Sexual Politics, Buddhism, and Transnationalism in Russell Leong’s The Country of Dreams and Dust and Phoenix Eyes

  • Walter S. H. Lim


In The Fifth Book of Peace considered in Chapter 2, Kingston deploys the analogy of the Vietnam War to reinforce the thematic point that war is by definition destructive and brings suffering to both the individual and the community. By drawing attention to a war that started in the 1960s and concluded in the 1970s to contextualize the First Gulf War, Kingston suggests that all wars are alike in their cause and effect and that the United States should abstain from wars of aggression against other nations. While the Vietnam War was an event that took place during the Cold War, it continues to haunt the nation as a war that America lost, generating trauma that needs attending to. In Fifth Book Buddhism is espoused as possessing the qualities to bring about healing not only for individual veterans of war but also for the collective national psyche. Veterans of war continue to find means to heal the trauma caused by the experience of military conflicts, and their presence in society refuses to allow amnesia to creep in and take hold.


Short Story Sexual Body Autonomous Subjectivity Missionary Activity Asian Male 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Sacvan Bercovitch, The Puritan Origins of the American Self (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For a study of the roots of American Orientalism in the works of nineteenth-century authors, see Malini Johar Schueller, U.S. Orientalisms: Race, Nation, and Gender in Literature, 1790–1890 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    This is the title of Ronald Takaki’s classic Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (New York: Penguin, 1990).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Iris Chang, The Chinese in America: A Narrative History (New York: Penguin, 2003), 81.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    For accounts of Donaldina Cameron’s activities, see ibid., 85–86, and Annette White-Parks, “Beyond the Stereotypes,” in Writing the Range: Race, Class, and Culture in the Women’s West, ed. Marian Perales, Ramona Ford, Peggy Pascoe, and Yolanda Chavez Leyva, 258–73 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), esp. 268–69.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Russell Leong, The Country of Dreams and Dust (Albuquerque, NM: West End, 1993), 27. All subsequent references to the text are to this edition and will be cited as CDD.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Christina Klein, Cold War Orientalism: Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945–1961 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 176.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Frank Chin, “Bulletproof Buddhists” and Other Essays (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998), 102. For a reading of the ways in which Christian missionary activities in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century China are imbricated in imperialist politics enabled by gendered figurations of sovereignty (Queen Victoria and the Empress Dowager Cixi), seeGoogle Scholar
  9. Lydia H. Liu, The Clash of Empires: The Invention of China in Modern World Making (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 140–80. In The Hypothetical Mandarin: Sympathy, Modernity, and Chinese Pain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), Eric Hayot argues that in the nineteenth century, the encounter between China and the West transpired in tandem with missionary medical activities in which “an explicitly Christian compassion extended into China’s interior [as] part and parcel of the negotiations whereby Britain and France forced open Chinese markets and treaty ports to Western goods” (97). Responding to “the universal fact of pain” (102), the work of missionary doctors in ministering sympathetically to the ailing Chinese body constitutes an important expression of soft power that is no less potent than the hard power of raw military muscle in penetrating the “great wall” of historical Chinese insularity. Hayot deploys evocative language to capture succinctly the direct relationship between missionary activities and the forced opening of China: “As the missionaries cut apart, sewed together, and otherwise repaired their wounded patients, as they spent nights at the bedsides of those with whom they shared no common language, as they urged them to praise the God who had brought them to the Ophthalmic Infirmary rather than the doctors whose hands had rifled their flesh, they attempted to suture these Chinese strangers to a moral and cultural world that would profoundly change their relationship to their bodies, to suffering, and to the imaginary geographies of the planet” (102).Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    Frank Chin, “Rendezvous,” in Asian American Literature: A Brief Introduction and Anthology, ed. Shawn Wong, 15–20 (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 20.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    Frank Chin, Jeffrey Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Wong, ed., The Big Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature (New York: Meridian, 1991), 13.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    Russell Charles Leong, “Phoenix Eyes” and Other Stories (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000), 96. All subsequent references to the text are to this edition and will be cited as PE.Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    Edward W. Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 173.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    David Henry Hwang, M Butterfly (New York: Plume, 1989), 17.Google Scholar
  15. 20.
    For an elaborate theoretical treatment of the concept of hybridity, see Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (1994; reprint, London: Routledge, 1995).Google Scholar
  16. 21.
    Laura Hall, “The Shit Hits the Fan: Timothy Mo’s New World Disorder,” in China Fictions/English Language: Literary Essays in Diaspora, Memory, Story, ed. A. Robert Lee, 279–98 (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008), 280.Google Scholar
  17. 22.
    For critical discussions of Russell Leong’s representation of gay and radical sexual politics in “Phoenix Eyes,” see King-Kok Cheung, “Art, Spirituality, and the Ethic of Care: Alternative Masculinities in Chinese American Literature,” in Masculinity Studies and Feminist Theory, ed. Judith Kegan Gardiner, 261–89 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), andGoogle Scholar
  18. Walter S. H. Lim, “Writing the Chinese and Southeast Asian Diasporas in Russell Leong’s Phoenix Eyes,” in Asian Diasporas: Cultures, Identities, Representations, ed. Robbie B. H. Goh and Shawn Wong, 149–60 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2004).Google Scholar
  19. 23.
    Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, “Circuits/Cycles of Desire: Buddhism, Diaspora Theory, and Identity Politics in Russell Leong’s Phoenix Eyes,” Amerasia Journal 37, no. 1 (2011): 95.Google Scholar
  20. 24.
    Ien Ang, On Not Speaking Chinese: Living Between Asia and the West (New York: Routledge, 2001), 5.Google Scholar
  21. 27.
    Lynn Thiesmeyer, “The West’s ‘Comfort Women’ and the Discourses of Seduction,” in Transnational Asia Pacific: Gender, Culture, and the Public Sphere, ed. Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Larry E. Smith, and Wimal Dissanayake, 69–92 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 70.Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    Ronald E. Long, Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods: An Exploration into the Religious Significance of Male Homosexuality in World Perspective (New York: Harrington Park Press, 2004), 105–6.Google Scholar
  23. 29.
    John Whalen-Bridge, “Embodied Mindfulness: Charles Johnson and Maxine Hong Kingston on Buddhism, Race, and Beauty,” in Writing as Enlightenment: Buddhist American Literature into the Twenty-First Century, ed. John Whalen-Bridge and Gary Storhoff, 141–56 (Albany: SUNY Press, 2011), 150.Google Scholar
  24. 30.
    For a reflection on the relation between diasporic displacement and recuperation in both writing and lived experience, see Rajeev S. Patke, “Diaspora as Translation: Literary Refractions from Asia,” in Asian Migrations: Sojourning, Displacement, Homecoming and Other Travels, ed. Beatriz P. Lorente, Nicola Piper, Shen Hsiu-Hua, and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, 111–27 (Singapore: ARI Research Institute, 2005). For a dense and multilayered consideration of the meanings and resonances of diaspora as both concept and idea, see the important chapter “Diasporas” inGoogle Scholar
  25. James Clifford, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 244–77.Google Scholar
  26. 31.
    For a study of the intersection of feminist theory with modernist, postmodernist, and postcolonialist discourses, see Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan, ed., Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994). A fine collection of critical essays dealing with the relationship between gay literature and the thematics of AIDS is offered inGoogle Scholar
  27. Timothy F. Murphy and Suzanne Poirier, ed., Writing AIDS: Gay Literature, Language, and Analysis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993). For a contribution to the building of an artistic and critical tradition predicated on the gay experience, seeGoogle Scholar
  28. David Bergman, Gaiety Transfigured: Gay Self-Representation in American Literature (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991).Google Scholar
  29. 32.
    The importance of not idealizing the condition of exile is reinforced in Oscar V. Campomanes, “Filipinos in the United States and Their Literature of Exile,” in Reading the Literatures of Asian America, ed. Shirley Lim and Amy Ling (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1992), 49–78.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Walter S. H. Lim 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Walter S. H. Lim

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations