Jade Snow Wong, Fifth Chinese Daughter (1950), Virginia Lee, The House that Tai Ming Built (1963), Betty Lee Sung, Mountain of Cold (1967), and Diana Chang, The Frontiers of Love (1956).

11 Chickencoop, p. 22.

12 Cerald Haslam in Forgotten Pages of American Literature, (New York: Houghton 1970) n.p., quoted in Aiiieeeee!, introduction, p. xxiv.

13 Ibid., intro., p. xxv.
In socio-economic terms, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census and National Jewish Population Survey, on a family income index in which 100 represents the total U.S. national average, the Chinese minority was rated at 112, just after the Polish (115), the Japanese (132), and the Jewish (172).

14 Diana Fong, "America's 'Invisible' Chinese", New York Times, May, 1, 1982, p. 27.

15 Ibid., p. 27.

16 Aiiieeeee!, intro. p. xxxviii.

17 Ibid.

18 Frank Chin, "Frank Chin at Home", interviewed by Forrest Gok, San Francisco Theatre, Summer 1977, p. 18.

19 Chickencoop, p. 24.

20 Ibid. p. 43.

21 "Frank Chin at home", pp. 17-18.

22 Ibid., p. 18.

23 Frank Chin, Letter to Michael Kirby, ed., The Drama Review, 22 Oct. - 23 Nov. 1976, p. 11, quoted by Mc Donald in her introduction to Two Plays.

24 Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976).

25 Ibid., p. 204.

26 Ibid., p. 205.

27 Ibid., p. 184.

28 Ibid., p. 206.

29 Paul Jacobs and Saul Landau with Eve Pell, To Serve the Devil, Colonials and Sojourners, II (New York: Vintage Books, Random House, 1971). p. 119.

30 Kingston, p. 184.

31 Lu Ling-chi Wang, "Chinatown and the Chinese", a document circulated by Intercollegiate Chinese for Social Action at San Francisco State College during the 1969 San Francisco New Year's Festival, in Jacobs, p. 161.

32 Ibid., p. 161.

33 Warrior Woman, p. 203.

34 Ibid., p. 72.

35 Ibid., p. 141-142.

36 Ibid., p. 190.,

37 David Henry Hwang, F.O.B., in New Plays U.S.A., ed. James Leverett, intro. by Michael Feingold. (New York Theater Communications Group, 1982). The play was first performed June 8, 1980 at the New York Shakespeare Festival's Public Theater.

38 Eric Pace, "I write Plays to Claim a Place for Asian-Americans ", interview with David Henry Hwang, New York Times, July 12, 1981, VI, 4.

39 Don Shewey, "His Art Blends the Best of Two Cultures on Stage", interview with John Lone and David Henry Hwang, New York Times, Oct. 30, 1983, VIII, 6.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid.


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