"Frank Chin Is Not A Part of This Class!"
Thinking at the Limits of
Asian American Literature


John Goshert

Purdue University, Lafayette IN

Copyright © 2000 by John Goshert, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.

  1. Writing on the heels of the first thirty years of Frank Chin's literary production, I find myself already on dangerous ground. After reading Chin for a number of years, I was surprised when I began to think about dealing with his work academically and found that practically no context existed for such a project. And, as I proceeded, rather naively, to raise some questions about Chin's position, especially in the field of Asian American literary studies, respondents at a number of conferences quickly called me to task for even broaching the subject, giving me an idea of the very serious stakes involved in the preservation of Asian American literary studies as we now find it. These encounters have prompted me to raise some of the points that follow, but my goal in this paper will be, primarily, to avoid approaching Chin through the typical posing of an already-foreclosed Chin-Kingston battle; instead, I propose the opening of a space in which we may be able to revisit not only Chin's critical and fictional work, but the field of Asian American studies itself. I will argue, in fact, that the two issues are irrevocably tied, and that it is precisely because of the now inherent dangers in addressing Chin and his institutional status that we may coextensively find the opportunity for a reevaluation of the terms of legitimation that have all too often defined the field of Asian American literary studies.

  2. I find this connection between danger and opportunity to be a significant and provocative force in Rey Chow's Writing Diaspora, in which she finds the two terms operating in the Chinese diasporic communities of Hong Kong and working together to form "the tactics of those who do not have claims to territorial propriety and cultural centrality" (25).[1] Like a number of other theorists in postcolonial studies whose work is largely informed by deconstruction, Chow's initial move is to disrupt any concept of field propriety, a concept that often coalesces around the figure of the "sanctified subaltern" who provides a stable master referent for the construction and legitimacy of marginal literary and cultural analysis, expressing "dominance through the representation of the self as powerless" (11).[2] Frank Chin himself has posed a most compelling Asian American ethnic writing subject that makes a radical departure from Chow's figure of the sanctified subaltern. His work has, in fact, constantly attempted to disrupt any reduction of the Asian American under stable terms based on gender, sexual, temporal, or any other notion of propriety, despite his historical relegation to Asian American literature's negative field of proper writing.

  3. Thus, the question of Frank Chin's position in the "alternative canon" of Asian American literature offers compelling grounds on which an examination of the politics of the field at large may take place. Regardless of the amount of critical and fictional work he has produced since the early 1970s, Chin has, almost without exception, been established as the chauvinist, nativist, or nationalist Other marking the boundary of literature that deserves inclusion in the field and that which does not. The virtual absence of scholarship that deals with Chin in terms other than those which replay defenses of Maxine Hong Kingston (and, with less frequency, David Henry Hwang and Amy Tan) has resulted in what David Lewei Li calls an "institutional ignorance" of his work in general ("Formation" 211). Depending most often on the repetition of decontextualized statements taken from a very small portion of Chin's body of work, his critics increasingly move further away from analysis of his work and into an analytic condition primarily determined by stable positioning of the authors it studies. Following Li's lead then, it is as much in the broader scope of the institutional scene as it is in the local instance of Chin's production itself that his critical work been generally discarded and that this ignorance has been expanded to his ongoing production of fiction, from his plays and short stories of the 1970s to his most recent novel, Gunga Din Highway (1994).

  4. Taking my cue from Li's essay, I will revisit the state of Asian American studies and center on Chin's work and its relationship to the field. Most significantly, I will examine Chin's long history of fiction in addition to the critical work that has commonly been deployed as the sole site of his literary production for those who would argue against him. Analyzing both the fictional and critical components of his work will provide the opportunity to simultaneously cover the criticism of Chin and move to address the possibility of reworking the case that has been made against him over the past three decades.[3] My central argument here is that the examination of these critical and fictional trajectories as they work together will dislodge the easy positioning of Chin, as he establishes a "double priority" that operates between the critical and fictional facets of his work, and addresses, without prematurely foreclosing, Asian American experience. In this view, Chin's citation of historically authentic Asian and Asian diasporic literary traditions does not mark the limit of Asian American writing; rather, that literary tradition is a traceable, yet ultimately unstable site from which a disruptive identity is posed. This double priority is also suggested by Li, who notes that in both his critical and fictional work, "[i]n polemic or parody . . . Chin wages war against the hegemonic exercise of power in the form of language" (215). Thus, lodging this examination in deconstructive postcolonial studies is especially compelling, for deconstruction already finds hegemonic concepts like authenticity and inauthenticity, margin and center, propriety and impropriety, insiders and outsiders, permanently irresolvable conditions that always call for critique, although not necessarily for resolution.[4]

  5. Chin's double writing may be traced to his first publications that appeared in the early 1970s. At first indicative of the immediate -- or polemic -- priority in Chin's fiction, the symbol of the railroad was quickly established and continues to be cited through his present work as a touchstone that exemplifies the often overlooked historical reality of Chinese and Chinese American strength, community, and will to live in America. Furthermore, the railroad also counters their common portrayal as a passive model minority, a stereotype that faces Asian Americans to this day. Chin's characters constantly grasp onto that material site as a direct counter to American colonizing strategies that would keep them geographically restricted and removed from American history in the ethnic preserves of Chinatowns across the country. The goal of a renewed historical understanding of ethnic Chinese in America is, rather than the establishing of a permanent counter-institutional law, the immediate redress of stereotyping. As Chin writes in Bulletproof Buddhists, the wish to see the disappearance of Chinese cultural inheritance in the United States calls for a counter-deployment of the "practical language skills of the here-and-now school" through which the reclamation of history would take place (68). In his 1971 play, The Chickencoop Chinaman, for instance, Chin presents a polemic attack on the current status of Chinese and Japanese Americans as they are represented in American popular culture; yet he also goes beyond polemics, simultaneously forming an argument against the separatist-essentialist (especially ethno-centric and gender-centric) moves that were so often at the heart of the politics of marginality during those years.

  6. Thus, far from forwarding a simplistic and self-evident notion of history on which his work would depend, Chin instead documents traces of historical inheritance that are neither self-evident nor subject to wholesale rejection. His project of historical reclamation is, in fact, aimed more at any "culturalism" that would claim the ability to reject and accept certain histories as the truth of history tout court; therefore, the Lone Ranger (Chickencoop, "This is Not"), Charlie Chan or the Japanese American Citizens League ("Come All Ye," Chinaman), or Portland's "Clairol kids" ("Rashomon" 298), in addition to Kingston, become representative of forces deployed from without and within Asian America that would contain Asian American experience or identity in any way. Additionally, the multivalent containing moves cited by Chin in these cases do not necessarily seek the obliteration of Asian America, but, more importantly, its segregation to a contained space of marginality.

  7. In Chickencoop Chinaman, The Lone Ranger offers the protagonist, Tam Lum, and his childhood friend, Blackjap Kenji, a reward for rejecting the railroad, the material evidence of Asian American history: "You don't hear no train, China boys. Hear no evil, ya hear me? China boys, you be legendary obeyers of the law, legendary humble, legendary passive. Thank me now and I'll let ya get back to Chinatown preservin your culture!" (37). Like other colonialisms that would celebrate a culture of the Other that remains accessible under the law, the Lone Ranger's goal is the negotiation of a truce in which the division between master and subaltern cultures remains intact, in which the proprietary rights to Chinese American history are granted solely to those who would follow and reflect through either segregation or assimilation the perceived dictates of power. The price of survival for Asian Americans is to live passively under the law in the rejection of their American history, for which the railroad operates as a master referent throughout Chin's work.

  8. In addition to such socio-cultural explanations for a failed or incomplete Asian American identity, the identificatory limitations faced by Asian Americans are further reflected in the literary realm. Despite the accusations of many of his critics to the contrary, Chin's use of the all-but-forgotten historical experiences of the Chinese in America, like the railroad, is not indicative of limitations he would see placed on representations of Chinese Americans as a whole. Instead, his recourse to history provides one trope of many that activate possibilities of representation pushing at the boundaries of the "Mama Fu Fu Chinese cookbook" or the Chinatown travelogue that Fred Eng of The Year of the Dragon finds himself compelled to write, "cuz no one's gonna read the great Chinese American novel" (83). Chin's rejection of the "ornamental oriental" thus becomes a literary-formalist argument as much as a historical one, for the same culturalisms that are handed down as the law of dominant culture, that restrict Asian American access to history and to participation in the creation of current American culture, are further reflected in their limitation to the literary realms of ornamentalia: autobiographies, travelogues, and cookbooks.

  9. As they have been for other Asian American authors who enjoy a level of institutional legitimacy far greater than Chin, established literary forms provide one possible ground for the opposition or disruption of dominant culturalisms. Presenting an improbable reflection of Chin's claims, Kingston noted in her 1982 "Cultural Misreadings" essay that her autobiography/memoir, The Woman Warrior, was itself seldom recognized for its "good writing" alone (55). Instead, she found that her work became a convenient stage on which the replaying of already-established conceptions of Chinese Americans took place. With no little prescience then, the aspiring writer Fred Eng suggests that form is of itself restrictive and is a factor equally important as any other in strategizing the address to Asian American stereotypes. The question thus becomes for Chin how the marginal author might mobilize tropes or forms of writing that would resist recuperation by or into normative notions of ethnic identity. Whether this mobilization takes place in the cookbook, the travelogue, the autobiography, Chin argues that ethnic identity must always be procedural rather than finite, aware of America's historical ability to assimilate opposition and the need for a cultural critique that is always in motion; thus the railroad remains a critical symbol in his literary arsenal.

  10. Although it clearly addresses the immediate conditions of Chinese American experience, Chin's project of historical reclamation does not function as the limit of subaltern discourse. On the contrary, in fact, immediate issues provide the point of departure from which the double priority of Chin's writing may be brought into focus. Following the same trope that operated as evidence for the reclamation of an actually existing but forgotten historical experience of Chinese Americans in The Chickencoop Chinaman, the railroad becomes a transformative symbol that disrupts any notion of a stable identity based on a consistent or recuperable material history. Specifically, the permanence of the "masculine heroic tradition" so often applied to the totality of Chin's work is, in fact, constantly undermined when the genealogical lines that would transmit such traditions are irreparably broken. From his loss of an adequate biological father to his inability to find a suitable replacement father figure in Charley Popcorn, Tam's quest for a stable masculine identity is thwarted. Tam's sole image of stability is both matrilineal and mythic, a memory of his grandmother's constant listening for the immigrant-built locomotive Iron Moonhunter.

  11. Appearing shortly after his first plays, Chin's collection of fiction, The Chinaman Pacific & Frisco R.R. Co., again works with the central figure of the railroad to problematize the semblance of ethnic-historical orthodoxy that so many have read into his critical work. "Railroad Standard Time" is Chin's opening gambit in this compilation of short stories published between 1970 and 1978, and it questions from the outset the ability of Chinese Americans to access history as a stable inheritance that passes from one generation to the next. The Chinese American history sought by Tam Lum (and as Chin is claimed to be seeking by many of his critics) becomes disrupted against the story's locus, the "railroad standard all the way" watch of the narrator's grandfather, one of the first Chinese immigrants to work on the California trains (1). The watch should be the emblem of both generational and ethnic inheritance, but it loses its power to keep inheritance's time despite its being, the narrator's mother says, "the best" of the railroad watches her father had collected.

  12. When he is given the watch by his mother, Dirigible appears to weigh the materiality of the watch with his desire for its symbolic function as a marker of linear inheritance: "I held it in one hand and then the other, hefted it, felt out the meaning of 'the best,' words that rang of meat and vegetables, oils, things we touched, smelled, squeezed, washed, and ate, and I turned the big cased thing over several times" (2). When Dirigible's mother is unable to name her father, however, the symbolic power of linearity that the watch -- and by extension, the railroad -- originally represented for him is eviscerated. His mother explains, "'it's one of those Chinese names I . . . ' in English, faintly from another world, woozy and her throat and nostrils full of bubbly sniffles, the solemnity of the moment gone, the watch in my hand turned to cheap with the mumbling of a few awful English words" (2). His mother's slippage from the language of the "important things of the soul and blood" into English foregrounds the impossibility of locating and translating a singular cultural inheritance (1). Although the watch loses its auratic power to mark a singular temporality that moves flawlessly from generation to generation, it later becomes a marker of difference for the narrator, "two jewels short of new railroad standard and an outlaw watch" (2). That watch comes to represent both Dirigible's difference from and failures in becoming truly American or truly Chinese, a good son and husband, even a legitimate railroad worker when he wears an outlaw watch that could get him fired while braking on the Southern Pacific (2).

  13. As a failed symbol of linearity, the watch foregrounds Chin's early provocation of whatever notion of stability that might be ascribed to the Chinese cultural inheritance of Chinese America, and "Railroad Standard Time" sets the tone for the narrator's lifelong anger at being constrained both by stereotypes and by the opposition to them. Most importantly, the anticipated symbolic function of the watch and the railroad prove inoperative despite a communal desire to locate such stability; as Li writes in "The Formation of Frank Chin," in such failure the "Chinese American becomes then an entity that can neither claim its predecessor with a positive historical identity nor expect a future in progeny" (212). Dirigible directly encounters this double failure as he finds himself uncomfortably located between generations, and more importantly, those distinct cultures they should represent. When Dirigible's marriage falls apart years after receiving his grandfather's watch, the image of generational failure is extended into progeny, but some opportunity to rupture the stereotypes is simultaneously realized. At first acting the stereotype when his wife leaves him, Dirigible is "still and expressionless as some good Chink" (3), but he feels the conflictory pressure of being the model minority as it strikes against his desire for action:
    I'll learn to be a sore loser. I'll learn to hit people in the face. I'll learn to cry when I'm hurt and go for the throat instead of being polite and worrying about being obnoxious to people walking out of my house with my things, taking my kids away. I'll be more than quiet, embarrassed. I won't be likable anymore. (3)
    Reflecting the "noise of resistance" that Li finds throughout Chin's work (215), Dirigible's call to action against the stereotype is not inscribed by Chin, as Patricia Chu and Elaine Kim have argued, as an essentially American trait, for Chin clearly finds "American" identity just as empty of significance to the Chinaman as "Chinese" identity. Dirigible's experience is not divisible as the realization of an active American inheritance to be positioned alongside a passive Chinese inheritance, but is, rather, the realization that languages and identificatory features are all part of those multiple and conflictory "mother tongues bein' born to none of my own," that "talk of orphans" recognized by Chickencoop's Tam Lum (8). Because such opposition already suggests a sovereign freedom to choose between two inadequate identities, Dirigible opts for rupture, vowing to be more than quiet. He thus addresses the structural underpinnings rather than the symptoms of that dual personality argument so often forwarded as the effective repository of Asian American identity.

  14. The symbols of authenticity and the stereotypes that represent and continually prod Dirigible's desire for an identifiable ethnic identity and history thus offer a transformative potential in their very failure to articulate some totality of inheritance. Resting neither in voice (activity) nor in silence (passivity), Dirigible's promise to be more than quiet at once articulates the silence imposed on Asian Americans as the uncomplaining model minority or as the passive and emasculated servants of Western Civilization. Simultaneously, however, the promise resists taking some oppositional stance against silence, as though voice itself could effectively undermine the long-standing legal and social structures of exclusion which reduce and relegate the ethnic subject to positions of exotic or otherwise Other.

  15. Like Dirigible, Tam Lum also argues that it is precisely because of his peculiar Chinaman genealogy that he has no recourse to a legitimate history or language at all. Immediately rupturing geographic stability, in the first scene of the play, Lum flies from Oakland, California to stay with Blackjap Kenji in a neighborhood of Pittsburgh, also called Oakland, in preparation for his quest. On the plane Lum encounters Hong Kong Dream Girl, "a dream monster from a popular American song of the twenties" (3), who asks him for the story of his birth. After deferring an answer through some pages of dialogue, Lum finally counters her question:
    Born? No! Crashed! Not born. Stamped! Not born! Created! Not born . . . No more born than nylon or acrylic. For I am a Chinaman! A miracle synthetic! Drip dry and machine washable. For now, in one point of time and space, as never before and never after, in this one instant of eternity, was focused that terrific, that awesome power of the universe that marks a moment divine . . . (8)
    Afterwards, Dream Girl concludes, "And then you were born" (8), but Lum's own conclusion is further deferred in claiming a birth that is also death: "Born. Born to talk to Chinaman sons of Chinamen, children of the dead" (8). The history of Asian America has always been for Chin the history of a moment that is divine, yet ultimately indescribable, in which the name Chinaman becomes not only operative for Caucasian America, but effectively interpellates the Chinese (-American). And, for the American-born Chinese, any actually existing Chinese inheritance is, while omnipresent, paradoxically graspable only in the fleeting traces of literature, architecture, artifacts, or people in Chinatown--a location that is itself neither Chinese nor American.

  16. Twenty five years after Chickencoop, the railroad has not left Chin's arsenal of the tropes that he employs to recall, yet simultaneously disrupt the inheritance of historical experience. While the final chapter of Gunga Din Highway is titled "Home Terminal," it resists any fixed conception of home not only for the novel's most prominent narrator, Ulysses Kwan, but also for a broader formulation of Chinese America. Although the novel is relatively linear as it follows the lives of its four narrators from childhood to late middle age, its temporality collapses in the closing episode, when Ulysses drives the pregnant housekeeper of his childhood friend, Diego Chang, to San Francisco's Chinatown hospital for delivery. As he takes his friends across town, Ulysses also finds himself returning to his college days spent braking on the Southern Pacific railroad, thus caught in multiple spatialities and temporalities that converge on the almost-born child. The mythic Chinese built locomotive, Iron Moonhunter, descends from the foothills with Ulysses in the cab, feeling "the hundreds, the thousands of percussing children tumbling folk songs in the hollows of my bones . . . singing round the long curve past Port Costa" (402), while the car drives "along the streets where the trains used to run" (403). The outcome of this multi-spatial and multi-temporal journey is not a return to coherence or heroic inheritance, but is, rather, the opening to the possibility of rupturing the silence to which Asian Americans have been consigned: "The power brings me out of a bang, and I savor the shudder and growl scattering me across the country, and I fill more and more silence, and grow loud, and grow dense" (403).

  17. Such a movement, undoubtedly toward becoming, is not positioned as the becoming of a complete Asian American subjectivity. As he drives downtown, Ulysses ushers in a new generation of ruptured subjects, homeless in an atomized -- "scattered" -- ethnic American identity and history. Although evidence of the silences imposed upon Asians in America are locatable, both in the signal times of Chinese American history and in present Chinese American experience, there remains no formulaic translation for Chin here, no solution beyond Ulysses' process of filling that silence or Dirigible's demand to become "more than quiet." Similarly, as Chin writes in his introduction to The Big Aiiieeeee!, the reclamation of events even from the recent past, such as Michi Weglyn's Years of Infamy, her 1976 "tale of betrayal" of Japanese American incarceration by the United States during World War II, is a necessary starting point to rethinking the present, but not a fixed solution ("Come All Ye" 91). To claim that remembering the experiences of Asian Americans is of critical importance counters what Chin sees as a prevailing model of forgetting, or eliding historical realities in Asian American literature. However, even this call offers no permanent solution to the political, historical, and literary gaps there; rather, it marks the opening of possibilities for renewed and multivalent movement in Asian America.

  18. Reflecting the movement or the tensions marking the play of identity in the immediate and possible formulations of identity in Chin's critical and fictional work, Gayatri Spivak notes that "[a]ny act must assume unified terms to get started," and that typically, "the implicit mechanics by which these assumptions are established . . . are generally found to be suppressed, so that beginnings do not seem problematic" (Outside 131-32). Accordingly, the unified terms for Chin's polemic work and his call for a different conception of Asian American literature generally, are found in the reclamation of an all but forgotten history, whether it is in remembering the importance of Chinese immigrants who built the Western railroads, or remembering the complicity of a Nisei-controlled Japanese American Citizens League in Japanese American internment. While he certainly employs historical evidence as the grounding for a further cultural critique, Chin undercuts the supposed self-evidence of ethnic transport, inter-ethnic/cultural translation, and structures of generational inheritance specifically by posing such structures, those ostensibly unified terms, as test cases for his characters.

  19. History and inheritance also provide provisional test cases for Chin's own experiences as they are portrayed in his critical work, because they are the foundation not of permanence, but of play. Significantly, as he opens "This is Not an Autobiography," such provisionality is explained when he states that "Before [he] can make art of [his] yellow self, and play with [his] knowledge of Asian America, we have to come to some agreement about the facts of yellow history" (109). Thus, reflecting Spivak's terms, Chin conceives of history not as the telos of Asian American experience, but as the foundation for play and provocation. Furthermore, with the concluding image from Gunga Din Highway, or the episode of Dirigible's loss in "Railroad Standard Time," or even Tam Lum's inability to locate a legitimate genealogy against the self-evidential materiality of the railroad, Chin complements his critical assertions that not only the space of ethnicity, but its time as well, are invariably contested.

  20. From these features of Chin's fiction and criticism, significant terms of comparison arise that begin to elucidate some of the reasons behind the differences in institutional currency between Chin and other more popular Asian American writers. Additionally, these terms point toward important institutional connections between Asian American studies and other postcolonial/diasporic fields. Above, Kingston's "Cultural Misreadings" essay is designed to call upon her audience to read and recognize The Woman Warrior for what it is, namely, that the novel's readers must shed their cultural baggage -- their preconceived stereotypes of Chinese America -- that causes them to "praise the wrong things" (55). Instead, the audience should recognize the novel's transcendence of stereotypes in its presentation of the "timelessness and universality of individual vision" (65). Chin, on the other hand, makes no such claim upon his readers; he does not claim a fundamental recourse to universality or his own intention in justifying what, or how he has written. This difference between the two authors -- perhaps quite surprisingly, considering the gender politics at play -- links Chin closely with a deconstructive practice of marginal writing that has been suggested by Spivak's work on feminism and postcoloniality.

  21. When she problematizes a singular notion of feminist (or any) essentialism in Outside in the Teaching Machine, Spivak argues that a political, and by extension I think, a literary strategy is compelled by the immediate demands of its situation, namely, that a "strategy suits a situation; a strategy is not a theory" (4). As she continues, Spivak argues that the "bigger problem [is] that strategies are taught as if they were theories, good for all cases" (4); and the critical treatment of Chin has more often than not followed this course of wholesale application of categories (chauvinism, masculinism, nativism) which operate to foreclose debate or further treatment, in Spivak's theoretical terms. Revisiting the work that has defined the state of the field of Asian American studies, we may see how distinctions and differences among authors become established as a static grid determining acceptance into and rejection from that field. In her 1990 essay, tellingly titled "Such Opposite Creatures," Elaine Kim explains that the "heroic reconstruction" of American identity by Asian American women writers "is accomplished without or despite the men" (70). On the other hand, Chin and other Asian American male writers are found to accept their "oppressors' definitions of 'manhood'" and "seek the white male center for [themselves] at the expense of women" when they attempt a similar formation of heroic identity (78). In other words, the same feature, when found in works by writers of different genders, is accordingly either lauded for its political efficacy or derided for its complicity with "hegemony."

  22. If we take Chin's case as the index of a broader movement, once his work was marked (with rather suspect evidence in the first place) as the point of delineation between the proper and the improper in the field, his name became a permanent -- a "theoretical" -- designation, and the grounds for the disavowal of his literary production was established. Despite their resistance to Chin's critical work because of its rhetorical dependence on a notion of history which may be either authentically or inauthentically activated, Chin's critics have almost invariably rested on their own notions of essentiality: of "feminism" (Chu, Kim, Cheung, Esther Ghymn), of "self-determination" (Kim 70), and perhaps most tellingly in Kingston herself, of "life and health," or transcendence (Skenazy 202, 184). Significantly then, aesthetic, political, or gendered traits associable with particular authors become the underpinnings of an entire field in which those traits are expanded to mark a permanent distinction between good writing and bad writing; paradoxically, however, this is precisely the distinction that has been derided by those who would protect the integrity of the field around defenses of already established legitimate Asian American authors.[5]

  23. Such foreclosed conceits that become deployed as the security force that patrols between discursive propriety and impropriety in the field represent, in fact, some of the common features of any established literary or political practices of which Chin is always critical. Indeed, as Chin describes the strength of John Okada's No-No Boy, "It matters that [he] fuels his novelistic imagination with the intelligence of a real No-No Boy and draft resister, not the inspiration of a righteous perspective" (Big 91; emphasis added). As numerous critics have noted as well, the replacement of one notion of righteousness, hegemony, or discursive efficacy with another does not result in the transcendence of hegemony itself, but is merely its reinscription and the attempted transfer of property and propriety from one cultural, ethnic, gendered, or sexual site to another.

  24. The empty identity that is so often forwarded by Chin and the authors he admires, like Okada, seems to closely reflect a different possible state of marginal literary-cultural studies that would resist working in a hegemonic circuit, whether that hegemony is the property of a "dominant" or "marginal" group. In Writing Diaspora, Chow explains that, through the use of such clearly defined and permanent borders between hegemony and marginality to underpin the structure of a field, any new or otherwise different tactics of intervention are overlooked or dismissed. She writes that the "'question of borders' should not be a teleological one. It is not so much about the transient eventually giving way to the permanent as it is about an existential condition of which 'permanence' itself is an ongoing fabrication" (15). When depictions of authors are inscribed in whatever given field as the permanent indices of distinction, between insiders and outsiders, those complicit with and those effectively oppositional to "hegemony," the possible provisionality of the field itself is necessarily overlooked. Likewise, when examined on the local level of Chinese America itself, the binary relationship between competing hegemonies invoked by many of Asian American literature's central figures elides other potentially productive critical avenues. As Chin writes of institutionally legitimated Chinese American writing, a permanent state of the field emerges in which "the conflict between the heathen and Christian . . . the despicable pariah and acceptable pariah, the either/or dual personality and identity crisis feeds and flashes on the self-hatred of the mutually repugnant halves of the self in a kind of perpetual motion" ("Come All Ye" 25).

  25. As evinced by his earliest fiction, Chin's vision of the American cultural landscape already has at its starting point the intangibility of hegemony; if hegemony of any kind does exist, it is addressed only in its symptoms, or traces, rather than as a totality that could be opposed with some sort of replacement totality. In a recent essay, Chin returned once again to the image of the road when addressing a generally fragmented American identity, using the I-5 highway that traces the range of American diasporic cultures between the California-Mexico and Washington-Canada borders. Chin's focus throughout "Rashomon Road" is on the pedagogical role of his images of transience when he takes his son along on a book tour for his 1992 novel, Donald Duk:
    I wanted Sam to see that America was the road. America was a depot, a marketplace . . . American culture was not a fixed culture. American culture was a pidgin culture. American Standard English, the language of newspapers and TV news, was a pidgin English, an ever-changing marketplace-depot language. What we called American culture, like the language, was a pidgin marketplace culture. (295)
    Whether the American cultural landscape is figured through the highway or the railroad, those figures are employed to keep a running theme of transience in play, despite the historical detritus that Chin polemically refers to as the ground of authenticity. Through the double movement between tropes of authenticity and the coextensive disruption of any stable notion of Chinese American identity, Chin forms a restless and constantly provocative reading of the positionalities--past, present, and future--of ethnic Asians in the United States. Thus, what Chin finds in his meeting with Ben Fee, the prototypical Chinatown Cowboy, is an opportunity to form a different language, one unable to be permanently mobilized as authentic. Concluding his first interview with Fee, Chin states: "Thanks Ben. Ride with this Chinatown cowboy a bit while I run off to rustle strange words and maverick up a language to write this mess in" ("Chinatown" 71).

  26. Likewise, what Li recognizes as a critical feature in Chin's approach to writing is the constant rethinking of strategies for addressing common perceptions of Chinese American culture. The immediate concerns of Chinese America are fleeting, and the site specific interventions that Chin makes in his critical work demand an angry voice that will be heard through and disrupt the perceived acquiescent normality of persistent "model minority" stereotypes. Despite their accusations of Chin's dependence on a nostalgic conception of the "Chinese heroic tradition," it may be, in fact Chin's critics themselves who are often driven by their own nostalgia that would find an unalterable permanence in Chin's immediately situated writings, particularly his critical pieces that appeared between the early 1970s and mid 1980s. The sort of nostalgia that compels Chin's critics to represent the totality of his work through a limited number of pieces is clearly rejected by Chin himself through a complex cultural "absorption that at once provides historical anchorage and directs present reality" (Li 219). Because of its immediacy, the address to hegemony is not found in a permanently effective model or law of writing, but rather, as Chin writes, in a "form as formal or formless as you chose." Indeed, as he explains the polemic step in Chin's work, Li also refers to Chin's provocation of any naturalized notions of history or identity as an integral part of his targeting certain Asian American "writers of the fake." Li writes that the "dismantling of the regime of truth involves a historicization of its pretentious claims" (217), and it is crucial to note that Li locates Chin's work of dismantling not in particular truths but in a "regime of truth" that dictates not only "hegemony" but also its opposition.

  27. In his essay, "When was the 'Post-Colonial'?" Stuart Hall, like Chow, addresses the encroachment of a critical language for postcolonial theory that is dependent upon proprietary standards for its efficacy. Citing sometime critics of postcolonial theory Ella Shohat, Anne McClintock, and Arif Dirlik, Hall notes a rising "assault on post-structuralism" in the latter, or "a nostalgia for the clear-cut politics of binary oppositions . . . between 'goodies and baddies'" in the former (243-44). Although there are certainly significant distinctions between the approaches and the goals of the critics cited by Hall, their resistance to a broadly-defined notion of post-structuralism leaves many of the institutional assumptions that ground the field itself unaddressed. Especially important to our present discussion is Hall's conclusion, that questions critical to the construction of postcolonial studies have been prematurely foreclosed because of the proliferation of simplifying discourses; a resistance to problematizing narratives of economy and history, for instance, has "enabled much weaker and less conceptually rich paradigms to continue to flourish and dominate the field" (258). I think that after the above examination of the treatment of Chin in the field of Asian American literary studies the connection is quite apparent, for when earlier dismissals of Chin's work are replicated by a system that accepts those dismissals as a totalized and stable description of his impropriety to the field, a particular critical history, rather than Chin's constantly developing work, becomes the grounds for all future disavowal. Certainly, many critics of Chin have often depended on a similar recourse to a nostalgic notion of "feminist" writing as a totality to be posed against Chin, whose work represents a parallel totality of "masculinist" writing that simply objectifies or marginalizes all Asian American women, and does nothing other than further push aside the already doubly-oppressed Asian American woman writer.

  28. However, in the Asian American experience presented by Chin, a post-structuralist postcolonialism described by Hall, as well as Chow and Spivak, may contribute in a compelling way to a rethinking of the field itself. In this critical work, the boundaries between supposedly immobile identificatory categories such as colonizer and colonized become difficult, if not impossible questions to flesh out except as institutional ones. Historically, despite the defenses built by colonizers against cross-cultural or cross-linguistic contamination by their colonized populations, "master" cultures cannot remain wholly distinct from incursion from their "subject" cultures. This is particularly true, however, in the relationship between the already historically "postcolonial" space of the United States and its continual influx of immigrant cultures. Furthermore, this relationship itself is not stable, and would be better seen as an "episteme-in-formation" that continually poses questions of power relationships between multiple cultures that are only themselves transiently locatable, and never subject to foreclosure as solely chronological, epistemological, gender, or ethnic problems (Hall 255).

  29. It is precisely because ethnicity is always-already transient that R. Radhakrishnan argues for a "radical ethnicity" that is informed by post-structuralist discourse. Despite their difference in lexicon, Radhakrishnan's call for a differential approach to ethnic identity reflects Spivak's own cautions against the foreclosure of ethnicity, gender, or colonial relationships; for, as he continues in "Ethnic Identity and Post-Structuralist Difference," Radhakrishnan states:
    The theory we are looking for . . . must divest itself from economies of mastery and yet empower the "ethnic" contingently and historically; it must generate critical statements even as ethnicity is affirmed, endorsed, and legitimated; and it must be able to conceptualize the "post-ethnic" as a radical and necessary extension of the "ethnic." (53)
    Similarly, in the face of his critics who would position him as the proponent of an identificatory totality lodged in Asian American masculinity or history, Chin provokes Chinese American identity, at once arguing for the necessity of knowing the difference between competing histories of the real and the fake ("Come All Ye" ), yet also for the disruptive power of an unfixed "stealth personality" that Chin uses to respond to a test "where the only choice is between one blank that looks like the other" (Bulletproof 6-7).

  30. Despite such double claims, the recourse to Chinese or Chinese-American history has been commonly portrayed by Chin's detractors as his permanent point of foreclosure. However, when we examine its use in his critical work, we find that historical literacy is invariably posed as a site-specific intervention. Most often, Chin's analysis in his essays, "Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and of the Fake" (1990) and "This is Not an Autobiography" (1985), of the impact of Kingston's "feminist revision" of the mytho-historical Fa Mulan story is called to task for rejecting her ability to engage in feminist mythmaking.[6] On the contrary though, Chin's objection is to Kingston's recourse to "Chinese folktales," through the revision of which racist sensibilities are justified and replicated as authentic historical record by other writers, Asian American and Caucasian American alike. Certainly, when Chin concludes that such writers "are, thus, reflexive creatures of the stereotype" ("Come All Ye" 9), he is working on a polemic level, but it is important to recognize that, despite his tone, his focus is invariably on specific issues in specific works and does not at any time wholly reject any Asian American writer.[7]

  31. We arrive then at the evidence that may provide a more provocative explanation for Chin's virtual dismissal by the critics of Asian American literature than those overt grounds that have typically been deployed. Given the gradual development and ensuing institutional legitimation of Asian American literary studies, the relegation of Chin to the alterior danger zone of the legitimate field safeguards the propriety and essential readability of that Asian American writing which is fit to read. The staging of an oppositional relationship -- Chin-Kingston in this case -- is a necessary feature of such bordering, for it creates the semblance of being able to choose between two distinct sides of an already-foreclosed debate. As Mary Louise Pratt notes when she addresses conservative critiques of "educational democracy" since 1980, normalized organizing principles result in the "creation of a narrowly specific cultural capital that will be the normative referent for everyone, but will remain the property of a small and powerful caste" (9). It follows that the institutional legitimacy gained by a field's willingness to contain itself through the formation of an alternative canon, complete with its insiders and outsiders, leaves, John Guillory argues, "the grossly inequitable social structure more or less unchallenged" (47). The field of Asian American literary studies has typically effected just such a structure, in which we argue the reasons why we canonize and accept the legitimacy of a constant set of writers (or why we reject a constant set of illegitimate writers, which amounts to the same thing), rather than attempt the disruption of the underlying forces of canonization or institutionality themselves.[8]

  32. What is particularly interesting about the ways in which that battle has been played out in the field, is the gradual positing of one appropriate literary model of social history that would trump the supposedly inappropriate model described by Chin. This is why reading the complexity of Chin's politics is crucial to understanding the reasons behind Kingston's appearance as a hypercanonized representative for a field that finds itself fundamentally dependent upon its own nostalgic notion of order for institutional legitimacy. This political positioning is quite clear in a 1991 essay by Kingston, "Violence and Non-Violence in China, 1989," that recounts a trip to mainland China in the midst of the Tian-an-men Square demonstrations. When she describes the resonances of the demonstrations with the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and the anti-war protests of the 1960s, Kingston mobilizes tropes of a universal political efficacy that is necessarily resistant to complexity (65-66). Her comments suggest that a stable and definitive grid for political movements exists in American experience of the 1950s and 1960s and, furthermore, that such a grid is accessible and translatable to contemporary mainland Chinese experience. Like an alibi for the field at large, Kingston's China journey evinces a depend ence on stability, rather than the necessarily shifting and complex political approach taken by Chin as he moves between always provisional, polemic yet indeterminate, historical and futural priorities throughout his work.

  33. The 1960s do, however, also operate throughout Chin's post-1960s writing as an era that offered the opportunity for important liberatory work by minority groups. While his admiration of Black identity movements, especially the Oakland-based Black Panthers, is clear, Chin is careful in marking critical distinctions between African American and Asian American historical experiences that negate the possibility of a single grid for political action. When Ulysses Kwan and Diego Chang of Gunga Din Highway attempt to replicate the Panthers' moves through a "Chinese-Americanization" of their literature, community action, and style, their experience is portrayed as a parody of authenticity that some Asian Americans nonetheless buy into. Unabashedly ironic, Ulysses calls himself the "Power-to-the-People Minister of Education of the Chinatown Vanguard of the Third World Revolution -- the Chinatown Black Tigers" (218); and, when he later considers the danger of his niece, Irma, taking the Tigers too seriously, Ulysses asks:
    How can I tell her the Chinatown Black Tigers and the Third World Revolution are all a shuck, a scam to cop War on Poverty chump change, a way to make a name doing the Chinatown Black Tiger Show, calling white people names in the name of the people?
    . . . Diego and me are all for fun, the Chinatown Black Tigers are a yellow minstrel show, I want to tell Irma. But I don't know how to tell her how to play the game without believing in the Third World Revolution. But there is no Third World Revolution. No Third World Revolution is going to scour the earth clean of all her enemies, whoever they are. (218-19)
    In this way, Chin's fictional characters examine notions like ethnic authenticity and political efficacy as games that, while they must be played, are nonetheless best approached by disrupting their supposed efficacy. More importantly, however, when Chin writes of the 1960s in the 1990s, he uses his characters to interrogate the supposed stability of political concepts, especially the notion of essential identity (whether masculine or feminine, white, black or yellow) that was for so many movements of the time the very foundation of efficacy.

  34. Whether the Chinatown Black Tigers represent Chin's own experiences in the Third World student movements of the 1960s and 1970s in the San Francisco Bay Area, or simply a significant moment in recent Chinese American history, this section of Gunga Din Highway offers a different account for Chin's polemic treatment of history than that suggested by the portrayal of his political goals as nativist, nationalist, or otherwise complicit with some sort of hegemony. Ulysses continues to speculate on reasons to dissuade Irma from believing in the efficacy or reality of the Third World Revolution, realizing that
    The Chinatown Black Tigers are bullshit. So Diego, my friend, the founder and Commandant of the Chinatown Black Tigers, tells her I am bullshit for me. That everything I say on TV news is bullshit. That giving up flamenco guitar for the people is bullshit. That the pledge to hunt down the last living white men to play Charlie Chan and try them before a People's Court is bullshit . . . The Black Tigers manning a fire perimeter around Chinatown at all times is both comic relief and bullshit. (219)
    If there is a point in Chin's fiction that best describes a different possible approach to take on the totality of his work, it may well be the image evoked above: the enforcement of a perimeter around Chinatown and its subsequent dismissal as both "comic" and "bullshit." One must, it seems, work on both sides of the battle over authenticity: at once posing it in the public spaces of the street, the university, mass media, yet also recognizing that those publicly posed stances are far from presenting a complete conception of the redress of whatever injustices they have faced and continue to face.

  35. That Chin should present and play on this parallel image of Chinese American participation in the Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s in his mid-1990s work, is both theoretically and institutionally significant, especially given his own multicultural commitments throughout those decades. Both Black studies and Asian American studies began to gain some sense of institutional currency at about the same time (Black studies in the late 1960s, Asian American studies in the early 1970s), and both have, since that time, faced similar problems that arise form their growing legitimacy. As William M. Banks and Stefanie Kelly expand their argument from the historical development of Black studies to the current academic scene in general, they note that the humanities,
    perhaps more than any other public institution historically have resisted change. . . Nonetheless, this nation's institutions of higher education have mastered the tactic of coopting movements and swallowing up would-be social activists -- students and faculty alike -- and quickly distracting them from their dissatisfaction with the structure of society. (387)
    The delimiting of the scholars and the scholarship deserving dissemination into the academic world is a necessary feature of the cooptive forces deployed from both within and without those institutions. Most importantly -- and this returns us to the questions at hand regarding Chin's work -- Banks and Kelly continue, suggesting that the favored scene of marginal area studies (not in Black studies alone), is one in which the "particularists" are dismissed in favor of those who "blur or minimize distinctive aspects of African American history in favor of frameworks like 'the other' or 'people of color' [and] find receptive audiences, but have the undesirable effect of impeding very important dialogues . . ." (388). Likewise, as we see in the comparison between the treatment of Chin and the writing that is awarded institutional legitimacy, his constant dependence upon marking those particular differences and needs of Asian Americans (particularly Chinese Americans), may provide a more accurate, but always deferred ground of his veritable rejection.

  36. The distinction between the sanctified insider and the sanctified outsider to the field of Asian American literary studies becomes clearer, but the relationship between the two sides is far more complex than the strictly oppositional one that Elaine Kim and others suggest in their work. Abdul R. JanMohamed and David Lloyd offer a number of ways in which, again, deconstructive postcolonial studies may disrupt the mode of sanctification that has rested on the tropes that were normalized through Kingston's first novel, then perpetuated in the process of institutionalization. Primarily, JanMohamed and Lloyd propose a pedagogical disruption in "the refusal of the assumption of the timeless universality of cultural products and of the concomitant tendency to read cultural texts exclusively for their representation of 'aesthetic' and 'essential' human values" (10). Thus the "pathos of alienation which afflicts the traditional humanist" is destabilized through a pedagogical double movement that we may see quite clearly now in Chin (JanMohamed 12). That movement is, namely, one that acknowledges the necessity of revisiting histories of alienation, oppression, or even the efficacy of essential identity, yet coextensively works to make the necessary further move of traversing those histories in their supposed homogeneity.

  37. The disruption posed by Chin presents a necessary move in responding to a historical institutionalization for Kingston in Asian American literary scholarship. As Rachel Lee notes, in fact, the ability of Kingston's first novel to serve an institutionally stabilizing function, as it "appears non-threatening to Women's Studies departments, which can easily embrace it as a young progeny, and luckily . . . might deflect accusations of white feminist dominance," results in a situation in which we value the permanence of specific identificatory claims, that "we value texts based upon the degree to which they remain marginal" (157). Because of this historical alignment, then, Kingston's present position has become rather unimpeachable, for any criticism of her work will, by extension, be a criticism of the institutional legitimacy of the field itself.[9] The accusations faced by Chin for his "masculinism" accordingly take the tone of prosteletizing -- a state of the field not unlike that of postcolonialism, in which Hall notes, the shots across the bow of poststructuralist or deconstructive approaches to postcolonial questions are often lobbed by those who would prefer keeping the parameters of temporality, ethnicity, and even nationality intact and sanctified. Indeed, as Jinqi Ling writes of this critical battle over the proprietorship of such parameters as they have been erected around gender in Asian American literature: it "has been viewed mainly as a women's issue, as if men can make full sense of their experience outside the social matrix of gender and, conversely, as if women's articulation naturally constitutes their subjectivity irrespective of other historical considerations" (313).

  38. As Chin demonstrates in the double priority of his writing, an authentic edge of Chinese American history remains invaluable to the analysis of still-functional stereotypes, and a Chinese mytho-heroic tradition becomes a critical component in that history. The critical will to recognize Chin's tactics as important starting points for an examination and traversal of Chinese American experience may be more important now than ever, precisely because of the theoretical moves that have been made in recent decades regarding not only history, but ethnicity, gender, and sexuality as well. As Hall warns, "it is only too tempting to fall into the trap of assuming that, because essentialism has been deconstructed theoretically, therefore it has been displaced politically" (249). Because this assumption is in fact being made in the name of some nostalgic humanist universality, Chin encourages the revisiting of those actually existing artifacts of Asian and Asian American history, particularly in the Chinatowns of the world, from San Francisco to New York to Singapore. Yet Chin's examination of his multicultural inheritance is never foreclosed by a nativism informed by a claim to total access either of China or America, masculinism or feminism. On the contrary, while he is constantly focused on the immediate, he simultaneously allows for the necessity of contingency, that always incomplete project of tracing inheritance, culture, literature, and ethnic identity itself.

  39. While I have attempted to claim some ground for the scholarly revisiting of Chin's work, I also trust that the implications of this essay are critical to the field of Asian American literature generally. This claim for the possibility of recognizing Chin's double priority will reopen those recognized terms of propriety and the texts that represent the terms of authenticity, gender propriety, as well as the formal constraints that underlie much of the field's structuration. As it has for Chin's position in the field, the circulation of name becomes the point of foreclosure, as whatever names become permanently situated, singularized in those structures and undercut the very possibility of reading any work, not Chin's alone. More importantly, the rejection of Chin's work from that proper field necessarily affects that deemed proper as well, as it serves to establish the limit of propriety, the limit of those legitimate Asian American literary or critical identificatory positions. What we call for instead of defensive and protective posturing that has constantly guarded the stable positions represented by Chin and Kingston is for the short circuiting of the perceived necessity of protection of any terms by the stable recourse to the deployment of sanctified names. As a deconstructive postcolonial approach has already been reading, an examination of the danger zone of the field may, rather than effecting a reversal of the binarisms that have formed its boundaries, disrupt the very standards that underlie institutional efficacy, particularly the practice of alternative canon formation. And, whether we remain unconvinced by Chin's politics or unimpressed by his aesthetic practices, this process of short-circuiting will nonetheless open a space to revisit the field of Asian American literature beyond the boundaries that have determined its present structure.


    I must acknowledge the care with which Richard Dienst has read earlier versions of my present work on Chin and the field of Asian American studies. His analysis has been instrumental to my reconsidering central issues in this paper. Aparajita Sagar and Numsiri Kunakemakorn also offered valuable comments on its earlier drafts. I thank Nancy Peterson, whose comments inadvertently provided me with the title of this paper, and finally, respondents at the 1998 Twentieth Century Literature Conference at the University of Louisville and the 1999 MELUS conference at Vanderbilt University, especially Balance Chow and Timothy Fox.

  1. Chow finds, in fact, "the cryptic Chinese term weiji, which is made up of the characters for "danger" and "opportunity," to be an emblematic description of the irrevocably complex identificatory position of the ethnic Chinese diaspora in Hong Kong. Back

  2. As Chow notes earlier when she describes the need for a non-teleological approach to the borders that define marginality: "Central to the question of borders is the question of propriety and property. Conceivably, one possible practice of borders is to prepare for the new proprietorship by destroying, replacing, and expanding existing ones. For this notion of borders -- as margins waiting to be incorporated as new properties -- to work, the accompanying spatial notion of the field is essential. The notion of a 'field' is analogous to the notion of 'hegemony,' in the sense that its formation involves the rise to dominance of a group that is able to diffuse its culture to all levels of society" (15). It is certainly possible, following this marginality-hegemony circuit, that Kingston's now super-institutional status has been largely due to a foundational notion of a stable marginality (as Rachel Lee suggests below) from which an "other" culture or identity may be singularly deployed. Back

  3. An early public instance of Chin's being taken to task for his analysis of the field of Asian American literature may be found in Myron Simon's response to presentations by Chin and Ishmael Reed at a 1976 MELUS meeting, "Two Angry Ethnic Writers." Back

  4. See, for instance, Homi Bhabha's introduction to his seminal collection, The Location of Culture. He claims form the outset that not only postcolonialism, but the location of the "question of culture" at large lies in the "shiftiness" of the beyond (1). Lodged in a critically mobilized complex of "post" discourses, culture is beyond utter identification in the sense that it "is neither a new horizon, nor a leaving behind of the past" (1). We find ourselves instead, Bhabha writes, "in the moment of transit where space and time cross to produce complex figures of difference and identity, past and present, inside and outside, inclusion and exclusion. For there is a sense of disorientation, a disturbance of direction, in the 'beyond'" (1; emphasis added). Back

  5. Jessica Hagedorn's anthology, Charlie Chan is Dead (1993), is one of the few attempts to present, without foreclosing around gender, period, or ethnic heritage, as complete a collection of Asian American literature as possible. Significantly, in her introduction Hagedorn recalls the formative experiences of reading 19 Necromancers From Now and the two Aiiieeeee! collections, and furthermore cites them as models for her own organizing strategies (xxv-xxviii). See also Shawn Wong's Asian American Literature (1996), part of the Longman Literary Mosaic Series, for which Ishmael Reed is the general editor. Back

  6. Despite the scare quotes around feminism here, it must be said that this additional extension or translation between the womanism of the 1970s and Kingston's "feminist vision" in The Woman Warrior has been made consistently in Kingston scholarship through the years. It appears, however, as though the feminism implied or described by Kingston attains a level of permanence for the field, in which feminism is an impermeable totality, and is, most significantly, unaffected by the recent moves in deconstructive, or otherwise "post-sovereign," feminist theory. Back

  7. Chin is not the only critic of Kingston who has noted episodes in The Woman Warrior that imply cross-cultural or cross-linguistic translation yet have no historical or linguistic relationship with China. See not only Toming Jun Liu's examination of the touchstone term in her novel, the "talk-story," but also the introductory "No Name Woman" episode. He argues that Kingston's combination of narratives and dominant motifs (including word use) often encourage rather than problematize the perpetuation of a "perverted Western fantasy" about China. Back

  8. For a discussion of this movement, see Derrida's Positions. Although he refers to individual texts here, his statement that the "motif of homogeneity, the theological motif par excellence, is decidedly the one to be destroyed" (64), is compellingly relevant to this discussion of a field whose boundaries are drawn with the notions of homogenous gender, ethnic aesthetic practice, or historical model, each of which is posed as transgressive or oppositional, yet is simultaneously not subject to transgression itself. Back

  9. Most significantly, he does not, for instance, criticize Kingston's China Men or Tripmaster Monkey despite, at least in the latter novel, a narrator's feminist vision that is, I would argue, far more provocative than in her first novel. On the other hand, Chin's criticism of The Woman Warrior has at times been applied as though it is aimed at the totality of her work, often laying the grounds for a quite disingenuous rejection of Chin. See, for instance, Patricia Chu's "Tripmaster Monkey, Frank Chin, and the Chinese Heroic Tradition." In her essay Chu describes The Woman Warrior as a "provocative feminist revision" of the traditional one (121); she claims that Kingston's work evinces a "feminist vision" (125); perhaps we arrive at the clearest definition of feminism for Chu, at least, when she notes a "distinctively feminist, maternal voice that evaluates and manages Wittman," the protagonist of Tripmaster Monkey (132). Back

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---. "Such Opposite Creatures: Men and Women in Asian American Literature. Michigan Quarterly 29 (1990): 68-93.

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