Cultural identity in The woman warrior, The chickencop Chinaman, The year of the dragon and Donald Duk


Student thesis: Master's Thesis

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  • Xiaosha TANG


Awarding Institution
Award date2 Oct 2009


This study takes Chinese American literature from 1960s to 1990s as its subject, focusing on Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior:Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts and Frank Chin’s two plays, The Chickencoop Chinaman, and The Year of the Dragon, and his novel Donald Duk, and discusses the efforts, conflicts and compromise in the making of Chinese American cultural identity as manifested in these writings. The first chapter begins with an introduction of early Chinese immigrants in the US and the formation of Chinatown. By tracing back to the very origin of Chinese American community, I mean to show that although being regarded as unassimilable sojourners by American mainstream society, Chinese Americans were, from the very beginning, rooted in the land of America. This chapter also examines the historical and social situation of America in the 1960s and the1970s. I intend to show how contemporary Chinese American literature reflected the changing experiences of Chinese Americans and their different perspectives towards identity. The second chapter moves on with an overview of white American representations of Chinese immigrants as silent stereotypes which reinforced the Orientalist discourse. It also surveys Chinese American literature before in the 1960s as to investigate in what ways Maxine Hong Kingston and Frank Chin’s works were different from yet inherited Chinese American literary tradition. The third chapter explores the characterization of silence in The Woman Warrior and Frank Chin’s two plays so as to demonstrate that, in spite of those silent characters they deliberately created to be resonant with Chinese American stereotypes, both Maxine Hong Kingston and Frank Chin had consciously taken over the power of representation against Chinese American stereotypes imposed by the white American society. Also, this chapter takes the influential “Introduction” to Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers written by Frank Chin and his co-editors as an example to show that during the 1960s and the 1970s, in response to the rise of an Asian American consciousness inspired by the Civil Rights movement and the anti-Vietnam-war activism, Chinese Americans made an effort to build up a distinct Chinese American cultural identity. The fourth chapter investigates the relationship between Chinese culture and Chinese American literature. In spite of the Chineseness in their works, Maxine Hong Kingston and Frank Chin expressed their desire to de-sinicize Chinese America. With an examination into the process of sorting out a Chinese American identity, this chapter will try to reveal that on the one hand, Chinese American writers tried assiduously to sever their cultural connection with China, which resulted in generational conflict and disintegration of the family; while on the other hand, a unique Chinese American identity that was neither Chinese nor Anglo-American which they expect to establish through de-sinicization and identification with black heroism was dubious at best. The fifth chapter deals with re-sinicization—reclamation of the Chinese American historical experience—mainly manifested in Chin’s Donald Duk, partly in reaction to the rise of multiculturalism in the 1980s and partly due to Chinese Americans’ realization that Chinese American history and traditional Chinese culture—admittedly this kind of Chinese culture was an American invention—were usable resources for Chinese Americans to legitimate their right to be an integral part of American culture and history. This conviction was based on the assumption that Chinese Americans shared collective experience in making American history, which must be acknowledged in order to build up a healthy identity that could sustain their living in America. In addition to analyzing the process of Chinese American identity-making through highlighting Chinese American contributions to American history, and adapting and interpreting traditional Chinese culture in the writings mentioned above, this chapter also investigates an internal confrontation within Chinese American literary circle, concentrating on the Kingston-Chin controversy. On the one hand, Chin and his male co-editors of The Big Aiiieeeee!:An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American literature made vitriolic tirade against Kingston’s dramatization of sexism and her “faking” of traditional Chinese culture, which, according to them, was no better than white feminism and Orientalism. On the other hand, Chin’s characterization of women in his plays was also criticized as revealing his male chauvinism, and his representation of “authentic” Chinese culture is questionable. To analyze the process of building up a Chinese American cultural identity, and to exhibit the conflicting issues yet to be solved, this paper concludes that by embedding their ancestral past into American history, Chinese American writers had endeavored to convey a new Chinese American sensibility after torpedoing the stereotypes; and yet, their writings still unwittingly revealed their unconscious desire to assimilate into the American society. Furthermore, while sorting out such American identity had not yet finished, some of them became at peace with their diasporic existence. Therefore I came to the conclusion that identity may not be a fixed, close and narrowly defined label to Chinese Americans; it might be fluid, tentative or eclectic strategies for them and experienced as a process that would open more new possibilities for Chinese Americans to articulate their sense of belonging by critical reflection of the paradoxes they would be encountered. Considering Chinese American literature has entered a new era where various cultural implications, such as the lure of multiculturalism, a greater sense towards diasporaic writing, China’s ascendency to a new role in world affairs, and the inevitable influence of deep Chinese culture, it is my hope that this paper would contribute to the idea that Chinese culture would always play a dynamic role in Chinese American identity-making process and promote the understanding of identity in broad terms.

    Research areas

  • Chinese Americans, Chinese American authors, Chinese Americans in literature, Ethnic identity, History and criticism, Group identity in literature, American literature