Chinese American? American Chinese? Community Building as Subject Making

  • Lingchei Letty Chen


This chapter brings us to the identity politics of Asian Americans, specifically that of Chinese Americans.1 The cultural hybridity that the postcolonial subject inherits, as I discuss in the preceding chapter, is first and foremost imposed by foreign powers. The post first-generation immigrant’s sense of cultural origin may be more ambiguous than that of the postcolonial subject’s; nevertheless, both must confront how cultural hybridization brings about the impetus to wrestle with authenticity. But the geopolitical and social conditions under which the two hybridized subjects negotiate their cultural origin and cultural hybridity are drastically different.


Ethnic Identity Cultural Identity Chinese Culture Community Building Chinese Classic 
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  1. 2.
    Jingqi Ling, Narrating Nationalism: Ideology and Form in Asian American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 6.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    William Wei argues that, since many Asian American workers saw the parallel between their fight for civil rights and the widespread liberation movements in Asia such as in Vietnam and China, “they readily identified with Asians struggling to free themselves from Western colonizers, especially American imperialists.… They (the Asian American) had to rethink who they were and re-create their own cultural identity, forging distinct Asian ethnic group identities into a pan-Asian one.” The Asian American Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993), 42.Google Scholar
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    There are numerous studies on American ethnic writers’ particular interest in and utilization of their national culture’s oral tradition. With regard to Kingston’s employment of Chinese oral tradition in this novel, John Lowe has done an intriguing study by examining the role of humor—telling jokes—in Wittman Ah Sing’s dealings with cultural stereotyping and his critique of American as well as Chinese American cultural practices. Please see John Lowe’s article “Monkey Kings and Mojo: Postmodern Ethnic Humor in Kingston, Reed, and Vizenor,” MELUS, vol. 21, no. 4 (Winter 1996): 103–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    The parallelism between Kingston’s novel and the two Western works has been established by A. Noelle Williams, Margit Wogowitsch in her Narrative Strategies and Multicultural Identity: Maxine Hong Kingston in Context (Austria: Braumüller, 1995), John J. Deeney in his “Of Monkeys and Butterflies: Transformation in M. H. Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey, and D. H. Hwang’s M. Butterfly” (MELUS, vol. 18, no. 3, Fall 1993), among others.Google Scholar
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    An interesting response from Kingston regarding critics’ interpretations of what “fake book” means came to mind. In the interview with Laura E. Skandera-Trombley in 1997, Kingston expressed her wish that her “fake book” would be used by her readers in much the same way that jazz musicians use their fake book to improvise their music: “My idea of the fake book, that’s a term that comes from jazz. … They are semi-illegal, because you know they’re breaking all kinds of copyright laws, but that book’s not original, a fake book doesn’t have original stuff, but I was hoping that the reader could use Tripmaster Monkey as a fake book in the same way musicians use a fake book. When they read Tripmaster Monkey, I give lots of suggestions, ‘Well, here’s a trip you might take, here’s a part of a story, you finish it.’ ” (41). There is an undeniable didactic tone in Kingston’s voice. She seems to be quite sure that her intention for her fictional device is “more correct” than any otherwise different readings. Kingston also has her own idea as how the reader should treat her novel. Kingston may wish that Tripmaster Monkey to be an interactive type of narrative, but a wish is only a wish—whether she actually has succeeded in making her text to be such and whether her readers can or are willing to take up the challenge are quite different matters. An interesting thing about writers or artists giving interviews is that it gives them an opportunity to critique the critics and also to add cornmentaries to their own works, in a way, to shape how their works should be perceived. This interview is collected in Critical Essays on Maxine Hong Kingston, ed. by Laura E. Skandera-Trombley (New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1998).Google Scholar
  6. 22.
    Paul Skenazy and Tera Martin have edited a useful book, Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998), in which Kingston’s most important interviews are collected. Kingston has provided information and clarifications on her writing of Tripmaster Monkey as well as discussions of the novel, in interviews with Kay Bonetti, Jody Hoy, Paula Rabinowitz, William Satake Blauvelt, Marilyn Chin, Paul Skenazy, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Donna Perry, Joan Smith, Neila C. Seshachari, and Eric J. Schroeder. Regarding the impact Kingston’s personal commentaries on her novels has on critics and the political implications of such impact, I have a section at the end of this chapter to discuss these issues and likely consequences.Google Scholar
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    James T. E Tanner, “Walt Whitman’s Presence in Maxine Hong Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book,” MELUS, vol. 20, no. 4 (Winter 1995): 67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 29.
    “Writing the Other: A Conversation with Maxine Hong Kingston,” Poetry Flash, 198 (September 1989): 1, 4–6, 17–18. Collected in Conversations with Maxine Hong Kingston, ed. by Paul Skenazy and Tera Martin (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1998).Google Scholar
  9. 31.
    Sandra A. Zagarell, “Narrative of Community: The Identification of a Genre,” Revising the Word and the World: Essays in Feminist Literary Criticism, ed. by VèVè A. Clark, Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres, and Madelon Sprengnether (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1993), 250.Google Scholar
  10. 36.
    Please see “Localism, Globalism, and Cultural Identity” by Mike Featherstone in Global/Local: Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary, ed. by Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 1996).Google Scholar
  11. Part III The VisionGoogle Scholar

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© Lingchei Letty Chen 2006

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