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"Peripheral" Chinese Americans and the cultural politics of Chinese diaspora, transnationalism, and return

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"Peripheral" Chinese Americans and the cultural politics of Chinese diaspora, transnationalism, and return
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Chan, Keng Wah Kenneth
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English
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vi, 168 leaves : ; 29 cm.

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Subjects / Keywords:
Asian Americans ( jstor )
Asians ( jstor )
Capitalism ( jstor )
Chinese culture ( jstor )
Cultural identity ( jstor )
Diasporas ( jstor )
Hybridity ( jstor )
National politics ( jstor )
Southeast Asian culture ( jstor )
Violence ( jstor )
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF ( lcsh )
English thesis, Ph. D ( lcsh )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Thesis:
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1999.
Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 156-167).
Additional Physical Form:
Also available online.
General Note:
Printout.
General Note:
Vita.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Keng Wah Kenneth Chan.

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"PERIPHERAL" CHINESE AMERICANS
AND THE CULTURAL POLITICS OF
CHINESE DIASPORA, TRANSNATIONALISM, AND RETURN














By

KENG WAH KENNETH CHAN













A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 1999














ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to thank my dissertation committee for their suggestions, constructive criticism, and, most of all, encouragement through the entire writing process; my parents for their emotional and financial support; and, of course, my wife Mary for her love, understanding, and endurance throughout my academic career.


































ii















TABLE OF CONTENTS

page

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS .............. .......................... .............. ii

A B STR A C T ..................................................... ............... v

CHAPTERS

1 FROM PERIPHERY TO PERIPHERY: "PERIPHERAL" CHINESE
AMERICANS AND THE MYTHOGRAPHY OF CHINESE RETURN ...... 1

Hong Kong 97: Return in the Chinese Diasporic Imaginary .................... 10
Problematizing Return: Cultural Traditionalism and U.S. Orientalism ............ 20
Coda: Reading "Return" in Chinese America .................................. 25
Notes ............................................................... ............ 33

2 CHINESE COSMOPOLITANISM CRITIQUED: CRITICAL ALTERNATIVES
IN THE WORK OF LI-YOUNG LEE ............................. 41

Indonesia in Crisis: Race, Class, and Chinese Transnational Capital .............. 41
Contemporary Chinese Cosmopolitanism: Hegemonic Alliances ............... 45
Winged Deterritorialization and Cultural Cannibalism: The Cosmopolitical
Visions of Li-Young Lee .................. .. ...... ........................ 50
Notes ................. ................................... 65

3 CRISES IN THE HOMELAND(S): HONG KONG AMERICANS AND THE
ART OF CULTURAL NEGOTIATION ............... ............. 71

Taking Sides? .................. ........ ............ ...... ...... .....71
Ambiguities of Hope: Marilyn Chin on the Crisis in Tiananmen .................. 78
Visualizing Hong Kong: Wayne Wang on the Crisis of the 1997 Handover ...... 88 Notes ............................................................. .... ....... 100

4 THE POLITICS OF POSTCOLONIAL HYBRIDITY: THE MEMOIR OF
SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN LIM ......... ........................... 105

"The Native Daughter Made Good" ...................... ........................ 105
Critiques of Postcolonial Hybridity .............. .................. .......... .. 108


iii









A "Fugitive Presence" Determined .................................. .............. 112
N otes ......................................................................... ............ 129

5 POLITICAL INERTIA AND THE SINGAPOREAN IN DIASPORA:
REFLECTIONS ON THE MICHAEL FAY DEBACLE AND FIONA
CHEONG'S POETICS OF INNOCENCE ......................................... 133

Reading the Singaporean in Diaspora ............................................. 133
The Michael Fay Case: Nationalism, Crisis, and Human Rights ................... 137
Trust/Oppression: Fiona Cheong's Poetics of Innocence ............................ 142
N otes ....................................................................................... 152

BIBLIOGRAPHY ................. ............................................. 156

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................ .............. .......... 168






































iv














Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy "PERIPHERAL" CHINESE AMERICANS AND THE CULTURAL POLITICS OF CHINESE DIASPORA, TRANSNATIONALISM, AND RETURN By

Keng Wah Kenneth Chan

December 1999

Chairman: R. Brandon Kershner
Major Department: English Department

The ethnic category of "peripheral" Chinese Americans encompasses ethnic

Chinese who do not come from mainland China but come from other parts of Asia and Southeast Asia such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. In the struggle with their hybrid and diasporic identities and their double marginality, these "peripheral" Chinese Americans have to confront not just U.S. Orientalism but also Chinese nativism's claim to cultural traditionalism in the name of racial authenticity. The latter is achieved through the historical and ideological workings and transformations of Chinese return, and its influence on the formation of a Chinese transnational imaginary. The impact of return on this imaginary emerges in the 1997 Hong Kong handover, which one can theorize as a mass-mediated, globalized space where the ideology of return is disseminated to an imaginary community of diasporic Chinese. The handover and its terrifying Other, Tiananmen Square, form critical and contradictory aspects of the


v








diasporic consciousness of Hong Kong Americans, forcing them to engage in cultural negotiations, as Marilyn Chin's poetry in The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty and Wayne Wang's Chinese Box illustrate. One finds another configuration of return in a Chinese cosmopolitanism that forges a link between transnational capital and neoConfucian humanism. Going beyond a critique of this alliance, the work of Li-Young Lee presents the beginnings of a critical alternative to this cosmopolitanism. The multiply-inscribed identities of "peripheral" Chinese Americans also suggest the theoretical importance of hybridity and the challenge it presents to Chinese return and the contradictions of cultural identity formation. Although Shirley Geok-lin Lim's academic memoir Among the White Moonfaces effectively uses cultural hybridity to unhinge the hegemony of Western imperialism and "Third World" cultural chauvinism, it fails to address the questions of class privilege and institutional elitism. And finally, as a Singaporean-Chinese in the United States, I write myself into this project through an analysis of my response to the Michael Fay incident and an examination of Fiona Cheong's poetics of innocence in The Scent of the Gods, in order to foreground the Singaporean American's struggle to overcome the politics of inertia.


















vi














CHAPTER 1
FROM PERIPHERY TO PERIPHERY:
"PERIPHERAL" CHINESE AMERICANS AND THE MYTHOGRAPHY OF CHINESE RETURN


The discursive terrain of Asian American studies in the 1990s has undergone significant changes since the inception of the Asian American Movement in the late 1960s and the formation of the first Asian American studies program at the University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco State University.' In re-assessing the field of Asian American literary studies, King-kok Cheung notes that while "identity politics with its stress on cultural nationalism and American nativity governed earlier theoretical and critical formulations, the stress is not on heterogeneity and diaspora. The shift has been from seeking to 'claim America' to forging a connection between Asia and Asian America."2 In a specific way, Cheung's observation exemplifies James Clifford's argument that "diasporic language appears to be replacing, or at least supplementing, minority discourse."3

It comes as no surprise that this foregrounding of heterogeneity and diaspora

within Asian American social and critical discourse arises in tandem with the economic ascendancy of Asian countries within the Pacific Rim, particularly in the 1980s and early 1990s, and with the post-World War II neo-colonial entanglements of the United States within the region in the form of anti-Communist military adventurism and transnational capitalist hegemony. The U.S. Cold War era policy of Communist containment is



1






2

inextricably bound to the promotion of capitalist ideology through, for instance, the political support of certain authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes in Asia, so as to promote political "stability" in the region and, consequently, to ensure a supply of markets and cheap labor for U.S. transnational corporations as part of their flexible accumulation strategy.4 This political and economic network created ultimately facilitates the diasporic flows of immigrants, exiles, refugees, students, professionals, and intellectuals into the U.S.,5 especially from the "Third World" and, in particular, Asia.

This Asian influx was due in part to the Immigration Act of 1965, which marked a significant and important shift in a U.S. immigration policy that had been plagued by a racist history of anti-Asian legislation dating back to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.6 The 1965 law fundamentally reversed the earlier policy of exclusion by dismantling "the national-origins quotas and the Asia-Pacific Triangle concept," both set up by Congress to limit Asian immigration, and by encouraging reunification of family members separated by the exclusion acts.7 This political "change of heart" might in part be attributed to the fact that the U.S. government's position had become increasingly contradictory in its attempt to maintain a racist policy at home while functioning as the unofficial global police in criticizing human rights violations and abuses abroad. For instance, after World War Two, the international community's "acceptance of the U.S. as wartime leader of the free world added pressure to abolish all racially discriminating policies and to adopt immigration policies congruous with democracy's fight against fascism." Another reason for the 1965 shift in policy was to promote the interests of U.S. transnational capital in the Asia-Pacific region, for the U.S. government "could no longer afford to maintain a blatantly racist immigration policy with respect to the






3

region"9 when its goal was to create a political and social climate in the Pacific Rim countries congenial to U.S. business interests.

By briefly drawing out the relationships between transnational capitalism, the

trans-Pacific Asian migration, and the U.S. Immigration Act of 1965, I seek to highlight their significance to the current emphasis in Asian American studies on the problematics of heterogeneity and diaspora, especially by cultural and literary critics in the field. In opening the immigration floodgates, the U.S. government did not anticipate the inpouring of Asian immigrants, not only from China and Japan (as families are being reunited after years of separation due to the exclusion acts) but also from India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other Southeast Asian countries.'0 Although the presence of these new Asian migrants has infused "new blood" into the Asian American communities, they also further contribute to the heterogeneity, hybridity, and multiplicity" of Asian America in ways that extend beyond the categories of ethnicity and national origin. By conceptualizing the Asian American experience through the notions of heterogeneity, hybridity, and multiplicity, cultural theorists can disrupt, as Lisa Lowe argues, "the dominant, 'orientalist' construction of Asian Americans" (67) and can disengage the nativism-versus-assimilation binary logic (75). Asian American cultural identity, therefore, should be theorized not "as a fixed, established 'given,"' but rather being in a continual process of flux and transformation (64). I also find Lowe's deployment of the term "multiplicity" particularly useful in that it prevents the slide of "heterogeneity" and "hybridity" into an uncritiqued celebration of differences, as is evident in the current predicament of the multiculturalist project. By defining "multiplicity" as "the ways in which subjects located with social relations are determined






4

by several axes of power, [and] are multiply determined by the contradictions of capitalism, patriarchy, and race relations" (67), Lowe foregrounds the questions of class, gender, and uneven power differentials that confront the Asian American community, especially with the arrival of the post-1965 immigrants. The Immigration Act of 1965 has created what John Liu and Lucie Cheng calls a "duality of Asian immigration" into the U.S., where the migrants that arrive are no longer made up of the semi-skilled or unskilled but also include the professional and managerial class.12 Hence, to flatten the distinct class differences in order to initiate this latter group into the majority/minority paradigm of U.S. race relations is to ignore the possible intra-ethnic tensions created by class, which will ultimately affect Asian American solidarity13 and cultural identity.

The growing presence of a diasporic consciousness in post-1965 Asian American cultural productions also stems in part from the need of Asian Americans to articulate this heterogeneity, multiplicity, and hybridity in their social and cultural identity formation. To highlight one's diasporic-ness is to engage questions of cultural translation, deterritorialization, displacement, all of which contribute to an understanding of Homi Bhabha's notions of hybrid "in-betweeness."'14 Diaspora also means disrupting the notion of immigrants as Lockean tabulae rasae upon which "American" culture can be easily inscribed for assimilation purposes. Instead of resorting to an essentialist response, as the editors of Aiiieeeee! have in the 1970s,'5 a diasporic consciousness ultimately hopes to reinscribe the historical, political, and cultural connections of the Asia-Pacific, Asian America, and the United States; and to problematize the hermetic views of U.S. history by situating it "within the context of a broader regional perspective ... [in order] to question the ways in which it has been conceived and written."'6 Though "Sau-ling






5

Wong cautions against an uncritical adoption of a diasporic perspective because it vacates the position on the domestic American scene that Asian Americans hold to create their own panethnic solidarity and identity with people of color,"" my sense is that the goals of panethnic solidarity and those of diasporic studies of Asian Americans need not be antithetical or mutually exclusive; in fact, diaspora provides moments of self-critique within the field by challenging theorists to rethink constantly the category of Asian American and not prematurely settle for a cementing of the term in reaction to the dominant discourse of racial taxonomy.

The above deliberation on heterogeneity and diaspora is my circuitous way of

mapping out the historical and theoretical contours of Asian American discourse in order to situate the topic of this project: "peripheral" Chinese Americans'" and the problematics as evident in their cultural productions. The issues that I have raised above will be of relevance when I focus on the specificity of peripheral Chinese Americans.

The category of peripheral Chinese Americans is clearly an artificial ethnic subgroup, which I am designating as a site for cultural analysis and intervention. Peripheral Chinese Americans (PCAs), for the purposes of this project, refer to Americans of Chinese descent who are not from mainland China but come from countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other Asian and Southeast Asian countries, representing part of the Chinese diaspora or, what some sinologists and historians of Chinese history have recently termed, "Greater China," a concept I will deal with later in this chapter. It is significant at this point to note that there is a merging of the diasporic histories of PCAs and the early Chinese migrants to the U.S. Both groups can trace their ancestries to the






6

originating point of the Chinese diasporic movement: the earliest Chinese Americans arrived in the U.S. directly from China, whereas the ancestors of the PCAs settled in other parts of Asia before their descendants migrated to the U.S.

Early in the fifteenth century when Chinese junks plied the Southeast Asian trade routes, many Chinese began settling in places like Malacca and some intermarried with the locals. The greatest wave of migration from China to various parts of Asia occurred between 1848 and 1888 during the Ch'ing dynasty, leading to the arrival of even more Chinese in Southeast Asia, the West Indies, and Australia,'9 and, hence adding to the growing Chinese population in these regions. The post-1965 migration of the Chinese from Southeast Asia, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to the U.S. would eventually help constitute the category of PCAs.

The diasporic history of the Chinese Americans also runs parallel to that of the PCAs. Between 1848 and 1888, migrants coming directly from China arrived in Hawaii and in the continental United States through California, many of whom were lured by the Gold Rush of 1849, and later by the coolie trade and indentured labor system to supply the needed manpower20 for the building of the transcontinental railroads. These migrants would form the ancestral lineage of the pre-1965 Chinese Americans. The influx of Chinese migrants into the U.S. abated in 1882 with the Chinese Exclusion Act, and it was not till 1965 that the Chinese diasporic flows resumed with fewer restrictions.

Meanwhile, between 1882 and 1965, much transpired for the multiple generations of Chinese diasporics who had settled in their host countries in Asia and Southeast Asia (the ancestors of the future PCAs). New cultural, political, and national identities were forged. Many are also considered cultural hybrids, such as the Peranakans (products of






7

Malay-Chinese intermarriages) in Malacca, Penang, and Singapore, who are also known as Straits Chinese,21 many of whom do not speak the Chinese language but still identify themselves as Chinese ethnically. The turbulent history of twentieth-century China also witnessed the birth of Taiwan and colonial Hong Kong. The cultural identity of the Chinese population in these two countries has also been transformed, particularly by their political distance from mainland China. Migrants from all of these different Asian countries form a significant part of the post-1965 Chinese influx into the U.S. (with the mainland Chinese making up the rest of this migration) and would help build the PCA population. Though the PCAs strongly cling to their ethnic identity as Chinese, they are different culturally, socially, and politically from both the earlier Chinese Americans and the new immigrants who come directly from China.

The perimeters I have set for the category of peripheral Chinese Americans are artificial in that the category's boundaries are fluid and permeable; in incorporating the experiences and cultural productions of particular groups in this study, I will inevitably leave out many others. Hence, instead of aiming for an exhaustive enumeration of all the possible hybrid subgroups in such a category, which is not only counter-productive but also antithetical to the overall agenda of this project, this study aspires to examine the problematics laid out and the questions raised in select cultural texts of PCAs in an attempt to understand and theorize about the experience of the PCAs in order tofurther destabilize the boundaries of the ethnic category, instead of reifying them. The interventional function of questioning cultural boundaries is to challenge the centerperiphery paradigm deployed by Chinese cultural chauvinism globally, and by racist ideology within the U.S.; for the "periphery" in PCAs denotes for them a double






8

marginality, emphasizing not only their marginal status within Chinese culturalism,22 but also their place in the shared marginality of U.S. ethnic minorities.

Two other objections which may be raised against such a project merit

consideration. One might argue that by further subdividing a minority group, am I not splitting, so to speak, ethnic hairs and fueling further division in an already fragile panethnic solidarity? Would not one also be guilty of reifying the center through the margins when engaging the specificities of the PCAs. With reference to the first question, I believe the above discussion on heterogeneity and the significance of diaspora to Asian American studies in a way addresses this issue; but I would also like to invoke Lisa Lowe's argument against conceptualizing cultural identity as a stable and fixed entity for the purposes of political solidarity:

The articulation of an "Asian American identity" as an organizing tool has
provided a concept of political unity that enables diverse Asian groups to understand unequal circumstances and histories as being related. ... Yet
to the extent that Asian American culture fixes Asian American identity
and suppresses differences-of national origin, generation, gender,
sexuality, class-it risks particular dangers: not only does it underestimate
the differences and hybridities among Asians, but it may also
inadvertently support the racist discourse that constructs Asians as a
homogenous group, that implies Asians are "all alike" and conform to
"types." (70-71)

In response to the second "objection" against reifying the center through the margins, I refer to a text by Gayatri Spivak where she addresses the question of class consciousness by "naming" the subaltern:

The subaltern is all that is not elite, but the trouble with those kinds of
names is that if you have any kind of political interest you name it in the hope that the name will disappear. That's what class consciousness is in the interest of: the class disappearing. What politically we want to see is
that the name would not be possible.23






9

This political gesture of naming a category in order to "erase" it serves to unhinge the very mechanism of domination that produced the category in the first place. Another point that needs to be made regarding this notion of "erasure" as deployed in conjunction with ethnicity is that it is not meant to deny the cultural materiality of ethnic groups or subgroups, but rather it serves to problematize the nativist's claim to cultural and racial authenticity and purity. So, to "name" the peripheral Chinese American culture is to disturb the sanctified cultural boundaries of Chinese and Chinese American culture, which in turn leads to the re-examination of Asian American identity and, ultimately, of the very category of "American" culture itself.

This last point provides a convenient segue towards an articulation of the main goals of this cultural critical study on PCAs. I envision this as an interventionist project that will enable one to begin (i) to "unlearn," as Rey Chow puts it in Writing Diaspora, the "submission to one's ethnicity such as 'Chinese-ness' as the ultimate signified,"24 as a means of challenging Chinese nativism's claim to the category in the name of cultural authenticity and racial purity; (ii) to interrogate the "limits" of categories such as "Chinese American," "Asian American," and "American," and "what is left out,"25 by engaging the questions raised within the dynamics of a diasporic consciousness, such as cultural identity, hybridity, deterritorialization, imaginary homelands, class differences, the politics of citizenship, and imagined (national and transnational) communities; and (iii) to move the PCA's doubleness of marginality beyond a sense of paralytic contradiction to that of a more productive, and less myopic, critique of oppressive, hegemonic ideologies within the interlocking axes of race, gender, class, and sexuality.






10

In the remainder of this chapter, I will focus on the mythography of Chinese

return and its politics so as to tackle Chiness-ness as a cultural construct. As a point of entry, I will first provide a brief "reading" of the British return of Hong Kong to mainland China as a means of tapping into the metaphoricity of the event, especially as a cultural signifier for the Chinese in diaspora, in order to theorize a Chinese transnational imaginary. Such a reading will allow me also to critique the binary logic of center versus periphery, and Chinese nativism versus Western modernity; and to unmask the complicitous role such logic plays in its co-optation by U.S. Orientalism and the culture of transnational capitalism.26 It is then within the midst of this cultural critique that I would like to situate the peripheral Chinese Americans and examine how the discourses of Chinese culturalism, U.S. Orientalism, and late-capitalist ideology delimit their place within American society.


Hong Kong 97: Return in the Chinese Diasporic Imaginary

Our delegation's trip to Hong Kong will surely reflect the feeling of glory and
pride of all our nationalities regarding Hong Kong's return to the motherland....
Chinese President Jiang Zemin27

From the perspective of those in Tibet, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, the prominent
question is .. Can one say no to China? The significance of this question, which
would require interested scholars to confront the contradictions of Chinese as a constructed ethnicity, is yet to be recognized in the "cultural studies" relating to
"China."
Rey Chow28

This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past.
Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would
like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a
storm is brewing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence
that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into






11

the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows
skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
Walter Benjamin29

July 1, 1997: the day the world's attention was riveted on Hong Kong; the day Hong Kong officially returned to the Chinese fold after 156 years under British colonial rule; a day of epic "history" in the making! But, for me, to contemplate the "historicity" of the event is also to have Benjamin's "angel of history" color my sense of the moment with profound irony and contradiction. While in Singapore at the time of the Hong Kong handover, I gathered with my family and relatives before the television set to witness the event in all its spectacle and pageantry. What struck me as remarkable is not only the mediatized "celebration" that transpired on the screen, but also the verbal storm that was brewing in our living room, leaving wreckage upon wreckage of bruised egos and conflicted cultural identities, traces of history--diasporic and colonial. In identifying with their Chinese ancestry and, being part of postcolonial Singapore, rightly resisting British imperialism, some of my relatives see this event as a glorious reclamation of lost Chinese territory from the former British Empire and a restoration of the honor and "face" lost when a severely weakened and outmatched Ch'ing government capitulated to British gunboat diplomacy during the Opium Wars. On the other hand, others sense, as Rey Chow does, that "one cannot but problematize 'China' ... at the same time as one dismantles 'Britain"'30; for in light of the Tiananmen massacre, Hong Kong is seen as being in transit "between colonizers," as an authoritarian regime replaces an exploitative one." For them, the countdown to July 1997 was fraught with much apprehension and fear that those who chose (or had no choice but) to remain in the now renamed Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) may eventually forfeit their civil rights to the






12

incoming regime. For most of us, there was a general sense of contradiction and paralysis in terms of conflicting allegiances and political identifications, a state of mind that arises from an "unwilling[ness] to criticize ... [the] hegemony [of Third World ruling elites] for fear of playing into the hands of Western imperialism,"32 a fear that obviously needs to be overcome. In a microcosmic way, the varied reactions evoked before the television set in our living room reflect the heterogeneous responses to the Hong Kong return among Chinese in diaspora.

This notion of contradiction-political and cultural-forms a kind of

metanarrative in counterpoint to the almost seamless grand narrative of Chinese return as constructed in the well-polished mediatized spectacle of the Hong Kong handover. The key themes of this multimedia extravaganza were "celebration" and "reunification," which of course ironically begs the questions, "What exactly is there to celebrate?" and "What does reunification ultimately mean for the Hong Kong people?" The sheer size of the event and the carnival atmospherics were carefully calibrated to dissipate, overshadow, or mask the ominous tension in such questions. The spectacle of "celebration," hence, served to displace or even erase the historical memory of its terrifying Other, the spectacle of violence, as enacted on the square of Tiananmen. This "blemish" in Chinese history, however, could not be allowed to disrupt the Hollywoodstyle show and party the incoming government and its sympathizers had drawn up. Festivities include numerous "Celebration of Reunification" carnivals, fun fairs, exhibitions, galas, parties, mass dances, parades, localized ceremonies, countdown balls, banquets, a fireworks display (at Victoria Harbour), musical extravaganzas and concerts featuring local and international pop stars and celebrities, and finally culminating in the






13

pomp and military pageantry of the Joint Sino-British Handover Ceremony held at the Convention and Exhibition Centre attended by Prince Charles, Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Jiang Zemin, and Premier Li Peng.33

Before I begin reading the tropological significance of the handover for diasporic Chinese, I believe it is important at this juncture to acknowledge the material reality of those whose lives are most directly affected by this historic event: the Hong Kong people themselves. In the tumultuous explosion of celebration activities and in the grand scheme of geopolitical relations between Britain and mainland China, the Hong Kong people and their voices face erasure. Their transparency in this narrative of "history" is echoed in the following sentiments of Hong Kong students studying in the U.S.:

What can a ceremony like that mean to us as a whole when it wasn't even accessible to the common majority? ... That says to me that this doesn't
involve us. Just as the actual flags of Hong Kong were smaller and
secondary to the flags of the United Kingdom and the People's Republic
of China, so is the real Hong Kong.

The most striking effect of this occurrence was the image of C. H. Tung [Beijing appointee to oversee Hong Kong's transition] standing side by
side with China's current president Jiang Zemin, speaking the language of
the Motherland rather than the language of the people he was chosen to
govern. Many local residents were bothered by this fact, and rightly so. 34 The liminality of the Hong Kong people in the proceedings marks their continued marginalization within the scheme of British and Chinese national self-interest. As Ackbar Abbas theorizes, one of Hong Kong's ways of coping with this crisis is through a cultural and political aesthetics of "disappearance" as a strategy of subjectivity, producing a kind of ironic counter-discourse of resistance through self-erasure.35

For diasporic Chinese, the significance of Hong Kong's return to the

"Motherland," though it cannot be matched by the immediacy and urgency the moment






14

holds for the people of Hong Kong, still assumes a potency in the construction of Chinese identity and culture. As President Jiang Zemin noted in a speech on his way to attend the handover ceremony (see the first epigraph of this section), Hong Kong's return should evoke "glory and pride" in every true-blooded Chinese. His point strategically serves to interpellate ethnic Chinese, at home and abroad, through the nationalist rhetoric of return. It is important to note that this production of a "mythography" (which Arjun Appadurai defines as a public discourse constructed "by a mass-mediated imaginary that ... transcends national space)36 of Chinese return is not new or specific to the question of Hong Kong's handover; there is a historical, cultural, and philosophical lineage that takes on a special resonance for many ethnic Chinese, something that Jiang Zemin consciously taps into by subtly shifting the focus from the national implications of the event to a broader ethnic and diasporic one.

The notion of Chinese return is deeply embedded in Chinese cosmological and

ontological thought; for instance, the very name of China, Zhongguo or, literally, "Middle Kingdom," semantically reifies the centrality of "China" in the hearts and minds of its people. Traditionally, "the view of being at the center of existence has always been an important aspect of being Chinese" and such a "view is based on a deep-rooted sense of belonging to a unified civilization that boasts several thousands of years of uninterrupted history."37 At the epicenter of this history, at least up to the Ch'ing dynasty,38 is enthroned the Chinese Emperor; the notion of centrality, as embodied in the person and position of the Emperor, radiates outward to encompass within its sphere the Chinese nation, Chinese culture and society, and geographical China.39 Hence, many Chinese






15

pride themselves in their racial purity by being able to trace their ancestral links to the Yellow Emperor Huang Ti.40

As integral to its logic, any concept of "return" presupposes a prior movement away from a center and demands a movement back to that same point of origin. Centrifugal forces in the form of political fragmentation and diasporic flows characterize much of modern Chinese history, thereby producing this need for "return." Early Ming traders and merchants represent the beginnings of the diasporic flow, a trickle that turned into a flood of migration (with varying degrees of intensity) during the Ch'ing period, the Nationalist era, and during Communist rule from 1949 to the present. Territorial fragmentation began with the loss of Macao to the Portuguese in 1557, Hong Kong (and later the Kowloon Peninsula) to the British after the Opium Wars, and the formation of the Republic of China (in contestation to the PRC's claim of legitimate rule) on the island of Taiwan. All these forces constitute disruptions to the centrality of "China"; therefore, in the Chinese mind, "return" becomes part of an inexorable, logical progression, the telos of which is to restore once again the glory of Chinese centrality.

The ideology of Chinese return functions on at least three interconnected levels, the first of which is political. Though many diasporic Chinese acknowledge the uncertainty of democracy's future in Hong Kong's reunification with the motherland, their celebration stems from the view that Hong Kong's return signals the first step towards complete political unity: Macao in 1999 and, possibly even, Taiwan's reconciliation and reunion with the mainland, the ultimate goal of Chinese political reunification. Hence, the Hong Kong handover is pregnant with political symbolism emblematizing this hope. The "one country, two systems" model, as set out in the Joint






16

Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong (December 19, 1984), was carefully engineered to suggest, as Premier Li Peng does, that "it can also work for Taiwan,'"'A a suggestion that has met with tepid response, if not outright rejection by the Taiwanese. However, many in Taiwan still cling to the possibility of return, instead of declaring its independence as a Taiwanese state. Such a sentiment can partially be explained in terms of the ideology of Chinese centrality and return, apart from, of course, the significant threat of Chinese military retaliation against such separatist moves.

Physical return constitutes the second level of Chinese return. This need to go home to the motherland is of particular importance to the Chinese diaspora (huaqiao). Early migrants to Southeast Asia and the United States, for instance, visualized themselves as sojourners, temporary residents in a foreign land, whose purpose was to accrue wealth so as to return to China to live the remainder of their days in comfort and luxury. The Chinese four-word paradigm yeluo guigen metaphorically encapsulates this attachment to the homeland and the imperative of return, an expression that, when loosely translated, "characterizes the Chinese abroad as fallen leaves that must eventually, even inevitably return to their roots in the soil of China.42 Though some succeed in returning, a review of Chinese diasporic history will reveal that many do not, the result of a multiplicity of push-and-pull factors43 functioning as incentives, barriers, or obstacles discouraging return. Even with the hope of a permanent return to China extinguished, some diasporic Chinese in various parts of the world still harbor the dream of being buried in their ancestral homeland, a tolerable quid pro quo for a chance to live out their remaining years in the motherland. The notion of return has been so ingrained into the cultural fabric of the diasporic Chinese psyche that even subsequent generations






17

of ethnic Chinese, who no longer have ties to the mainland and who loyally pledge national allegiances to their country of citizenship, often believe in the cultural value of visiting China, especially in their old age, engaging in a sort of quasi-return to one's roots, even if it is only in a superficially touristic fashion.

The preeminence of political and physical return in Chinese diasporic thinking naturally filters down to the cultural level forming the third way return operates. For whatever reason a physical return is unfeasible or impossible, one could still return to the "homeland" in one's heart. Such a "return," therefore, takes on a cultural emphasis as diasporic Chinese seek to accentuate aspects of what they believe constitutes their Chinese-ness, often through a return to Chinese culture and the arts, the Chinese language, and "traditional" Chinese values, ideals, and philosophies. The movement towards a cultural center, however problematically that center is defined, provides a channel of resistance to racist or assimilationist politics they encounter. On the other hand, the danger in such reactive culturalism lies in its ethnocentric potential and in its reification of East-West differences and the center-periphery dichotomy, issues I will address in the next section.

These different strands of Chinese return work together to add to the emotional resonance and cultural significance Hong Kong's return has for diasporic Chinese. But what made this event successful in its invocation and dissemination of the ideology of return was its ability to involve its audience vicariously in the physicality of return through a mediatized global space of interaction, instantaneity, and participatory presence. The Chinese diaspora was brought together communally for those few hours of celebration, thanks to the ability of late-twentieth century telecommunications wizardry






18

to bridge migrant peoples through space and time. Cognizant of this potential, the mainland government wasted no effort in enlisting the media's power to reach ethnic Chinese on a worldwide scale. Via global satellite link-up, diasporic Chinese and the rest of the world experienced live television coverage of the handover ceremony and the "party" that was to precede and follow it. Cyberspace potential was similarly tapped into: Internet users could witness the handover live from noon June 30 to noon July 2, courtesy of the Computer Services Centre of the Chinese University of Hong Kong in collaboration with Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) and other Internet services.44 Since June 1997, cinema audiences across Asia and Southeast Asia also saw the release of The Opium War. Helmed by well-known Chinese director Xie Jin, the 9.6 milliondollar film, though not an official government production, helped to elicit nationalist fervor and provided a filmic channel for the mainland government's criticism of Western imperialism, all through the cinematic lure of epic story-telling and mass entertainment. As the 74-year-old Xie explains, "The aim of shooting such a movie is to remind all Chinese of the past. For any nation, ignorance of the outside world means backwardness, and a backward country is doomed to be bullied.'""5

The emotional and cultural pull of communal identification through a mediatized event such as the Hong Kong handover takes Benedict Anderson's idea of a nation's "imagined community"46 to a new transnational level, the impact of which cannot be dismissed. The Chinese government saw and used the ideological flow generated by a Chinese transnational imaginary and its links to mass mediation to disseminate their rhetoric of political return. Here I am using again Arjun Appadurai's terminology and concepts articulated in Modernity at Large, where he examines how a nascent






19

"postnational imaginary" emerges from the relationship "between mass mediation and migration" to constitute what he calls "diasporic public spheres."47 (I have chosen, however, to conceptualize the mythography of return within the framework of a Chinese transnational imaginary, as opposed to Appadurai's postnational one, as it may be premature to herald the demise of the nation-state and, hence, underestimate its effectiveness in enacting cultural and racial violence.) What is of particular relevance to my argument here is that Appadurai also observes how the ideological flow between media and audience is not unidirectional-as in "the theory of media as the opium of the people"48-but rather, it is interactive:

As mass mediation becomes increasingly dominated by electronic media ... and as such media increasingly link producers and audiences across
national boundaries, and as these audiences themselves start new
conversations between those who move and those who stay, we find a
growing number of diasporic public spheres.49

In offering both positive potential and hidden dangers, this diasporic network is significant in two ways. Firstly, the fact that audiences are not simply static receptacles for ideological fashioning through the media foregrounds the complex and often conflicted identity formation of diasporic individuals, as illustrated by my relatives' contradictory reactions to the question of Hong Kong. They interact with the mediatized transmission and with one another; decisions are made, often prematurely, on cultural and political positions and re-positioning; and the mythography of return is challenged or reaffirmed, and frequently restructured into hybrid formations. It is in this discursive swirl of ideological interaction that the intervention of a radical politics of critique becomes especially necessary and urgent. Secondly, in spite of the fact that the mythography of return as transmitted via the mediatized "ideoscape"50 of the Chinese






20

culturalists-in "conversation" with diasporic Chinese-to propagate sinocentrism, the possibilities for dialogue within the diasporic public spheres should encourage radical diasporic Chinese to use this channel for the contestation and critique of ethnocentric culturalism. Instead of fearing the accusations of disrupting ethnic solidarity and unity, one should problematize such imagined communality by unmasking its exclusionary cultural politics.


Problematizing Return: Cultural Traditionalism and U.S. Orientalism

The term "Greater China" (dazhonghua) has gained, in recent years, much

currency in media and scholarly circles, prompting even The China Quarterly to devote an entire volume (vol. 136) to discuss the use of the expression in various discursive and disciplinary spheres. The semantic value of the term varies significantly, depending on whether one is thinking along economic, political, or cultural lines; as Harry Harding, in a definitional essay featured in the above-mentioned volume, attempts to articulate:

As is so often the case with the phrase of the moment, however, the
precise meaning of "Greater China" ... is not entirely clear. In essence, it refers to the rapidly increasing interaction among Chinese societies around
the world as the political and administrative barriers to their intercourse
fall. But different analysts use the term in different ways. Some refer
primarily to the commercial ties among ethnic Chinese, whereas others are more interested in cultural interactions, and still others in the prospects for
political reunification. Some observers focus exclusively on Hong Kong,
Macao, Taiwan and mainland China, others incorporate Singapore, and
still others include the overseas Chinese living in South-east Asia,
America and Europe. To some writers, "Greater China" is simply a way
of summarizing the new linkages among the far-flung international
Chinese community; to others, it is a prescription of the institutions that
should govern those ties.51

Harding and the various contributors to the issue have been cautious enough to identify the hegemonic potential of such a term, but the privileging of it in Chinese and Chinese-






21

related discourse raises interesting, if not troubling, concerns for my problematization of return. As Harding's definition above suggests, "Greater China" as cultural nomenclature arises from the center's need to engage the diaporic Chinese's claim to Chinese cultural authenticity, dissonant voices that can no longer be ignored, especially in light of the latter's economic ascendancy in the Asia-Pacific region and their contribution to China's economic restructuring. But in extending the hand of recognition and concession, the double-edged term reinscribes center-periphery cultural relations through the production of a concentric hierarchy with "China" still occupying the core, radiating influence outward through the diasporic sphere. Hence, it is of no surprise to hear cultural critics and sinologists, in dealing with the suddenly important question of defining Chinese-ness in the midst of diasporic de-centering,5 call for new cultural strategies such as "Confucian humanism,"53 homeland-in-the-heart,54 and "Chinese cosmopolitanism,""55 most of which re-articulates the old ideology of Chinese cultural return within a contemporary globalized framework.

To problematize Chinese return, one needs first to deconstruct the binary logic of nativist traditionalism versus Western modernity that structures its rhetoric. This logic forms a comfortable part of the age-old East-West conflict in China's historical "tradition" of resisting the imperialistic encroachments of the West, territorially, economically, and culturally. As much as the project of anti-Western imperialism is laudable, Chinese traditionalism frequently resorts to cultural chauvinism, uncritiqued nostalgia, and a primitivism that privileges traditional or ancient culture as authentic. Such nativism, unfortunately, replicates the kind of cultural violence one finds






22

inexcusable in Western imperialism and colonization in the first place, as Rey Chow, in analyzing the paradox of primitivism, concludes:

In a culture caught between the forces of "first world" imperialism and "third world" nationalism, such as that of twentieth century China, the
primitive is the precise paradox, the amalgamation of the two modes of
signification known as "culture" and "nature." If Chinese culture is
"primitive" in the pejorative sense of being "backward" (being stuck in an
earlier stage of "culture" and thus closer to "nature") when compared to
the West, it is also "primitive" in the meliorative sense of being an ancient
culture (it was there first, before many Western nations). A strong sense
of primordial, rural rootedness thus goes hand in hand with an equally
compelling conviction of China's primariness, of China's potential
primacy as a modern nation with a glorious civilization. This paradox of a
primitivism that sees China as simultaneously victim and empire is what
leads modern Chinese intellectuals to their so-called obsession with
China.56

Furthermore, it is important to see this traditionalism not simply as a knee-jerk response to Western cultural imperialism, but also as a political tactic that paradigmatically formulates and reformulates "Chinese culture" within the rubric of tradition in order to meet the political or discursive contingency of the moment. To illustrate this point, one need only turn to the speech of Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, given on the first day of Chinese rule of the Hong Kong SAR. In promising to be tolerant of dissenting viewpoints and to "protect individual rights," Tung also emphasizes "collective responsibility." Because "Hong Kong has embraced the eastern and western cultures," he reasons, "we will continue to encourage diversity in our society, but we must also reaffirm and respect thefine traditional Chinese values, including filial piety, love for the family, modesty and integrity, and the desire for continuous improvement."57 What Tung has done is to ethnicize the latter as "Chinese values" so as to establish, through a return to Chinese tradition and culture, an interpretive loophole for justifying






23

future acts of authoritarianism, a rhetorical move not unlike those made by other authoritarian and semi-authoritarian governments in Asia and Southeast Asia.

The fact that Chinese traditionalism can be and has been deterritorialized through a mythography of return within the Chinese transnational imaginary illustrates Stuart Hall's point that globalization has its localized cultural effects, in this case the dissemination and strengthening of Chinese chauvinism, especially in the diasporic Chinese's response to the Western host nation-state's "regress[ion] to a very defensive and highly dangerous form of national identity ... driven by a very aggressive form of racism."58 Peripheral Chinese Americans, for instance, find themselves caught between the tense and violent space of these polarities, and are coerced to embrace either Chinese (or Chinese American)59 nativism or Anglo-American culture. The assimilationist demands of the latter need to be rejected tout court, while the former's identity politics, being similarly violent in its culturalism, is no less acceptable; for Chinese traditionalism confronts PCAs to meet its demands and standards of cultural authenticity: Can you speak the Chinese language? Are you well versed in Chinese culture, traditions, history, and social practices? In other words, prove to us that you are as Chinese as we are!

Ironically, such reactive nativism, instead of disabling racism and the dominant logic of assimilation, supplies its opponents with ammunition by allowing the recourse to cultural nostalgia, primitivism, and traditionalism to be co-opted by U.S. Orientalist discourses. This unwitting "cooperation" has led Rey Chow to describe Western Orientalism and Third World nativism as "the obverse and reverse of the same coin," and to expose, for example, "the alliance of nativist elitism and institutional Orientalism" in the teaching of Asian literatures in universities across the U.S.60 Chinese traditionalism,






24

thereby, reifies the exotic and primordial (hence, degenerate, uncivilized, and sensual) stereotypes of the Chinese already established in the public imaginary by government, political, literary, and media discourses throughout U.S. history.61 Such images of the exotic and the evil (think sensual Suzie Wong, the inscrutable Charlie Chan, and the diabolical Fu Manchu) become interchangeable with the more recent configuration of Asians as industrious and passive "model minorities," a shifting politics of imaging the Asian "Other" to suit the political goals of the racial dominant. Both stereotypes, in serving to maintain the Us/Them division, provide the basis for "dominating, restructuring, and having authority over" the Oriental Other, as Edward Said's Orientalism demonstrates.62 This form of U.S. Orientalism participates in what Malini Schueller calls the "task of imperial self-definition" where "various raced and gendered distinctions between" Orientals and Anglo-Americans "are deployed to repress or allay fears about the wholeness and stability of the nation in the face of diverse ethnic immigration and African American and Native American presences.'"3

Stereotypes such as these do not simply remain within the "imaginary" but are frequently translated into the U.S. public sphere of governmental and institutional legislation, where policies discriminatory towards Asian Americans and immigrants are enacted. Lisa Lowe is correct to observe how culture has become the site of conceptualizing American citizenship (2-3); Asian Americans are the outsiders-inside, the "foreigner-within" (5):

In the last century and a half, the American citizen has been defined over against the Asian immigrant, legally, economically, and culturally. These definitions have cast Asian immigrants both as persons and populations to
be integrated into the national political sphere and as the contradictory,
confusing, unintelligible elements to be marginalized and returned to their
alien origins. (4)






25

The material implications of this racialized politics of citizenship are significant. AngloAmerica's "understanding" of the Asian minority (be it the "Yellow Peril" or the model minority stereotype) often constitutes the basis for discriminatory governmental and institutional policies on immigration, welfare, affirmative action, educational quotas and programs, employment, law enforcement, and community assistance and restructuring. The needs of Asian Americans and Asian immigrants, therefore are marginalized, made transparent (they are industrious and self-reliant, and can survive any adverse situation you put them in, without governmental assistance), or simply ignored (often as a result of a lack of political consequences). Therefore, to challenge Chinese (or any other ethnic) traditionalism marks an initial step one can take towards dismantling the Us/Them Orientalist binary opposition, disrupting racist Asian stereotypes, and mobilizing political forces to represent the rights of and address the needs and concerns of Asian America.


Coda: Reading "Return" in Chinese America My historicization and subsequent problematization of the ideology of Chinese return are not intended to suggest its exclusivity as a problematic for peripheral Chinese Americans; in fact, most Chinese Americans have dealt with and continue to deal with return's interpellating logic, as is reflected in the various ways they have engaged the issue in their cultural productions. As a conclusion to this chapter, I will briefly survey its presence in Chinese American textual/literary history, which I hope will serve to highlight some of the common problems that are similarly faced by PCAs. Such a survey would also provide a point of departure from which to examine the different problematics and historical specificities that distinguish the PCA's experience from that of the Chinese American's.






26

Tu Wei-ming's point that any examination of return as an ideological formation should not be conducted in a de-historicized and de-contextualized fashion bears reemphasis here (see note 43). Instead of conceptualizing Chinese return in a reductive manner, one should complicate it by analyzing its relationship to and interaction with the social, political, and cultural forces at work within its space of deployment. Chinese American literature, apart from functioning as a channel of artistic expression, also provides a means for emotional release and political reaction to a hostile and racist environment. Early Chinese migrant and Chinese American "texts," produced in the absence of publication luxuries and, hence, taking the form of talk-stories, poetry, and other oral traditions (frequently in the Chinese language), feature a longing for the Chinese homeland in their nostalgic recollections of home, a pining for wife and family, an expression of patriotic sentiments for a strong China, and a stoic determination to preserve Chinese culture from the "barbaric" influences of Anglo-America. The ideology of return, therefore, has been intertwined with reactions to the anti-Chinese climate in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America.

Serving as an example of the poetic responses to the discriminatory immigration policies and practices against Chinese immigrants, Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung have put together a collection of poetry written by Chinese immigrants-more specifically, poems carved on the walls of the detention camps on Angel Island, off the coast of California, between 1910 and 1940. These immigrants were held there for interrogation, which lasted for days and even months, all in the INS's hope to weed out "paper sons," immigrants who had forged evidence of relational ties to Chinese Americans, a legal loophole that circumscribed the exclusionary U.S. policy of admitting






27

only Chinese students and merchants. The need to return physically and politically was intensified as a result of the incarceration and humiliation suffered on Angel Island, as the following lines from some of the poems indicate:64

I wish to go back to my motherland to carry the farmer's hoe (40).

After experiencing such loneliness and sorrow, why not just return home
and learn to plow the fields? (68).

All my compatriots should please be mindful. Once you have some small
gains, return home early (66).

If my country had contrived to make herself strong, this would never have
happened (86).

One could argue that these poems are situational and, hence, are not accurately representative of Chinese American sentiments on return. Many Chinese in America at the turn of the century, after years of failure to earn enough money so as to return home, abandoned themselves to their fate by psychologically disengaging from the hope of returning to China. But the "sojourner's mentality" still prevailed as the Chinese could not become citizens and were prevented from integrating into American society as a result of various forms of discrimination. As Marlon K. Hom notes in his introduction to a collection of Cantonese rhymes from San Francisco's Chinatown composed in the early 1910s, "the sojourner's mentality was also a product of anti-Chinese practices" for the "political and social policies [of the U.S. government] did not provide favorable conditions for the Chinese to establish families and to stay permanently in America."65 The ideology of return, hence, sustained and intensified its appeal especially under such alienating circumstances. The following poem not only reflects the Chinese immigrants' sense of the difficulties and the transience of their stay in America, but it also engages the






28

ideology of return in its political, physical, and cultural dimensions, particularly in the final line of the poem:

My friends, remember by all means:
Don't let yourselves be stranded in a foreign country.
Brows besieged by sorrow from frequent worries of home;
Thousands of miles of clouds and mountains further impede a gloomy stay.
Separation brings out misery.
Have your belongings always packed and ready.
A journey to America is only a search for wealth.
Return to the old country quickly, to avoid going astray.6

The earliest published works in English by Chinese immigrants were

predominantly autobiographical or ethnographic in their intent. Writers such as Chiang Yee, Lee Yan Phou, Lin Yutang, and Helena Kuo67 sought to portray Chinese culture and China in a positive light, frequently deploying idealized images of Chinese culture and civilization in all its rich tradition (normally that of the upper class) as a corrective to the negative views Anglo-Americans hold of the Chinese during that period. In describing some of these authors as "ambassadors of goodwill," Elaine Kim criticizes them for accepting "discrimination against the poor and uneducated members of their own race" and only "questioning the logic of discrimination against the educated elite.'"6 Their desire to win American acceptance of their culture has led them to a return, in their writing, to a traditionalist portrayal of Chinese culture that neatly fits into the predominantly Orientalist conception of Chinese and Asians in the U.S. during this era of exclusion.

The popularity of autobiography as a genre among early Chinese immigrant

writers such as those I have mentioned above and second generation Chinese Americans like Jade Snow Wong and Pardee Lowe attest to the significance of catering to the white






29

reader's ethnographic gaze of Chinese culture, especially in all its "traditional" finery and exotic flavors and colors. Works by Chinese Americans who seek to assimilate into Anglo-America function as safe "Chinatown tour guides," leading their readers into the dark, sin-filled, opium-infested alleyways of Chinatown. They provide descriptions of strange and exotic Chinese cuisine and traditional (hence, backward) social practices and customs. The goal is to show "contempt for things Chinese [by] alternating with repeated apology for Chinese or Chinese American culture and values and praise for everything 'American,"' in the attempt to win acceptance into Anglo-America by reproducing the binary logic of "China ... [as] the symbol of backwardness, but America... [as] the epitome of modernity."69 Though these authors were technically rejecting Chinese culture, they represented an inverted mode of cultural return in the form of selfOrientalism. In so doing, they seek not to glorify their culture but to reject it by seeking out the "worst" in order to feed prevalent stereotypes.

The post-Civil Rights era saw a growth in publishing opportunities for minority writing, ushering in a prolific output of Chinese American literature and film in a multiplicity of genres and tackling a broader spectrum of issues that reflect the complexity and heterogeneity of Chinese American identity, culture, and experience.70 Contemporary Chinese American textuality has shifted its concern from submitting to the logic of assimilation to that of racial empowerment and ethnic pride, beginning with the works of authors like Frank Chin, Shawn Hsu Wong, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Jeffrey Paul Chan, whose efforts were directed at debunking stereotypes, unabashedly returning to ethnic roots, and "claiming America"-which Kingston proclaims is the purpose of her book China Aenn7-for Chinese (and Asian) Americans. In offering the strategic






30

potential for minority empowerment, this search for one's ethnic roots, unfortunately, may sometimes lead to the exclusivist danger of cultural essentialism, insiderism, and ethnocentricity, extreme positions upon which the ideology of return capitalizes.

Chinese American writing of the 1980s and early 1990s, in moving away from

identity politics, as I noted at the beginning of the chapter, have mobilized a greater range of issues concerning Chinese America, for example feminism and Chinese patriarchy (Kingston and Amy Tan), U.S. imperialism and gay sexuality (David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly), and revisionist history (Frank Chin's DonaldDuk). This is a positive and healthy step for Chinese America, as its literature has begun to address the complex human experiences that were marginalized in the earlier fights for literary representation. However, Chinese return has not, as a result receded in its relevance, but has instead maintained its presence in reconfigured formations. Diaspora and globality are newfound terrain for the ideology of return to entrench itself. The transnational opportunities of air travel provide a new sense of cultural connectedness to originary homelands, thereby allowing return to flourish as a myth of cultural rejuvenation: In Peter Wang's 1985 film A Great Wall, the protagonist Leo Fang and his Chinese American family visited his sister and her family in mainland China to return to the U.S. in a state of psychological, cultural, and spiritual refreshment. Jing-Mei Woo's trip to China to meet her long-lost half sisters, in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, generates an emotional catharsis and resolution in her struggle to connect with her mother and her culture-"I look at their faces again and I see no trace of my mother in them. Yet they still look familiar. And now I also see what part of me is Chinese. It is so obvious. It is my family. It is in our blood. After all these years, it can finally be let go."72 Return has also re-appeared in a






31

familiar face, in the novels of Wang Ping, where China is depicted in a negative light, this time emphasizing the repressions of Communist China as a foil to an uncritiqued idealization of America as a land of freedom and opportunity.73 In a similar vein, feminist critique of Chinese patriarchal oppression, productively and rightfully mobilized in Kingston's The Woman Warrior and Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, turns ugly in Tan's next book The Kitchen God's Wife, which unfortunately resorts to a sensationalized narrative of sexist violence perpetrated by monstrous male caricatures.74 Instead of spotlighting the oppression faced by Chinese women, Tan's novel, in returning to a traditionalist depiction of a Chinese family in pre-Communist China in order to paint the atrocities committed against the female characters, problematically reifies and confirms Orientalized critiques by Western feminists of the deplorable and backward state of gender relations in "Third World" cultures.

It is crucial for me to point out that not all engagements with the notion of

"return" have been negative. Kingston's The Woman Warrior and Hwang's M Butterfly, for instance, are two major works, among many others, that effectively disrupt Chinese centrism by challenging cultural and genre boundaries (in Kingston's work), and in the use of reversals to problematize Orientalist discourses (in Hwang's play). Kingston's "memoirs" incorporate various elements from her life experience and purposefully blur the boundaries between cultural myth and cultural reality-she uses talk-stories, childhood memories, traditional Chinese folk tales, and movies, by reworking and interweaving them into a cultural tapestry-in order to question "what is Chinese" and "what is Chinese tradition."75 In a similarly subversive fashion, David Henry Hwang in M. Butterfly takes advantage of the entrenched Orientalist depiction of Chinese passive






32

femininity and sexual submission to reveal the power relations involved in imperialist discourses on the East. What is so significant about Hwang's "return" to these traditionalist images of Chinese women is the role reversals that take place in the end of the play where the Orientalist image of Song Liling as Rene Gallimard's ideal butterfly is smashed, exposing the oppressive strategies of Western imperialism and Chinese selfOrientalism.76

My brief sketch of return in Chinese American texts brings me now to peripheral Chinese American cultural productions. Some of the issues, problems, and critiques raised in contemporary Chinese American literature and film are similar to those faced by PCAs. However, one must take into consideration the PCA's double marginality and a new set of problematics it raises in relation to the questions of diaspora, hybridity, postcolonialism, transnationality, class distinctions, and global capitalism. The rest of this project will engage these issues by using Chinese return not so much as a sole focus but rather as a stepping-off point to pursue different theoretical trajectories and critical readings. In Chapter 2, I will resume my discussion of the complicitous alliance return has formed with transnational capitalism through the former's transformation into a Chinese cosmopolitanism based on a link between neo-Confucian ideology and a Chinese economism. I will argue that the work of Indonesian-Chinese American Li-Young Lee, which will also be analyzed within this theoretical framework, opens up possible spaces for a critical alternative to Chinese cosmopolitanism. Chapter 3 features a reading of Marilyn Chin's poetic response to the Tiananmen massacre of 1989, and a look at Wayne Wang's latest opus Chinese Box, both attempts by Hong Kong Americans at cultural negotiation as they witness crises in the homeland(s). The multiply-inscribed identities






33

of PCAs also suggest the theoretical importance of hybridity and the challenge it presents to Chinese return and cultural identity, a concept I will engage and problematize in my reading of Malaysian-Chinese American Shirley Geok-lin Lim's Among the White Moonfaces in Chapter 4. And finally, Chapter 5 offers an opportunity for me to write myself, as a Singaporean in diaspora, into this project by examining the notion of political inertia through an analysis of Fiona Cheong's poetics of innocence in The Scent of the Gods.


Notes


'William Wei, The Asian American Movement (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1993). See especially Chapter 5, "Activists and the Development of Asian American Studies," which chronicles the links between early Asian American political activism and the subsequent formation of Asian American studies programs within the politically charged climate of these two universities.
2 King-kok Cheung, "Re-Viewing Asian American Literary Studies," An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature, Ed. King-kok Cheung (New York: Cambridge UP, 1997), 1.

3 James Clifford, "Diaspora," Cultural Anthropology 9 (1994): 311.

4 David Harvey, The Condition ofPostmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990), 141-72.

5 ArifDirlik, "The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism," Critical Inquiry 20 (1994): 351. In problematizing postcolonialism's complicity with global capitalism, Dirlik here connects the latter with the "global motions of peoples" in the past two to three decades.
6 Congress extended this act in 1892, 1902, and indefinitely in 1904. Apart from the Chinese, other Asians were soon included in this exclusion: Japanese and Koreans (the "Gentlemen's Agreement" of 1907-1908), Indians (1917 Immigration Act), and Filipinos (the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934). For a detailed account see Sucheng Chan, "Hostility and Conflict," Asian Americans: An Interpretive History (Boston: Twayne, 1991), 45-61; Paul Ong and John M. Liu, "U.S. Immigration Policies and Asian Migration," The New Asian Immigration in Los Angeles and Global Restructuring, Eds. Paul Ong, Edna Bonacich, and Lucie Cheng (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1994), 45-73;






34


Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History ofAsian Americans (New York: Penguin, 1989), 3-18.

7 Ong and Liu, "U.S. Immigration Policies and Asian Migration," 50-51.

8 Ibid., 48. Of course, the authors are quick, and correct, to point out the irony of reading these events in counterpoint to the internment of Japanese Americans and the presence of racial quotas in subsequent immigration legislation.

9 Paul Ong, Edna Bonacich, and Lucie Cheng, "The Political Economy of Capitalist Restructuring and the New Asian Immigration," The New Asian Immigration, 24.

'0 Ong and Liu, "U.S. Immigration Policies and Asian Migration," 52.

11 Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Studies (Durham: Duke UP, 1996), 60-83. Subsequent references to this text will be parenthetically documented. The chapter I am specifically referring to here is "Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Asian American Differences."
12 John M. Liu and Lucie Cheng, "Pacific Rim Development and the Duality of Post1965 Asian Immigration to the United States," The New Asian Immigration, 74.

13 On the question of Asian American panethnic solidarity, see Yen Le Espiritu, Asian American Panethnicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1992). Espiritu takes up the issue of class in Yen Espiritu and Paul Ong, "Class Constraints on Racial Solidarity among Asian Americans," The New Asian Immigration, 295-321. The post-1965 professional immigrants tend to have difficulty identifying with the class struggles fought by Asian American activists during the Civil Rights era. The authors, hence, argue the need for Asian Americans to unite politically across class structures as "the welfare state bureaucracy treats Asian Americans as a single administrative unit in the distribution of economic and political resources, [and] it imposes a racial structure on persons and communities dependent on government support" (301).
14 Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 1.

15 Frank Chin, Jeffrey Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Hsu Wong, eds., Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology ofAsian-American Writers (Washington, DC: Howard UP, 1974). In the preface of this landmark anthology, the editors define Asian-Americanness as a "sensibility" one acquires through birth, but add that one can also develop this sensibility by "choice." (ix-x) The problem with this argument lies not only in the definition of this "sensibility" but also in that it can lead to a hierarchy of Asian American cultural authenticity.






35


16 Arif Dirlik, "The Asia-Pacific in Asian-American Perspective," What Is in a Rim?: Critical Perspectives on the Pacific Region Idea, Ed. Arif Dirlik (Boulder, CO: Westview P, 1993), 305.

17 Shirley Geok-lin Lim, "Immigration and Diaspora," An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature, Ed. King-kok Cheung (New York: Cambridge UP, 1997), 290-91. The quotation is Lim's paraphrase of Wong's argument presented in a 1993 conference paper delivered at the University of California, Santa Barbara, entitled "Going Diasporic? Concepts and Constituencies in Asian American Literature."

18 For the rest of this chapter, I will dispense of the use of quotation marks in conjunction with the word "peripheral" out of convenience. The quotation marks serve to problematize the category itself and the center-periphery paradigm upon which it is based.

19 Lynn Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor: The Story of the Overseas Chinese (London: Secker & Warburg, 1990), 43.
20 The gender specificity of the word appropriately highlights the fact that the Chinese population was predominantly male. The exigency of having to leave their wives at home in China was transformed and transcribed into a "gendering" of the racist legislative discourse for Chinese immigrants, as the "Page Law of 1875 and a later ban on Chinese laborers' spouses had effectively halted the immigration of Chinese women, preventing the formation of families and generations among Chinese immigrants." Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts, 11-12.

21 Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor, 168-70.

22 ArifDirlik, "Culturalism as Hegemonic Ideology and Liberating Practice," The Nature and Context ofMinority Discourse, Eds. Abdul R. JanMohamed and David Lloyd (New York: Oxford UP, 1990), 394-431. Dirlik first problematizes the term and them reclaims it; I am thinking here of the former sense of the word, as a hegemonic "ideology which not only reduces everything to questions of culture, but has a reductionist conception of the latter as well" (395).

23 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues, Ed. Sarah Harasym (New York: Routledge, 1990), 158. Emphasis mine.

24 Rey Chow, Writing Diaspora: Tactics ofIntervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993), 25.

25 Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic, 18-19. Spivak is here explaining poststructuralism's interrogation of the "limits" of the grand recits of the Western philosophical tradition and what they ultimately leave out in their narrative logic.






36

26 The alliance between Chinese nativism and U.S. transnational capital I will discuss in Chapter Two, "Chinese Cosmopolitanism Critiqued: Critical Alternatives in the Work of Li-Young Lee."

27 Quoted in "President Vows to Uphold Freedoms," South China Morning Post [online], 30 June 1997, available at www.hongkong97.com.hk/news.

28 Rey Chow, "Can One Say No to China?" New Literary History 28, no.1 (1997): 151. Emphasis mine.
29 Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," Illuminations, Trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), 259-60.

30 Rey Chow, "Between Colonizers: Hong Kong's Postcolonial Self-Writing in the 1990s," Ethics after Idealism: Theory-Culture-Ethnicity-Reading (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998), 154.
31 The British-Hong Kong government chose Christopher Patten's term of office to institute democratic electoral reform, allowing the Hong Kong people limited participatory access to government. Such a move is not only belated but also smacks of tokenism that masks the contradictions between the argument for democracy/human rights and the exploitative basis of British colonialism and capitalism. For Patten's argument that democracy is crucial to sustain Hong Kong's economic viability and prosperity, see Jacques deLisle and Kevin P. Lane, "Cooking the Rice without Cooking the Goose: The Rule of Law, the Battle over Business, and the Quest of Prosperity in Hong Kong after 1997," Hong Kong under Chinese Rule: The Economic and Political Implications ofReversion, Eds. Warren I. Cohen and Li Zhao (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1997), 40. For a related and similar argument on the importance of "autonomy" for Hong Kong, as presented in a speech by Patten, see Christopher Patten, "The Implementation of the Joint Declaration: An Overview," Hong Kong's Transition: A Decade after the Deal, Eds. Wang Gungwu and Wong Siu-lan (Hong Kong: Oxford UP, 1995), 152-63.

3 Dirlik, "Culturalism as Hegemonic Ideology and Liberating Practice," 415.

33 For a calendar of events spanning the two days of the handover, go to South China Morning Post [online] at www.hongkong97.com.hk.

34 "Hong Kong Handover Tugs on Student Heartstrings," Herald Sphere [online], 3 October 1997, available at www.netspace.org.

35 Ackbar Abbas, Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997), 14-15. I will discuss the notions of liminality and disappearance at greater length in Chapter 3, "Crises in the Homeland(s): Hong Kong Americans and the Art of Cultural Negotiation."






37



36 Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996), 6.
37 David Yen-ho Wu, "The Construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese Identities," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 160.
38 The rulers of the Ch'ing (or Qing) dynasty were basically Manchu, which the Han people viewed as not Chinese enough; hence, rebellions during this dynastic era assumed an anti-foreigner tone, an attitude compounded by resentment against British, French, Russian, Portuguese, and American trade, military, and/or, territorial intrusions.

39 Prior to modem cartographic understanding, the land of China, in the minds of the Chinese, occupied a geographical centrality, which the following historical anecdote illustrates. In their attempt to proselytize the Chinese beginning in 1583, the Jesuit priests Michele Ruggieri and Matteo Ricci sought to impress the Chinese with European knowledge and inventions, which include European cartography. Their map of the world positions Europe at the center with the Americas on the left and China on the right. Obviously, it did not win popular approval among the Chinese. All it took was for the adaptive Ricci to reverse the positions of the continents in order to win the praise and acceptance the missionaries had hoped for. Immanuel C. Y. Hsu, The Rise of Modern China, 3rd ed. (Hong Kong: Oxford UP, 1983), 97-98.

40 Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor, 10-12.

41 Quoted in "Taipei Rejects 'One Country' Suggestion," South China Morning Post [online], 1 July 1997, available at www.hongkong97.com.hk. Beijing reiterated its call recently when Jiang Zemin, at a three-day, top-level policy meeting on the question of Taiwan, stated that "the reunification of the motherland should be accelerated." See "Jiang Calls for Reunification," The Straits Times Interactive [online], 14 May 1998, available at straitstimes.asial.com.

42 L. Ling-chi Wang, "Roots and Changing Identity of the Chinese in the United States," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 183.

43 Tu Wei-ming, "Cultural China: The Periphery as the Center," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 17-18. Tu argues that to characterize Chinese diasporics as being drawn primarily "by the magnetic power of the homeland is simplistic. The reason that overseas Chinese rarely consider themselves thoroughly assimilated in their adopted countries is much more complex. In the United States, racial discrimination against the Chinese was, until recently, blatant; the Chinatown mentality, as a response to the hostile environment, may be seen as a psychological defense and adaptation."

44 "Hong Kong 1997 Handover Live on Internet," press release, 23 June 1997, The Chinese University of Hong Kong [online], available at www.cuhk.edu.hk.






38



45 "Chinese Epic about Hong Kong Premieres in Beijing," 97 News File [online], 9 June 1997, available at www.hkl997.china.com. The recent limited release of Chinese American director Wayne Wang's Chinese Box provides, if not an alternative, at least a Hong Kong American's take on the event. See Chapter 3 for my reading of Wang's film.

46 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991).

47 Appadurai, Modernity at Large, 21.
48 Ibid., 7.

49 Ibid., 22.

50 Ibid., 36. In his seminal essay "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy," which first appeared in Public Culture (2, no.2) and now forms a chapter in Modernity at Large, Appadurai theorizes on the "five dimensions of global cultural flows": ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes, and ideoscapes (33).

51 Harry Harding, "The Concepts of 'Greater China': Themes, Variations and Reservations," The China Quarterly 136 (1993): 660.
52 Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991), an issue entitled "The Living Tree: The Changing Meaning of Being Chinese Today," tackles the question of how the Chinese diaspora affects and is affected by the definition of Chinese-ness. Though a crucial and significant issue to address, I find somewhat befuddling the assumption of a homogeneity and an untainted wholeness to Chinese culture prior to contemporary diasporic disruptions.

53 Tu, "Cultural China," 27. In referring to the "Third Epoch of Confucian Humanism," Tu does not explicitly endorse this movement, but reflects his sympathies with it by interposing the de-humanizing dangers created by Western modernity and technology.

54 Leo Ou-fan Lee, "On the Margins of the Chinese Discourse: Some Personal Thoughts on the Cultural Meaning of the Periphery," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 221. In discussing the political estrangement of Chinese intellectuals from the Chinese government after the Tiananmen tragedy, Lee theorizes this "China" by observing how "the Chinese nation, instead of the state,.. remains the central object of their loyaltytheir motherland." However, Lee's conceptualization of an imaginary "motherland," though intended as a means of critiquing Chinese political centrism, remains in its assumptions culturally centrist.

55 Ibid., 215. For a discussion and critique of Chinese cosmopolitanism, see Chapter Two.






39


56 Rey Chow, Primitive Passions: Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography, and Contemporary Chinese Cinema (New York: Columbia UP, 1995), 23.

57 Quoted in "HK To Be Tolerant Society, But with 'Chinese Values,' Says Tung," South China Morning Post [online], 1 July 1997, available at www.hongkong97.com.hk. Emphasis mine.

8 Stuart Hall, "The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity," Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, Eds. Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997), 178.

59 I am thinking here of Aiiieeeee!'s editors' formulation of an Asian American "sensibility" (see note 15) in an attempt to differentiate between FOB (Fresh-off-theBoat) Chinese and ABCs (American-born Chinese).
60 Chow, Writing Diaspora, 6, 126.

61 For an insightful and detailed account of the way the Chinese were stereotypically depicted (including some fascinating pictorial illustrations and photographs), see James S. Moy, Marginal Sights: Staging the Chinese in American (Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1993). Elaine Kim also offers an analysis of stereotypical caricatures of the Chinese and other Asian Americans in the literary work of Anglo-American authors such as Jack London and Mark Twain. Elaine H. Kim, Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1982). See Chapter 1 of Kim's book.
62 Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1978), 3.

63 Malini Johar Schueller, U.S. Orientalisms: Race, Nation, and Gender in Literature, 1790-1890 (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1998), 4.

64 Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung, Island Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940 (Seattle: U of Washington P, 1980). The numbers in parenthesis after each line represent page numbers and not the numbering of the poems in the book.

65 Marlon K. Hom, Songs of Gold Mountain: Cantonese Rhymes from San Francisco Chinatown (Berkeley: U of California P, 1987), 62-63. These poems were culled and translated from anthologies of Cantonese folk rhymes. They represent the literary productivity of San Francisco's Chinatown, which often took the form of poetry writing competitions modeled after Chinese literary traditions.

66 Ibid., 158. Poem number 76. Emphasis mine.






40


67 Elaine Kim discusses only a few of these authors in Asian American Literature. For a more comprehensive list of women writers and their works during the period, see Amy Ling, Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry (New York: Pergamon, 1990).

68 Kim, Asian American Literature, 24-25. 69 Ibid., 61, 63.

70 For a brief introduction to and bibliography of contemporary Chinese American literature and its major contributors, see Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, "Chinese American Literature," An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature, Ed. King-kok Cheung (New York: Cambridge UP, 1997), 39-61. 71 Timothy Pfaff, "Talk with Mrs. Kingston," New York Times Book Review, 18 June 1980, 1. Also quoted in Kim, Asian American Literature, 209. 72 Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club (New York: Ivy, 1989), 331. 73 Wang Ping, American Visa (Minneapolis: Coffee House, 1994). See also her latest novel Foreign Devil (Minneapolis: Coffee House, 1996). 74 Amy Tan, The Kitchen God's Wife (New York: Ivy, 1991). 75 Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (New York: Vintage, 1976), 6.

76 David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1988).














CHAPTER 2
CHINESE COSMOPOLITANISM CRITIQUED: CRITICAL ALTERNATIVES IN THE WORK OF LI-YOUNG LEE


Indonesia in Crisis: Race, Class, and Chinese Transnational Capital

Storm clouds of the Asian economic crisis began gathering early in 1997,

culminating in the currency devaluation, stock market crash, and social upheaval in numerous Asian countries such as Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia. Among the first few to encounter this economic onslaught was a particularly ravaged Indonesia, whose rupiah's downward spiral, coupled with the Suharto government's financial mismanagement and ironhanded rule, brought on the recent social unrest in the country: widespread retrenchment, high unemployment, famine, student and mass protests against the government, and the eventual (and long overdue) replacement of Suharto by his deputy B. J. Habibie (whom many consider to be a tolerable, though temporary, exchange for Suharto's thirty-year hold on power).' An especially horrifying part of this unrest is the ethnic violence directed at the Indonesian Chinese who are being blamed for their country's economic woes. Reports from Western and pro-Chinese media depict seemingly coordinated riots against Chinese businesses, the looting of Chinese-owned stores, and the rape of Chinese women; reports that are further intensified by the circulation of unconfirmed accounts and rumors on the Internet, graphically detailing the horrors of the anti-Chinese mob violence.




41






42

As shocked as one is by the accounts of these racially driven atrocities, the

scapegoating and the "cultural cleansing"2 of the ethnic Chinese come as no surprise; for anti-Chinese sentiments, unfortunately, constitute a recurring theme in Indonesia's colonial and postcolonial history. When the Dutch colonized the Indonesian islands, they encouraged diasporic Chinese to trade in the Dutch East Indies; hence, "for generations the Chinese lived in Indonesia but were not of Indonesia."3 This perception of the Chinese as "outsiders" was exacerbated by the 1965 anti-Communist massacre, what one historian calls the "Indonesian Chinese 'holocaust, "4 where an estimated half-a-million Chinese lives were taken.5 Indonesian Chinese were culturally and socially alienated and deprived of their rights when the government in 1965 banned the Chinese language, theater, and religious observances from public spaces, while Chinese schools were shut down by the 1970s.6 As they were also denied a political voice in government, the Chinese turned instead to the task of money-making, hence finding security by dominating Indonesia's economy. Protected by Suharto (who obviously benefited from this alliance), the rich Chinese elite now control 70 percent of the country's wealth though the Chinese only represent 4 percent of the total population.7

With Suharto's political future in jeopardy, a consequence of the economic crisis, anti-Chinese violence began to erupt as early as January 1998. Resentment against Chinese wealth has been identified as the cause of the violence, though many suspect that the scapegoating of the Chinese and the rioters' deliberate targeting of Chinese businesses were orchestrated to shift attention away from the country's economic troubles and the governmental policies that led to the present crisis.8 One commentator has noted pithily that the Chinese, by depending too much on Suharto, have "put all their






43

eggs in the economic basket,"9 instead of finding ways to participate in Indonesian politics. On the other hand, one positive outcome of the ethnic violence is that it has mobilized some Indonesian Chinese out of their political apathy and inertia, to form the Indonesian Chinese Reform Party and other pressure groups to work towards political change. Many have come to realize that ultimately economic prosperity cannot guarantee them a place in Indonesian society.

By reviewing the complexity of the Indonesian Chinese situation, I seek to

problematize any hasty assignation of blame, which tends to reduce an overdetermined political/social problem to a simplistic oppressor-victim dualism. As much as one must forcefully condemn the racially motivated mob violence, the cultural terrorism visited upon the Chinese, and the Indonesian government's role in indirectly "sanctioning" such racism, one must also question the Chinese elite's complicity in creating a classoppressive system where a rich minority of both native Indonesians and ethnic Chinese has amassed most of the country's wealth and resources, leaving a widening economic gap between the rich and the poor. To mobilize the Indonesian Chinese politically, as media commentators have suggested, is an important and crucial first step. But a conservative Indonesian Chinese politics will only further reinforce the present economic class structures; for though it may offer temporary solutions to the racial strife, it will fail to address the related underlying problem of class disparity. One must instead encourage a radical politics that not only mobilizes communal and national identification between Chinese and native Indonesian across religious" and cultural differences, but also critiques the role played by the Indonesian Chinese transnational capitalists in helping to






44

create and exploit a class oppressive (and often corrupt) system through the flexible accumulation of wealth, labor, and material resources.

The strategies of this elite class of transnational Indonesian Chinese exemplify

what Donald Nonini and Aihwa Ong have described as "forms of power that collude with the contemporary regimes of truth and power organizing the new flexible capitalisms and modern nation-states, but also act obliquely to them, and systematically set out to transgress the shifting boundaries set by both."'2 These corporate elite Indonesian Chinese manipulate and work within the Indonesian regime of power to accrue wealth, frequently by developing a symbiotic relationship with the Suharto government in order to receive its "protection" and ensure its support. At the same time, the flexible strategies of accumulation offer the elite Chinese mobility and, hence, the possibility of escape, particularly in times of crisis such as the current climate of anti-Chinese sentiments and hostilities. With the early reports and rumors of anti-Chinese uprising, many rich Chinese had already fled to the safe havens of Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries, leaving behind the majority of the ethnic Chinese, who belong to the lower and lower-middle classes, to bear the brunt of the violence. The latter ultimately are the true victims of both racial violence and class oppression. As one Indonesian Chinese sadly testifies-and in so doing disrupts the stereotype of the rich ethnic Chinese-"I'm one of the have-nots. That's the role of the conglomerates: they can go abroad. The have-nots just stay here and take what comes."'3






45

Contemporary Chinese Cosmopolitanism: Hegemonic Alliances

The Indonesian crisis, in this sense, foregrounds the complex social, economic, and political spaces, particularly within the Asia-Pacific Rim, that diasporic Chinese inhabit and from which they are deterritorialized. It also unveils the problematics of transnational culture and capital, as they intersect with the localized dimensions of race and class. Although I advocate complex readings of diasporic experience that engage local specificities, and resist reductive comparative analysis, the Indonesian situation presents significant insights into the U.S. "regimes of truth and power" that the Chinese, peripheral Chinese, and other Asian Americans have to negotiate and be subjected to. The complexity of the Asian American context similarly rejects the simplistic political dichotomy of oppressors and victims. Recent charges of illegal campaign contributions to the Democratic Party by Asian and Asian American donors illustrate this complexity.14 With Republican politicians and conservative commentators crying foul, the issue of race enters the political and media discourse, just as it has in Indonesia. Images of the Chinese in America have been calibrated into xenophobic stereotypes that now transcend the former Cold War dualism of the good (capitalist) Chinese versus the bad (communist) Chinese,15 to assume the new version of the unscrupulous and unethical Chinese transnational capitalist-exploiter, whom the Clinton administration has politically coddled for "Asian money,"'6 and who had in turn diverted wealth and jobs away from the American people. Such generalizations and stereotypes once again mask the reality of class distinction within a minority community through racial homogenization.

As is in the case of the Indonesian Chinese elite, what gets similarly highlighted here is the place of transnational capital in the culture and politics of Asian America,






46

especially when diaspora becomes an increasingly significant cultural trope to conceptualize the Asian American experience. To be able to critique the exploitative role played by modern Chinese transnationalism as it intersects with the discourses of global capitalism, Orientalism, Chinese traditionalism, and neo-conservative Asian American politics, I would like to turn to Chinese cosmopolitanism, a concept that has recently gained theoretical currency in transnational and Chinese cultural studies.

The questions of diaspora and globalization have begun to deterritorialize the notion of 'Chinese-ness" from its discursive roots within the former framework of the nation-state. Therefore, with the inadequacy of the center-periphery paradigm that has mainland China occupying the political and cultural center, sinologists and historians have started to rethink theories on Chinese culture to account for the growing significance of the Chinese diaspora in shaping Chinese modernity. Instead of completely destabilizing the center-periphery model, many of these scholars opt for a revised version of it, where Chinese diasporic culture becomes what Mike Featherstone has termed a global "Third Culture,""17 which not only accounts for its transnationality's but also retains its peripheral position within the earlier cultural paradigm.

What is specifically "global" about this Chinese transnational culture is its links to global business and transnational capitalism. But instead of simply theorizing modern Chinese transnationalism as an Eastern auxiliary to Western capitalism, sinologists envision it as an equally (if not more) successful and more humane alternative. Hence, to explain the profitability and economic viability of Chinese transnational businesses, many "point to values like industriousness, trustworthiness, risk taking, and family cohesion" and the "cooperation and solidarity" generated by "clan and occupational






47

associations" as the reasons for success. 19 This form of guanxi capitalism20 (based on familial, clan, and racial connections) deploys Chinese traditionalism and neoConfucianism21 to lend humanism and sociality--what Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew characterizes as "the glow of Chinese fraternity"22-to the otherwise cruel world of late capitalist practices and strategies. The term "Chinese cosmopolitanism," therefore, invokes on behalf of transnationalism this humanism and sociality. Leo Ou-fan Lee notes that Chinese cosmopolitanism "embraces both a fundamental commitment to Chinese culture and a multicultural receptivity, which effectively cuts across all conventional national boundaries."23 With greater philosophical grandeur, Tu Wei-ming argues that many Asian countries and "Chinese communities throughout the world have shown not only the relevance of Confucian ethics to their modus operandi but also the dynamics of the Confucian tradition in shaping their forms of life," hence producing "a new inclusive humanism with profound ethical-religious implications for the spiritual self-definition of humanity" that will ultimately affect cultural China.24

Aihwa Ong's critical work on the "flexible citizenship" of Chinese cosmopolitans constitutes an indispensable starting point in mobilizing any critique of modern Chinese transnationalism. In problematizing the "petty" orientalist discourse25 of a racialized economism marked by "Chinese" values, Ong argues that Chinese "biopolitics" and neoConfucian humanism, as structured within Chinese cosmopolitanism, mask the economic exploitation and class oppression engendered by transnational corporatism.26 To demonstrate this, she traces the concept of guanxi from its deployment during the era of colonial capitalism to that of transnational capitalism:






48

In everyday life ... there is widespread misrecognition of guanxi's
violence, while its humanism is widely extolled by ordinary folk,
businessmen, and cultural chauvinist alike. Such symbolic violence-or
the erasure of collective complicity over relations of domination and
exploitation-is also present in academic writings that unduly celebrate
guanxi as the basis of recent overseas Chinese affluence. Misrecognition
of business guanxi as basically a structure of limits and inequality for
many and enabling of flexibility and mobility for the few to accumulate
wealth is part of the ritual euphemization of "Chinese values," especially
among transnational Chinese and their spokesmen.27

What Ong has also incisively demonstrated in Chinese cosmopolitanism here is Stuart Hall's point that the global and the local are not antithetical and antagonistic formations but instead constitute "the two faces of the same movement from one epoch of globalization."28 In her excellent examination of Hmong diasporic identification and Miao political positioning, Louisa Schein also destabilizes the conceptualization of "transnationalism and the 'nation-state' as mutually exclusive and as locked in competition for paradigmatic primacy," by asking the question: "Why, instead, can these debates not work toward imagining 'nation-state' and transnational as interlocked, enmeshed, mutually constituting?"29 On the strength of this logic, I would like to argue that Chinese cosmopolitanism invokes both the global and the local by reformulating and incorporating the "localized"/nationalist ideology of Chinese cultural return into a socalled Chinese "global" economism. Frequently drawing on neo-Confucian principles, advocates of Chinese cosmopolitanism identify "Chinese" values and work ethics in this economism, hence successfully concatenating Chinese cultural traditionalism and late capitalist strategies. Chinese centrism, therefore, has adapted itself to serve transnational capital in a mutually beneficial relationship30 and, in the process, has reasserted its own political relevance and cultural hegemony within the Chinese transnational imaginary and diasporic sphere.






49

This alliance between cultural conservatism and transnational capitalism accounts in part for the entrenchment of the kind of class oppressive systems one finds in Indonesia and increasingly in the United States. With the complication of racism and racial politics, the Chinese in both these countries realize the importance of political mobilization. However, the confluence of cultural elitism and transnational capital in Chinese cosmopolitanism, as it meets up with the need to confront racism, produces a neo-conservative politics that is willing to question the injustices of racial prejudice and racist crimes but refuses to confront the inequities of class differences, which Chinese cosmopolitanism only further reinforces. Glenn Omatsu exposes this contradiction in his analysis of Asian American neo-conservatism. As products of the Reagan-Bush era, these neo-conservatives "are children of the corporate offensive against workers, the massive transfer of resources from the poor to the rich, and the rebirth of so-called 'traditional values."'3' What Omatsu obliquely alludes to but does not extrapolate are the connections between Asian American "traditional values," Asian transnational culture, and global business. The figure of the Asian American neo-conservative, in this context, represents the problematic mobilization of minority politics without fully engaging in a critical fashion the intersecting discourses of class, race, and transnational capital.

Its alignment with late capitalism and conservative politics had liberal

intellectuals shying away from the notion of cosmopolitanism, as Bruce Robbins notes in Secular Vocations.32 Instead of relinquishing claim of the concept to his political opponents, Robbins offers a radical recasting of the term, an argument he takes up in the recently published Cosmopolitics, a volume he co-edited with Pheng Cheah. "Though cosmopolitanism is clearly an outgrowth or ideological reflection of global capitalism,"






50

he argues, "it remains possible to speak (in [Paul] Rabinow's phrase) of 'critical cosmopolitanism."'33 By registering cosmopolitanism as "a domain of contested politics,"34 radical intellectuals should proffer cosmopolitical-to use Robbins and Cheah's play on the title-alternatives to challenge transnational capital's version(s) of it. Hence, one can envisage a "critical" Chinese cosmopolitanism as a theoretical mode of intervention that uncouples the links connecting Chinese traditionalism and neoconservatism to transnational capitalism and, in the process, confronts the issues of class disparity and exploitation that are often elided in the postcolonial critique of racial, cultural, and political oppressions. In taking a step towards formulating such a notion of "critical" Chinese cosmopolitanism, the next section of my essay will offer a reading of the work of Indonesian-Chinese American poet Li-Young Lee as a route towards engaging these issues. I am aware that a political project of this scope cannot be adequately addressed by mere exegesis of literary texts; therefore, my interpretation of Lee-who is by no means radical in his political identification-serves only to tease out possibilities and positionings, albeit within the literary framework, to contest and disrupt Chinese cosmopolitanism and to foster further thinking on the formulation of critical alternatives.35


Winged Deterritorialization and Cultural Cannibalism: The Cosmopolitical Visions of Li-Young Lee The poetry of Li-Young Lee, which has been compared to that of John Keats, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Theodore Roethke,36 has earned him a place among Asian American literary figures of national standing. With two collections to his credit-Rose (1986) and The City in Which I Love You (1990), Lee has also recently published an






51

autobiographical work entitled The Winged Seed: A Remembrance.37 Though much of his writing emphasizes his relationship to his father,38 responses to his Christian upbringing, and a deep sense of connection to his wife Donna, Lee also retraces his steps as a diasporic Chinese and an immigrant to the U.S. By exploring the complexities and contradictions of being Indonesian, Chinese, and American, Lee's work elicits the same kinds of cultural and political questions the historicity of the present Indonesian crisis evokes. But instead of simply reinscribing textually his triple marginality (as an ethnic Chinese in Indonesia, as a diasporic Chinese, and as a minority in America), he finds in the cultural, racial, and class violence the possibility of human connectedness, a cosmopolitical vision that does not elide the violence and the oppression but foregrounds them as connecting links in bridging the world through its humanity. The two major tropes that Lee uses to enact this vision are the deterritorialized winged seed and the image of cannibalism as cultural incorporation.

The winged seed is a powerful botanical metaphor to describe the

deterritorialization and global mobility of diasporic peoples in general. In fact, the term "diaspora" is derived etymologically from the Greek verb "to sow" or "to scatter," a concept borrowed from the dispersion of seeds by plants through various means such as water, wind, or animal/human carriers. Plants that employ wind dispersion such as the tropical Angsana tree often have built-in structures or wing extensions that enable their seeds to "fly" across vast distances. Li-Young Lee's use of this metaphor not only in the title of his latest book but also as the central trope around which he weaves his "remembrances" reveals its effectiveness in emblematizing both the trajectory of his own migratory history and the global scope and mobility of Chinese diaspora.






52

In a sense, the deterritorialized state of the winged seed is cosmopolitan in its

production of multiple belongings, not unlike that of the flexible citizenship of Chinese

transnational capitalists. However, to avoid the conservative celebratory gesture of the

latter's cosmopolitanism, Lee reveals the mechanisms that enable (or force) diasporic

flight and dispersion (frequently of the exilic type), hence unmasking the political

violence and cultural nationalisms that marginalize, uproot, and displace groups of people

into diasporic existence.

The story of Lee's diasporic flight begins in Jakarta in 1957 where he was born.

Three years later his father was "charged with working for the CIA in plans to bomb

military installations on the island of Java" and "for spreading discontent by preaching

ideas from the West",;39 he was subsequently imprisoned for a year. Lee proceeds to

detail the terrorism enacted upon Ba40 and his family by President Sukarno's

government,41 hence fleshing out the tactics of social alienation, racial incitement, and

ideological purging:

While blueprints taken from.. [Ba's] office only showed plans for
classroom buildings, copies of certain letters proved incriminating enough
for Sukarno to have him taken from his home by armed men. The squad of booted and uniformed men marching up our steps and the sight of four big army jeeps idling in our narrow street, which was barely wide enough
for the coffer seller and the coconut peddler to pass shoulder to shoulder
trundling their pushcarts, was enough of a signal to the entire
neighborhood that we'd become pariahs. Anyone associating with us
risked the same treatment. From that day on, even friends stopped coming
by.
He was, of course, innocent from the start. My father was one of the most nonpolitical persons I've ever known. ... But suspicion fell on
him because, first of all, he was Chinese, and then because, as vice
president of Gamaliel University, he'd invited a number of teachers and
scholars from seminaries all over the United States to visit Jakarta as part
of an exchange program, and he had on one occasion housed a minister from Ohio. Such associations while Sukarno was trying to ally himself
with China and Russia could not be tolerated. (107-8)






53

Overnight, the Lee's were transformed into outcasts and, later, political refugees, as Sukarno's anti-Chinese purging intensified and expanded across the country. In Lee's own ominous words, "Escape was impossible, the purge had begun, weapons were being handed out to farmers as well as thugs, and all over the island, agents of the president were preaching the evils of Chinese and other foreigners. ... What was obviously about to happen, chaos and killing, had already begun" (194). Ba's imprisonment strangely and fortuitously provided a channel of escape for the family. While being transferred to another prison in Macau, Ba escaped, with the help of a friend. The Lee family's exile brought them to Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore (38), before they arrived in Seattle in 1964 (12) and eventually settled in East Liberty, Pennsylvania (78). Lee refuses to reify the U.S. as a paradisal political safe haven. Though physical endangerment was no longer a major concern in America, diaspora has translated the Lee's from cultural periphery (as Chinese minorities in Indonesia) to cultural periphery (as Asian Americans). In the U.S., the family had to cope with a different set of racial and assimilationist politics, one that was comparatively "benign" (vis-a-vis Sukarno's Indonesia) but no less violent in its mechanism of cultural oppression and alienation: while Ba, as a pastor of a church, cares for a congregation that labels him as their "heathen minister" (82), Lee himself struggles with the psychological trauma and selfdoubt that inevitably come from failing to speak American English with the "correct" accent and pronunciation-"While some sounds were tolerated, some even granting the speaker a certain status in the instances of, say, French or British, other inflections condemned one to immediate alien. ... More than once I was told I sounded ugly. My mouth was a shame to me, an indecent trench" (76).42






54

By briefly tracing his diasporic narrative above, I hope to demonstrate Lee's refusal to render the trope of the winged seed politically inefficacious through an uncritiqued cosmopolitanism and humanism. Instead, he unveils the various structures of oppression that litter the flight path of the diasporic. His cosmopolitical vision, however, does not "wallow," so to speak, in the self-pitying ethos of the victim mentality; but trancends it through the notions of potentiality and connectedness, which the winged seed seems to offer.

Lee's interrogation and exploration of the winged seed metaphor represent an

internalized struggle on his part to negotiate between cultural risks and difficulties on the one hand, and hope, potentiality, and renewal on the other, as his description of a morning glory seed indicates:

What is a seed? Is it its flower? Is it the leaves it utters? Is it a house?
Where is the honey hidden, in which room? Where is the owner? How
much room is a flower to a bee? Who could tenant a house so narrow as a seed? Only the least among us could live there. Lighter than the flower, it
is where the flower closes at evening. Yet, in it may be growing the
flower that will overthrow all governments of crows or senators. This
seed comes to divide me from all I thought I knew. This seed revises all
existing boundaries of an ungrasped hour. This seed carries news of a new
continent and our first citizenship, and I hold it. (36)

Soon, a seed will wake, who lay all night along a ledge. Meanwhile, I
cradle in my hand this odorless seed like one dead, like one who recalls
nothing of his actions or inactions, one who bears inside now only a remembered shapeliness of certain desires or need, but things more
elemental, akin to oceans, sandstorms, and the yearning wings reveal by
their action in time. (52)

The seed's power lies in its ability to collapse time and space into its diminutive casing, latently storing the possibility and promise of life. Rhizomic in character (according to Deleuze and Guattari's conceptualization of the term43), a seed deterritorialized is not only emblematic of the diasporic's humanity, but it also signifies his or her potential in






55

disrupting cultural and political boundaries and traditions-as Lee rather teasingly asks, what is it about seeds "that might so offend a military regime" or cause "dictators [to] fear?" (46). The seed, therefore, holds for Lee a cosmopolitical faith in humanity and the hope of new beginnings.

Furthermore, I would like to read The Winged Seed as a sort of "seed" narrative in its construction. Lee disregards, in a postmodern way, narrative conventions of chronological linearity and logical progression, but collapses time and space, as in the dense, compact interiority of a seed, by shuttling between "remembrances" which are weakly and spontaneously linked together by a succession of memory triggers. This technique allows Lee to form an intricate interpenetrating network of life experiences and possibilities, which does not just tropologically reflect the seed's life force but instead resonates its own.

It is possible, on the other hand, to read Lee's musings on the seed as a form of prelapsarian utopianism mediated through a sort of Third World primordialism or primitivism, a critique that many have justly leveled at the traditionalism and humanism of contemporary Chinese cosmopolitanism. However, a contextualized look at Lee's formulation of his cosmopolitical vision via the seed metaphor reveals that he is cognizant of the pitfalls, particularly the disadvantages of the metaphor itself and the way he deploys it. For instance, he observes how stripping the morning glory seeds of their "gold husk" reveals "blacker thoughts, the seeds!" (52), the lesson being that one must come to terms with human weakness and evil, just as one celebrates human strength and goodness. Lee is also painfully conscious of the biological/cultural determinism (as he is equally resistant to his parent's brand of Christian predestination) inherent in the very






56

physiological make-up of the seed, which the following passage depicting the seed's flight suggests:

A seed, born flying, flew, knowing nothing else, it flew, and in that
persistence resembling praise it took no respite. But its natural course
was inevitably radial, away from its birth and into the second day, no
frontier, and the seed flew through. ... The seed's only companion was
the call it heard at its ear, coming from its birthplace, realm of its first day,
a call coming from behind it, prior, as it were, to the seed itself.
(92; emphasis mine).

The inexorable call of "culture" leads Lee to pun on the word "seed" as sperm, thereby delineating a response to his Chinese-ness: "The age beginning with the Yellow Emperor continues through me, whose history is in my face, my undoubled lid and alien eye, whose future is a question forming between my thighs,.., bed for seed" (95). One must acknowledge the benefits and revolutionary possibilities of cultural and ethnic identification; however, this must be tempered by a critique of essentialism, in this case that of the ideology of Chinese return, which I have engaged in Chapter One. Lee, in fact, views as suspect the notion of "blood" having claim on him just because it "was the oldest thing." He notes that Ba "felt clogged with it and damned with the talking about it" (175).

In the style of Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan, Lee weaves two tales, one about his paternal grandfather and another he hears from his grandfather's servant Old Asay told in the talk-story tradition, both of which Lee uses to subvert the primacy of blood and the idea of an unquestioning filial piety. Lee's grandfather is almost a caricature of patriarchal, sexist, and sexual violence. Practically the embodiment of evil and pure malice, Yeh Yeh (as Lee addresses him) is capable of matricide (a threat which enables him to gain control of the family wealth), spousal and child abuse (committed






57

through beatings or by denying his family food while he himself eats and his wife and children watch in hunger), and sexual assault (visited upon Fei, Lee's sister). The latter marks the limit for the young Lee, provoking him to swear "in ... [his] heart of hearts ... [he'd] chop the old man up and feed him to the birds, and never go home" (175). Yeh Yeh functions as a signifier in Lee's narrative of the oppressive elements within Chinese traditionalism. Therefore, for Lee to express such hatred for his grandfather is to create ironic moments within the text to undermine the call of "blood" to familial and social conformity. Another such moment is found in Old Asay's telling of the clan feud between the Shaw and the Lee families, both being arch rivals in the fishing industry in China. She dramatizes in the heroic mode how each family had to select a "champion" to contest and lay claim to certain territorial waters. What ultimately motivated these men was the belief in defending their family name and honor, prompting each of them to stoically plunge their "arms past the elbows into the boiling oil, and then walk home unaided"; both becoming, as Lee editorializes, "sacrificial victims" to the cause of "blood" and tradition (178).

The way Lee complicates his reading of the winged seed metaphor prevents him from settling too easily into a naive humanism or uncritiqued cosmopolitanism. On the other hand, by foregrounding the potentiality of the seed, he validates his cosmopolitical vision, which he further accomplishes through the notion of a human connectedness that transcends social, national, and cultural boundaries. This idea of connection forms a thematic consistency in a series of stories and occurrences within the seemingly random and serendipitous remembrances that structure Lee's seed-like narrative. What is radical and politically effective about his concept of connectedness is that it dislocates the elitist






58

potential in humanism and Chinese cosmopolitanism by drawing instead on the solidarity and empathy felt between the marginalized and the oppressed, the "discarded lives"

(81).44

Having just arrived in Seattle in 1964 and experiencing the trauma of

displacement and alienation which migrancy bestows (through what Rey Chow theorizes as "a new ecology ... of human-as-waste"45), the Lee family espies in a train station "a young woman in a trench coat and the baby in her arms, wrapped in the piss-sodden pages of a Spiegel catalog" (14), both of them emaciated by hunger and homelessness. Despite their own state of poverty and material want-two tins of butter cookies and sixty dollars are all that is left to feed the family of six till work can be found-Lee's mother offers an unopened tin and a sweater to the young woman and child, and even shows her how to feed the baby with freshly masticated butter cookies. Another instance of compassionate connection one finds in Lee's recollections of his father reaching out to "the 'other' members of... [his] congregation" whose liminality and marginalization from the social mainstream of the church resulted in their living "uncounted, discarded lives" (81). There is Mrs. Ethel Black whose family has abandoned her in her senility to a "soiled" and a "half crazed" state of existence (78-81); or Mona Cook whose prostitution and alcoholism have driven her to psychopathic hallucinations and violence (81-82; 84-85).

[Ba] used to lie awake at night thinking about them, his prayers worrying
God about this and or that person's misfortune or pain. I think he loved
each and every one of them, and more than I ever felt they deserved, they
who referred to him as their heathen minister, these alcoholic mothers ...,
delinquent children, shell-shocked bus drivers, pedophilic schoolteachers, adulterous barmaids, desiccated widowers, bruised prostitutes..., boring
executives, retarded janitors, liars, cheaters, drinkers, dopers,
motherfuckers, prodigals, sinners each and every one of us, and believers.






59

Perhaps it was my father's calling to love every mangled or lost or refused
soul. (82)

These stories and instances of human compassion and connection populate Lee's childhood and imagination, and provide the "emotional accuracy" (123)46 which enables the production of an alternative cosmopolitical vision that is both humane and just.

To complete my reading of Lee's cosmopolitanism, I would like to examine his deployment of cannibalism as a trope for cultural incorporation. The concept of cultural cannibalism has a theoretical legacy of critical intervention in Asian American literary discourse. It uncovers the oppression and cultural violence of racism and assimilationist rhetoric endured by Asian Americans. In discussing alimentary and quasi-cannibalistic images in Asian American literature, Sau-ling Cynthia Wong warns critics against relying solely on Western and Christian understandings of these images and proposes that by reading them contextually and collectively (within the parameters of Asian American textuality and experience), these images could "symbolize Necessity-all the hardships, deprivations, restrictions, disenfranchisements, and dislocations that Asian Americans have collectively suffered as immigrants and minorities in a white-dominated country."47 While Lee taps into this imagistic and tropological tradition by demonstrating how statesponsored terrorism, diasporic displacement, and cultural violations have "eaten" into the lives of his family, he also directionally reverses the image in order to convey unity, circularity, and connection. This two-fold deployment of the trope of cultural cannibalism opens spaces for cosmopolitical possibilities, though not at the expense of political critique.

bell hooks argues that the commodification and "consumption" of the Other

provide a means of perpetuating "white racism, imperialism, and sexist domination"; "by






60

eating the Other.. one asserts power and privilege."48 Displacing this critical understanding of cannibalism from its American context allows Lee to demonstrate its applicability within the Indonesian setting:

Mu was getting devoured. First, there was Ba's absence, which ate her
daily, leaving her thin; her eyes stared and looked bruised, Fei recalls.
And the other men ate her, the ones at every Administration doorway, the ones at the prison gates. Not only was her body becoming lighter, so was her purse, and eventually her house. One day a group of soldiers arrived
in a truck to seize our belongings. ... And then more men came, the ones
dressed in shabby uniforms and sandals, wild, hungry-looking men who
materialized all over the city, who capitalized on the chaos that was
spreading all over the city. (116)

Lee's powerful employment of the above image-the cannibalization of Mu--speaks voluminously of the persecution suffered by the Chinese and other opponents of the Sukarno government. It interestingly also allows Lee to affirm the oppositional potential and political legitimacy of the trope's conventional usage in Asian American literature, before re-mobilizing it as a building block for his cosmopolitanism. Hence, cannibalism and quasi-cannibalism begin to shift in their tropological valence towards notions of unity and connection through one's humanity.

In order to link the body physical to the body social, in his conceptualization of cosmopolitical oneness, Lee directs his attention to the human body, immersing in all its physicality, appetites, needs, functions, and processes. Particularly engaging and telling are the passages in The Winged Seed that reflect Lee's persistent fascination with his father's body, especially as the latter ages and approaches death. Because "in him [Ba] was my beginning" and "from him I rose," Lee reasons, "naturally, his body interested me continually" (181). Lee describes in excruciating scatological detail the ordeal of having to help relieve a badly constipated Ba (invalided in his old age) by physically






61

extricating "the hard lumps" from Ba's body (158-9). As odious as this task is to him, Lee is able to transcend his repugnance towards human waste, and to philosophize, rather poetically I might add, on the proverbial circle of life:

For shit's boon too, result of stomach, a self, and rank fire threshing bonds and forcing matter through base great changes, changing eaten stuff to life
and death to be shat out in hot lumps looking nothing like us, yet, so us,
utterly. And that smell in the air is what but dying? Nothing but perfume.
Let us be singing the body passed out of the body, the evicted self, flesh of
waste, for we are up from fire and straight to ashes. Where better for
seeds than a residence of dung? Where better for flowers to be springing
all but their secret: The dream color. Where is our true bed but this
aromatic bread? We are bread. We should, like bread, be rising singing
and, unlike bread, be knowing singing's ground, the tongue stuck in a cave of the cave-ridden, hive-laden, pitted, pocked body which shits itself, blind
or disillusioned. The tongue, roughed up from shit, utters good vapors
into magnificat. The sacrament is excrement, the true host is earth, peeled
from us who are our guts and their furnace which make of impersonal
bounties our Personhoods. (137-38)

The circularity of the imagery, in depicting the interconnectedness of all life, sutures disparate and oppositional elements-food and excrement, ingestion and expulsion, perfume and stench, life and death, the spiritual and the material-to create a monadic world view that destabilizes the boundaries between the privileged and the discarded, the individual and the cosmos.

This lesson that Lee learns from things elemental provides the philosophical basis for him to emphasize the importance of cultural change, adaptation, and incorporation in the calibration of a diasporic identity; and for him to extend this diasporic consciousness into a secular, or worldly (to borrow Edward Said's critical formulation49), vision of human oneness. On this final point, I would like to turn to a poem entitled "The Cleaving," taken from Lee's second volume The City in Which I Love You. Here, Lee reverses the "negativity" of cultural cannibalism, employs it in a way that reflects Stuart






62

Hall's conception of cultural identity as "a matter of 'becoming' as well as 'being,"'50

and uses it to flesh out his cosmopolitical vision of connectedness.

The poem begins with the protagonist's visit to the Hon Kee Grocery to watch a

meat seller, who has "a sorrowful Chinese face,"51 cut and sell roast pork and duck. He

becomes enthralled by the way the butcher violates the duck's carcass, a process which

Lee describes in graphic and yet sensual terms. Death, dismemberment, and eating are

intricately entwined:

Did this animal, after all, at the moment
its neck broke,
image the way his executioner
shrinks from his own death?
Is this how
I, too, recoil from my day?

The butcher sees me eye this delicacy [the duck's brain].
With a finger, he picks it
out of the skull-cradle
and offers it to me.
I take it gingerly between my fingers
and suck it down.
I eat my man. (79-80)

After witnessing the violent cleaving of the duck and his complicitous but pleasurable

partaking of its body, the protagonist encounters a fish dealer and contemplates

cannibalism, where he would incorporate the butcher and the world around him into his

own sense of diasporic existence and cultural specificity:

What is it in me will not let
the world be, would eat
not just this fish,
but the one who killed it,
the butcher who cleaned it.
I would eat the way he
squats, the way he
reaches into the plastic tubs
and pulls out a fish, clubs it, takes it






63

to the sink, guts it, drops it on the weighing pan.

The deaths at the sinks, those bodies prepared
for eating, I would eat, and the standing deaths
at the counters, in the aisles,
the walking deaths in the streets,
the death-far-from-home, the deathin-a-strange-land, these Chinatown
deaths, these American deaths.
I would devour this race to sing it,
this race that according to Emerson
managed to preserve to a hair
for three or four thousand years the ugliest features in the world.
I would eat these features, eat
the last three or four thousand years, every hair.
And I would eat Emerson, his transparent soul, his
soporific transcendence. (82-83)

The physicality of eating, cultural eating, enables the protagonist to empathize and

connect with other Asian Americans, past and present, in a solidarity of marginalized

experiences. Although he, metaphorically or in actuality, has "swallowed," as Sau-ling

Cynthia Wong puts it, the "physical hardship or humiliation"52 suffered by the early

Chinese immigrants, the protagonist is by no means stereotypically submissive and

passive (as evident in the model minority paradigm) in his "acceptance" of the anti-Asian

racism and discrimination. Instead of responding in kind through cultural nationalism

and essentialism, he envisions instead a more inclusive cosmopolitical unity:

No easy thing, violence.
One of its names? Change. Change
resides in the embrace
of the effaced and the effacer,
in the covenant of the opened and the opener;
the axe accomplishes it on the soul's axis.
What then may I do
but cleave to what cleaves me.
I kiss the blade and eat my meat.
I thank the wielder and receive,






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while terror spirits
my change, sorrow also.
The terror the butcher scripts in the unhealed
air, the sorrow of his Shang
dynasty face,
African face with slit eyes. He is
my sister, this
beautiful Bedouin, this Shulamite,
keeper of sabbaths, diviner
of holy texts, this dark
dancer, this Jew, this Asian, this one
with the Cambodian face, Vietnamese face, this Chinese
I daily face,
this immigrant,
this man with my own face. (86-87)

As he "embraces" the cleaving violence of the butcher's blade, he also welcomes the breaking down of cultural boundaries; not in the sense that he denies the oppositional and political usefulness of affirming differences in terms of race, gender, sexuality, and religion, but rather in that he sees the social and cultural multiplicity as a mosaic, heterogenous parts of a collective whole, connected in oneness through a common humanity. The ability of the protagonist, Lee's cosmopolitan, to identify with the Other makes his cosmopolitical oneness truly "global," vis-i-vis the cultural provincialism implicit in contemporary Chinese cosmopolitanism. On the other hand, one must also acknowledge that the celebratory imagery in this particular passage unfortunately can also camouflage dangers one finds in U.S. multiculturalism, where class inequalities and uneven power distribution are often made transparent, and where cultural diversity is frequently co-opted to further the hegemonic goals of transnational capital. These are the pitfalls that Lee needs to circumvent and to critique as he constructs a cosmopolitical vision that can in any sense be called "critical."






65

The political piquancy of Li-Young Lee's vision lies ultimately in his ability to push it to the theoretical edge of a cosmopolitical humanism in order to draw on its idealism, often without allowing it to fall off into the deep end of an uncritical liberal humanism-a humanism that conceptualizes the Euro-American experience as the universal norm at the expense of minority cultural identities. To keep in check this idealism, Lee unrelentingly excavates the different strata of cultural violence, political domination, racial oppression, and class exploitation. Hence, cultural cannibalism and incorporation (despite the possible dangers) demonstrate not just the idealized hope of unity and connection, but also the cultural and political violence emblematized by the butchering of carcasses and the protagonist's consumption of them. It is this two-fold approach of idealization and critique that renders Lee's vision a viable starting point for theorizing a radical alternative to the hegemony of contemporary Chinese cosmopolitanism and transnational capitalist culture.


Notes


President Habibie's government is now facing a critical juncture in its tenure. In November of 1998, military troops and security forces clashed with student protestors, who were demanding greater democratic changes in the political system, the removal of the military from politics, and an investigation into the corrupt practices of former president Suharto. At least sixteen people were killed. "Hundreds March as Indonesian Parliament Promises to Enact Reforms," CNNInteractive [online], 18 November 1998, available at cnn.com.

2 Michael Backman, "Blame Indonesia's Chinese?" Far Eastern Economic Review, 5 March 1998, 34.

3 Jonathan Paris, "Minority Rules: How Indonesia's Chinese Can Survive, The New Republic, 13 July 1998, 21.

4 Tu Wei-ming, "Cultural China: The Periphery as the Center," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 19.






66



5 Seth Mydans, "Indonesia Turns Its Chinese into Scapegoats," The New York Times, 2 February 1998, A3.
6 David Yen-ho Wu, "The Construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese Identities," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 166.
7 Steven Butler, "Chinese Bear the Brunt of Anger," U.S. News & World Report, 2 March 1998, 51.
8 John McBeth, with Salil Tripathi, "Playing with Ire," Far Eastern Economic Review, 5 March 1998, 18-19. Though there is no evidence that the government is involved in the riots, Human Rights Watch believes that the government should shoulder part of the blame as it "failed to explain that high food prices and food shortages are not the fault of individual retailers" and "that the ethnic Chinese are a valued and important part of Indonesian society" (18).

9 Paris, "Minority Rules," 20.

0 Frank Ching, "Indonesian-Chinese Mobilizes," Far Eastern Economic Review, 25 June 1998, 37.

"~ Islam is the state religion of Indonesia, while the ethnic Chinese are predominantly Buddhists and Christians. Though the religious differences multiply the cultural tensions between the two ethnic groups, as demonstrated in Li-Young Lee's The Winged Seed, Lee also offers in his text the possibility of connection and harmony in spite of these differences. See my discussion of Lee below. 12 Donald M. Nonini and Aihwa Ong, "Chinese Transnationalism as an Alternative Modernity," Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism, Eds. Aihwa Ong and Donald M. Nonini (New York: Routledge, 1997), 20.
13 Quoted in Mydans, "Indonesians Turn Its Chinese into Scapegoats."

14 For a chronicle of the complicated relationship between the Clinton administration and rich and well-connected Asians and Asian Americans such as John Huang and James Riady (a wealthy Indonesian transnational capitalist), see John Kifner, "Clinton Advertising Plan Led to Asian-American Donors," The New York Times [online], 14 April 1997, available at nytimes.com.
15 Aihwa Ong, "Flexible Citizenship among Chinese Cosmopolitans," Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation, Eds. Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998), 151. This is a revised version of her essay "On






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the Edge of Empires: Flexible Citizenship among Chinese in Diaspora," positions 1 (1993): 745-78.
16 David E. Sanger, "The 'Asian Money' Machine Stirs Old Fears in America, The New York Times [online], 4 January 1997, available at nytimes.com. 17 Mike Featherstone, "Global Culture: An Introduction," Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity, Ed. Mike Featherstone (London: SAGE, 1990), 1. 18 Nonini and Ong have observed how modern Chinese transnationalism is a form of this "third culture." Nonini and Ong, "Chinese Transnationalism as an Alternative Modernity," 11.

19 Gungwu Wang, "Among Non-Chinese," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 140. 20 Tu, "Cultural China," 6.

21 Hung-chao Tai, ed., Confucianism and Economic Development: An Oriental Alternative? (Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute P, 1989). 22 Quoted in Aihwa Ong, "Chinese Modernities: Narrative of Nation and of Capitalism," Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism, 179. 23 Leo Ou-fan Lee, "On the Margins of the Chinese Discourse: Some Personal Thoughts on the Cultural Meaning of the Periphery," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 215. 24 Tu, "Cultural China," 26-27. "Cultural China" is used as an inclusive term for Chinese culture in a global setting.
25 Ong, "Flexible Citizenship," 135.

26 For TNC exploitation, see Masao Miyoshi, "A Borderless World? From Colonialism to Transnationalism and the Decline of the Nation State," Critical Inquiry 19 (1993): 726-51.
27 Ong, "Flexible Citizenship," 139-40.

28 Stuart Hall, "The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity," Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, Eds. Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998), 169-70. 29 Louisa Schein, "Importing Miao Brethren to Hmong America: A Not-So-Stateless Transnationalism," Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation, Eds. Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998), 169-70.






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30 This point also illustrates Stuart Hall's argument that capital does not negate particularity in its process of commodification but rather works through the specificities of culture, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality. Hall, "The Local and the Global," 180. 31 Glenn Omatsu, "The 'Four Prisons' and the Movements of Liberation: Asian American Activism from the 1960s to the 1990s," The State ofAsian American: Activism and Resistance in the 1990s, Ed. Karin Aguilar-San Juan (Boston: South End P, 1994), 46. For Omatsu's excellent unraveling of the contradictory logic behind Asian American neo-conservative politics, see especially pages 42-50. 32 Bruce Robbins, Secular Vocations: Intellectuals, Professionalism, Culture (London: Verso, 1993), 182.

33 Bruce Robbins, "Introduction Part I: Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism," Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation, Eds. Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998), 7-8.

34 Ibid., 12.

35 My tentative approach towards defining (in rather reactive terms) a critical alternative to Chinese cosmopolitanism is indicative of the fact that "we do not yet have the knowledge or the discourse," as Paul Bove observes, "to deal with the TNC-world Miyoshi ... summons as the nightmare fact of the global division of labor." Paul A. Bove, "Afterword: 'Global/Local' Memory and Thought," Global/Local: Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary, Eds. Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake (Durham: Duke UP, 1996), 380-81. Despite the "belatedness" of such critical work, one needs to press on in the search for fresh strategies in dealing with capital's present global hegemony, in the hopes of stumbling upon measures that will prove to be proactive instead of simply responsive to transnational capitalism's trajectory.

36 See Gerald Stem's forward to Li-Young Lee's Rose.

37 Li-Young Lee, Rose (Brockport, NY: BOA Editions, 1986); The City in Which I Love You (Brockport, NY: BOA Editions, 1990); The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995). The City in Which ILove You was the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. 38 John C. Hawley, "Gus Lee, Chang-Rae Lee, and Li-Young Lee: The Search for the Father in Asian American Literature," Ideas ofHome: Literature ofAsian Migration, Ed. Geoffrey Kain (East Lansing: Michigan State UP, 1997), 183-95. 39 Lee, The Winged Seed, 107. Subsequent references to this text will be parenthetically documented.






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40 Ba is the Chinese version of "Dad," constituting a more casual form of address than "Father."
41 Sukarno became the first president of a newly decolonized Indonesia in 1945.

42 The politics of language and speech patterns is a problematic well laid out by a number of Asian American authors, hence highlighting its significance and importance to Asian American studies and activism. See especially Maxine Hong Kingston's "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe" in The Woman Warrior: Memoirs ofa Girlhood among Ghosts (New York: Vintage, 1976); Amy Tan, "Mother Tongue," Asian American Literature: A BriefIntroduction and Anthology, Ed. Shawn Wong (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 40-44; and Traise Yamamoto, "Different Silences," The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism, Eds. Diane P. Freedman, Olivia Frey, and Frances Murphy Zauhar (Durham: Duke UP, 1993), 127-34.

43 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, "Introduction: Rhizome," A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987), 3-25.

44 One is reminded of E. M. Forster's dictum here to "only connect," as articulated by Margaret Schlegel in Howards End. Forster's idealization of "personal relationships" as one of the tenets of his philosophical creed presented in "What I Believe," though heart warming in its humanism, falters into an elitism that has also plagued the liberalism of the Bloomsbury Group on the whole. See Edward Morgan Forster, "What I Believe," Two Cheers for Democracy (New York: Harcourt, 1951). 45 Rey Chow, Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993), 179. 46 In a different context, Lee uses this term to describe the stories his Javanese maidservants Seeti and Lammi told him while he was a little boy. What Lee found to be "true" is not the stories per se, but "the stories behind the stories that" convinced him "our island of cities and rice fields, forests, rivers, and volcanoes was The World" (123). I would argue that this constitutes the seed, the beginning, of Lee's cosmopolitical thought.
47 Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993), 20. 48 bell hooks, "Eating the Other: Desire and Representation," Black Looks: Race and Representation (Boston: South End P, 1992), 36.

49 Edward W. Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1983).






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so Stuart Hall, "Cultural Identity and Diaspora," Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: A Reader, Eds. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (New York: Columbia UP, 1994), 394. Originally published in J. Rutherford, ed., Identity: Community, Culture, Difference (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), 222-37.

51 Lee, The City in Which I Love You, 77. Subsequent references to the poem from this volume will be parenthetically documented.
52 Wong, Reading Asian American Literature, 37.














CHAPTER 3
CRISES IN THE HOMELAND(S):
HONG KONG AMERICANS AND THE ART OF CULTURAL NEGOTIATION


Hope lies within another country's semaphores. The Goddess of Liberty, the Statue of Mercy ...
Marilyn Chin
from "Tienanmen, the Aftermath"'


Taking Sides?

Any discussion in the West about the fate of Hong Kong after 1997 inevitably encompasses the words "democracy," "human rights," and "political freedoms" in its discursive vocabulary, especially when Tiananmen Square 1989 functions for many as the historical signifier that disturbs the narrative of Hong Kong's return to the motherland and that unveils the ideological and political implications of the Chinese rule of Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region). In a recent conversation at a dinner party, this issue was raised, and a Chinese friend of mine who was visiting the U.S. at the time made the following observation: "I do not understand why Americans are so obsessed with Tiananmen; in China, it is a matter of little significance to the rest of the country." The debate that expectedly ensued was critically intense. But in a calmer moment of retrospection (after all the dust has settled), I realize that what my mainland friend has said unintentionally offers an aporetic space for one to (re)examine the public discourses that swirl around the Hong Kong question and their impact on global and cultural politics, especially for Chinese in diaspora. The obvious problem with my friend's


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statement is not that he questions the factuality of Tiananmen 1989 but that he denies or, more accurately, represses into his political unconscious its brutality and its reverberating and debilitating effects on movements that champion individual and political rights and freedoms in China. Therefore, in his mind, the massacre has been conveniently relegated to a footnote in Chinese history, explained away as a moment of youthful indiscretion and immaturity on the part of the student protesters. My critique of his position-which also happens to be the position adopted by the Chinese government-is a familiar and convincing one for many of us in the West. However, I would like to take a further step in unpacking the implications and assumptions nestled in my friend's statement, not just to explore the limits of its ideology but also to use it to interrogate the strategies of "democracy" as deployed by the West.

The place of "human rights" and "democracy" in U.S. public, media, and foreign policy discourses on China has been naturalized to the point where my Chinese friend's accusation of America's "obsession" would appear to us as misguided, illogical, or even politically motivated. Though his observation is ultimately flawed, what I would argue is that it helps one rethink the "logic" of democracy-something that we in the West take for granted-and to examine what this logic can mask. Hence, I would like to reinterpret this "obsession" as an effect of an Orientalizing discourse Rey Chow has characterized as the "King Kong syndrome," where China has been conceptualized "as a spectacular primitive monster whose despotism necessitates the salvation of its people by outsiders."2 To avoid demonizing China, the West should accompany its criticism, especially in the case of Hong Kong, with a critique of Western imperialism; for without this critique, the rhetoric of "democracy" simply exposes, as Chow puts it, the "double standard" of the






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West-any recitation of Hong Kong's colonial history will reveal Britain's naked aggression in precipitating the Opium Wars, a point which "the U.S. media habitually ignores."3 In light of Britain's "eleventh-hour" attempt at democratizing Hong Kong, the West's insistence on "democracy" becomes glaringly hypocritical.4 The language of "democracy" furthermore camouflages the exploitation and hegemonic manipulation of global capitalism, in an age where foreign policy works to protect transnational corporatism.5

On the other hand, one cannot deny that what is operative in my friend's attempt to distance himself (on behalf of all mainland Chinese) from America's "obsession" with Tiananmen, through articulating a homogenizing view of public indifference to the crisis, is a politics of denial which allows him to "cope" in complicity with the Chinese government's tactics of violence and suppression. The mechanism through which this politics is deployed is none other than a self-Orientalizing Us/Them binarism that reifies an East/West cultural division. This split constructs the "obsession" with Tiananmen as a metonymy for Westerners' selfish regard for individuality (as if social relations are of little importance in the West), while it nativistically brackets the East within the cultural inevitability of Asian social and familial ties (as if only the community and the nation assumed preeminence in the minds of the people, and personal rights and freedoms did not command any significance at all).

The violence that this binarism produces is not just epistemological, but it is also culturally, socially, and politically coercive. What it confronts diasporic Chinese with is a demand that they take sides, either to claim an Eastern sense of social "responsibility" and "stability" at the expense of political difference and individual voice, or to embrace






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Western individualistic ways and, hence, to taint oneself culturally and to prostitute one's political soul to the schemes of Western imperialism: a choice of "double impossibility."6 A way of circumventing and critiquing this binary logic is to negotiate a cultural and political space in-between these poles, a space in which I would like now to situate the problematics of Hong Kong Americans' diasporic consciousness and cultural/political identity negotiation, especially as they view the crises of their original homeland(s) from afar.

The difficult questions of cultural and diasporic identity asked by Hong Kong

Americans are in ways no different from those of the average Chinese American7: What does it mean to be an ethnic Chinese in America? How does one grapple with one's Asian-ness and yet establish an American identity? How can Chinese (and other Asian) Americans come to terms with U.S. neo-colonialism, especially when the Asia-Pacific region is the theater where American imperialist adventurism is often played out? However, these contradictions that come to bear on Chinese Americans in general were compounded for Hong Kong Americans with the arrival of 1997, when the "postcoloniality" of Hong Kong in effect erases the former British outpost from the map of international relations. The notion of "homeland," as a result, becomes problematic when Hong Kong as a national (if I can even use this term) entity disappears and is incorporated into the larger polity that is mainland China. This event creates for Hong Kong diasporics a split vision of China/Hong Kong as imaginary homeland (which accounts for the parenthesized plural suffix "s" I have attached to the word "homeland(s)" in the title for this chapter). This plurality confers upon the notions of cultural and national origins a certain liminality for Hong Kong Americans as they






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struggle with this double vision. What I am suggesting here is not so much the erasure of a material Hong Kong culture with the handover in 1997, but rather the intensification of a politics of subjectivity that the Hong Kong people and Hong Kong diasporics, including Hong Kong Americans, have to negotiate as Hong Kong itself shuffles between a British colonial legacy, a Chinese nationality, and a distinct but marginalized Hong Kong cultural identity. Hence, the notion of Hong Kong Americans witnessing the historical "crises" (as in Tiananmen Square and the 1997 handover) is crucial in my analysis, particularly in the way such events dislocate these cultural negotiations and throw into "crisis" the question of subjectivity.

A brief examination of the cultural and political scene that the Hong Kong people have occupied is critical in shedding some light on the Hong Kong American cultural identity predicament. Since the beginning of British rule, Hong Kong, the port city, has regularly been regarded "as a space of transit," a city of migrants who adopt what Ackbar Abbas calls a "port mentality," where "everything is provisional, ad hoc" and where "everything floats--currencies, values, human relations."8 This feeling of transience was compounded by the British who, for imperialist reasons, minimized the political participation of the Hong Kong people, who could only channel their energies into the economic sphere, which is their "only condition of possibility."9 Politically and culturally, many also see Hong Kong as "a borrowed place,"'o which will one day be returned to China. These different sociopolitical factors contribute to a misguided belief (again premised on the Orientalist East-versus-West dichotomy) that the very idea of a Hong Kong culture is oxymoronic. This notion is based on the following logic: if China is the cultural origin and future of Hong Kong, one must then judge the authenticity of






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Hong Kong culture against that of traditional Chinese "culture"; but since Hong Kong has been so Westernized on the basis of its colonial history, Hong Kong culture cannot be pure and, hence, must be rejected as illegitimate and insignificant. This line of reasoning has led many locals to describe Hong Kong as "a cultural desert" "Not that there was nothing going on in cinema, architecture, and writing," Abbas explains, "it was just not recognized to be culture as such."" In fact, this state of cultural liminality (as opposed to cultural absence) also allowed the British to utilize Hong Kong as, according to the last governor Chris Patten, "a bridge ... between the West and China,"'2 without the British government ever needing to commit itself to fight for Hong Kong's right of national autonomy and existence after 1997. The argument is that since colonial Hong Kong has only and always been a "borrowed place," culturally speaking, from China, the "absence" of a legitimate autonomous culture disqualifies Hong Kong from the right to claim postcolonial nationhood.'3

The Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984,14 which set the clock ticking towards 1997, basically awakened many in Hong Kong to the urgency of this question of culture and nation, which Tiananmen Square only intensified and reiterated. In talking about the inception of the new Hong Kong cinema, Abbas observes how historical crises help initiate a paradigm shift in the cultural thinking and national perception of the people in Hong Kong:

The Joint Declaration caused a certain amount of anxiety, even though one
of its terms is that the sociopolitical structure of Hong Kong will remain
unchanged for fifty years (according to the slogan "One country, two
systems"). But it also had another effect: it made Hong Kong people look
at the place with new eyes. It is as if the possibility of such a social and cultural space disappearing, in the form we know it today, has led to our
seeing it in all its complexity and contradiction for the first time, an
instance, as Benjamin would have said, of love at last sight. ... [The






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Hong Kong] public [became] suddenly anxious about its cultural identity
because so many issues of social and political liberties hinge on that
question. It would be that much harder for Hong Kong citizens to argue
the case for political autonomy after 1997 if it could not make the case for
cultural identity now.'5

Abbas' exploration of the post-1984 cultural production in Hong Kong cinema, architecture, and literature reveals "a culture of disappearance" that reflects a strategy Hong Kong artists deploy to cope with the denial of their cultural autonomy by both Britain and China. As a mode of oppositional aesthetics, the notion of "disappearance ... does not imply nonappearance, absence, or lack of presence," rather it is a moment of "misrecognition," a "pathology of presence," where representations of Hong Kong deploy techniques of "replacement and substitution"'6 and of "reverse hallucination"-of "not seeing what is there"17--to assert a Hong Kong cultural presence. More simply put, it is a sort of reverse psychology that uses representations of "disappearance to deal with disappearance."'8 It is a strategy that negotiates an in-between space through a destabilization of the East-West, China-Britain binarism that has dominated Hong Kong cultural politics and that has displaced any possibility for the legitimization of a Hong Kong culture. This strategy of disappearance, hence, gives Hong Kong culture "a critical edge, ... a culture that interrogates the very nature of Hong Kong and explores the possibility of its redefinition."'9

By shifting attention at this juncture to the cultural identity issue posed earlier regarding Hong Kong Americans, one can forecast a number of questions raised by the cultural and political struggles of Hong Kong: What difficulties or possibilities do these contested spaces of culture in Hong Kong pose for Hong Kong Americans, particularly when they have to deal with an unsettling double vision of China/Hong Kong as cultural






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origin? Do these cultural spaces also offer strategies to resist Western imperialism (in the form of a past British coloniality and a present American neo-colonialism masked by the rhetoric of "democracy") and yet to challenge Chinese centrism (and its logic of cultural return)? How do these strategies help Hong Kong Americans critically tackle the trauma of witnessing the crises in their homeland(s) and, at the same time, present radical democracy as an alternative to its Western capitalist counterpart and as a challenge to Chinese authoritarianism? In an attempt to examine the problematics that these questions delineate, I would like to offer readings of the works of two Hong Kong Americans: Marilyn Chin's poetry on Tiananmen and Wayne Wang's recent filmic tribute to Hong Kong 1997, Chinese Box. The way these works grapple with "crises" is indicative of the demands and contradictions confronting cultural negotiation.


Ambiguities of Hope: Marilyn Chin on the Crisis in Tiananmen

The spilling of Chinese blood on Tianamen Square marks a terrifying moment of trauma for many diasporic Chinese, a moment that has precipitated an outpouring of artistic expressions to help articulate not only the pain and outrage but also a deep sense of national and cultural crisis that the massacre has inflicted. One of these artistic expressions is a series of poems entitled "Beijing Spring" in Marilyn Chin's second poetry collection The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty.20 What is significant about these poems is that they offer a glimpse into the complex world of cultural contestation and negotiation of a Hong Kong American, as she struggles to make sense of the crisis and its implications for the increasingly contradictory space she occupies between China and America.






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By dedicating the segment "Beijing Spring" to "the Chinese Democratic

Movement" (84), Chin establishes from the start that her sympathies do lie with the student protestors and the cause that they were fighting (and, in some cases, dying) for. However, she does not allow her political identification to be co-opted by a simplistic Us/Them binarism--democracy/communism, West/East, victim/oppressor, friend/foe. Instead, the Tiananmen crisis and its aftermath offer Chin the opportunity to bring into question the West's ideological "ownership" of democracy, which she accomplishes through the problematization of the cultural-ideological semiotics involved. Chin also engages the narrative logic of a Chinese utopianism as a means of exploring the contradictions of Chinese cultural and national identities. The established trope of the sexual/love relationship as national allegory also provides a useful and flexible metaphor for Chin to mobilize a two-pronged approach: she first deploys it to challenge China's violence against her own people, before tapping into its more positive and life-affirming aspects to shore up the political hopes and idealism deflated by the Tiananmen crisis.21

Chin defines the tone of her poetry beginning with the title of this series "Beijing Spring," about which I would like now to offer a few scattered interpretive observations. The concept of spring in Chinese culture is in many ways no different from its deployment in the Euro-American literary tradition, especially in its association with new life, new hopes, and new beginnings. But the localized specificity of a Beijing spring brings with it a certain contrary element of a lingering harsh winter. This cold is compounded by the bitter freezing winds that sweep through dusty Beijing streets, an image that contradicts and, hence, offers an ironic tension to the optimism of spring, creating what I would call the ambiguities of hope. Such ambiguities open up literary






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and poetic possibilities for the depiction of loneliness and love lost, a point I will return to when discussing the poem "Beijing Spring." For the moment, suffice it to say that the ambiguities of hope signify a struggle on the part of Chin to come to terms with the idealism and failure of the student movement in Tiananmen, the budding of political democracy and its premature demise, and the energy of youthful determination and its unfortunate dissipation the instant government tanks rolled over student bodies.22 Hence, a Beijing spring, when viewed through the political framework of Tiananmen Square, becomes an ironic space where life and death, hope and despair simultaneously reside. It is important, however, to note that it is not a space of paralysis for Chin, but instead an in-between space of contradiction, contestation, and critique. Painful as it is for one to occupy such a position, it has the potential to be an interventional space for cultural, political, and national identity negotiations.

The ambiguities and contradictions involved in these negotiations characterize the opening poem "New China," which I have quoted in its entirety below. Though it does not deal directly with Tiananmen, this poem is important in that it appeals to an attachment many diasporic Chinese have to the nation "China" as their cultural center; this attachment is crucial in helping one understand the hopes and the despair that Tiananmen as political signifier embodies: In youth I had nothing
That warned me of heaven's vagaries
My nature always was to love the hills and waters.
Then, suddenly, I plunged
Into the squalid pitfall, the world.
Once having fallen
It would be forty-two yearsThe worm must dig deeper now to find the light.






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Yet, my caged canary
Yearns to sing in the forest.
The fattened koi in my pond
Dreams of the ocean.

And I, their master, must one day set them free. No grief nor joy greater than this one. (85) The title "New China" appeals to a Chinese utopianism that many Chinese and diasporic Chinese hold to, a hope that "China" (however one wishes to define the term) may one day regain its political and cultural glory. A "New China" assumes a certain mythic quality that allows it to function as a nationalist rallying call. This "New China," hence, becomes the fitting telos to the postlapsarian narrative that Chin sets up in the first half of the poem. Here, the protagonist falls from a state of Wordsworthian innocence to come face to face with the harshness and the difficulties of "the world;" she must then return to "the light," the original glory, in order to attain salvation from her fallen state. Reading this utopianism within the framework of Tiananmen produces further resonance and complexity in its appeal. The title "New China" gains an ironic dimension-it is precisely a new political China that the Tiananmen movement hopes to achieve; it was a time of great hope and anticipation, as the participants of the movement believed that their political mobilization had set the wheels of change in motion. However, their idealism, which had energized the process, unfortunately also blinded them to the harsh reality of the Chinese government's grip on power. The student protestors, therefore, in a sense, have "fallen" from their political "youth" into "the squalid pitfall" that is "the [Chinese political] world."

This interpretation of the first half of Chin's poem generates two troubling issues that need to be addressed. Firstly, there is the danger of reading into this narrative a






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fatalism (a form of pessimistic abandonment in surrender to "heaven's vagaries") that can induce political passivity in the people. Though there is inevitably a determinism set up by the redemption narrative, the telos of which is idealized as "freedom," as the second half of the poem suggests, human agency is still necessary to help accelerate the progression towards that freedom. Hence, there is a need to "dig deeper now to find the light," to continue the fight, to persevere, to develop new and more effective strategies of political resistance and change, in order to move the country towards the goal of political freedom and democracy.

Secondly, we can ask if by invoking the utopianism of a "New China," is Chin then guilty of reifying a form of Chinese cultural centrism? Although this seems to be a danger that is present in the imagery of this particular poem, I am hesitant to conclude definitively that this is Chin's position on the issue. For in other poems in the series, Chin appears to challenge the notion of racial and cultural purity, hence reflecting at least an ambivalence or ambiguity towards the nationalist calls of Chinese centrism. However, what is certain here is Chin's use of ambiguities as a means of complicating this narrative of political redemption, and a way of expressing her own emotional struggles with its contradictions.

The second half of the poem demonstrates how the story of political redemption is not a simplistic morality tale of the good guys versus the bad guys; it is a tale plagued by ambiguous positioning, contradictory affiliations, and uneasy alliances, attained through careful cultural negotiations. By shifting the protagonist's perspective to that of a "master" who must eventually emancipate her "caged canary" and "fattened koi," Chin focuses on the emotional conflicts of "grief' and "joy" that the master simultaneously






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experiences. In identifying this contradiction of emotions, Chin is not attempting to relieve the Chinese government of the responsibility for its crimes; in fact, she is intimating that the master must accept the inevitability of the people's choice for freedom. Yet, at the same time, the master's ambivalence between grief and joy also represents opposing forces of cultural politics at work within Chin: how does one condemn the Chinese government and yet be able to understand the resistance that it feels towards the West's rhetoric of "democracy"? How can a Hong Kong American champion democracy without seeming un-Chinese, as many supporters of the Chinese government would assert? The false dilemma that undergirds these questions may be easy for one to disentangle logically, but the difficulty ultimately lies in the emotional resolution of these cultural "contradictions."

In the latter half of the poem "Tienanmen, the Aftermath," Chin takes up this issue once more by engaging the political semiotics that is part of Tiananmen 1989:

Hope lies within another country's semaphores.
The Goddess of Liberty, the Statue of Mercywe have it all wrong-big boy, how we choose to love,
how we choose to destroy, says Chuangtzu is written
in heaven-but leave the innocent ones alone,
those alive, yet stillborn, undead, yet waiting
in a fitful sleep undeserved of an awakening. (88)

Between the months of April and July 1989, the students erected a simulacrum of the Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square, which they christened "Goddess of Democracy." Though the statue in this context was transformed into a Chinese symbol of freedom and democracy, it is ultimately still an American symbol, a borrowed symbol, reminding the Chinese that their hope of freedom still "lies within another country's semaphores." Hence, the patronizing figure of the West as the guardian and teacher of democracy






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continues to retain its presence even in the shifting semiotics of the statue. In order to challenge and disrupt the imperialist paradigm of a politically "advanced" (read "democratic") West assuming the burden of teaching a politically "primitive" China the principles of freedom and human rights,23 Chin in a similar fashion concatenates the Chinese Goddess of Mercy with the Statue of Liberty to create the chiasmic inversion "the Goddess of Liberty, the Statue of Mercy," in an attempt to carve out an intersemiotic cultural space for democracy in China. Yet, like the "Goddess of Democracy," the awkwardness of such an inversion of symbols only reinforces the notion that "Western" democracy is intrinsically incompatible with Chinese culture and tradition, hence the need for the Chinese to borrow from the West its political ideals. Therefore, Chin, through the protagonist, takes a further step in challenging this notion by concluding that "we have it all wrong," and that we should displace the concept of political freedom from the culturally coercive spaces of an East/West political semiotics, in order to ensure that both Western imperialism and Chinese culturalism do not block China's path towards democracy.

To complete my analysis of Chin's cultural negotiations, I would now like to consider the way she uses the trope of the sexual/love relationship to conceptualize the nation China and its Others. The links between nationalism and sexuality/gender have been well established,24 and Chin selectively mines aspects of that critical tradition in order to represent her complex negotiations of cultural identity. Of particular significance is the trope of Nation-as-Woman. George Mosse points out that together with "the idealization of masculinity as the foundation of the nation and society, woman, often accused of shallowness and frivolity, was at the same time idealized as the guardian






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of morality, and of public and private order."25 For this image to work, the Nation-asWoman must be depicted "as chaste, dutiful, daughterly or maternal."26 It is this representation of the nation that nationalists would frequently invoke as the tropological site for national demarcation and patriotic discourse, a point that Radhakrishnan makes when he discusses the anti-Western logic in nationalist histories of postcolonial states:

By mobilizing the inner/outer distinction against the "outerness" of the
West, nationalist rhetoric makes "woman" the pure and ahistorical
signifier of "interiority." In the fight against the enemy from the outside,
something within gets even more repressed, and "woman" becomes the mute but necessary allegorical ground for the transactions of nationalist
history. ... Unable to produce its own history in response to its inner
sense of identity, nationalist ideology sets up Woman as victim and
goddess simultaneously.27

The shifting dynamics of the image of Nation-as-Woman allow it to denote simultaneously the foundational order (as chaste Woman) and the vulnerability (as victimized Woman) of the nation. These two dimensions work together to produce a nationalist ideology that calls out to patriots to protect and defend the "chastity" of the nation, lest she becomes a victim of enemy assault.

In the midst of national crisis and suffering, this image of the Woman as victim also functions as a powerful device to evoke and signify nationalist feelings of anguish and pain, and consequently to draw national solidarity. A case in point is fascist Japan's infamous "rape" of Nanking during World War Two: the brutal rape and murder of countless Chinese women by Japanese soldiers metonymically structure a nationalist historical narrative of China's subjection to Japanese aggression.28 (My goal here is obviously not to detract attention from the real and horrifying brutality endured by the Chinese people under Japanese occupation, nor the national humiliation and encroachments China genuinely suffered at the hands of Japanese and Western






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imperialism. Rather, what I hope to examine is how sexual and gender discourses are mobilized within Chinese nationalist rhetoric to deepen anti-colonialist and anti-foreigner sentiments during that time.) Rape, hence, serves as a disturbing but effective metaphor for the territorial and cultural penetration of the land of China by Japan and Western imperialist powers, which sought to carve it into different spheres of influence either for outright colonization or for capitalist exploitation.29

Chin is clearly cognizant of the rhetoricity of the rape imagery and its ability to generate anti-colonialist feelings. In "Tienanmen, the Aftermath," she appeals to these feelings but then inverts the metaphor so as to turn the tables on the Chinese government:

There was blood and guts all over the road.
I said I'm sorry, darling, and rolled away,
expecting the slate to be clean; and she came, she who was never alive became resurrected.
I saw her in a dream ... a young girl in a chipao,
bespeckled, forever lingering. ... (88)

The roles are now reversed with the Chinese government (occupying the subject position "I" in the poem) being the victimizer instead of the victim. What is ironic here is the way the metaphor of colonialist rape has been turned inward with the Chinese people becoming victims of their own government's atrocities at Tiananmen. The students who were massacred are represented as "a young girl in a chipao,"'30 who after being raped and murdered returns to haunt her assailant with this troubling question: how can you (the Chinese government) accuse the imperialist powers of "raping" China when you do the same to your own people?31

While the rape metaphor enables Chin to condemn the Chinese government's

brutality and expose its hypocrisy, the notion of lovers on Tiananmen Square (a variation on the trope of the sexual/love relationship as national allegory) provides her a path






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towards political edification-to encourage and to build up once more the idealism that energized the pro-democracy movement in the first place. This shifting between the metaphors of rape and consensual love in her depiction of Tiananmen also reflects in a way the conflicting need in Chin to both criticize and support China at the same time, a contradictory position she negotiates, for instance, in the latter half of the poem "Beijing Spring":

Love, on Tiananmen Square, near the Avenue of Eternal Peace,
I believe in the passions of youth,
I believe in the eternal spring.
As the white blossoms, sweet harbingers,
pull a wreath around its city,
as heaven spreads its blue indifference over
the bloodied quay, I want to hold you
against the soft silhouettes of my people.
Let me place my mouth over your mouth,
let me breathe life into your life,
let me summon the paired connubial geese
from the far reaches of the galaxy
to soar over the red spokes of the sun's slow chariot
and begin again. (91)

The passion between lovers is life-affirming and life-producing, which metaphorically suggests the political optimism to "begin again." On the other hand, as I have noted earlier regarding the title "Beijing Spring," the idealism is tinged with the ambiguities of hope. Just as a Beijing spring offers for lovers the possibility of reunion, it also brings with the remnants of winter cold depressing feelings of loneliness and love lost. The "bloodied quay" and the "soft silhouettes of my people," hence, will continue to haunt the Hong Kong diasporic's negotiation of a love-hate relationship with China.






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Visualizing Hong Kong: Wayne Wang on the Crisis of the 1997 Handover

Despite the historicity of the British handover of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997, only two films were produce to commemorate the event: Chinese director Xie Jin's The Opium War32 and Wayne Wang's Chinese Box.33 The former is a 9.6 million dollar attempt by the Chinese government to "explain" the rightfulness of China's reclamation of Hong Kong and its territories from Britain, while the latter is a more ambivalent but no less problematic take on the Hong Kong question from the perspective of a Hong Kong American.

Director Wayne Wang has an excellent track record in the independent film

industry here in the U.S., with his earlier films on Chinese American life such as Chan is Missing (1982) and Dim Sum (1984), an adaptation of Louis Chu's novel Eat a Bowl of Tea (1989), the more mainstream The Joy Luck Club (1993), and his recent collaborations with Paul Auster in Smoke (1995) and Blue in the Face (1995). As all his earlier work deals with life in America, Chinese Box marks a filmic return for Wang to the place of his cultural and national origin, a return that enables him to grapple with the conflicting emotions produced by Hong Kong's coloniality and by Wang's own diasporic displacements. Leaving Hong Kong at the age of eighteen for the U.S., Wang has developed ambivalent feelings towards the place: "I love it because it's my home, it's Chinese, the food is great... But I also hate it because there's no history, nothing is kept, the air is bad. There is a certain aggressiveness about it that wears you down."34 One can account for this love-hate relationship Wang has with Hong Kong by tracing the tensions and contradictions within the hybrid cultural space occupied by Hong Kong Americans. It is a hybridity inscribed by the cultural legacy of British colonialism, American cultural






89

imperialism, and a Chinese upbringing, producing a cultural schizophrenia that, as Wang tells bell hooks in an interview, characterizes his childhood:

I guess it was growing up in Hong Kong, being Chinese, living under a
British colony, watching Rock Hudson and Doris Day movies, listening to
The Eagles ... I've always been, in a sense, on the border, because my
parents were always very Chinese. At the same time they wanted me to be
more American, more, you know, "Western."... So I have really been
sort of schizophrenic and torn as far back as I can remember.35

Migrating to the U.S. only further intensified the complexity of this border mentality:

When I go back to Hong Kong,... people say that I'm not Chinese; they
say I'm American. I'm not Chinese like the people in Hong Kong or China. I was born and raised in Hong Kong, but I'm also completely
bastardized by the English culture and the American culture. When I look at things I will look at them from both perspectives. It's unfair to say I'm not Chinese, because I am Chinese; I'm just not pure. But what does that
mean today anymore, you know?36

Wang's struggle with the demands of Chinese cultural purity assumes greater

intensity and significance with the arrival of July 1997. For Wang the political crisis of the homeland transforms also into a crisis of cultural contestation. Hence, while the historicity of the Hong Kong handover provides an exciting, dramatic, and opportune canvas for a film about his homeland, it also permits him a space to negotiate his ambivalent feelings towards the place and basically to make peace with it--to offer "the movie [as] a love letter to Hong Kong."37 These negotiations also assist him in confronting the contradiction of his own cultural identity, which one hopes will not result in a resignation to the impossibility of "resolving" his cultural hybridity; but instead a realization that hybridity offers the oppositional potential for destabilizing the coercive cultural boundaries set up by cultural purism. Though the film at moments offer such cultural critique, Wang's staging of the plot elements and his cinematographic framing push this critique instead to an Orientalizing extreme, hence forcing one now to question






90

the ambiguous lines of affiliation and identification with Western imperialism that the movie sets up. In order to analyze Wang's problematic positioning, I would like first to examine briefly the movie's plot as political allegory and what it foregrounds and displaces. Then, I would turn to the question of cinematic visuality as a mode of the colonialist gaze, and the way Wang uses it to visualize his Hong Kong.

Let me begin with a synopsis of the plot in Chinese Box: John Spencer (played by Jeremy Irons) is a British journalist who has spent the past fifteen years covering the financial news of Hong Kong-knowing enough about his subject to even write a book entitled How to Make Money in Asia. He falls in love with Vivian (Gong Li), a former dance hostess whose "contacts" have helped her boyfriend Chang (played by veteran comic actor Michael Hui) establish himself as a rich and influential player in the business community. Vivian remains faithful to Chang despite the fact that he is unwilling to bear the social stigma and the economic consequences of marrying what traditional Chinese society would consider a "tainted" woman. While John is unhappy with Vivian's choice, his own world is further disrupted not only by the handover of Hong Kong but also by a personal crisis: he discovers that he has contracted a form of leukemia which gives him only a few months to live. Choosing to hide his illness from his wife, family, friends, and even Vivian, he embarks on a quest to get to know the "real" Hong Kong by videotaping the crowded streets and its denizens. This search leads him to discover how Vivian had earlier sacrificed herself for Chang, thus forcing John to confront both of them. When Vivian finally decides to leave Chang and reunite with John, she then hears of John's terminal illness. After spending the final days of the British rule of Hong Kong together






91

with Vivian, John lies down by a pier and expires on July 1, 1997, leaving Vivian behind with the strength to start her life anew.

The political allegory is all too obvious: John represents the dying British

presence in Hong Kong; Vivian is the culturally "tainted" Hong Kong that China must now make her own but also deal with in terms of the seeds of democracy that had been planted supposedly by the British; and Chang is, of course, China, the traditional patriarch. To extend this allegory any further would be an inane exercise, as the allegorical correlation between signifier and signified will begin to unravel. It would be more critically productive instead to interrogate the assumptions and the consequences of Wang's deployment of this allegory. The first question that comes to mind is, What does it mean to narrate the Hong Kong crisis as a love story? Though the love relationship offers the kind of gendered hierarchy that emblematizes the power relations evident in Hong Kong's coloniality and postcoloniality-the submergence of Hong Kong's political and cultural presence beneath the British-Chinese transaction-and reflects the ambivalent feelings the Hong Kong people have towards their British rulers, the love story ultimately masks the exploitative agenda of British colonialism. To say that the colonizer does all he does out of love for the native is not unlike using the rhetoric of Kipling's White Man's Burden to justify imperialism.

Furthermore, the depiction of Hong Kong as a woman who prostitutes herself reinforces the idea that Hong Kong (according to the Chinese) has not kept itself culturally pure. At the same time, this metaphor also supports the idea held by many in the West that the Hong Kong people are overly materialistic and politically pragmatic, and lack the moral fiber to stand up for their own political rights. As one critic notes of






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the love story's resolution, Hong Kong depends on Britain, even in its departure, for the strength to start anew:

If the character's are allegorical stand-ins for their respective countries,
what the film shows us is that, by dying, "Britain" forces "Hong Kong" to
wake up from its long reliance on imaginary support. ... Yet all is not
lost: what was good of the old Empire, despite having drawn its last breath
(i.e. John), is enough to send the reborn Hong Kong off in a brave new
direction free of its ancestral moorings and illusory obligations-Vivian
breaks up with her traditional boyfriend, knowing that he will never marry
her, and takes courage from John's death to strike out on her own.38

In attributing her courage to John, Vivian, in the final voice-over of the movie, meditates on how she, "like the city,... [has] to start over again."

If this is Wang's way of coming to terms with the British Empire and Hong

Kong's coloniality, and challenging Chinese traditionalism, it only generates questions rather than resolves the problems of colonialism's legacy. Suggesting that Hong Kong must now learn to stand on its own without Britain's support is to say that Hong Kong must assume the blame for her political immaturity, despite the fact that Hong Kong did not choose her colonial status in the first place! If the raison d'etre for Britain's colonial presence and final "death" is to encourage in Hong Kong independent political thinking through democracy, where then is democracy during Britain's more than 150 years hold on the territories? In other words, Britain conveniently waited till the approach of 1997 to promote (as tokenism) democratic thinking so as to valorize the Western rhetoric of democracy, when to do so any earlier would obviously contradict the very ideology and presence of Empire! Is Britain's "dying" in the end, therefore, a way of cementing the legacy of democracy in a colonialist nostalgic glow, which ultimately promotes the "benefits" of imperialist rule and relieves Britain of any further responsibility in moving Hong Kong along in its democratic growth or in offering the Hong Kong people the






93

alternative of British citizenship? What then is this "brave new direction" that Hong Kong is portrayed as taking when it can never be free from the "ancestral moorings and illusory obligations" when under Chinese rule? Nor can it be free to pursue this "virtual democracy," as Rey Chow calls it, which has been "hastily planted and left behind... like a land mine," producing "a political situation that was guaranteed to be a permanent source of irreconcilable conflict among the supposedly decolonized natives."39

Wang has questioned the legitimacy of political readings of his film and even the existence of allegory in it. "We don't make a moral judgment of any kind about the handover," he argues, "about whether it's good or bad.'"0 In another interview, he denies the film's allegorical connections with the handover: "Some people have misread this as symbolism about the handover. ... We did shoot a lot of real things that were happening during the handover, but this is a complicated love story. It's about the heart of the place.'"' The argument for apolitical art is, of course, fallacious, though Wang's denial of the allegory is still subject to debate. However, what I find intriguing is his formulation of the film as a treatise on "the heart of the place." Wang has suggested in yet another interview that "the movie is about the city of Hong Kong more than about a character and a story." 42 Stephen Holden of the New York Times confirms this by positing that "the film is essentially a poetic meditation on the meaning of Hong Kong. The characters' ambiguous personal histories are metaphors for the city, which in turn becomes a metaphor for the elusiveness of historical truth itself." 43 Chinese Box, therefore, becomes an ontological/epistemic excavation of Hong Kong through the techniques of cinematographic visuality.






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The study of the cinematic gaze and its structuring of the subject/object relation is of great theoretical importance to the critique of cinematic Orientalist discourses.44 The issue is one of power relations, where the cinematographer, in controlling the roving eye of the camera, also controls the framing of the object. Hence, film as an ethnography of the East allows the filmmaker to stage the object of study in Orientalizing poses, all in the attempt to "know" more about it. Cinematic visuality, hence, becomes "the law of knowledge and the universal form of epistemological coercion.'" However, Rey Chow warns us against the danger of situating this problematic solely in terms of an East-West schema where only the West retains the power of gazing upon the East. She instead argues that the East is as capable of self-Orientalism through cinematic autoethnography46 when "'the East,' too, is a spectator who is equally caught up in the dialectic of seeing."47 The kind of self-Orientalizing primitivism that Chow pinpoints appears especially in Chinese films that are particularly popular in the West, which suggests that many of these filmmakers may be catering to the Westerner's gaze.48

In the case of the Chinese Box, whose and what kind of gaze has Wang adopted in order to "understand" Hong Kong, to "know" the meaning of the city of his birth? Is the film complicitous in perpetuating the colonialist mode of visual penetration? To answer these questions, one should first turn to Wang's use of a double gaze, where John Spencer's videotaping of the "real" Hong Kong, at certain moments, overlaps and telescopes into Wang's own framing of the movie, the two gazes becoming one. What then is John's vision of Hong Kong, and does it represent Wang's own quest to know Hong Kong in order that he might eventually come to understand himself?




Full Text
7
Malay-Chinese intermarriages) in Malacca, Penang, and Singapore, who are also known
as Straits Chinese,21 many of whom do not speak the Chinese language but still identify
themselves as Chinese ethnically. The turbulent history of twentieth-century China also
witnessed the birth of Taiwan and colonial Hong Kong. The cultural identity of the
Chinese population in these two countries has also been transformed, particularly by their
political distance from mainland China. Migrants from all of these different Asian
countries form a significant part of the post-1965 Chinese influx into the U.S. (with the
mainland Chinese making up the rest of this migration) and would help build the PCA
population. Though the PCAs strongly cling to their ethnic identity as Chinese, they are
different culturally, socially, and politically from both the earlier Chinese Americans and
the new immigrants who come directly from China.
The perimeters I have set for the category of peripheral Chinese Americans are
artificial in that the categorys boundaries are fluid and permeable; in incorporating the
experiences and cultural productions of particular groups in this study, I will inevitably
leave out many others. Hence, instead of aiming for an exhaustive enumeration of all the
possible hybrid subgroups in such a category, which is not only counter-productive but
also antithetical to the overall agenda of this project, this study aspires to examine the
problematics laid out and the questions raised in select cultural texts of PCAs in an
attempt to understand and theorize about the experience of the PCAs in order to further
destabilize the boundaries of the ethnic category, instead of reifying them. The
interventional function of questioning cultural boundaries is to challenge the center-
periphery paradigm deployed by Chinese cultural chauvinism globally, and by racist
ideology within the U.S.; for the periphery in PCAs denotes for them a double


124
the U.S. would irrevocably alter her cultural and national identities to produce a diasporic
rootlessness, which would further intensify her sense of fugitive presence. The
complexity of her Nyonya hybridity is translated into the equally complex, interstitial
hybrid spaces she occupies as a peripheral Chinese American. The tri-focal images of
homeAmerica/China/Malaysiaonly convince Lim of the need to find a way
through which she can come to terms with her displacement and finally come home,
even if the latter is simply a construct of her imagination.
The diasporics sense of dislocation Lim experiences at the point of her departure
for the U.S.: In the airport lounge, gazing at the batik decorations intended for tourist
consumption, I felt already the disconnection of the stranger. I would never see Malaysia
again, except through the eyes of a traveler (213). But the hope of easy
reterritorrialization is dashed when she is bedeviled by the super-fragmentations that
attend alien status in the United States (246). Coupled with her fathers death and the
need to support her extended family financially, Lim decries the inevitable and repressive
need to reconnect with her cultural roots once again:
In writing the bank drafts I remained my fathers daughter, returning to
Father the bargain we had made. This is the meaning of bloodto give,
because you cannot eat unless the family is also eating. For years, I woke
up nights, heart beating wildly. Oh Asia, that nets its children in ties of
blood so blinding that they cut the spirit. (251)
The cultural tension of wanting to be home and yet to flee leads Lim to compare herself
to the Chinese children [who] attend public schools in California and to their
astronaut fathers and mothers [who] live out of satellite apartments in Taiwan and Hong
Kong: Like these parents and their children, guilt and apology dogged my decision to


150
Shins answers are representative, the narrative cries out to its readers to critique the
rhetoric presented.
Another significant point about this passage is the way Su Yen in a superficial
sense resolves the contradictions she sees. She allows herself to succumb to the fear of a
Communist takeover of the country, though she is reacting not entirely to the supposed
horrors of Communist austerity and indoctrination, but rather to the thought of losing the
material comforts that a capitalist modernity apparently brings. As her narration
immediately following this passage illustrates, she recoils in typical teenage horror at the
prospect of having to dress in old-fashioned dark blue Chinese shirts and trousers and
having to bind her feet, a practice that Chinese girls of the upper class were unfortunately
and cruelly subjected to during the Ching dynasty. She, like her adult relatives,
however, fails to see the fallacious reasoning behind her conflation of Chinese traditional
practices and Communist politics, and the false dilemma of having to choose between a
guided democracy and Communism. But what is even more telling in her response is
the fact that she reacts like any child would. Her immediate material concerns and
desires take precedence over her initial curiosity about things political, as one would
expect of most eleven-year-olds. Her tendency to shift attention quickly away from the
unresolved political contradictions that have momentarily perplexed her underscores her
immaturity. My argument, hence, is that Su Yens political immaturity, apart from her
childlike faith, forms an integral part of the ideology of trust and is what this ideology
demands and enforces. (The Singapore government, therefore, is as capable as the West
of producing Orientalist images of the people under its rule for the purposes of sustaining
its own political hegemony.) Su Yens concern about the ugly Communist dress code is


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
PERIPHERAL CHINESE AMERICANS
AND THE CULTURAL POLITICS OF
CHINESE DIASPORA, TRANSNATIONALISM, AND RETURN
By
Keng Wah Kenneth Chan
December 1999
Chairman: R. Brandon Kershner
Major Department: English Department
The ethnic category of peripheral Chinese Americans encompasses ethnic
Chinese who do not come from mainland China but come from other parts of Asia and
Southeast Asia such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. In the
struggle with their hybrid and diasporic identities and their double marginality, these
peripheral Chinese Americans have to confront not just U.S. Orientalism but also
Chinese nativisms claim to cultural traditionalism in the name of racial authenticity. The
latter is achieved through the historical and ideological workings and transformations of
Chinese return, and its influence on the formation of a Chinese transnational imaginary.
The impact of return on this imaginary emerges in the 1997 Hong Kong handover, which
one can theorize as a mass-mediated, globalized space where the ideology of return is
disseminated to an imaginary community of diasporic Chinese. The handover and its
terrifying Other, Tiananmen Square, form critical and contradictory aspects of the
v


I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to
acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Associate Professor of Germanic and
Slavic Studies
This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Department of
English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and to the Graduate School and was
accepted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
December 1999
Dean, Graduate School


146
commands and submitting to often mystifying and even illogical explanations of the
world around them, the children are apparently relieved of the ethical, philosophical, and
political responsibilities that rest on the capable shoulders of the adults. In a sense, this
system of trust also functions as a microcosmic view of the larger political world of the
novels 1960s Singapore. The political child/citizen can safely trust in the capable
leadership of the adult/govemment. The child/citizen, hence, is immobilized in a space
of political ignorance, producing what one could call a culture of dependency and
passivity.
By creating a narrative of child-like innocence, Cheong allows her reader to
directly access the experiences of the children as they undergo anticipation and
frustration in having to trust the adults in spite of the contradictions and mystifications.
Cheong, through the narrator Su Yen, skillfully teases the reader by revealing enough to
push the plot along and yet withholding most of the information that the adult characters
are privy to, to frustrate reader expectation. This anxious need to know enables the
reader to empathize with the children who, with the exception of Su Yens cousin Li
Shin, are continually kept in the dark.
In order to accomplish this, Cheong deploys a number of narrative strategies: Su
Yen overhears bits and pieces of the adults conversations which require reconstruction
and filling in the gaps; description of everyday sounds permeate the narrative, something
that one would often take for granted; visual imagery includes scenes and objects that
reflect the observations of a child who has been excluded from adult interaction and
hence, has the luxury of time to scrutinize the physical details of the world around her.
Su Yens ability to infuse her narrative with such intricate details of sound and sight is a


161
hooks, bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End P, 1992.
. Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies. New York: Routledge, 1996.
Hsu, Immanuel C. Y. The Rise of Modern China. 3rd ed. Hong Kong: Oxford UP, 1983.
Hundreds March as Indonesian Parliament Promises to Enact Reforms. CNN
Interactive [online], 18 November 1998, cnn.com.
Hwang, David Henry. M. Butterfly. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1988.
Jiang Calls for Reunification. The Straits Times Interactive [online], 14 May 1998,
straitstimes.asial .com.
Kaplan, Caren. Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement. Durham:
Duke UP, 1996.
Khoo, Joo Ee. The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History. Amsterdam: Pepin P, 1996.
Kifner, John. Clinton Advertising Plan Led to Asi an-American Donors. The New
York Times [online], 14 April 1997, nytimes.com.
Kim, Elaine H. Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their
Social Context. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1982.
Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts.
New York: Vintage, 1976.
Kolodny, Annette. The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in
American Life and Letters. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1975.
Kulkami, V. G., and Rodney Tasker. Dont Talk Down to Us. Far Eastern Economic
Review, 11 July 1985, 34-37.
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Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1980.
Lee, Leo Ou-fan. On the Margins of the Chinese Discourse: Some Personal Thoughts
on the Cultural Meaning of the Periphery. Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 207-26.
Lee, Li-Young. The City in Which I Love You. Brockport, NY: BOA Editions, 1990.
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. The Winged Seed: A Remembrance. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.


CHAPTER 5
POLITICAL INERTIA AND THE SINGAPOREAN IN DIASPORA:
REFLECTIONS ON THE MICHAEL FAY DEBACLE AND
FIONA CHEONGS POETICS OF INNOCENCE
Reading the Singaporean in Diaspora
The recent appearance of autobiographical literary criticism in literary and
critical scholarship has served to destabilize the formal and traditional boundaries of
criticism as a genre by examining the significance and impact of personal experience on
the reading of texts, as well as the formative influence of textuality on shaping personal
experiences. The premise of this mode of criticism lies in the idea that writers [of
criticism] know the literature through themselves and know themselves through the
literature.1 What I find intriguing about this dialectic approach is that it displaces the
impersonal detachment of criticism and, in so doing, allows the critic to interrogate more
openly his or her own motivations in choosing to engage particular texts and to write
about them from certain political perspectives. Conversely, the writing of criticism itself
has transformational effects in that such a personal critical space enables one to explore
the questions of identity construction and to negotiate shifting political, cultural, and
national positioning and alliances, negotiations that will eventually affect the material and
everyday existence of the one who occupies this critical space.
Though the writing in my dissertation cannot be construed as autobiographical
literary criticism per se, the impulse is deeply personal, especially as I examine in
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23
future acts of authoritarianism, a rhetorical move not unlike those made by other
authoritarian and semi-authoritarian governments in Asia and Southeast Asia.
The fact that Chinese traditionalism can be and has been deterritorialized through
a mythography of return within the Chinese transnational imaginary illustrates Stuart
Halls point that globalization has its localized cultural effects, in this case the
dissemination and strengthening of Chinese chauvinism, especially in the diasporic
Chineses response to the Western host nation-states regression] to a very defensive
and highly dangerous form of national identity .. driven by a very aggressive form of
racism.38 Peripheral Chinese Americans, for instance, find themselves caught between
the tense and violent space of these polarities, and are coerced to embrace either Chinese
(or Chinese American)39 nativism or Anglo-American culture. The assimilationist
demands of the latter need to be rejected tout court, while the formers identity politics,
being similarly violent in its culturalism, is no less acceptable; for Chinese traditionalism
confronts PCAs to meet its demands and standards of cultural authenticity: Can you
speak the Chinese language? Are you well versed in Chinese culture, traditions, history,
and social practices? In other words, prove to us that you are as Chinese as we are!
Ironically, such reactive nativism, instead of disabling racism and the dominant
logic of assimilation, supplies its opponents with ammunition by allowing the recourse to
cultural nostalgia, primitivism, and traditionalism to be co-opted by U.S. Orientalist
discourses. This unwitting cooperation has led Rey Chow to describe Western
Orientalism and Third World nativism as the obverse and reverse of the same coin, and
to expose, for example, the alliance of nativist elitism and institutional Orientalism in
the teaching of Asian literatures in universities across the U.S.60 Chinese traditionalism,


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and Sexualities. New York: Routledge, 1992.
Patten, Christopher. The Implementation of the Joint Declaration: An Overview. In
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Wong Siu-lan. Hong Kong: Oxford UP, 1995.
Pfaff, Timothy. Talk with Mrs. Kingston. New York Times Book Review, 18 June
1980, 1,25-27.
Poon, Wena. Review of Chinese Box (Trimark Pictures). Film Quarterly 31, no. 1
(1998): 31-34.
Pratt, Mary Louis. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. New York:
Routledge, 1992.
President Vows to Uphold Freedoms. South China Morning Post [online], 30 June
1997, www.hongkong97.com.hk.
Radhakrishnan, R. Diasporic Mediations: Between Home and Location. Minneapolis: U
of Minnesota P, 1996.
Robbins, Bruce. Introduction Part I: Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism. In
Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation, edited by Pheng Cheah
and Bruce Robbins. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998.
. Secular Vocations: Intellectuals, Professionalism, Culture. London: Verso, 1993.
Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991. London:
Granta Books, 1991.
Safire, William. The Dictator Speaks: A Chat with Lee Kuan Yew. The Gainesville
Sun, 16 February 1999.
Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1978.
. The World, the Text, and the Critic. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1983.
Sanger, David E. The Asian Money Machine Stirs Old Fears in America. The New
York Times [online], 4 January 1997, nytimes.com.
Schein, Louisa. Importing Miao Brethren to Hmong America: A Not-So-Stateless
Transnationalism. In Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation,
edited by Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P,
1998.


CHAPTER 4
THE POLITICS OF POSTCOLONIAL HYBRIDITY:
THE MEMOIR OF SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN LIM
The Native Daughter Made Good1
The literary and critical work of Malaysian-Chinese American Shirley Geok-lin
Lim has firmly established her as a prominent and significant figure in the burgeoning
fields of postcolonial literature and Asian American studies. By making her mark first as
a poet and fiction writer whose imaginary vistas have transported readers from colonial
and postcolonial Singapore and Malaysia to the immigrant world of Asian America,
Shirley Lim has garnered numerous awards including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize
(1980)having the distinction of being the first Asian and woman to win the award
and the American Book Award (1990). As an Asian American scholar, she has not only
situated herself in the middle of the critical dialogue on Asian American issues through
the publication of her theoretical essays,3 but has also championed specifically the
writings of Asian American women.4
It is with admiration and encouragement that I look upon Shirley Lim and her
work, not just that she represents a happy success story of a fellow Southeast Asian
who has finally made good professionally in the United States, where an oppressive
climate of racial prejudice and cultural alienation has claimed many non-white migrant
casualties; but also that her fiction and poetry have a special resonance for me. One critic
likens the reading of Lims recent memoir to a journey of shocking recognitions,5
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the lash17to a questioning of the brutality of the punishment that is augmented by an
acknowledgment that America is in need of a similar but less extreme version of corporal
punishment to deter crime.18 George Bushs response typifies this position. He argues
that though most Americans want stronger jaws, the punishment should fit the
crimecaning is brutal. On the other hand, he praises Singapores achievements:
When I think of Singapore, I think of prosperity, I think of democracy, I think of safe
streets.19
My response during the time can be described as a complex shuttling between
critiques that seem to contradict one another and that ultimately mark me as both insider
and outsider in the eyes of both Singaporeans and Americans. The confrontation I had
with my fellow Singaporeans was based on my deconstruction of the Eastern versus
Western values dualism and my dismantling of the notion that Asian sociality and
individual rights are mutually exclusive (two major critiques that I have engaged in
throughout this dissertation). What I also tried to appeal to was a sense of justice and
fairness, which the Fay sentencing betrayed. Despite the fact that I acknowledge my
empathy with their nationalist feelings against U.S. imperialism, the Singaporeans I
talked to have already in their minds labeled me as one corrupted by Western notions
of human rights and political freedom.
Broaching the issue with Americans was a different ball game altogether. Apart
from having to acquaint them with the terror and brutality of this form of punishment,
which resembles too closely the childhood spankings or fraternity hazings that many
Americans remember with something bordering on nostalgia,20 and hence demystify
their longing for a quick and easy remedy to an entrenched problem of urban crime, 1 had


99
therefore, is a staged or constructed imaginary homeland, to borrow Rushdies
terminology, that arises from his own remembrance and (mis)understanding of it.
According to his vision, it is a city that cannot be pinned down culturally, symbolizing
Wangs own struggle to come to terms with Hong Kong and its contradictions.
Unfortunately, this vision can also serve to reinforce the cultural stereotypes of Hong
Kongs inscrutability and to shift attention away from the very material culture and life
of the Hong Kong people, which British imperialism and Chinese culturalism want the
world to reject and forget. As John sadly muses, I used to write about Hong Kongs
future as if it had a definite direction and predictable outcome. But everything about this
city is always changing; maybe I wasnt meant to figure you out. The figure of Hong
Kong as the pragmatic shape-shifter, which can adapt itself to any political condition, is a
logic that eliminates the political and cultural voice of the Hong Kong people, rendering
it as inconsequential and dispensablein other words, Dont worry about them as they
return to Chinese rule; they will survive through change and adaptation.
Finally, Wangs use of Hong Kong as an instrument to negotiate the tensions
between East and West in his cultural identity crisis simply veers too close to being a
replication of, firstly, the Wests use of the Oriental Other as a means of self-definition
(especially in light of Wangs deployment of Johns videotaping quest in the films
narrative); and secondly, of Chris Pattens formulation of Hong Kong as a bridge
between the West and China. The danger once more lies in Hong Kongs
instrumentality, which has already led to the citys disappearance between the gaps of
Sino-British relations and, as a consequence, Hong Kongs forfeiture of its right to a
cultural and political existence.


44
create and exploit a class oppressive (and often corrupt) system through the flexible
accumulation of wealth, labor, and material resources.
The strategies of this elite class of transnational Indonesian Chinese exemplify
what Donald Nonini and Aihwa Ong have described as forms of power that collude with
the contemporary regimes of truth and power organizing the new flexible capitalisms and
modem nation-states, but also act obliquely to them, and systematically set out to
transgress the shifting boundaries set by both.12 These corporate elite Indonesian
Chinese manipulate and work within the Indonesian regime of power to accrue wealth,
frequently by developing a symbiotic relationship with the Suharto government in order
to receive its protection and ensure its support. At the same time, the flexible strategies
of accumulation offer the elite Chinese mobility and, hence, the possibility of escape,
particularly in times of crisis such as the current climate of anti-Chinese sentiments and
hostilities. With the early reports and rumors of anti-Chinese uprising, many rich
Chinese had already fled to the safe havens of Singapore and other Southeast Asian
countries, leaving behind the majority of the ethnic Chinese, who belong to the lower and
lower-middle classes, to bear the brunt of the violence. The latter ultimately are the true
victims of both racial violence and class oppression. As one Indonesian Chinese sadly
testifiesand in so doing disrupts the stereotype of the rich ethnic ChineseIm one of
the have-nots. Thats the role of the conglomerates: they can go abroad. The have-nots
just stay here and take what comes.13


122
power of revulsion instead. He became a fully recognized sexual creature
to me, and I abhorred his sexuality. (125)
This abhorrence assumes greater significance in the racialized fashion with which
Lim would later define her sexuality and her choice of sexual partners. Her inclination
towards non-Chinese males Lim attempts to justify through a psychoanalytic argument:
I would never be able to feel sexual with a Chinese male because of the
strong incest inhibitions that I had formed in my family. With eight
brothers and troubled memories of Father, I could only feel familial about
Chinese men: they drew me as strong companions and brothers or repelled
me as tyrants or weaklings, but a bar was raised between my body and
theirs beyond which I could not imagine. (170-71)
Her logic is flawed on multiple levels. But for the sake of conceding to Lim the integrity
and sincerity of her assertion, I will just address the impulse of her statement as opposed
to critiquing the intricacies of her argument. The question that first comes to mind is,
why is there a need for Lim to justify her sexual choices in the first place? In other
words, her preference for non-Chinese men is simply a personal preference. One
possible reason could be that this is a preemptive strike launched to counteract the
accusations of racial betrayal Chinese chauvinists might hurl at her. In a later passage,
Lim justifies again her choices by theorizing that in reaction to the competition for
dominance between Chinese and Malay elites, [she]... was attracted contrarily to
Eurasians and Indians, a romance of minoritism, as a way out of the fixedness of race
identity (189). Though she attempts to inject political oppositionality in this version of
her explanations, the notion of political choice here contradicts and undermines the
determinism of the psychoanalytic interpretation she has offered earlier, a point which I
will explore next.


19
postnational imaginary emerges from the relationship between mass mediation and
migration to constitute what he calls diasporic public spheres.47 (I have chosen,
however, to conceptualize the mythography of return within the framework of a Chinese
transnational imaginary, as opposed to Appadurais/?o.s/national one, as it may be
premature to herald the demise of the nation-state and, hence, underestimate its
effectiveness in enacting cultural and racial violence.) What is of particular relevance to
my argument here is that Appadurai also observes how the ideological flow between
media and audience is not unidirectionalas in the theory of media as the opium of the
people48but rather, it is interactive:
As mass mediation becomes increasingly dominated by electronic media
..., and as such media increasingly link producers and audiences across
national boundaries, and as these audiences themselves start new
conversations between those who move and those who stay, we find a
growing number of diasporic public spheres.49
In offering both positive potential and hidden dangers, this diasporic network is
significant in two ways. Firstly, the fact that audiences are not simply static receptacles
for ideological fashioning through the media foregrounds the complex and often
conflicted identity formation of diasporic individuals, as illustrated by my relatives
contradictory reactions to the question of Hong Kong. They interact with the mediatized
transmission and with one another; decisions are made, often prematurely, on cultural and
political positions and re-positioning; and the mythography of return is challenged or
reaffirmed, and frequently restructured into hybrid formations. It is in this discursive
swirl of ideological interaction that the intervention of a radical politics of critique
becomes especially necessary and urgent. Secondly, in spite of the fact that the
mythography of return as transmitted via the mediatized ideoscape50 of the Chinese


96
The epistemic violence here involves not only a colonialist visual penetration but also a
fixing (or more interestingly, fixating) on film a stereotypical image of Hong Kong in all
its negativity, a visuality that unfortunately hides the lines of imperialist and capitalist
exploitation that these images only hint at. Hong Kong, therefore, has been reduced to a
tool to help one European man attain moral redemption.31
Johns videotaping quest finally leads him to Jean (Maggie Cheung), a quirky
individual with an unusual scar on her face who spends her time peddling strange wares
such as bottled colonial air of Hong Kong. Jean becomes for John the elusive signifier,
an embodiment of Hong Kong that escapes his ability to comprehend. In his fixation on
wanting to get her story, John insists on interviewing her, which she finally agrees only
if she gets to frame her own interview (without questions from John) and to wield the
video camera herself (a moment of agency?). She then proceeds to recount her life story
on tape, a sordid, titillating tale of sexual abuse and castration, a tale that she knows her
male audience would want to hear (a moment of self-Orientalism?). But she leaves out
the crux of the interview: What about the scar and how I got it, she asks in a stoic yet
teasing fashion. This is what I have to say about it. Nothing. The visual epistemic
penetration of the camera interview ends in coitus interruptus, an anti-climax
emblematized by Jims question to John, Did you fuck her? Johns desire to know
about Jean is frustrated on a number of levels: she not only fails to reveal the source of
the scar, but she is obviously telling a fabricated story of herself, which John is painfully
aware of. Furthermore, when confronted with a newspaper cutting of her suicide attempt,
Jean finally reveals how she was jilted by her British boyfriend and how she tried to end
her life. John then arranges a meeting between Jean and her ex-boyfriend William, which


104
41 Quoted in Stemgold, Wangs World.
42 Quoted in Hohenadel, A Human Face, 38.
43 Stephen Holden, A Meditation on the Meaning of Hong Kong, The New York Times,
17 April 1998, B18.
44 The question of visuality is of special significance in Rey Chows work. She engages
the notion of a colonialist cinematic gaze in her critique of Bernardo Bertoluccis The
Last Emperor in Seeing Modem China: Toward a Theory of Ethnic Spectatorship,
Woman and Chinese Modernity: The Politics of Reading between West and East
(Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1991), 3-33. The self-Orientalizing mechanism of
autoethnography in contemporary Chinese cinema Chow explores next in Primitive
Passions: Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography, and Contemporary Chinese Cinema (New
York: Columbia UP, 1995).
43 Chow, Primitive Passions, 10.
46 This is a term that Chow borrows from Mary Louis Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel
Writing and Transculturation (New York: Routledge, 1992).
47 Chow, Primitive Passions, 12-13.
48 Ibid., 38.
49 Scarlet Cheng observes that this film offers Wang a means of showing some of the
dark side of Hong Kong life. Cheng, The Homecoming, 68.
50 Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1978), 1-2.
31 Chinua Achebe, An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrads Heart of Darkness," Hopes
and Impediments: Selected Essays 1965-1987 (London: Heinemann, 1988), 1-20. In
discussing the role of Africa in Conrads novella, Achebe asks, Can nobody see the
preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the
break-up of one petty European mind? (12).
52
Giles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara
Habberjam (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986), 88.
53 Quoted in Seth Faison, Hong Kong Plays the Role of a Drama-Filled City, The New
York Times, 1 July 1997, Cl2.
34 Quoted in Hohenadel, A Human Face, 38.


127
also has conveniently sidestepped the problematic and pressing issues of institutional and
intellectual elitism that remain unaddressed, apart from a token acknowledgment of their
existence.
Coming to California completes for Lim the circle that is her life story. It is a
moment of cultural, psychological, and social reterritorialization, a moment where the
contradictions of being a perpetual renegade, a fugitive presence, are finally to be
resolved:
How do I reconcile these two different yet simultaneous imagesthe
ropes that my mother and father have cunningly woven, invisible like
spirits and ghosts, that tie me to the ancestral altar table which presides in
every Confucian home; and the crashing surf that knocks me off my feet
and throws me onto a beach, which is never the same from moment to
moment?
The dominant imprint I have carried with me since birth was a
Malaysian homeland. It has been an imperative for me to make sense of
these birthmarks; they compose the hieroglyphs of my bodys senses. We
tell stories to bind us to a spot, and often the stories that make us cry knot
the thickest ropes.... Parents do not die; they merely take on the form of
ancestral spirits, tenacious in their power, keeping you a child forever in
your first imagination. With such ghosts, it has taken me a longer time to
leave home than most immigrants.
To give up the struggle for a memorialized homeland may be the
most forgiving act I can do. Everywhere I have lived in the United States
... I felt an absence of place, myself absent in America. Absence was the
story my mother taught me, that being the story of her migrant people, the
Malacca peranakans. But perhaps she was also teaching me that home is
the place where our stories are told. Had I more time to talk to Mother,
perhaps I could have learned to forgive, listening to her stories. In
California, I am beginning to write stories about America, as well as
Malaysia. Listening, and telling my own stories, I am moving home.
(347-48)
The emotional power this passage wields as it concludes Lims memoir is undeniable. It
seeks to reaffirm our belief in literature and it ability to change lives. As moving as this
idealized formulation may be, Lims theories on absence and storytelling are troubling
and deserve closer examination.



PAGE 1

"PERIPHERAL" CHINESE AMERICANS AND THE CULTURAL POLITICS OF CHINESE DIASPORA, TRANSNATIONALISM, AND RETURN By KENG WAH KENNETH CHAN A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 1999

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank my dissertation committee for their suggestions, constructive criticism, and, most of all, encouragement through the entire writing process; my parents for their emotional and financial support; and, of course, my wife Mary for her love, understanding, and endurance throughout my academic career. ii

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TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ii ABSTRACT v CHAPTERS 1 FROM PERIPHERY TO PERIPHERY: "PERIPHERAL" CHINESE AMERICANS AND THE MYTHOGRAPHY OF CHINESE RETURN 1 Hong Kong 97: Return in the Chinese Diasporic Imaginary 10 Problematizing Return: Cultural Traditionalism and U.S. Orientalism 20 Coda: Reading "Return" in Chinese America 25 Notes 33 2 CHINESE COSMOPOLITANISM CRITIQUED: CRITICAL ALTERNATIVES IN THE WORK OF LIYOUNG LEE 41 Indonesia in Crisis: Race, Class, and Chinese Transnational Capital 41 Contemporary Chinese Cosmopolitanism: Hegemonic Alliances 45 Winged Deterritorialization and Cultural Cannibalism: The Cosmopolitical Visions of Li-Young Lee 50 Notes 65 3 CRISES IN THE HOMELAND(S): HONG KONG AMERICANS AND THE ART OF CULTURAL NEGOTIATION 71 Taking Sides? 71 Ambiguities of Hope: Marilyn Chin on the Crisis in Tiananmen 78 Visualizing Hong Kong: Wayne Wang on the Crisis of the 1997 Handover 88 Notes 100 4 THE POLITICS OF POSTCOLONIAL HYBRIDITY: THE MEMOIR OF SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN LIM 105 "The Native Daughter Made Good" 105 Critiques of Postcolonial Hybridity 108 iii

PAGE 4

A "Fugitive Presence" Determined 112 Notes 129 5 POLITICAL INERTIA AND THE SINGAPOREAN IN DL\SPORA: REFLECTIONS ON THE MICHAEL FAY DEBACLE AND FIONA CHEONG'S POETICS OF INNOCENCE 133 Reading the Singaporean in Diaspora 133 The Michael Fay Case: Nationalism, Crisis, and Human Rights 137 Trust/Oppression; Fiona Cheong's Poetics of Iimocence 142 Notes 152 BIBLIOGRAPHY 156 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 168 iv

PAGE 5

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy "PERIPHERAL" CHINESE AMERICANS AND THE CULTURAL POLITICS OF CHINESE DIASPORA, TRANSNATIONALISM, AND RETURN By Keng Wah Kenneth Chan December 1999 Chairman: R. Brandon Kershner Major Department: English Department The ethnic category of "peripheral" Chinese Americans encompasses ethnic Chinese who do not come from mainland China but come from other parts of Asia and Southeast Asia such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. In the struggle with their hybrid and diasporic identities and their double marginality, these "peripheral" Chinese Americans have to confront not just U.S. Orientalism but also Chinese nativism's claim to cultural traditionalism in the name of racial authenticity. The latter is achieved through the historical and ideological workings and transformations of Chinese return, and its influence on the formation of a Chinese transnational imaginary. The impact of return on this imaginary emerges in the 1997 Hong Kong handover, which one can theorize as a mass-mediated, globalized space where the ideology of return is disseminated to an imaginary community of diasporic Chinese. The handover and its terrifying Other, Tiananmen Square, form critical and contradictory aspects of the V

PAGE 6

diasporic consciousness of Hong Kong Americans, forcing them to engage in cultural negotiations, as Marilyn Chin's poetry in The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty and Wayne Wang's Chinese Box illustrate. One finds another configuration of return in a Chinese cosmopolitanism that forges a link between transnational capital and neoConfucian humanism. Going beyond a critique of this alliance, the work of LiYoung Lee presents the beginnings of a critical alternative to this cosmopolitanism. The multiply-inscribed identities of "peripheral" Chinese Americans also suggest the theoretical importance of hybridity and the challenge it presents to Chinese return and the contradictions of cultural identity formation. Although Shirley Geok-lin Lim's academic memoir Among the White Moonfaces effectively uses cultural hybridity to unhinge the hegemony of Western imperialism and "Third World" cultural chauvinism, it fails to address the questions of class privilege and institutional elitism. And finally, as a Singaporean-Chinese in the United States, I write myself into this project through an analysis of my response to the Michael Fay incident and an examination of Fiona Cheong's poetics of innocence in The Scent of the Gods, in order to foreground the Singaporean American's struggle to overcome the politics of inertia. vi

PAGE 7

CHAPTER 1 FROM PERIPHERY TO PERIPHERY: "PERIPHERAL" CHINESE AMERICANS AND THE MYTHOGRAPHY OF CHINESE RETURN The discursive terrain of Asian American studies in the 1990s has undergone significant changes since the inception of the Asian American Movement in the late 1960s and the formation of the first Asian American studies program at the University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco State University.' In re-assessing the field of Asian American literary studies, King-kok Cheung notes that while "identity politics with its stress on cultural nationalism and American nativity governed earlier theoretical and critical formulations, the stress is not on heterogeneity and diaspora. The shift has been from seeking to 'claim America' to forging a connection between Asia and Asian America."^ In a specific way, Cheung's observation exemplifies James Clifford's argument that "diasporic language appears to be replacing, or at least supplementing, minority discourse."^ It comes as no surprise that this foregrounding of heterogeneity and diaspora within Asian American social and critical discourse arises in tandem with the economic ascendancy of Asian countries within the Pacific Rim, particularly in the 1980s and early 1990s, and with the post-Worid War II neo-colonial entanglements of the United States within the region in the form of anti-Communist military adventurism and transnational capitalist hegemony. The U.S. Cold War era policy of Communist containment is 1

PAGE 8

2 inextricably bound to the promotion of capitalist ideology through, for instance, the political support of certain authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes in Asia, so as to promote political "stability" in the region and, consequently, to ensure a supply of markets and cheap labor for U.S. transnational corporations as part of their flexible accumulation strategy. This political and economic network created ultimately facilitates the diasporic flows of immigrants, exiles, refugees, students, professionals, and intellectuals into the U.S.,^ especially from the "Third World" and, in particular, Asia. This Asian influx was due in part to the Immigration Act of 1965, which marked a significant and important shift in a U.S. immigration policy that had been plagued by a racist history of anti-Asian legislation dating back to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.^ The 1965 law fundamentally reversed the earlier policy of exclusion by dismantling "the national-origins quotas and the Asia-Pacific Triangle concept," both set up by Congress to hmit Asian immigration, and by encouraging reunification of family members separated by the exclusion acts.' This political "change of heart" might in part be attributed to the fact that the U.S. government's position had become increasingly contradictory in its attempt to maintain a racist policy at home while functioning as the unofficial global police in criticizing human rights violations and abuses abroad. For instance, after World War Two, the international community's "acceptance of the U.S. as wartime leader of the fi-ee world added pressure to abolish all racially discriminating policies and to adopt immigration policies congruous with democracy's fight against fascism."* Another reason for the 1965 shift in policy was to promote the interests of U.S. transnational capital in the Asia-Pacific region, for the U.S. government "could no longer afford to maintain a blatantly racist immigration policy with respect to the

PAGE 9

3 region"' when its goal was to create a political and social climate in the Pacific Rim countries congenial to U.S. business interests. By briefly drawing out the relationships between transnational capitalism, the trans-Pacific Asian migration, and the U.S. Immigration Act of 1965, 1 seek to highlight their significance to the current emphasis in Asian American studies on the problematics of heterogeneity and diaspora, especially by cultural and literary critics in the field. In opening the immigration floodgates, the U.S. government did not anticipate the inpouring of Asian immigrants, not only from China and Japan (as families are being reunited after years of separation due to the exclusion acts) but also from India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other Southeast Asian countries. Although the presence of these new Asian migrants has infused "new blood" into the Asian American communities, they also fiulher contribute to the heterogeneity, hybridity, and multiplicity" of Asian America in ways that extend beyond the categories of ethnicity and national origin. By conceptualizing the Asian American experience through the notions of heterogeneity, hybridity, and multiplicity, cultural theorists can disrupt, as Lisa Lowe argues, "the dominant, 'orientalist' construction of Asian Americans" (67) and can disengage the nativism-versus-assimilation binary logic (75). Asian American cultural identity, therefore, should be theorized not "as a fixed, established 'given,'" but rather being in a continual process of flux and transformation (64). I also find Lowe's deployment of the term "multiplicity" particularly useful in that it prevents the slide of "heterogeneity" and "hybridity" into an uncritiqued celebration of differences, as is evident in the current predicament of the multiculturalist project. By defining "multiplicity" as "the ways in which subjects located with social relations are determined

PAGE 10

4 by several axes of power, [and] are multiply determined by the contradictions of capitalism, patriarchy, and race relations" (67), Lowe foregrounds the questions of class, gender, and uneven power differentials that confront the Asian American community, especially with the arrival of the post1965 immigrants. The Immigration Act of 1965 has created what John Liu and Lucie Cheng calls a "duality of Asian immigration" into the U.S., where the migrants that arrive are no longer made up of the semi-skilled or unskilled but also include the professional and managerial class. Hence, to flatten the distinct class differences in order to initiate this latter group into the majority/minority paradigm of U.S. race relations is to ignore the possible intra-ethnic tensions created by class, which will ultimately affect Asian American solidarity'^ and cultural identity. The growing presence of a diasporic consciousness in post1965 Asian American cultural productions also stems in part from the need of Asian Americans to articulate this heterogeneity, multiplicity, and hybridity in their social and cultural identity formation. To highlight one's diasporic-e5s is to engage questions of cultural translation, deterritorialization, displacement, all of which contribute to an understanding of Homi Bhabha's notions of hybrid "in-betweeness."'* Diaspora also means disrupting the notion of immigrants as Lockean tabulae rasae upon which "American" culture can be easily inscribed for assimilation purposes. Instead of resorting to an essentialist response, as the editors of Aiiieeeee! have in the 1970s,'^ a diasporic consciousness ultimately hopes to reinscribe the historical, political, and cultural connections of the Asia-Pacific, Asian America, and the United States; and to problematize the hermetic views of U.S. history by situating it "within the context of a broader regional perspective ... [in order] to question the ways in which it has been conceived and written."'^ Though "Sau-ling

PAGE 11

5 Wong cautions against an uncritical adoption of a diasporic perspective because it vacates the position on the domestic American scene that Asian Americans hold to create their ovm panethnic solidarity and identity with people of color,"'^ my sense is that the goals of panethnic solidarity and those of diasporic studies of Asian Americans need not be antithetical or mutually exclusive; in fact, diaspora provides moments of self-critique within the field by challenging theorists to rethink constantly the category of Asian American and not prematurely settle for a cementing of the term in reaction to the dominant discourse of racial taxonomy. The above deliberation on heterogeneity and diaspora is my circuitous way of mapping out the historical and theoretical contours of Asian American discourse in order to situate the topic of this project: "peripheral" Chinese Americans'^ and the problematics as evident in their cultural productions. The issues that I have raised above will be of relevance when I focus on the specificity of peripheral Chinese Americans. The category of peripheral Chinese Americans is clearly an artificial ethnic subgroup, which I am designating as a site for cultural analysis and intervention. Peripheral Chinese Americans (PCAs), for the purposes of this project, refer to Americans of Chinese descent who are not from mainland China but come fi-om countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and other Asian and Southeast Asian countries, representing part of the Chinese diaspora or, what some sinologists and historians of Chinese history have recently termed, "Greater China," a concept I will deal with later in this chapter. It is significant at this point to note that there is a merging of the diasporic histories of PCAs and the early Chinese migrants to the U.S. Both groups can trace their ancestries to the

PAGE 12

6 originating point of the Chinese diasporic movement: the earliest Chinese Americans arrived in the U.S. directly from China, whereas the ancestors of the PCAs settled in other parts of Asia before their descendants migrated to the U.S. Early in the fifteenth century when Chinese junks plied the Southeast Asian trade routes, many Chinese began settling in places like Malacca and some intermarried with the locals. The greatest wave of migration from China to various parts of Asia occurred between 1848 and 1888 during the Ch'ing dynasty, leading to the arrival of even more Chinese in Southeast Asia, the West Indies, and Australia,''^ and, hence adding to the growing Chinese population in these regions. The post1965 migration of the Chinese from Southeast Asia, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to the U.S. would eventually help constitute the category of PCAs. The diasporic history of the Chinese Americans also runs parallel to that of the PCAs. Between 1848 and 1888, migrants coming directly from China arrived in Hawaii and in the continental United States through California, many of whom were lured by the Gold Rush of 1 849, and later by the coolie trade and indentured labor system to supply the needed manpower^" for the building of the transcontinental railroads. These migrants would form the ancestral lineage of the pre1965 Chinese Americans. The influx of Chinese migrants into the U.S. abated in 1882 with the Chinese Exclusion Act, and it was not till 1965 that the Chinese diasporic flows resumed with fewer restrictions. Meanwhile, between 1882 and 1965, much transpired for the multiple generations of Chinese diasporics who had settled in their host countries in Asia and Southeast Asia (the ancestors of the future PCAs). New cultural, political, and national identities were forged. Many are also considered cultural hybrids, such as the Peranakans (products of

PAGE 13

Malay-Chinese intermarriages) in Malacca, Penang, and Singapore, who are also known as Straits Chinese,^' many of whom do not speak the Chinese language but still identify themselves as Chinese ethnically. The turbulent history of twentieth-century China also witnessed the birth of Taiwan and colonial Hong Kong. The cultural identity of the Chinese population in these two countries has also been transformed, particularly by their political distance from mainland China. Migrants from all of these different Asian countries form a significant part of the post1965 Chinese influx into the U.S. (with the mainland Chinese making up the rest of this migration) and would help build the PCA population. Though the PCAs strongly cling to their ethnic identity as Chinese, they are different culturally, socially, and politically from both the earlier Chinese Americans and the new immigrants who come directly from China. The perimeters I have set for the category of peripheral Chinese Americans are artificial in that the category's boundaries are fluid and permeable; in incorporating the experiences and cultural productions of particular groups in this study, I will inevitably leave out many others. Hence, instead of aiming for an exhaustive enumeration of all the possible hybrid subgroups in such a category, which is not only counter-productive but also antithetical to the overall agenda of this project, this study aspires to examine the problematics laid out and the questions raised in select cultural texts of PCAs in an attempt to understand and theorize about the experience of the PCAs in order Xo further destabilize the boundaries of the ethnic category, instead of reifying them. The interventional function of questioning cultural boundaries is to challenge the centerperiphery paradigm deployed by Chinese cultural chauvinism globally, and by racist ideology within the U.S.; for the "periphery" in PCAs denotes for them a double

PAGE 14

8 marginality, emphasizing not only their marginal status within Chinese culturalism, but also their place in the shared marginality of U.S. ethnic minorities. Two other objections which may be raised against such a project merit consideration. One might argue that by further subdividing a minority group, am I not splitting, so to speak, ethnic hairs and fueling further division in an already fragile panethnic solidarity? Would not one also be guilty of reifying the center through the margins when engaging the specificities of the PCAs. With reference to the first question, I believe the above discussion on heterogeneity and the significance of diaspora to Asian American studies in a way addresses this issue; but 1 would also like to invoke Lisa Lowe's argument against conceptualizing cultural identity as a stable and fixed entity for the purposes of political solidarity: The articulation of an "Asian American identity" as an organizing tool has provided a concept of political unity that enables diverse Asian groups to imderstand unequal circumstances and histories as being related. Yet to the extent that Asian American culture fixes Asian American identity and suppresses differences — of national origin, generation, gender, sexuality, class — it risks particular dangers: not only does it underestimate the differences and hybridities among Asians, but it may also inadvertently support the racist discourse that constructs Asians as a homogenous group, that implies Asians are "all alike" and conform to "types." (70-71) In response to the second "objection" against reifying the center through the margins, 1 refer to a text by Gayatri Spivak where she addresses the question of class consciousness by "naming" the subaltern: The subaltern is all that is not elite, but the trouble with those kinds of names is that if you have any kind of political interest you name it in the hope that the name will disappear. That's what class consciousness is in the interest of the class disappearing. What politically we want to see is that the name would not be possibleP

PAGE 15

9 This political gesture of naming a category in order to "erase" it serves to unhinge the very mechanism of domination that produced the category in the first place. Another point that needs to be made regarding this notion of "erasure" as deployed in conjunction with ethnicity is that it is not meant to deny the cultural materiahty of ethnic groups or subgroups, but rather it serves to problematize the nativist's claim to cultural and racial authenticity and purity. So, to "name" the peripheral Chinese American culture is to disturb the sanctified cultural boundaries of Chinese and Chinese American culture, which in turn leads to the re-examination of Asian American identity and, ultimately, of the very category of "American" culture itself This last point provides a convenient segue towards an articulation of the main goals of this cultural critical study on PCAs. I envision this as an interventionist project that will enable one to begin (i) to "unlearn," as Rey Chow puts it in Writing Diaspora, the "submission to one's ethnicity such as 'Chinese-ness' as the ultimate signified,"^'* as a means of challenging Chinese nativism's claim to the category in the name of cultural authenticity and racial purity; (ii) to interrogate the "limits" of categories such as "Chinese American," "Asian American," and "American," and "what is left out,"^^ by engaging the questions raised within the dynamics of a diasporic consciousness, such as cultural identity, hybridity, deterritorialization, imaginary homelands, class differences, the politics of citizenship, and imagined (national and transnational) communities; and (iii) to move the PCA's doubleness of marginality beyond a sense of paralytic contradiction to that of a more productive, and less myopic, critique of oppressive, hegemonic ideologies within the interlocking axes of race, gender, class, and sexuahty.

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10 In the remainder of this chapter, I wall focus on the mythography of Chinese return and its politics so as to tackle Chiness-ness as a cultural construct. As a point of entry, I will first provide a brief "reading" of the British return of Hong Kong to mainland China as a means of tapping into the metaphoricity of the event, especially as a cultural signifier for the Chinese in diaspora, in order to theorize a Chinese transnational imaginary. Such a reading will allow me also to critique the binary logic of center versus periphery, and Chinese nativism versus Western modernity; and to unmask the complicitous role such logic plays in its co-optation by U.S. Orientalism and the culture of transnational capitalism.^^ It is then within the midst of this cultural critique that I would like to situate the peripheral Chinese Americans and examine how the discourses of Chinese culturalism, U.S. Orientalism, and late-capitalist ideology delimit their place within American society. Hong Kong 97: Return in the Chinese Diasporic Imaginary Our delegation's trip to Hong Kong will surely reflect the feeling of glory and pride of all our nationalities regarding Hong Kong's return to the motherland. Chinese President Jiang Zemin^^ From the perspective of those in Tibet, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, the prominent question is Can one say no to China? The significance of this question, which would require interested scholars to confront the contradictions of Chinese as a constructed ethnicity, is yet to be recognized in the "cultural studies" relating to "China." Rey Chow^^ This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is brewing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into

PAGE 17

11 the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. Walter Benjamin^' July 1, 1997: the day the world's attention was riveted on Hong Kong; the day Hong Kong officially returned to the Chinese fold after 156 years under British colonial rule; a day of epic "history" in the making! But, for me, to contemplate the "historicity" of the event is also to have Benjamin's "angel of history" color my sense of the moment with profound irony and contradiction. While in Singapore at the time of the Hong Kong handover, I gathered with my family and relatives before the television set to witness the event in all its spectacle and pageantry. What struck me as remarkable is not only the mediatized "celebration" that transpired on the screen, but also the verbal storm that was brewing in our living room, leaving wreckage upon wreckage of bruised egos and conflicted cultural identities, traces of history — diasporic and colonial. In identifying with their Chinese ancestry and, being part of postcolonial Singapore, rightly resisting British imperialism, some of my relatives see this event as a glorious reclamation of lost Chinese territory from the former British Empire and a restoration of the honor and "face" lost when a severely weakened and outmatched Ch'ing government capitulated to British gunboat diplomacy during the Opium Wars. On the other hand, others sense, as Rey Chow does, that "one cannot but problematize 'China' ... at the same time as one dismantles 'Britain'"^''; for in light of the Tiananmen massacre. Hong Kong is seen as being in transit "between colonizers," as an authoritarian regime replaces an exploitative one.^' For them, the countdown to July 1997 was fraught with much apprehension and fear that those who chose (or had no choice but) to remain in the now renamed Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) may eventually forfeit their civil rights to the

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12 incoming regime. For most of us, there was a general sense of contradiction and paralysis in terms of conflicting allegiances and political identifications, a state of mind that arises from an "unwilling[ness] to criticize [the] hegemony [of Third World ruling elites] for fear of playing into the hands of Western imperialism,"^^ a fear that obviously needs to be overcome. In a microcosmic way, the varied reactions evoked before the television set in our living room reflect the heterogeneous responses to the Hong Kong return among Chinese in diaspora. This notion of contradiction — political and cultural— forms a kind of metanarrative in counterpoint to the almost seamless grand narrative of Chinese return as constructed in the well-polished mediatized spectacle of the Hong Kong handover. The key themes of this multimedia extravaganza were "celebration" and "reunification," which of course ironically begs the questions, "What exactly is there to celebrate?" and "What does reunification ultimately mean for the Hong Kong people?" The sheer size of the event and the carnival atmospherics were carefiilly calibrated to dissipate, overshadow, or mask the ominous tension in such questions. The spectacle of "celebration," hence, served to displace or even erase the historical memory of its terrifying Other, the spectacle of violence, as enacted on the square of Tiananmen. This "blemish" in Chinese history, however, could not be allowed to disrupt the Hollywoodstyle show and party the incoming government and its sympathizers had drawn up. Festivities include numerous "Celebration of Reunification" carnivals, ftm fairs, exhibitions, galas, parties, mass dances, parades, localized ceremonies, countdown balls, banquets, a fireworks display (at Victoria Harbour), musical extravaganzas and concerts featuring local and international pop stars and celebrities, and finally culminating in the

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13 pomp and military pageantry of the Joint Sino-British Handover Ceremony held at the Convention and Exhibition Centre attended by Prince Charles, Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Jiang Zemin, and Premier Li Peng.^^ Before I begin reading the tropological significance of the handover for diasporic Chinese, 1 believe it is important at this juncture to acknowledge the material reality of those whose lives are most directly affected by this historic event: the Hong Kong people themselves. In the tumultuous explosion of celebration activities and in the grand scheme of geopolitical relations between Britain and mainland China, the Hong Kong people and their voices face erasure. Their transparency in this narrative of "history" is echoed in the following sentiments of Hong Kong students studying in the U.S.: What can a ceremony like that mean to us as a whole when it wasn't even accessible to the common majority? That says to me that this doesn't involve us. Just as the actual flags of Hong Kong were smaller and secondary to the flags of the United Kingdom and the People's Republic of China, so is the real Hong Kong. The most striking effect of this occurrence was the image of C. H. Tung [Beijing appointee to oversee Hong Kong's transition] standing side by side with China's current president Jiang Zemin, speaking the language of the Motherland rather than the language of the people he was chosen to govern. Many local residents were bothered by this fact, and rightly so.^'* The liminality of the Hong Kong people in the proceedings marks their continued marginalization within the scheme of British and Chinese national self-interest. As Ackbar Abbas theorizes, one of Hong Kong's ways of coping with this crisis is through a cultural and political aesthetics of "disappearance" as a strategy of subjectivity, producing a kind of ironic counter-discourse of resistance through self-erasure.^' For diasporic Chinese, the significance of Hong Kong's return to the "Motheriand," though it cannot be matched by the immediacy and urgency the moment

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14 holds for the people of Hong Kong, still assumes a potency in the construction of Chinese identity and culture. As President Jiang Zemin noted in a speech on his way to attend the handover ceremony (see the first epigraph of this section). Hong Kong's return should evoke "glory and pride" in every true-blooded Chinese. His point strategically serves to interpellate ethnic Chinese, at home and abroad, through the nationalist rhetoric of return. It is important to note that this production of a "mythography" (which Arjun Appadurai defines as a public discourse constructed "by a mass-mediated imaginary that transcends national space)'^ of Chinese return is not new or specific to the question of Hong Kong's handover; there is a historical, cultural, and philosophical lineage that takes on a special resonance for many ethnic Chinese, something that Jiang Zemin consciously taps into by subtly shifting the focus fi"om the national implications of the event to a broader ethnic and diasporic one. The notion of Chinese return is deeply embedded in Chinese cosmological and ontological thought; for instance, the very name of China, Zhongguo or, literally, "Middle Kingdom," semantically reifies the centrality of "China" in the hearts and minds of its people. Traditionally, "the view of being at the center of existence has always been an important aspect of being Chinese" and such a "view is based on a deep-rooted sense of belonging to a unified civilization that boasts several thousands of years of uninterrupted history."" At the epicenter of this history, at least up to the Ch'ing dynasty,^^ is enthroned the Chinese Emperor; the notion of centrality, as embodied in the person and position of the Emperor, radiates outward to encompass within its sphere the Chinese nation, Chinese culture and society, and geographical China.^^ Hence, many Chinese

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15 pride themselves in their racial purity by being able to trace their ancestral links to the Yellow Emperor Huang Ti/** As integral to its logic, any concept of "return" presupposes a prior movement away from a center and demands a movement back to that same point of origin. Centrifugal forces in the form of political fragmentation and diasporic flows characterize much of modem Chinese history, thereby producing this need for "return." Early Ming traders and merchants represent the beginnings of the diasporic flow, a trickle that turned into a flood of migration (with varying degrees of intensity) during the Ch'ing period, the Nationalist era, and during Communist rule from 1949 to the present. Territorial fragmentation began with the loss of Macao to the Portuguese in 1557, Hong Kong (and later the Kowloon Peninsula) to the British after the Opium Wars, and the formation of the Republic of China (in contestation to the PRC's claim of legitimate rule) on the island of Taiwan. All these forces constitute disruptions to the centrality of "China"; therefore, in the Chinese mind, "return" becomes part of an inexorable, logical progression, the telos of which is to restore once again the glory of Chinese centrality. The ideology of Chinese return functions on at least three interconnected levels, the first of which is political. Though many diasporic Chinese acknowledge the uncertainty of democracy's future in Hong Kong's reunification with the motherland, their celebration stems fi-om the view that Hong Kong's return signals the first step towards complete political unity: Macao in 1999 and, possibly even, Taiwan's reconciliation and reunion with the mainland, the ultimate goal of Chinese political reunification. Hence, the Hong Kong handover is pregnant with political symbolism emblematizing this hope. The "one country, two systems" model, as set out in the Joint

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16 Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong (December 19, 1984), was carefully engineered to suggest, as Premier Li Peng does, that "it can also work for Taiwan,"^' a suggestion that has met with tepid response, if not outright rejection by the Taiwanese. However, many in Taiwan still cling to the possibility of return, instead of declaring its independence as a Taiwanese state. Such a sentiment can partially be explained in terms of the ideology of Chinese centrality and return, apart from, of course, the significant threat of Chinese military retaliation against such separatist moves. Physical return constitutes the second level of Chinese return. This need to go home to the motherland is of particular importance to the Chinese diaspora {huaqiao). Early migrants to Southeast Asia and the United States, for instance, visualized themselves as sojourners, temporary residents in a foreign land, whose purpose was to accrue wealth so as to return to China to live the remainder of their days in comfort and luxury. The Chinese four-word paradigm ^-e/wo guigen metaphorically encapsulates this attachment to the homeland and the imperative of return, an expression that, when loosely translated, "characterizes the Chinese abroad as fallen leaves that must eventually, even inevitably return to their roots in the soil of China. "^^ Though some succeed in returning, a review of Chinese diasporic history will reveal that many do not, the result of a multiplicity of push-and-pull factors"^ functioning as incentives, barriers, or obstacles discouraging return. Even with the hope of a permanent return to China extinguished, some diasporic Chinese in various parts of the world still harbor the dream of being buried in their ancestral homeland, a tolerable quid pro quo for a chance to live out their remaining years in the motherland. The notion of return has been so ingrained into the cultural fabric of the diasporic Chinese psyche that even subsequent generations

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17 of ethnic Chinese, who no longer have ties to the mainland and who loyally pledge national allegiances to their country of citizenship, often believe in the cultural value of visiting China, especially in their old age, engaging in a sort of quasi-retum to one's roots, even if it is only in a superficially touristic fashion. The preeminence of political and physical return in Chinese diasporic thinking naturally filters down to the cultural level forming the third way return operates. For whatever reason a physical return is unfeasible or impossible, one could still return to the "homeland" in one's heart. Such a "return," therefore, takes on a cultural emphasis as diasporic Chinese seek to accentuate aspects of what they believe constitutes their Chinese-ness, often through a return to Chinese culture and the arts, the Chinese language, and "traditional" Chinese values, ideals, and philosophies. The movement towards a cultural center, however problematically that center is defined, provides a channel of resistance to racist or assimilationist politics they encounter. On the other hand, the danger in such reactive culturalism lies in its ethnocentric potential and in its reification of EastWest differences and the center-periphery dichotomy, issues I will address in the next section. These different strands of Chinese return work together to add to the emotional resonance and cultural significance Hong Kong's return has for diasporic Chinese. But what made this event successful in its invocation and dissemination of the ideology of return was its ability to involve its audience vicariously in the physicality of return through a mediatized global space of interaction, instantaneity, and participatory presence. The Chinese diaspora was brought together communally for those few hours of celebration, thanks to the ability of late-twentieth century telecommunications wizardry

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18 to bridge migrant peoples through space and time. Cognizant of this potential, the mainland government wasted no effort in enhsting the media's power to reach ethnic Chinese on a worldwide scale. Via global satellite link-up, diasporic Chinese and the rest of the world experienced live television coverage of the handover ceremony and the "party" that was to precede and follow it. Cyberspace potential was similarly tapped into: Internet users could witness the handover live from noon June 30 to noon July 2, courtesy of the Computer Services Centre of the Chinese University of Hong Kong in collaboration with Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) and other Internet services.'** Since June 1997, cinema audiences across Asia and Southeast Asia also saw the release of The Opium War. Helmed by well-known Chinese director Xie Jin, the 9.6 milliondollar film, though not an official government production, helped to elicit nationalist fervor and provided a filmic channel for the mainland government's criticism of Western imperialism, all through the cinematic lure of epic story-telling and mass entertainment. As the 74-year-oId Xie explains, "The aim of shooting such a movie is to remind all Chinese of the past. For any nation, ignorance of the outside world means backwardness, and a backward country is doomed to be bullied. "^^ The emotional and cultural pull of communal identification through a mediatized event such as the Hong Kong handover takes Benedict Anderson's idea of a nation's "imagined community'"*^ to a new transnational level, the impact of which cannot be dismissed. The Chinese government saw and used the ideological flow generated by a Chinese transnational imaginary and its links to mass mediation to disseminate their rhetoric of political return. Here I am using again Aijun Appadurai's terminology and concepts articulated in Modernity at Large, where he examines how a nascent

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19 "postnational imaginary" emerges from the relationship "between mass mediation and migration" to constitute what he calls "diasporic public spheres."^' (I have chosen, however, to conceptualize the mythography of return within the framework of a Chinese transnational imaginary, as opposed to Appadurai's postnational one, as it may be premature to herald the demise of the nation-state and, hence, underestimate its effectiveness in enacting cultural and racial violence.) What is of particular relevance to my argument here is that Appadurai also observes how the ideological flow between media and audience is not unidirectional — as in "the theory of media as the opium of the people"^* — but rather, it is interactive: As mass mediation becomes increasingly dominated by electronic media and as such media increasingly link producers and audiences across national boundaries, and as these audiences themselves start new conversations between those who move and those who stay, we find a growing number of diasporic public spheres/' In offering both positive potential and hidden dangers, this diasporic network is significant in two ways. Firstly, the fact that audiences are not simply static receptacles for ideological fashioning through the media foregrounds the complex and often conflicted identity formation of diasporic individuals, as illustrated by my relatives' contradictory reactions to the question of Hong Kong. They interact with the mediatized transmission and with one another; decisions are made, often prematurely, on cultural and political positions and re-positioning; and the mythography of return is challenged or reaffirmed, and frequently restructured into hybrid formations. It is in this discursive swirl of ideological interaction that the intervention of a radical politics of critique becomes especially necessary and urgent. Secondly, in spite of the fact that the mythography of return as transmitted via the mediatized "ideoscape"^" of the Chinese

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20 culturalists — in "conversation" with diasporic Chinese — to propagate sinocentrism, the possibilities for dialogue within the diasporic public spheres should encourage radical diasporic Chinese to use this channel for the contestation and critique of ethnocentric culturalism. Instead of fearing the accusations of disrupting ethnic solidarity and unity, one should problematize such imagined communality by unmasking its exclusionary cultural politics. Problematizing Return: Cultural Traditionalism and U.S. Orientalism The term "Greater China" {dazhonghua) has gained, in recent years, much currency in media and scholarly circles, prompting even The China Quarterly to devote an entire volume (vol. 136) to discuss the use of the expression in various discursive and disciplinary spheres. The semantic value of the term varies significantly, depending on whether one is thinking along economic, political, or cultural lines; as Harry Harding, in a definitional essay featured in the above-mentioned volume, attempts to articulate: As is so often the case with the phrase of the moment, however, the precise meaning of "Greater China" ... is not entirely clear. In essence, it refers to the rapidly increasing interaction among Chinese societies around the world as the political and administrative barriers to their intercourse fall. But different analysts use the term in different ways. Some refer primarily to the commercial ties among ethnic Chinese, whereas others are more interested in cultural interactions, and still others in the prospects for political reunification. Some observers focus exclusively on Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and mainland China, others incorporate Singapore, and still others include the overseas Chinese living in South-east Asia, America and Europe. To some writers, "Greater China" is simply a way of summarizing the new linkages among the far-flung international Chinese community; to others, it is a prescription of the institutions that should govern those ties.^' Harding and the various contributors to the issue have been cautious enough to identify the hegemonic potential of such a term, but the privileging of it in Chinese and Chinese-

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21 related discourse raises interesting, if not troubling, concerns for my problematization of return. As Harding's definition above suggests, "Greater China" as cultural nomenclature arises from the center's need to engage the diaporic Chinese's claim to Chinese cultural authenticity, dissonant voices that can no longer be ignored, especially in light of the latter' s economic ascendancy in the Asia-Pacific region and their contribution to China's economic restructuring. But in extending the hand of recognition and concession, the double-edged term reinscribes center-periphery cultural relations through the production of a concentric hierarchy with "China" still occupying the core, radiating influence outward through the diasporic sphere. Hence, it is of no surprise to hear cultural critics and sinologists, in dealing with the suddenly important question of defining Chinese-ness in the midst of diasporic de-centering,^^ call for new cultural strategies such as "Confucian humanism,"^' homeland-in-the-heart,^'* and "Chinese cosmopolitanism,"^^ most of which re-articulates the old ideology of Chinese cultural return within a contemporary globalized framework. To problematize Chinese return, one needs first to deconstruct the binary logic of nativist traditionalism versus Western modernity that structures its rhetoric. This logic forms a comfortable part of the age-old EastWest conflict in China's historical "tradition" of resisting the imperialistic encroachments of the West, territorially, economically, and culturally. As much as the project of anti-Western imperialism is laudable, Chinese traditionalism frequently resorts to cultural chauvinism, uncritiqued nostalgia, and a primitivism that privileges traditional or ancient culture as authentic. Such nativism, unfortunately, replicates the kind of cultural violence one finds

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22 inexcusable in Western imperialism and colonization in the first place, as Rey Chow, in analyzing the paradox of primitivism, concludes: In a culture caught between the forces of "first world" imperialism and "third world" nationalism, such as that of twentieth century China, the primitive is the precise paradox, the amalgamation of the two modes of signification known as "culture" and "nature If Chinese culture is "primitive" in the pejorative sense of being "backward" (being stuck in an earlier stage of "culture" and thus closer to "nature") when compared to the West, it is also "primitive" in the meliorative sense of being an ancient culture (it was there first, before many Western nations). A strong sense of primordial, rural rootedness thus goes hand in hand with an equally compelling conviction of China's primariness, of China's potential primacy as a modem nation with a glorious civilization. This paradox of a primitivism that sees China as simultaneously victim and empire is what leads modem Chinese intellectuals to their so-called obsession with China.^^ Furthermore, it is important to see this traditionalism not simply as a knee-jerk response to Western cultural imperialism, but also as a political tactic that paradigmatically formulates and reformulates "Chinese culture" within the rubric of tradition in order to meet the political or discursive contingency of the moment. To illustrate this point, one need only turn to the speech of Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, given on the first day of Chinese mle of the Hong Kong SAR. In promising to be tolerant of dissenting viewpoints and to "protect individual rights," Tung also emphasizes "collective responsibility." Because "Hong Kong has embraced the eastern and westem cultures," he reasons, "we will continue to encourage diversity in our society, but we must also reaffirm and respect the fine traditional Chinese values, including filial piety, love for the family, modesty and integrity, and the desire for continuous improvement."^^ What Tung has done is to ethnicize the latter as "Chinese values" so as to establish. through a retum to Chinese tradition and culture, an interpretive loophole for justifying

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23 future acts of authoritarianism, a rhetorical move not unlike those made by other authoritarian and semi-authoritarian governments in Asia and Southeast Asia. The fact that Chinese traditionalism can be and has been deterritorialized through a mythography of return within the Chinese transnational imaginary illustrates Stuart Hall's point that globalization has its localized cultural effects, in this case the dissemination and strengthening of Chinese chauvinism, especially in the diasporic Chinese's response to the Western host nation-state's "regress[ion] to a very defensive and highly dangerous form of national identity driven by a very aggressive form of racism. "^^ Peripheral Chinese Americans, for instance, find themselves caught between the tense and violent space of these polarities, and are coerced to embrace either Chinese (or Chinese American/^ nativism or Anglo-American culture. The assimilationist demands of the latter need to be rejected tout court, while the former's identity politics, being similarly violent in its culturalism, is no less acceptable; for Chinese traditionalism confronts PCAs to meet its demands and standards of cultural authenticity: Can you speak the Chinese language? Are you well versed in Chinese culture, traditions, history, and social practices? In other words, prove to us that you are as Chinese as we are! Ironically, such reactive nativism, instead of disabling racism and the dominant logic of assimilation, supplies its opponents with ammunition by allowing the recourse to cultural nostalgia, primitivism, and traditionalism to be co-opted by U.S. Orientalist discourses. This unwitting "cooperation" has led Rey Chow to describe Western Orientalism and Third World nativism as "the obverse and reverse of the same coin," and to expose, for example, "the alliance of nativist elitism and institutional Orientalism" in the teaching of Asian literatures in universities across the U.S.^ Chinese traditionalism.

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24 thereby, reifies the exotic and primordial (hence, degenerate, uncivilized, and sensual) stereotypes of the Chinese already established in the public imaginary by government, political, literary, and media discourses throughout U.S. history.^' Such images of the exotic and the evil (think sensual Suzie Wong, the inscrutable Charlie Chan, and the diabolical Fu Manchu) become interchangeable with the more recent configuration of Asians as industrious and passive "model minorities," a shifting politics of imaging the Asian "Other" to suit the political goals of the racial dominant. Both stereotypes, in serving to maintain the Us/Them division, provide the basis for "dominating, restructuring, and having authority over" the Oriental Other, as Edward Said's Orientalism demonstrates.^^ This form of U.S. Orientalism participates in what Malini / Schueller calls the "task of imperial self-definition" where "various raced and gendered distinctions between" Orientals and Anglo-Americans "are deployed to repress or allay fears about the wholeness and stability of the nation in the face of diverse ethnic immigration and Afiican American and Native American presences.' Stereotypes such as these do not simply remain within the "imaginary" but are fi"equently translated into the U.S. public sphere of governmental and institutional legislation, where policies discriminatory towards Asian Americans and immigrants are enacted. Lisa Lowe is correct to observe how culture has become the site of conceptualizing American citizenship (2-3); Asian Americans are the outsiders-inside, i the "foreignerwithin" (5): In the last century and a half, the American citizen has been defined over against the Asian immigrant, legally, economically, and culturally. These definitions have cast Asian immigrants both as persons and populations to be integrated into the national political sphere and as the contradictory, confiising, unintelligible elements to be marginalized and returned to their alien origins. (4)

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25 The material implications of this racialized politics of citizenship are significant. AngloAmerica's "understanding" of the Asian minority (be it the "Yellow Peril" or the model minority stereotype) often constitutes the basis for discriminatory governmental and institutional policies on immigration, welfare, affirmative action, educational quotas and programs, employment, law enforcement, and community assistance and restructuring. The needs of Asian Americans and Asian immigrants, therefore are marginalized, made transparent (they are industrious and self-reliant, and can survive any adverse situation you put them in, without governmental assistance), or simply ignored (often as a result of a lack of political consequences). Therefore, to challenge Chinese (or any other ethnic) traditionalism marks an initial step one can take towards dismantling the Us/Them Orientalist binary opposition, disrupting racist Asian stereotypes, and mobilizing political forces to represent the rights of and address the needs and concerns of Asian America. Coda: Reading "Return" in Chinese America My historicization and subsequent problematization of the ideology of Chinese return are not intended to suggest its exclusivity as a problematic for peripheral Chinese Americans; in fact, most Chinese Americans have dealt with and continue to deal with return's interpellating logic, as is reflected in the various ways they have engaged the issue in their cultural productions. As a conclusion to this chapter, I will briefly survey its presence in Chinese American textual/literary history, which I hope will serve to highlight some of the common problems that are similarly faced by PCAs. Such a survey would also provide a point of departure from which to examine the different problematics and historical specificities that distinguish the PCA's experience from that of the Chinese American's.

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26 Tu Wei-ming's point that any examination of return as an ideological formation should not be conducted in a de-historicized and de-contextualized fashion bears reemphasis here (see note 43). Instead of conceptualizing Chinese return in a reductive manner, one should comphcate it by analyzing its relationship to and interaction with the social, political, and cultural forces at work within its space of deployment. Chinese American literature, apart from functioning as a channel of artistic expression, also provides a means for emotional release and political reaction to a hostile and racist environment. Early Chinese migrant and Chinese American "texts," produced in the absence of publication luxuries and, hence, taking the form of talk-stories, poetry, and other oral traditions (frequently in the Chinese language), feature a longing for the Chinese homeland in their nostalgic recollections of home, a pining for wife and family, an expression of patriotic sentiments for a strong China, and a stoic determination to preserve Chinese culture from the "barbaric" influences of Anglo-America. The ideology of return, therefore, has been intertwined with reactions to the anti-Chinese climate in the nineteenthand early twentieth-century America. Serving as an example of the poetic responses to the discriminatory immigration policies and practices against Chinese immigrants. Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung have put together a collection of poetry written by Chinese immigrants — more specifically, poems carved on the walls of the detention camps on Angel Island, off the coast of CaUfomia, between 1910 and 1940. These immigrants were held there for interrogation, which lasted for days and even months, all in the INS's hope to weed out "paper sons," immigrants who had forged evidence of relational ties to Chinese Americans, a legal loophole that circumscribed the exclusionary U.S. policy of admitting

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27 only Chinese students and merchants. The need to return physically and politically was intensified as a result of the incarceration and humiliation suffered on Angel Island, as the following lines fi"om some of the poems indicate:^'* I wish to go back to my motherland to carry the farmer's hoe (40). After experiencing such loneliness and sorrow, why not just return home and learn to plow the fields? (68). All my compatriots should please be mindful. Once you have some small gains, return home early (66). If my country had contrived to make herself strong, this would never have happened (86). One could argue that these poems are situational and, hence, are not accurately representative of Chinese American sentiments on return. Many Chinese in America at the turn of the century, after years of failure to earn enough money so as to return home, abandoned themselves to their fate by psychologically disengaging from the hope of returning to China. But the "sojourner's mentality" still prevailed as the Chinese could not become citizens and were prevented from integrating into American society as a result of various forms of discrimination. As Marlon K. Hom notes in his introduction to a collection of Cantonese rhymes from San Francisco's Chinatown composed in the early 1910s, "the sojourner's mentality was also a product of anti-Chinese practices" for the "political and social policies [of the U.S. government] did not provide favorable conditions for the Chinese to establish families and to stay permanently in America. "^^ The ideology of return, hence, sustained and intensified its appeal especially under such alienating circumstances. The following poem not only reflects the Chinese immigrants' sense of the difficulties and the transience of their stay in America, but it also engages the

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28 ideology of return in its political, physical, and cultural dimensions, particularly in the final line of the poem: My friends, remember by all means: Don't let yourselves be stranded in a foreign country. Brows besieged by sorrow from frequent worries of home; Thousands of miles of clouds and mountains further impede a gloomy stay. Separation brings out misery. Have your belongings always packed and ready. A journey to America is only a search for weahh. Return to the old country quickly, to avoid going astray.^ The earliest published works in English by Chinese immigrants were predominantly autobiographical or ethnographic in their intent. Writers such as Chiang Yee, Lee Yan Phou, Lin Yutang, and Helena Kuo^^ sought to portray Chinese culture and China in a positive light, frequently deploying idealized images of Chinese culture and civilization in all its rich tradition (normally that of the upper class) as a corrective to the negative views Anglo-Americans hold of the Chinese during that period. In describing some of these authors as "ambassadors of goodwill," Elaine Kim criticizes them for accepting "discrimination against the poor and uneducated members of their own race" and only "questioning the logic of discrimination against the educated elite.' Their desire to win American acceptance of their culture has led them to a return, in their writing, to a traditionalist portrayal of Chinese culture that neatly fits into the predominantly Orientalist conception of Chinese and Asians in the U.S. during this era of exclusion. The popularity of autobiography as a genre among early Chinese immigrant writers such as those I have mentioned above and second generation Chinese Americans like Jade Snow Wong and Pardee Lowe attest to the significance of catering to the white

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29 reader's ethnographic gaze of Chinese culture, especially in all its "traditional" finery and exotic flavors and colors. Works by Chinese Americans who seek to assimilate into AngloAmerica function as safe "Chinatown tour guides," leading their readers into the dark, sin-filled, opium-infested alleyways of Chinatown. They provide descriptions of strange and exotic Chinese cuisine and traditional (hence, backward) social practices and customs. The goal is to show "contempt for things Chinese [by] alternating with repeated apology for Chinese or Chinese American culture and values and praise for everything 'American,'" in the attempt to win acceptance into Anglo-America by reproducing the binary logic of "China [as] the symbol of backwardness, but America [as] the epitome of modemity."^^ Though these authors were technically rejecting Chinese culture, they represented an inverted mode of cultural return in the form of selfOrientalism. In so doing, they seek not to glorify their culture but to reject it by seeking out the "worst" in order to feed prevalent stereotypes. The post-Civil Rights era saw a growth in publishing opportunities for minority writing, ushering in a prolific output of Chinese American literature and fihn in a multiplicity of genres and tackling a broader spectrum of issues that reflect the complexity and heterogeneity of Chinese American identity, culture, and experience.^" Contemporary Chinese American textuality has shifted its concern from submitting to the logic of assimilation to that of racial empowerment and ethnic pride, beginning with the works of authors like Frank Chin, Shawn Hsu Wong, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Jeffrey Paul Chan, whose efforts were directed at debunking stereotypes, unabashedly returning to ethnic roots, and "claiming America" — which Kingston proclaims is the purpose of her book China Men^' — for Chinese (and Asian) Americans. In offering the strategic

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30 potential for minority empowerment, this search for one's ethnic roots, unfortunately, may sometimes lead to the exclusivist danger of cultural essentialism, insiderism, and ethnocentricity, extreme positions upon which the ideology of return capitalizes. Chinese American writing of the 1980s and early 1990s, in moving away from identity politics, as I noted at the beginning of the chapter, have mobilized a greater range of issues concerning Chinese America, for example feminism and Chinese patriarchy (Kingston and Amy Tan), U.S. imperialism and gay sexuality (David Henry Hwang's M Butterfly), and revisionist history (Frank Chin's Donald Duk). This is a positive and healthy step for Chinese America, as its literature has begun to address the complex human experiences that were marginalized in the earlier fights for literary representation. However, Chinese return has not, as a result receded in its relevance, but has instead maintained its presence in reconfigured formations. Diaspora and globality are newfound terrain for the ideology of return to entrench itself The transnational opportunities of air travel provide a new sense of cultural cormectedness to originary homelands, thereby allowing return to flourish as a myth of cultural rejuvenation: In Peter Wang's 1985 film A Great Wall, the protagonist Leo Fang and his Chinese American family visited his sister and her family in mainland China to return to the U.S. in a state of psychological, cultural, and spiritual refreshment. Jing-Mei Woo's trip to China to meet her long-lost half sisters, in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, generates an emotional catharsis and resolution in her struggle to connect with her mother and her culture — "1 look at their faces again and I see no trace of my mother in them. Yet they still look familiar. And now I also see what part of me is Chinese. It is so obvious. It is my family. It is in our blood. After all these years, it can finally be let go."^^ Return has also re-appeared in a

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31 familiar face, in the novels of Wang Ping, where China is depicted in a negative light, this time emphasizing the repressions of Communist China as a foil to an uncritiqued idealization of America as a land of freedom and opportunity 7' In a similar vein, feminist critique of Chinese patriarchal oppression, productively and rightfully mobilized in Kingston's The Woman Warrior and Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, turns ugly in Tan's next book The Kitchen God's Wife, which unfortunately resorts to a sensationalized narrative of sexist violence perpetrated by monstrous male caricatures.''* Instead of spotlighting the oppression faced by Chinese women. Tan's novel, in returning to a traditionalist depiction of a Chinese family in pre-Communist China in order to paint the atrocities committed against the female characters, problematically reifies and confirms Orientalized critiques by Western feminists of the deplorable and backward state of gender relations in "Third World" cultures. It is crucial for me to point out that not all engagements v^th the notion of "return" have been negative. Kingston's The Woman Warrior and Hwang's M Butterfly, for instance, are two major works, among many others, that effectively disrupt Chinese centrism by challenging cultural and genre boundaries (in Kingston's work), and in the use of reversals to problematize Orientalist discourses (in Hwang's play). Kingston's "memoirs" incorporate various elements from her life experience and purposefully blur the boundaries between cultural myth and cultural reality— she uses talk-stories, childhood memories, traditional Chinese folk tales, and movies, by reworking and interweaving them into a cultural tapestry— in order to question "what is Chinese" and "what is Chinese tradition."'^ In a similarly subversive fashion, David Henry Hwang in M Butterfly takes advantage of the entrenched Orientalist depiction of Chinese passive

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32 femininity and sexual submission to reveal the power relations involved in imperialist discourses on the East. What is so significant about Hwang's "return" to these traditionalist images of Chinese women is the role reversals that take place in the end of the play where the Orientalist image of Song Liling as Rene Gallimard's ideal butterfly is smashed, exposing the oppressive strategies of Western imperialism and Chinese selfOrientalism/^ My brief sketch of return in Chinese American texts brings me now to peripheral Chinese American cultural productions. Some of the issues, problems, and critiques raised in contemporary Chinese American literature and film are similar to those faced by PCAs. However, one must take into consideration the PCA's double marginality and a new set of problematics it raises in relation to the questions of diaspora, hybridity, postcolonialism, transnational ity, class distinctions, and global capitalism. The rest of this project will engage these issues by using Chinese return not so much as a sole focus but rather as a stepping-oflf point to pursue different theoretical trajectories and critical readings. In Chapter 2, 1 will resume my discussion of the complicitous alliance return has formed with transnational capitalism through the former's transformation into a Chinese cosmopolitanism based on a link between neo-Confucian ideology and a Chinese economism. I will argue that the work of Indonesian-Chinese American LiYoung Lee, which will also be analyzed within this theoretical framework, opens up possible spaces for a critical alternative to Chinese cosmopolitanism. Chapter 3 features a reading of Marilyn Chin's poetic response to the Tiananmen massacre of 1989, and a look at Wayne Wang's latest opus Chinese Box, both attempts by Hong Kong Americans at cultural negotiation as they witness crises in the homeland(s). The multiply-inscribed identities

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33 of PCAs also suggest the theoretical importance of hybridity and the challenge it presents to Chinese return and cultural identity, a concept I will engage and problematize in my reading of Malaysian-Chinese American Shirley Geok-lin Lim's Among the White Moonfaces in Chapter 4. And finally, Chapter 5 offers an opportunity for me to write myself, as a Singaporean in diaspora, into this project by examining the notion of political inertia through an analysis of Fiona Cheong's poetics of innocence in The Scent of the Gods. Notes William Wei, The Asian American Movement (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1993). See especially Chapter 5, "Activists and the Development of Asian American Studies," which chronicles the links between early Asian American political activism and the subsequent formation of Asian American studies programs within the politically charged climate of these two universities. ^ King-kok Cheung, "ReViewing Asian American Literary Studies," An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature, Ed. King-kok Cheung (New York: Cambridge UP, 1997), 1. ^ James Clifford, "Diaspora," Cultural Anthropology 9 (1994): 311. '* David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990), 141-72. ^ Arif Dirlik, "The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism," Critical Inquiry 20 (1994): 351. In problematizing postcolonialism's complicity with global capitalism, Dirlik here connects the latter with the "global motions of peoples" in the past two to three decades. ^ Congress extended this act in 1 892, 1902, and indefinitely in 1904. Apart from the Chinese, other Asians were soon included in this exclusion: Japanese and Koreans (the "Gentlemen's Agreement" of 1907-1908), Indians (1917 Immigration Act), and Filipinos (the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934). For a detailed account see Sucheng Chan, "Hostility and Conflict," Asian Americans: An Interpretive History (Boston: Twayne, 1991), 45-61; Paul Ong and John M. Liu, "U.S. Immigration Policies and Asian Migration," The New Asian Immigration in Los Angeles and Global Restructuring, Eds. Paul Ong, Edna Bonacich, and Lucie Cheng (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1994), 45-73;

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34 Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (New York; Penguin, 1989), 3-18. ^ Ong and Liu, "U.S. Immigration Policies and Asian Migration," 50-51. Ibid., 48. Of course, the authors are quick, and correct, to point out the irony of reading these events in counterpoint to the internment of Japanese Americans and the presence of racial quotas in subsequent immigration legislation. Paul Ong, Edna Bonacich, and Lucie Cheng, "The Political Economy of Capitalist Restructuring and the New Asian Immigration," The New Asian Immigration, 24. Ong and Liu, "U.S. Immigration Policies and Asian Migration," 52. Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Studies (Durham: Duke UP, 1996), 60-83. Subsequent references to this text will be parenthetically documented. The chapter I am specifically referring to here is "Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Asian American Differences." 12 John M. Liu and Lucie Cheng, "Pacific Rim Development and the Duality of Post1965 Asian Immigration to the United States," The New Asian Immigration, 74. On the question of Asian American panethnic solidarity, see Yen Le Espiritu, Asian American Panethnicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1992). Espiritu takes up the issue of class in Yen Espiritu and Paul Ong, "Class Constraints on Racial Solidarity among Asian Americans," The New Asian Immigration, 295-321. The post1965 professional immigrants tend to have difficulty identifying with the class struggles fought by Asian American activists during the Civil Rights era. The authors, hence, argue the need for Asian Americans to unite politically across class structures as "the welfare state bureaucracy treats Asian Americans as a single administrative unit in the distribution of economic and political resources, [and] it imposes a racial structure on persons and communities dependent on government support" (301). Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 1. Frank Chin, Jeffrey Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Hsu Wong, eds., Aiiieeeee!: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers (Washington, DC: Howard UP, 1974). In the preface of this landmark anthology, the editors define Asian-Americanne^s as a "sensibility" one acquires through birth, but add that one can also develop this sensibility by "choice." (ix-x) The problem with this argument lies not only in the definition of this "sensibility" but also in that it can lead to a hierarchy of Asian American cultural authenticity.

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35 Arif Dirlik, "The Asia-Pacific in AsianAmerican Perspective," What Is in a Rim?: Critical Perspectives on the Pacific Region Idea, Ed. Arif Dirlik (Boulder, CO: Westview P, 1993), 305. Shirley Geok-lin Lim, "Immigration and Diaspora," An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature, Ed. King-kok Cheung (New York: Cambridge UP, 1997), 290-91. The quotation is Lim's paraphrase of Wong's argument presented in a 1993 conference paper delivered at the University of California, Santa Barbara, entitled "Going Diasporic? Concepts and Constituencies in Asian American Literature." 18 For the rest of this chapter, I will dispense of the use of quotation marks in conjunction with the word "peripheral" out of convenience. The quotation marks serve to problematize the category itself and the center-periphery paradigm upon which it is based. Lynn Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor: The Story of the Overseas Chinese (London: Seeker & Warburg, 1990), 43. 20 The gender specificity of the word appropriately highlights the fact that the Chinese population was predominantly male. The exigency of having to leave their wives at home in China was transformed and transcribed into a "gendering" of the racist legislative discourse for Chinese immigrants, as the "Page Law of 1875 and a later ban on Chinese laborers' spouses had effectively halted the immigration of Chinese women, preventing the formation of families and generations among Chinese immigrants." Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts, 11-12. ^' Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor, 168-70. 22 Arif Dirlik, "Culturalism as Hegemonic Ideology and Liberating Practice," The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse, Eds. Abdul R. JanMohamed and David Lloyd (New York: Oxford UP, 1990), 394-431. Dirlik first problematizes the term and them reclaims it; I am thinking here of the former sense of the word, as a hegemonic "ideology which not only reduces everything to questions of culture, but has a reductionist conception of the latter as well" (395). 23 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues, Ed. Sarah Harasym (New York: Routledge, 1990), 158. Emphasis mine. Rey Chow, Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993), 25. 25 Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic, 18-19. Spivak is here explaining poststructuralism's interrogation of the "limits" of the grand recits of the Western philosophical tradition and what they ultimately leave out in their narrative logic.

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36 The alliance between Chinese nativism and U.S. transnational capital I will discuss in Chapter Two, "Chinese Cosmopolitanism Critiqued: Critical Alternatives in the Work of LiYoung Lee." Quoted in "President Vows to Uphold Freedoms," South China Morning Post [online], 30 June 1997, available at www.hongkong97.com.hk/news. Rey Chow, "Can One Say No to China?" New Literary History 28, no.l (1997): 151. Emphasis mine. Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," Illuminations, Trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), 259-60. Rey Chow, "Between Colonizers: Hong Kong's Postcolonial SelfWriting in the 1990s," Ethics after Idealism: Theory-Culture-Ethnicity-Reading (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998), 154. 3 1 The British-Hong Kong government chose Christopher Patten's term of office to institute democratic electoral reform, allowing the Hong Kong people limited participatory access to government. Such a move is not only belated but also smacks of tokenism that masks the contradictions between the argument for democracy/human rights and the exploitative basis of British colonialism and capitalism. For Patten's argument that democracy is crucial to sustain Hong Kong's economic viability and prosperity, see Jacques deLisle and Kevin P. Lane, "Cooking the Rice without Cooking the Goose: The Rule of Law, the Battle over Business, and the Quest of Prosperity in Hong Kong after 1997," Hong Kong under Chinese Rule: The Economic and Political Implications of Reversion, Eds. Warren I. Cohen and Li Zhao (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1997), 40. For a related and similar argument on the importance of "autonomy" for Hong Kong, as presented in a speech by Patten, see Christopher Patten, "The Implementation of the Joint Declaration: An Overview," Hong Kong 's Transition: A Decade after the Deal, Eds. Wang Gungwu and Wong Siu-lan (Hong Kong: Oxford UP, 1995), 152-63. Diriik, "Culturalism as Hegemonic Ideology and Liberating Practice," 415. 33 For a calendar of events spanning the two days of the handover, go to South China Morning Post [online] at www.hongkong97.com.hk. "Hong Kong Handover Tugs on Student Heartstrings," Herald Sphere [online], 3 October 1997, available at www.netspace.org. Ackbar Abbas, Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997), 14-15. I will discuss the notions of liminality and disappearance at greater length in Chapter 3, "Crises in the Homeland(s): Hong Kong Americans and the Art of Cultural Negotiation."

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37 Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota?, 1996), 6. David Yen-ho Wu, "The Construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese Identities," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 160. The rulers of the Ch'ing (or Qing) dynasty were basically Manchu, which the Han people viewed as not Chinese enough; hence, rebellions during this dynastic era assumed an anti-foreigner tone, an attitude compounded by resentment against British, French, Russian, Portuguese, and American trade, military, and/or, territorial intrusions. ^'^ Prior to modem cartographic understanding, the land of China, in the minds of the Chinese, occupied a geographical centrality, which the following historical anecdote illustrates. In their attempt to proselytize the Chinese beginning in 1583, the Jesuit priests Michele Ruggieri and Matteo Ricci sought to impress the Chinese with European knowledge and inventions, which include European cartography. Their map of the world positions Europe at the center with the Americas on the left and China on the right. Obviously, it did not win popular approval among the Chinese. All it took was for the adaptive Ricci to reverse the positions of the continents in order to win the praise and acceptance the missionaries had hoped for. Immanuel C. Y. Hsu, The Rise of Modern China, 3'^ ed. (Hong Kong: Oxford UP, 1983), 97-98. Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor, 10-12. Quoted in "Taipei Rejects 'One Country' Suggestion," South China Morning Post [online], 1 July 1997, available at www.hongkong97.com.hk. Beijing reiterated its call recently when Jiang Zemin, at a three-day, top-level policy meeting on the question of Taiwan, stated that "the reunification of the motherland should be accelerated." See "Jiang Calls for Reunification," The Straits Times Interactive [online], 14 May 1998, available at straitstimes.asial.com. *^ L. Ling-chi Wang, "Roots and Changing Identity of the Chinese in the United States," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 183. Tu Wei-ming, "Cultural China: The Periphery as the Center," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 17-18. Tu argues that to characterize Chinese diasporics as being drawn primarily "by the magnetic power of the homeland is simplistic. The reason that overseas Chinese rarely consider themselves thoroughly assimilated in their adopted countries is much more complex. In the United States, racial discrimination against the Chinese was, until recently, blatant; the Chinatown mentality, as a response to the hostile environment, may be seen as a psychological defense and adaptation." "Hong Kong 1997 Handover Live on Internet," press release, 23 June 1997, The Chinese University of Hong Kong [online], available at www.cuhk.edu.hk.

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38 "Chinese Epic about Hong Kong Premieres in Beijing," 97 News File [online], 9 June 1997, available at www.hkl997.china.com. The recent limited release of Chinese American director Wayne Wang's Chinese Box provides, if not an alternative, at least a Hong Kong American's take on the event. See Chapter 3 for my reading of Wang's film. '^^ Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991). ''^ Appadurai, Modernity at Large, 2 1 48 Ibid., 7. Ibid., 22. Ibid., 36. In his seminal essay "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy," which first appeared in Public Culture (2, no. 2) and now forms a chapter in Modernity at Large, Appadurai theorizes on the "five dimensions of global cultural flows": ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes, and ideoscapes (33). ^' Harry Harding, "The Concepts of 'Greater China': Themes, Variations and Reservations," The China Quarterly 136 (1993): 660. Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991), an issue entitled "The Living Tree: The Changing Meaning of Being Chinese Today," tackles the question of how the Chinese diaspora affects and is affected by the definition of Chinese-ness. Though a crucial and significant issue to address, I find somewhat befuddling the assumption of a homogeneity and an untainted wholeness to Chinese culture prior to contemporary diasporic disruptions. Tu, "Cultural China," 27. In referring to the "Third Epoch of Confucian Humanism," Tu does not explicitly endorse this movement, but reflects his sympathies with it by interposing the de-humanizing dangers created by Western modernity and technology. Leo Ou-fan Lee, "On the Margins of the Chinese Discourse: Some Personal Thoughts on the Cultural Meaning of the Periphery," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 221. In discussing the political estrangement of Chinese intellectuals from the Chinese government after the Tiananmen tragedy, Lee theorizes this "China" by observing how "the Chinese nation, instead of the state, remains the central object of their loyalty — their motheriand." However, Lee's conceptualization of an imaginary "motherland," though intended as a means of critiquing Chinese political centrism, remains in its assumptions culturally centrist. Ibid., 215. For a discussion and critique of Chinese cosmopolitanism, see Chapter Two.

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39 Rey Chow, Primitive Passions: Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography, and Contemporary Chinese Cinema (New York: Columbia UP, 1995), 23. Quoted in "HK To Be Tolerant Society, But with 'Chinese Values,' Says Tung," South China Morning Post [online], 1 July 1997, available at www.hongkong97.com.hk. Emphasis mine. Stuart Hall, "The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity," Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, Eds. Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997), 178. I am thinking here of AiiieeeeeTs editors' formulation of an Asian American "sensibility" (see note 15) in an attempt to differentiate between FOB (Fresh-off-theBoat) Chinese and ABCs (American-bom Chinese). ^ Chow, Writing Diaspora, 6, 126. ^' For an insightful and detailed account of the way the Chinese were stereotypical ly depicted (including some fascinating pictorial illustrations and photographs), see James S. Moy, Marginal Sights: Staging the Chinese in American (Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1993). Elaine Kim also offers an analysis of stereotypical caricatures of the Chinese and other Asian Americans in the literary work of Anglo-American authors such as Jack London and Mark Twain. Elaine H. Kim, Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1982). See Chapter 1 of Kim's book. Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1978), 3. 63 Malini Johar Schueller, U.S. Orientalisms: Race, Nation, and Gender in Literature, 1790-1890 (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1998), 4. ^ Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung, Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940 (Seattle: U of Washington P, 1980). The numbers in parenthesis after each line represent page numbers and not the numbering of the poems in the book. Marlon K. Hom, Songs of Gold Mountain: Cantonese Rhymes from San Francisco Chinatown (Berkeley: U of California P, 1987), 62-63. These poems were culled and translated from anthologies of Cantonese folk rhymes. They represent the literary productivity of San Francisco's Chinatown, which often took the form of poetry writing competitions modeled after Chinese literary traditions. ^ Ibid., 158. Poem number 76. Emphasis mine.

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40 Elaine Kim discusses only a few of these authors in Asian American Literature. For a more comprehensive list of women writers and their works during the period, see Amy Ling, Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry (New York: Pergamon, 1990). 68 Kim, Asian American Literature, 24-25. Ibid., 61, 63. 70 For a brief introduction to and bibliography of contemporary Chinese American literature and its major contributors, see Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, "Chinese American Literature," An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature, Ed. King-kok Cheung (New York: Cambridge UP, 1997), 39-61. ^' Timothy Pfaff, "Talk with Mrs. Kingston," New York Times Book Review, 18 June 1980, 1. Also quoted in Kim, Asian American Literature, 209. Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club (New York: Ivy, 1989), 33 1 73 Wang Ping, American Visa (Minneapolis: Coffee House, 1994). See also her latest novel Foreign Devil (Minneapolis: Coffee House, 1996). Amy Tan, The Kitchen God's Wife (New York: Ivy, 1991). 75 Maxme Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (New York: Vintage, 1976), 6. David Henry Hwang, M Butterfly (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1988).

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CHAPTER 2 CHINESE COSMOPOLITANISM CRITIQUED: CRITICAL ALTERNATIVES IN THE WORK OF LIYOUNG LEE Indonesia in Crisis: Race, Class, and Chinese Transnational Capital Storm clouds of the Asian economic crisis began gathering eariy in 1997, culminating in the currency devaluation, stock market crash, and social upheaval in numerous Asian countries such as Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia. Among the first few to encounter this economic onslaught was a particularly ravaged Indonesia, whose rupiah's downward spiral, coupled with the Suharto government's financial mismanagement and ironhanded rule, brought on the recent social imrest in the country: widespread retrenchment, high unemployment, famine, student and mass protests against the government, and the eventual (and long overdue) replacement of Suharto by his deputy B, J. Habibie (whom many consider to be a tolerable, though temporary, exchange for Suharto's thirty-year hold on power). An especially horrifying part of this unrest is the ethnic violence directed at the Indonesian Chinese who are being blamed for their country's economic woes. Reports from Western and pro-Chinese media depict seemingly coordinated riots against Chinese businesses, the looting of Chinese-owned stores, and the rape of Chinese women; reports that are further intensified by the circulation of unconfirmed accounts and rumors on the Internet, graphically detailing the horrors of the anti-Chinese mob violence. 41

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42 As shocked as one is by the accounts of these racially driven atrocities, the scapegoating and the "cultural cleansing"^ of the ethnic Chinese come as no surprise; for anti -Chinese sentiments, unfortunately, constitute a recurring theme in Indonesia's colonial and postcolonial history. When the Dutch colonized the Indonesian islands, they encouraged diasporic Chinese to trade in the Dutch East Indies; hence, "for generations the Chinese lived in Indonesia but were not o/Indonesia."^ This perception of the Chinese as "outsiders" was exacerbated by the 1965 anti-Communist massacre, what one historian calls the "Indonesian Chinese 'holocaust, '"^ where an estimated half-a-million Chinese lives were taken.^ Indonesian Chinese were culturally and socially alienated and deprived of their rights when the government in 1965 baimed the Chinese language, theater, and religious observances from public spaces, while Chinese schools were shut down by the 1970s.^ As they were also denied a political voice in government, the Chinese turned instead to the task of money-making, hence finding security by dominating Indonesia's economy. Protected by Suharto (who obviously benefited fi-om this alliance), the rich Chinese elite now control 70 percent of the country's wealth though the Chinese only represent 4 percent of the total population.' With Suharto's political future in jeopardy, a consequence of the economic crisis, anti-Chinese violence began to erupt as eariy as January 1998. Resentment against Chinese wealth has been identified as the cause of the violence, though many suspect that the scapegoating of the Chinese and the rioters' deliberate targeting of Chinese businesses were orchestrated to shift attention away from the country's economic troubles and the governmental policies that led to the present crisis.^ One commentator has noted pithily that the Chinese, by depending too much on Suharto, have "put all their

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43 eggs in the economic basket,"^ instead of finding ways to participate in Indonesian politics. On the other hand, one positive outcome of the ethnic violence is that it has mobilized some Indonesian Chinese out of their political apathy and inertia, to form the Indonesian Chinese Reform Party and other pressure groups to work towards political change. Many have come to realize that ultimately economic prosperity cannot guarantee them a place in Indonesian society. By reviewing the complexity of the Indonesian Chinese situation, I seek to problematize any hasty assignation of blame, which tends to reduce an overdetermined political/social problem to a simplistic oppressor-victim dualism. As much as one must forcefully condemn the racially motivated mob violence, the cultural terrorism visited upon the Chinese, and the Indonesian government's role in indirectly "sanctioning" such racism, one must also question the Chinese elite's complicity in creating a classoppressive system where a rich minority of both native Indonesians and ethnic Chinese has amassed most of the country's wealth and resources, leaving a widening economic gap between the rich and the poor. To mobilize the Indonesian Chinese politically, as media commentators have suggested, is an important and crucial first step. But a conservative Indonesian Chinese politics will only further reinforce the present economic class structures; for though it may offer temporary solutions to the racial strife, it will fail to address the related underlying problem of class disparity. One must instead encourage a radical politics that not only mobilizes communal and national identification between Chinese and native Indonesian across religious" and cultural differences, but also critiques the role played by the Indonesian Chinese transnational capitalists in helping to

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44 create and exploit a class oppressive (and often corrupt) system through the flexible accumulation of wealth, labor, and material resources. The strategies of this elite class of transnational Indonesian Chinese exemplify what Donald Nonini and Aihwa Ong have described as "forms of power that collude with the contemporary regimes of truth and power organizing the new flexible capitalisms and modem nation-states, but also act obliquely to them, and systematically set out to transgress the shifting boundaries set by both."'^ These corporate elite Indonesian Chinese manipulate and work within the Indonesian regime of power to accrue wealth, frequently by developing a symbiotic relationship with the Suharto government in order to receive its "protection" and ensure its support. At the same time, the flexible strategies of accumulation offer the elite Chinese mobility and, hence, the possibihty of escape, particularly in times of crisis such as the current climate of anti-Chinese sentiments and hostilities. With the early reports and rumors of anti-Chinese uprising, many rich Chinese had already fled to the safe havens of Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries, leaving behind the majority of the ethnic Chinese, who belong to the lower and lower-middle classes, to bear the brunt of the violence. The latter ultimately are the true victims of both racial violence and class oppression. As one Indonesian Chinese sadly testifies — and in so doing disrupts the stereotype of the rich ethnic Chinese— "I'm one of the have-nots. That's the role of the conglomerates: they can go abroad. The have-nots just stay here and take what comes."'^

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45 Contemporary Chinese Cosmopolitanism: Hegemonic Alliances The Indonesian crisis, in this sense, foregrounds the complex social, economic, and political spaces, particularly within the Asia-Pacific Rim, that diasporic Chinese inhabit and from which they are deterritorialized. It also unveils the problematics of transnational culture and capital, as they intersect with the localized dimensions of race and class. Although I advocate complex readings of diasporic experience that engage local specificities, and resist reductive comparative analysis, the Indonesian situation presents significant insights into the U.S. "regimes of truth and power" that the Chinese, peripheral Chinese, and other Asian Americans have to negotiate and be subjected to. The complexity of the Asian American context similarly rejects the simplistic political dichotomy of oppressors and victims. Recent charges of illegal campaign contributions to the Democratic Party by Asian and Asian American donors illustrate this complexity. ^* With Republican politicians and conservative commentators crying foul, the issue of race enters the political and media discourse, just as it has in Indonesia. Images of the Chinese in America have been calibrated into xenophobic stereotypes that now transcend the former Cold War dualism of the good (capitalist) Chinese versus the bad (communist) Chinese,'^ to assume the new version of the unscrupulous and unethical Chinese transnational capitalist-exploiter, whom the Clinton administration has politically coddled for "Asian money," and who had in turn diverted wealth and jobs away fi-om the American people. Such generalizations and stereotypes once again mask the reality of class distinction within a minority community through racial homogenization. As is in the case of the Indonesian Chinese elite, what gets similarly highlighted here is the place of transnational capital in the culture and politics of Asian America,

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46 especially when diaspora becomes an increasingly significant cultural trope to conceptualize the Asian American experience. To be able to critique the exploitative role played by modem Chinese transnationalism as it intersects with the discourses of global capitalism. Orientalism, Chinese traditionalism, and neo-conservative Asian American politics, I would like to turn to Chinese cosmopolitanism, a concept that has recently gained theoretical currency in transnational and Chinese cultural studies. The questions of diaspora and globalization have begun to deterritorialize the notion of 'Chinese-ness" from its discursive roots within the former fi^amework of the nation-state. Therefore, with the inadequacy of the center-periphery paradigm that has mainland China occupying the political and cultural center, sinologists and historians have started to rethink theories on Chinese culture to account for the growing significance of the Chinese diaspora in shaping Chinese modernity. Instead of completely destabilizing the center-periphery model, many of these scholars opt for a revised version of it, where Chinese diasporic culture becomes what Mike Featherstone has termed a global "Third Culture,"'^ which not only accounts for its transnationality'* but also retains its peripheral position within the earlier cultural paradigm. What is specifically "global" about this Chinese transnational culture is its links to global business and transnational capitalism. But instead of simply theorizing modem Chinese transnationalism as an Eastern auxiliary to Western capitalism, sinologists envision it as an equally (if not more) successful and more humane alternative. Hence, to explain the profitability and economic viability of Chinese transnational businesses, many "point to values like industriousness, trustworthiness, risk taking, and family cohesion" and the "cooperation and solidarity" generated by "clan and occupational

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47 associations" as the reasons for success.'' This form of guanxi capitalism^ (based on famihal, clan, and racial connections) deploys Chinese traditionalism and neoConfucianism to lend humanism and sociality— what Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew characterizes as "the glow of Chinese fratemity"^^ — to the otherwise cruel world of late capitalist practices and strategies. The term "Chinese cosmopolitanism," therefore, invokes on behalf of transnationalism this humanism and sociality. Leo Ou-fan Lee notes that Chinese cosmopolitanism "embraces both a fundamental commitment to Chinese culture and a multicultural receptivity, which effectively cuts across all conventional national boundaries."^^ With greater philosophical grandeur, Tu Wei-ming argues that many Asian countries and "Chinese communities throughout the world have shown not only the relevance of Confucian ethics to their modus operandi but also the dynamics of the Confucian tradition in shaping their forms of life," hence producing "a new inclusive humanism with profound ethical-religious implications for the spiritual self-definition of humanity" that will ultimately affect cultural China. Aihwa Ong's critical work on the "flexible citizenship" of Chinese cosmopolitans constitutes an indispensable starting point in mobilizing any critique of modem Chinese transnationalism. In problematizing the "petty" orientalist discourse^^ of a racialized economism marked by "Chinese" values, Ong argues that Chinese "biopolitics" and neoConfucian humanism, as structured within Chinese cosmopolitanism, mask the economic exploitation and class oppression engendered by transnational corporatism.^^ To demonstrate this, she traces the concept of guanxi from its deployment during the era of colonial capitalism to that of transnational capitalism:

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48 In everyday life there is widespread misrecognition of guanxi's violence, while its humanism is widely extolled by ordinary folk, businessmen, and cultural chauvinist alike. Such symbolic violence— or the erasure of collective complicity over relations of domination and exploitation — is also present in academic writings that unduly celebrate guanxi as the basis of recent overseas Chinese affluence. Misrecognition of business guanxi as basically a structure of limits and inequality for many and enabling of flexibility and mobility for the few to accumulate wealth is part of the ritual euphemization of "Chinese values," especially among transnational Chinese and their spokesmen.^^ What Ong has also incisively demonstrated in Chinese cosmopolitanism here is Stuart Hall's point that the global and the local are not antithetical and antagonistic formations but instead constitute "the two faces of the same movement from one epoch of globalization."^* In her excellent examination of Hmong diasporic identification and Miao political positioning, Louisa Schein also destabilizes the conceptualization of "transnationalism and the 'nation-state' as mutually exclusive and as locked in competition for paradigmatic primacy," by asking the question: "Why, instead, can these debates not work toward imagining 'nation-state' and transnational as interlocked, eimieshed, mutually constituting?"^^ On the strength of this logic, I would like to argue that Chinese cosmopolitanism invokes both the global and the local by reformulating and incorporating the "localized"/nationalist ideology of Chinese cultural return into a socalled Chinese "global" economism. Frequently drawing on neo-Conflician principles, advocates of Chinese cosmopolitanism identify "Chinese" values and work ethics in this economism, hence successfully concatenating Chinese cultural traditionalism and late capitalist strategies. Chinese centrism, therefore, has adapted itself to serve transnational capital in a mutually beneficial relationship^'^ and, in the process, has reasserted its own political relevance and cultural hegemony within the Chinese transnational imaginary and diasporic sphere.

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49 This alliance between cultural conservatism and transnational capitalism accounts in part for the entrenchment of the kind of class oppressive systems one finds in Indonesia and increasingly in the United States. With the complication of racism and racial politics, the Chinese in both these countries realize the importance of pohtical mobilization. However, the confluence of cultural elitism and transnational capital in Chinese cosmopolitanism, as it meets up with the need to confront racism, produces a neo-conservative politics that is willing to question the injustices of racial prejudice and racist crimes but refuses to confi-ont the inequities of class differences, which Chinese cosmopolitanism only further reinforces. Glerm Omatsu exposes this contradiction in his analysis of Asian American neo-conservatism. As products of the Reagan-Bush era, these neo-conservatives "are children of the corporate offensive against workers, the massive transfer of resources fi'om the poor to the rich, and the rebirth of so-called 'traditional values.'"^' What Omatsu obliquely alludes to but does not extrapolate are the connections between Asian American "traditional values," Asian transnational culture, and global business. The figure of the Asian American neo-conservative, in this context, represents the problematic mobilization of minority politics without fully engaging in a critical fashion the intersecting discourses of class, race, and transnational capital. Its alignment vAth late capitalism and conservative politics had liberal intellectuals shying away fi'om the notion of cosmopolitanism, as Bruce Robbins notes in Secular Vocatiom^'^ Instead of relinquishing claim of the concept to his political opponents, Robbins offers a radical recasting of the term, an argument he takes up in the recently published Cosmopolitics, a volume he co-edited with Pheng Cheah. "Though cosmopolitanism is clearly an outgrowth or ideological reflection of global capitalism,"

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50 he argues, "it remains possible to speak (in [Paul] Rabinow's phrase) of 'critical cosmopolitanism.'"^^ By registering cosmopolitanism as "a domain of contested politics,"^'' radical intellectuals should proffer cosmopolitical — ^to use Robbins and Cheah's play on the title — alternatives to challenge transnational capital's version(s) of it. Hence, one can envisage a "critical" Chinese cosmopolitanism as a theoretical mode of intervention that uncouples the links connecting Chinese traditionalism and neoconservatism to transnational capitalism and, in the process, confronts the issues of class disparity and exploitation that are often elided in the postcolonial critique of racial, cultural, and political oppressions. In taking a step towards formulating such a notion of "critical" Chinese cosmopolitanism, the next section of my essay will offer a reading of the work of Indonesian-Chinese American poet LiYoung Lee as a route towards engaging these issues. I am aware that a political project of this scope cannot be adequately addressed by mere exegesis of literary texts; therefore, my interpretation of Lee — who is by no means radical in his political identification — serves only to tease out possibilities and positionings, albeit within the literary framework, to contest and disrupt Chinese cosmopolitanism and to foster further thinking on the formulation of critical alternatives.^^ Winged Deterritorialization and Cultural Cannibalism: The Cosmopolitical Visions of LiYoung Lee The poetry of Li-Young Lee, which has been compared to that of John Keats, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Theodore Roethke,^^ has earned him a place among Asian American literary figures of national standing. With two collections to his credit — Rose (1986) and The City in Which I Love You (1990), Lee has also recently published an

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51 autobiographical work entitled The Winged Seed: A Remembrance^^ Though much of his writing emphasizes his relationship to his father,^^ responses to his Christian upbringing, and a deep sense of connection to his wife Donna, Lee also retraces his steps as a diasporic Chinese and an immigrant to the U.S. By exploring the complexities and contradictions of being Indonesian, Chinese, and American, Lee's work elicits the same kinds of cultural and political questions the historicity of the present Indonesian crisis evokes. But instead of simply reinscribing textually his triple marginality (as an ethnic Chinese in Indonesia, as a diasporic Chinese, and as a minority in America), he finds in the cultural, racial, and class violence the possibility of human connectedness, a cosmopolitical vision that does not elide the violence and the oppression but foregrounds them as connecting links in bridging the world through its humanity. The two major tropes that Lee uses to enact this vision are the deterritorialized winged seed and the image of caimibahsm as cultural incorporation. The winged seed is a powerful botanical metaphor to describe the deterritorialization and global mobility of diasporic peoples in general. In fact, the term "diaspora" is derived etymologically from the Greek verb "to sow" or "to scatter," a concept borrowed from the dispersion of seeds by plants through various means such as water, wind, or animal/human carriers. Plants that employ wind dispersion such as the tropical Angsana tree often have built-in structures or wing extensions that enable their seeds to "fly" across vast distances. Li-Young Lee's use of this metaphor not only in the title of his latest book but also as the central trope around which he weaves his "remembrances" reveals its effectiveness in emblematizing both the trajectory of his own migratory history and the global scope and mobility of Chinese diaspora.

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52 In a sense, the deterritorialized state of the winged seed is cosmopolitan in its production of multiple belongings, not unlike that of the flexible citizenship of Chinese transnational capitalists. However, to avoid the conservative celebratory gesture of the latter' s cosmopolitanism, Lee reveals the mechanisms that enable (or force) diasporic flight and dispersion (frequently of the exilic type), hence unmasking the political violence and cultural nationalisms that marginalize, uproot, and displace groups of people into diasporic existence. The story of Lee's diasporic flight begins in Jakarta in 1957 where he was bom. Three years later his father was "charged with working for the CIA in plans to bomb military installations on the island of Java" and "for spreading discontent by preaching ideas from the West";'^ he was subsequently imprisoned for a year. Lee proceeds to detail the terrorism enacted upon Ba^ and his family by President Sukarno's government,'*' hence fleshing out the tactics of social alienation, racial incitement, and ideological purging: While blueprints taken from [Ba's] office only showed plans for classroom buildings, copies of certain letters proved incriminating enough for Sukarno to have him taken from his home by armed men. The squad of booted and uniformed men marching up our steps and the sight of four big army jeeps idling in our narrow street, which was barely wide enough for the coffer seller and the coconut peddler to pass shoulder to shoulder trundling their pushcarts, was enough of a signal to the entire neighborhood that we'd become pariahs. Anyone associating with us risked the same treatment. From that day on, even friends stopped coming by. He was, of course, innocent from the start. My father was one of the most nonpolitical persons I've ever known. But suspicion fell on him because, first of all, he was Chinese, and then because, as vice president of Gamaliel University, he'd invited a number of teachers and scholars from seminaries all over the United States to visit Jakarta as part of an exchange program, and he had on one occasion housed a minister from Ohio. Such associations while Sukarno was trying to ally himself with China and Russia could not be tolerated. (107-8)

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53 Overnight, the Lee's were transformed into outcasts and, later, pohtical refugees, as Sukarno's anti-Chinese purging intensified and expanded across the country. In Lee's own ominous words, "Escape was impossible, the purge had begun, weapons were being handed out to farmers as well as thugs, and all over the island, agents of the president were preaching the evils of Chinese and other foreigners. What was obviously about to happen, chaos and killing, had already begun" (194). Ba's imprisonment strangely and fortuitously provided a channel of escape for the family. While being transferred to another prison in Macau, Ba escaped, with the help of a friend. The Lee family's exile brought them to Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore (38), before they arrived in Seattle in 1964 (12) and eventually settled in East Liberty, Pennsylvania (78). Lee refuses to reify the U.S. as a paradisal political safe haven. Though physical endangerment was no longer a major concern in America, diaspora has translated the Lee's from cultural periphery (as Chinese minorities in Indonesia) to cultural periphery (as Asian Americans). In the U.S., the family had to cope with a different set of racial and assimilationist politics, one that was comparatively "benign" (vis-a-vis Sukarno's Indonesia) but no less violent in its mechanism of cultural oppression and alienation: while Ba, as a pastor of a church, cares for a congregation that labels him as their "heathen minister" (82), Lee himself struggles with the psychological trauma and selfdoubt that inevitably come from failing to speak American English with the "correct" accent and pronunciation — "While some sounds were tolerated, some even granting the speaker a certain status in the instances of, say, French or British, other inflections condemned one to immediate alien More than once I was told I sounded ugly. My mouth was a shame to me, an indecent trench" (76).'*^

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54 By briefly tracing his diasporic narrative above, I hope to demonstrate Lee's refusal to render the trope of the winged seed politically inefficacious through an uncritiqued cosmopolitanism and humanism. Instead, he unveils the various structures of oppression that litter the flight path of the diasporic. His cosmopolitical vision, however, does not "wallow," so to speak, in the self-pitying ethos of the victim mentality; but trancends it through the notions of potentiality and connectedness, which the winged seed seems to offer. Lee's interrogation and exploration of the winged seed metaphor represent an internalized struggle on his part to negotiate between cultural risks and difficulties on the one hand, and hope, potentiality, and renewal on the other, as his description of a morning glory seed indicates: What is a seed? Is it its flower? Is it the leaves it utters? Is it a house? Where is the honey hidden, in which room? Where is the owner? How much room is a flower to a bee? Who could tenant a house so narrow as a seed? Only the least among us could live there. Lighter than the flower, it is where the flower closes at evening. Yet, in it may be growing the flower that will overthrow all governments of crows or senators. This seed comes to divide me from all I thought I knew. This seed revises all existing boundaries of an ungrasped hour. This seed carries news of a new continent and our first citizenship, and I hold it. (36) Soon, a seed will wake, who lay all night along a ledge. Meanwhile, I cradle in my hand this odoriess seed like one dead, like one who recalls nothing of his actions or inactions, one who bears inside now only a remembered shapeliness of certain desires or need, but things more elemental, akin to oceans, sandstorms, and the yearning wings reveal by their action in time. (52) The seed's power lies in its ability to collapse time and space into its diminutive casing, latently storing the possibility and promise of life. Rhizomic in character (according to Deleuze and Guattari's conceptualization of the term'*^), a seed deterritorialized is not only emblematic of the diasporic's humanity, but it also signifies his or her potential in

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55 disrupting cultural and political boundaries and traditions — as Lee rather teasingly asks, what is it about seeds "that might so offend a military regime" or cause "dictators [to] fear?" (46). The seed, therefore, holds for Lee a cosmopolitical faith in humanity and the hope of new beginnings. Furthermore, I would like to read The Winged Seed as a sort of "seed" narrative in its construction. Lee disregards, in a postmodern way, narrative conventions of chronological linearity and logical progression, but collapses time and space, as in the dense, compact interiority of a seed, by shuttling between "remembrances" which are weakly and spontaneously linked together by a succession of memory triggers. This technique allows Lee to form an intricate interpenetrating network of life experiences and possibilities, which does not just tropologically reflect the seed's life force but instead resonates its own. It is possible, on the other hand, to read Lee's musings on the seed as a form of prelapsarian utopianism mediated through a sort of Third World primordialism or primitivism, a critique that many have justly leveled at the traditionalism and humanism of contemporary Chinese cosmopolitanism. However, a contextualized look at Lee's formulation of his cosmopolitical vision via the seed metaphor reveals that he is cognizant of the pitfalls, particularly the disadvantages of the metaphor itself and the way he deploys it. For instance, he observes how stripping the morning glory seeds of their "gold husk" reveals "blacker thoughts, the seeds!" (52), the lesson being that one must come to terms with human weakness and evil, just as one celebrates human strength and goodness. Lee is also painfully conscious of the biological/cultural determinism (as he is equally resistant to his parent's brand of Christian predestination) inherent in the very

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56 physiological make-up of the seed, which the following passage depicting the seed's flight suggests: A seed, bom flying, flew, knowing nothing else, it flew, and in that persistence resembling praise it took no respite. But its natural course was inevitably radial, away from its birth and into the second day, no frontier, and the seed flew through. The seed's only companion was the call it heard at its ear, coming from its birthplace, realm of its first day, a call coming from behind it, prior, as it were, to the seed itself (92; emphasis mine). The inexorable call of "culture" leads Lee to pun on the word "seed" as sperm, thereby delineating a response to his Chinese-ness: "The age beginning with the Yellow Emperor continues through me, whose history is in my face, my undoubled lid and alien eye, whose future is a question forming between my thighs, bed for seed" (95). One must acknowledge the benefits and revolutionary possibilities of cultural and ethnic identification; however, this must be tempered by a critique of essentialism, in this case that of the ideology of Chinese return, which I have engaged in Chapter One. Lee, in fact, views as suspect the notion of "blood" having claim on him just because it "was the oldest thing." He notes that Ba "felt clogged with it and damned with the talking about it" (175). In the style of Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan, Lee weaves two tales, one about his paternal grandfather and another he hears from his grandfather's servant Old Asay told in the talk-story tradition, both of which Lee uses to subvert the primacy of blood and the idea of an unquestioning filial piety. Lee's grandfather is almost a caricature of patriarchal, sexist, and sexual violence. Practically the embodiment of evil and pure malice, Yeh Yeh (as Lee addresses him) is capable of matricide (a threat which enables him to gain control of the family wealth), spousal and child abuse (committed

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57 through beatings or by denying his family food while he himself eats and his wife and children watch in hunger), and sexual assault (visited upon Fei, Lee's sister). The latter marks the limit for the young Lee, provoking him to swear "in [his] heart of hearts [he'd] chop the old man up and feed him to the birds, and never go home" (175). Yeh Yeh functions as a signifier in Lee's narrative of the oppressive elements within Chinese traditionalism. Therefore, for Lee to express such hatred for his grandfather is to create ironic moments within the text to undermine the call of "blood" to familial and social conformity. Another such moment is found in Old Asay's telling of the clan feud between the Shaw and the Lee families, both being arch rivals in the fishing industry in China. She dramatizes in the heroic mode how each family had to select a "champion" to contest and lay claim to certain territorial waters. What ultimately motivated these men was the belief in defending their family name and honor, prompting each of them to stoically plunge their "arms past the elbows into the boiling oil, and then walk home unaided"; both becoming, as Lee editorializes, "sacrificial victims" to the cause of "blood" and tradition (178). The way Lee complicates his reading of the winged seed metaphor prevents him from settling too easily into a naive humanism or uncritiqued cosmopolitanism. On the other hand, by foregrounding the potentiality of the seed, he validates his cosmopolitical vision, which he further accomplishes through the notion of a human connectedness that transcends social, national, and cultural boundaries. This idea of connection forms a thematic consistency in a series of stories and occurrences within the seemingly random and serendipitous remembrances that structure Lee's seed-like narrative. What is radical and politically effective about his concept of connectedness is that it dislocates the elitist

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58 potential in humanism and Chinese cosmopolitanism by drawing instead on the solidarity and empathy felt between the marginalized and the oppressed, the "discarded lives" (81).'' Having just arrived in Seattle in 1964 and experiencing the trauma of displacement and alienation which migrancy bestows (through what Rey Chow theorizes as "a new ecology of human-as-waste"'^), the Lee family espies in a train station "a young woman in a trench coat and the baby in her arms, wrapped in the piss-sodden pages of a Spiegel catalog" (14), both of them emaciated by hunger and homelessness. Despite their own state of poverty and material want — ^two tins of butter cookies and sixty dollars are all that is left to feed the family of six till work can be found — ^Lee's mother offers an unopened tin and a sweater to the young woman and child, and even shows her how to feed the baby with freshly masticated butter cookies. Another instance of compassionate connection one finds in Lee's recollections of his father reaching out to "the 'other' members of [his] congregation" whose liminality and marginalization from the social mainstream of the church resulted in their living "uncounted, discarded lives" (81). There is Mrs. Ethel Black whose family has abandoned her in her senility to a "soiled" and a "half crazed" state of existence (78-81); or Mona Cook whose prostitution and alcoholism have driven her to psychopathic hallucinations and violence (81-82; 84-85). [Ba] used to lie awake at night thinking about them, his prayers worrying God about this and or that person's misfortune or pain. I think he loved each and every one of them, and more than I ever felt they deserved, they who referred to him as their heathen minister, these alcoholic mothers delinquent children, shell-shocked bus drivers, pedophilic schoolteachers, adulterous barmaids, desiccated widowers, bruised prostitutes boring executives, retarded janitors, liars, cheaters, drinkers, dopers, motherfiickers, prodigals, sinners each and every one of us, and believers.

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59 Perhaps it was my father's calhng to love every mangled or lost or refused soul. (82) These stories and instances of human compassion and connection populate Lee's childhood and imagination, and provide the "emotional accuracy" (123)'*^ which enables the production of an alternative cosmopolitical vision that is both humane and just. To complete my reading of Lee's cosmopolitanism, I would like to examine his deployment of cannibalism as a trope for cultural incorporation. The concept of cultural cannibalism has a theoretical legacy of critical intervention in Asian American literary discourse. It uncovers the oppression and cultural violence of racism and assimilationist rhetoric endured by Asian Americans. In discussing alimentary and quasi-cannibalistic images in Asian American literature, Sau-ling Cynthia Wong warns critics against relying solely on Western and Christian understandings of these images and proposes that by reading them contextually and collectively (within the parameters of Asian American textuality and experience), these images could "symbolize Necessity — all the hardships, deprivations, restrictions, disenfranchisements, and dislocations that Asian Americans have collectively suffered as immigrants and minorities in a white-dominated country."'*' While Lee taps into this imagistic and tropological tradition by demonstrating how statesponsored terrorism, diasporic displacement, and cultural violations have "eaten" into the lives of his family, he also directionally reverses the image in order to convey unity, circularity, and connection. This two-fold deployment of the trope of cultural cannibalism opens spaces for cosmopolitical possibilities, though not at the expense of political critique. bell hooks argues that the commodification and "consumption" of the Other provide a means of perpetuating "white racism, imperialism, and sexist domination"; "by

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60 eating the Other one asserts power and privilege."'*^ Displacing this critical understanding of cannibalism from its American context allows Lee to demonstrate its applicability within the Indonesian setting: Mu was getting devoured. First, there was Ba's absence, which ate her daily, leaving her thin; her eyes stared and looked bruised, Fei recalls. And the other men ate her, the ones at every Administration doorway, the ones at the prison gates. Not only was her body becoming lighter, so was her purse, and eventually her house. One day a group of soldiers arrived in a truck to seize our belongings. And then more men came, the ones dressed in shabby uniforms and sandals, wild, hungry-looking men who materialized all over the city, who capitalized on the chaos that was spreading all over the city. (116) Lee's powerful employment of the above image — the cannibalization of Mu— speaks voluminously of the persecution suffered by the Chinese and other opponents of the Sukarno government. It interestingly also allows Lee to affirm the oppositional potential and political legitimacy of the trope's conventional usage in Asian American literature, before re-mobilizing it as a building block for his cosmopolitanism. Hence, cannibalism and quasi-cannibalism begin to shift in their tropological valence towards notions of unity and connection through one's humanity. In order to link the body physical to the body social, in his conceptualization of cosmopolitical oneness, Lee directs his attention to the human body, immersing in all its physicality, appetites, needs, functions, and processes. Particularly engaging and telling are the passages in The Winged Seed that reflect Lee's persistent fascination with his father's body, especially as the latter ages and approaches death. Because "in him [Ba] was my beginning" and "from him I rose," Lee reasons, "naturally, his body interested me continually" (181). Lee describes in excruciating scatological detail the ordeal of having to help relieve a badly constipated Ba (invalided in his old age) by physically

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61 extricating "the hard lumps" from Ba's body (158-9). As odious as this task is to him, Lee is able to transcend his repugnance towards human waste, and to philosophize, rather poetically 1 might add, on the proverbial circle of life: For shit's boon too, result of stomach, a self, and rank fire threshing bonds and forcing matter through base great changes, changing eaten stuff to life and death to be shat out in hot lumps looking nothing like us, yet, so us, utterly. And that smell in the air is what but dying? Nothing but perfume. Let us be singing the body passed out of the body, the evicted self, flesh of waste, for we are up from fire and straight to ashes. Where better for seeds than a residence of dung? Where better for flowers to be springing all but their secret: The dream color. Where is our true bed but this aromatic bread? We are bread. We should, like bread, be rising singing and, unlike bread, be knowing singing's ground, the tongue stuck in a cave of the cave-ridden, hive-laden, pitted, pocked body which shits itself, blind or disillusioned. The tongue, roughed up from shit, utters good vapors into magnificat. The sacrament is excrement, the true host is earth, peeled from us who are our guts and their furnace which make of impersonal bounties our Personhoods. (137-3 8) The circularity of the imagery, in depicting the interconnectedness of all life, sutures disparate and oppositional elements — food and excrement, ingestion and expulsion, perfume and stench, life and death, the spiritual and the material — to create a monadic world view that destabilizes the boundaries between the privileged and the discarded, the individual and the cosmos. This lesson that Lee learns from things elemental provides the philosophical basis for him to emphasize the importance of cultural change, adaptation, and incorporation in the calibration of a diasporic identity; and for him to extend this diasporic consciousness into a secular, or worldly (to borrow Edward Said's critical formulation'*^), vision of human oneness. On this final point, I would like to turn to a poem entitled "The Cleaving," taken from Lee's second volume The City in Which I Love You. Here, Lee reverses the "negativity" of cuhural cannibalism, employs it in a way that reflects Stuart

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62 Hall's conception of cultural identity as "a matter of 'becoming' as well as 'being,'"^^ and uses it to flesh out his cosmopolitical vision of connectedness. The poem begins with the protagonist's visit to the Hon Kee Grocery to watch a meat seller, who has "a sorrowful Chinese face,"^' cut and sell roast pork and duck. He becomes enthralled by the way the butcher violates the duck's carcass, a process which Lee describes in graphic and yet sensual terms. Death, dismemberment, and eating are intricately entwined: Did this animal, after all, at the moment its neck broke, image the way his executioner shrinks from his own death? Is this how I, too, recoil from my day? The butcher sees me eye this delicacy [the duck's brain]. With a finger, he picks it out of the skull-cradle and offers it to me. I take it gingerly between my fingers and suck it down. I eat my man. (79-80) After witnessing the violent cleaving of the duck and his complicitous but pleasurable partaking of its body, the protagonist encounters a fish dealer and contemplates cannibalism, where he would incorporate the butcher and the world around him into his own sense of diasporic existence and cultural specificity: What is it in me will not let the world be, would eat not just this fish, but the one who killed it, the butcher who cleaned it. I would eat the way he squats, the way he reaches into the plastic tubs and pulls out a fish, clubs it, takes it

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63 to the sink, guts it, drops it on the weighing pan. The deaths at the sinks, those bodies prepared for eating, I would eat, and the standing deaths at the counters, in the aisles, the walking deaths in the streets, the death-far-from-home, the deathin-a-strange-land, these Chinatown deaths, these American deaths. I would devour this race to sing it, this race that according to Emerson managed to preserve to a hair for three or four thousand years the ugliest features in the world. I would eat these features, eat the last three or four thousand years, every hair. And I would eat Emerson, his transparent soul, his soporific transcendence. (82-83) The physicality of eating, cultural eating, enables the protagonist to empathize and connect with other Asian Americans, past and present, in a solidarity of marginalized experiences. Although he, metaphorically or in actuality, has "swallowed," as Sau-ling Cynthia Wong puts it, the "physical hardship or humiliation"^^ suffered by the early Chinese immigrants, the protagonist is by no means stereotypically submissive and passive (as evident in the model minority paradigm) in his "acceptance" of the antiAsian racism and discrimination. Instead of responding in kind through cultural nationalism and essentialism, he envisions instead a more inclusive cosmopolitical unity: No easy thing, violence. One of its names? Change. Change resides in the embrace of the effaced and the effacer, in the covenant of the opened and the opener; the axe accomplishes it on the soul's axis. What then may I do but cleave to what cleaves me. I kiss the blade and eat my meat. I thank the wielder and receive.

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64 while terror spirits my change, sorrow also. The terror the butcher scripts in the unhealed air, the sorrow of his Shang dynasty face, African face with sht eyes. He is my sister, this beautiful Bedouin, this Shulamite, keeper of sabbaths, diviner of holy texts, this dark dancer, this Jew, this Asian, this one with the Cambodian face, Vietnamese face, this Chinese I daily face, this immigrant, this man with my own face. (86-87) As he "embraces" the cleaving violence of the butcher's blade, he also welcomes the breaking down of cultural boundaries; not in the sense that he denies the oppositional and political usefulness of affirming differences in terms of race, gender, sexuality, and religion, but rather in that he sees the social and cultural multiplicity as a mosaic, heterogenous parts of a collective whole, connected in oneness through a common humanity. The ability of the protagonist. Lee's cosmopolitan, to identify with the Other makes his cosmopolitical oneness truly "global," vis-a-vis the cultural provincialism implicit in contemporary Chinese cosmopolitanism. On the other hand, one must also acknowledge that the celebratory imagery in this particular passage unfortunately can also camouflage dangers one finds in U.S. multiculturalism, where class inequalities and uneven power distribution are often made transparent, and where cultural diversity is frequently co-opted to further the hegemonic goals of transnational capital. These are the pitfalls that Lee needs to circumvent and to critique as he constructs a cosmopolitical vision that can in any sense be called "critical."

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65 The political piquancy of Li-Young Lee's vision lies ultimately in his ability to push it to the theoretical edge of a cosmopolitical humanism in order to draw on its idealism, often without allowing it to fall off into the deep end of an uncritical liberal humanism — a humanism that conceptualizes the EuroAmerican experience as the universal norm at the expense of minority cultural identities. To keep in check this idealism, Lee unrelentingly excavates the different strata of cultural violence, political domination, racial oppression, and class exploitation. Hence, cultural cannibalism and incorporation (despite the possible dangers) demonstrate not just the idealized hope of unity and connection, but also the cultural and political violence emblematized by the butchering of carcasses and the protagonist's consumption of them. It is this two-fold approach of idealization and critique that renders Lee's vision a viable starting point for theorizing a radical alternative to the hegemony of contemporary Chinese cosmopolitanism and transnational capitalist culture. Notes President Habibie's government is now facing a critical juncture in its tenure. In November of 1998, military troops and security forces clashed with student protestors, who were demanding greater democratic changes in the political system, the removal of the military from politics, and an investigation into the corrupt practices of former president Suharto. At least sixteen people were killed. "Hundreds March as Indonesian Pariiament Promises to Enact Reforms," CNN Interactive [online], 18 November 1998, available at cnn.com. Michael Backman, "Blame Indonesia's Chinese?" Far Eastern Economic Review, 5 March 1998, 34. ^ Jonathan Paris, "Minority Rules: How Indonesia's Chinese Can Survive, The New Republic, 13 July 1998,21. Tu Wei-ming, "Cultural China: The Periphery as the Center," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 19.

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66 ^ Seth Mydans, "Indonesia Turns Its Chinese into Scapegoats," The New York Times, 2 February 1998, A3. ^ David Yen-ho Wu, "The Construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese Identities," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991); 166. ^ Steven Butler, "Chinese Bear the Brunt of Anger," U.S. News & World Report, 2 March 1998,51. ^ John McBeth, vsath Salil Tripathi, "Playing with Ire," Far Eastern Economic Review, 5 March 1998, 18-19. Though there is no evidence that the government is involved in the riots. Human Rights Watch believes that the government should shoulder part of the blame as it "failed to explain that high food prices and food shortages are not the fault of individual retailers" and "that the ethnic Chinese are a valued and important part of Indonesian society" (18). ^ Paris, "Minority Rules," 20. Frank Ching, "Indonesian-Chinese Mobilizes," Far Eastern Economic Review, 25 June 1998, 37. Islam is the state religion of Indonesia, while the ethnic Chinese are predominantly Buddhists and Christians. Though the religious differences multiply the cultural tensions between the two ethnic groups, as demonstrated in LiYoung Lee's The Winged Seed, Lee also offers in his text the possibility of connection and harmony in spite of these differences. See my discussion of Lee below. Donald M. Nonini and Aihwa Ong, "Chinese Transnationalism as an Alternative Modernity," Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism, Eds. Aihwa Ong and Donald M. Nonini (New York: Routledge 1997) 20. Quoted in Mydans, "Indonesians Turn Its Chinese into Scapegoats." ''^ For a chronicle of the complicated relationship between the Clinton administration and rich and well-connected Asians and Asian Americans such as John Huang and James Riady (a wealthy Indonesian transnational capitalist), see John Kifner, "Clinton Advertising Plan Led to Asian-American Donors," The New York Times [online], 14 April 1997, available at nytimes.com. Aihwa Ong, "Flexible Citizenship among Chinese Cosmopolitans," Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation, Eds. Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998), 151. This is a revised version of her essay "On

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67 the Edge of Empires: Flexible Citizenship among Chinese in Diaspom" positions 1 (1993): 745-78. David E. Sanger, "The 'Asian Money' Machine Stirs Old Fears in America, The New York Times [online], 4 January 1997, available at nytimes.com. Mike Featherstone, "Global Culture: An Introduction," Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization and Modernity, Ed. Mike Featherstone (London: SAGE, 1990), 1. 18 Nonmi and Ong have observed how modem Chinese transnationalism is a form of this "third culture." Nonini and Ong, "Chinese Transnationalism as an Alternative Modernity," 11. Gungwu Wang, "Among Non-Chinese," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 140. Tu, "Cultural China," 6. 2 1 Hung-chao Tai, ed., Confucianism and Economic Development: An Oriental Alternative? (Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute P, 1989). Quoted in Aihwa Ong, "Chinese Modernities: Narrative of Nation and of Capitalism," Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism, 179. Leo Ou-fan Lee, "On the Margins of the Chinese Discourse: Some Personal Thoughts on the Cultural Meaning of the Periphery," Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 215. Tu, "Cultural China," 26-27. "Cultural China" is used as an inclusive term for Chinese culture in a global setting. 25 26 Ong, "Flexible Citizenship," 135. For TNC exploitation, see Masao Miyoshi, "A Borderless World? From Colonialism to Transnationalism and the Decline of the Nation State," Critical Inquiry 19 (1993) 726-51. Ong, "Flexible Citizenship," 139-40. 28 Stuart Hall, "The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity," Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, Eds. Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998), 169-70. 29 Louisa Schein, "Importing Miao Brethren to Hmong America: A Not-So-Stateless Transnationalism," Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation, Eds. Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998), 169-70.

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68 This point also illustrates Stuart Hall's argument that capital does not negate particularity in its process of commodification but rather works through the specificities of culture, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality. Hall, "The Local and the Global," 180. ^' Glenn Omatsu, "The 'Four Prisons' and the Movements of Liberation: Asian American Activism from the 1960s to the 1990s," The State of Asian American: Activism and Resistance in the 1990s, Ed. Karin Aguilar-San Juan (Boston: South End P, 1994), 46. For Omatsu's excellent unraveling of the contradictory logic behind Asian American neo-conservative politics, see especially pages 42-50. 32 Bruce Robbins, Secular Vocations: Intellectuals, Professionalism, Culture (London: Verso, 1993), 182. Bruce Robbins, "Introduction Part I: Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism," Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation, Eds. Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998), 7-8. Ibid., 12. My tentative approach towards defining (in rather reactive terms) a critical alternative to Chinese cosmopolitanism is indicative of the fact that "we do not yet have the knowledge or the discourse," as Paul Bove observes, "to deal with the TNC-world Miyoshi summons as the nightmare fact of the global division of labor." Paul A. Bove, "Afterword: 'Global/Local' Memory and Thought," Global/Local: Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary, Eds. Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake (Durham: Duke UP, 1996), 380-81. Despite the "belatedness" of such critical work, one needs to press on in the search for fresh strategies in dealing with capital's present global hegemony, in the hopes of stumbling upon measures that will prove to be proactive instead of simply responsive to transnational capitalism's trajectory. See Gerald Stem's forward to Li-Yoimg Lee's Rose. LiYoung Lee, Rose (Brockport, NY: BOA Editions, 1986); The City in Which I Love You (Brockport, NY: BOA Editions, 1990); The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995). The City in Which I Love You was the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. John C. Hawley, "Gus Lee, Chang-Rae Lee, and LiYoung Lee: The Search for the Father in Asian American Literature," Ideas of Home: Literature of Asian Migration, Ed. Geoffrey Kain (East Lansing: Michigan State UP, 1997), 183-95. Lee, The Winged Seed, 107. Subsequent references to this text will be parenthetically documented.

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69 Ba is the Chinese version of "Dad," constituting a more casual form of address than "Father." Sukarno became the first president of a newly decolonized Indonesia in 1945. ''^ The politics of language and speech patterns is a problematic well laid out by a number of Asian American authors, hence highlighting its significance and importance to Asian American studies and activism. See especially Maxine Hong Kingston's "A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe" in The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts (New York: Vintage, 1976); Amy Tan, "Mother Tongue," Asian American Literature: A Brief Introduction and Anthology, Ed. Shawn Wong (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 40-44; and Traise Yamamoto, "Different Silences," The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism, Eds. Diane P. Freedman, Olivia Frey, and Frances Murphy Zauhar (Durham: Duke UP, 1993), 127-34. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, "Introduction: Rhizome," A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987), 3-25. One is reminded of E. M. Forster's dictum here to "only connect," as articulated by Margaret Schlegel in Howards End. Forster's idealization of "personal relationships" as one of the tenets of his philosophical creed presented in "What I Believe," though heart warming in its humanism, falters into an elitism that has also plagued the liberalism of the Bloomsbury Group on the whole. See Edward Morgan Forster, "What I Believe," Two Cheers for Democracy (New York: Harcourt, 1951). Rey Chow, Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993), 179. '^^ In a different context, Lee uses this term to describe the stories his Javanese maidservants Seeti and Lammi told him while he was a little boy. What Lee found to be "true" is not the stories per se, but "the stories behind the stories that" convinced him "our island of cities and rice fields, forests, rivers, and volcanoes was The World" (123). I would argue that this constitutes the seed, the beginning, of Lee's cosmopolitical thought. Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993), 20. '^^ bell hooks, "Eating the Other: Desire and Representation," Black Looks: Race and Representation (Boston: South End P, 1992), 36. Edward W. Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP 1983).

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70 Stuart Hall, "Cultural Identity and Diaspora," Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial Theory: A Reader, Eds. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (New York: Columbia UP, 1994), 394. Originally published in J. Rutherford, ed.. Identity: Community, Culture, Difference (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), 222-37. ^' Lee, The City in Which I Love You, 11. Subsequent references to the poem from this volume will be parenthetically documented. Wong, Reading Asian American Literature, 37.

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CHAPTER 3 CRISES IN THE HOMELAND(S): HONG KONG AMERICANS AND THE ART OF CULTURAL NEGOTIATION Hope lies within another country's semaphores. The Goddess of Liberty, the Statue of Mercy. Marilyn Chin from "Tienanmen, the Aftermath"' Taking Sides? Any discussion in the West about the fate of Hong Kong after 1997 inevitably encompasses the words "democracy," "human rights," and "political freedoms" in its discursive vocabulary, especially when Tiananmen Square 1989 ftinctions for many as the historical signifier that disturbs the narrative of Hong Kong's return to the motherland and that unveils the ideological and political implications of the Chinese rule of Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region). In a recent conversation at a dinner party, this issue was raised, and a Chinese fiiend of mine who was visiting the U.S. at the time made the following observation; "I do not understand why Americans are so obsessed with Tiananmen; in China, it is a matter of little significance to the rest of the country ." The debate that expectedly ensued was critically intense. But in a calmer moment of retrospection (after all the dust has settled), I realize that what my mainland friend has said unintentionally offers an aporetic space for one to (re)examine the public discourses that swirl around the Hong Kong question and their impact on global and cultural politics, especially for Chinese in diaspora. The obvious problem with my fiiend' s 71

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72 statement is not that he questions the factuality of Tiananmen 1989 but that he denies or, more accurately, represses into his political unconscious its brutality and its reverberating and debilitating effects on movements that champion individual and political rights and freedoms in China. Therefore, in his mind, the massacre has been conveniently relegated to a footnote in Chinese history, explained away as a moment of youthful indiscretion and inunaturity on the part of the student protesters. My critique of his position — which also happens to be the position adopted by the Chinese goverrmient — is a familiar and convincing one for many of us in the West. However, I would like to take a further step in unpacking the implications and assumptions nestled in my friend's statement, not just to explore the limits of its ideology but also to use it to interrogate the strategies of "democracy" as deployed by the West. The place of "human rights" and "democracy" in U.S. public, media, and foreign policy discourses on China has been naturalized to the point where my Chinese friend's accusation of America's "obsession" would appear to us as misguided, illogical, or even politically motivated. Though his observation is ultimately flawed, what I would argue is that it helps one rethink the "logic" of democracy— something that we in the West take for granted — and to examine what this logic can mask. Hence, I would like to reinterpret this "obsession" as an effect of an Orientalizing discourse Rey Chow has characterized as the "King Kong syndrome," where China has been conceptualized "as a spectacular primitive monster whose despotism necessitates the salvation of its people by outsiders."^ To avoid demonizing China, the West should accompany its criticism, especially in the case of Hong Kong, with a critique of Western imperialism; for without this critique, the rhetoric of "democracy" simply exposes, as Chow puts it, the "double standard" of the

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73 West — any recitation of Hong Kong's colonial history will reveal Britain's naked aggression in precipitating the Opium Wars, a point which "the U.S. media habitually ignores."' In light of Britain's "eleventh-hour" attempt at democratizing Hong Kong, the West's insistence on "democracy" becomes glaringly hypocritical.'* The language of "democracy" furthermore camouflages the exploitation and hegemonic manipulation of global capitalism, in an age where foreign policy works to protect transnational corporatism.^ On the other hand, one cannot deny that what is operative in my friend's attempt to distance himself (on behalf of all mainland Chinese) from America's "obsession" with Tiananmen, through articulating a homogenizing view of public indifference to the crisis, is a politics of denial which allows him to "cope" in complicity with the Chinese government's tactics of violence and suppression. The mechanism through which this politics is deployed is none other than a self-Orientalizing Us/Thera binarism that reifies an EastAVest cultural division. This split constructs the "obsession" with Tiananmen as a metonymy for Westerners' selfish regard for individuality (as if social relations are of little importance in the West), while it nativistically brackets the East within the cultural inevitability of Asian social and familial ties (as if only the conmiunity and the nation assumed preeminence in the minds of the people, and personal rights and freedoms did not command any significance at all). The violence that this binarism produces is not just epistemological, but it is also culturally, socially, and politically coercive. What it confronts diasporic Chinese with is a demand that they take sides, either to claim an Eastern sense of social "responsibility" and "stability" at the expense of political difference and individual voice, or to embrace

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74 Western individualistic ways and, hence, to taint oneself culturally and to prostitute one's political soul to the schemes of Western imperialism: a choice of "double impossibility."^ A way of circimiventing and critiquing this binary logic is to negotiate a cultural and political space in-between these poles, a space in which I would like now to situate the problematics of Hong Kong Americans' diasporic consciousness and cultural/political identity negotiation, especially as they view the crises of their original homeland(s) from afar. The difficult questions of cultural and diasporic identity asked by Hong Kong Americans are in ways no different from those of the average Chinese American^: What does it mean to be an ethnic Chinese in America? How does one grapple with one's Asian-ness and yet establish an American identity? How can Chinese (and other Asian) Americans come to terms with U.S. neo-colonialism, especially when the Asia-Pacific region is the theater where American imperialist adventurism is often played out? However, these contradictions that come to bear on Chinese Americans in general were compounded for Hong Kong Americans with the arrival of 1997, when the "postcoloniality" of Hong Kong in effect erases the former British outpost from the map of international relations. The notion of "homeland," as a result, becomes problematic when Hong Kong as a national (if I can even use this term) entity disappears and is incorporated into the larger polity that is mainland China. This event creates for Hong Kong diasporics a split vision of China/Hong Kong as imaginary homeland (which accounts for the parenthesized plural suffix "s" I have attached to the word "homeland(s)" in the title for this chapter). This plurality confers upon the notions of cultural and national origins a certain liminality for Hong Kong Americans as they

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75 struggle with this double vision. What I am suggesting here is not so much the erasure of a material Hong Kong culture with the handover in 1997, but rather the intensification of a politics of subjectivity that the Hong Kong people and Hong Kong diasporics, including Hong Kong Americans, have to negotiate as Hong Kong itself shuffles between a British colonial legacy, a Chinese nationality, and a distinct but marginalized Hong Kong cultural identity. Hence, the notion of Hong Kong Americans witnessing the historical "crises" (as in Tiananmen Square and the 1997 handover) is crucial in my analysis, particularly in the way such events dislocate these cultural negotiations and throw into "crisis" the question of subjectivity. A brief examination of the cultural and political scene that the Hong Kong people have occupied is critical in shedding some light on the Hong Kong American cultural identity predicament. Since the beginning of British rule. Hong Kong, the port city, has regularly been regarded "as a space of transit," a city of migrants who adopt what Ackbar Abbas calls a "port mentality," where "everything is provisional, ad hoc" and where "everything floats — currencies, values, human relations."* This feeling of transience was compounded by the British who, for imperialist reasons, minimized the political participation of the Hong Kong people, who could only channel their energies into the economic sphere, which is their "only condition of possibility."^ Politically and culturally, many also see Hong Kong as "a borrowed place,"' which will one day be returned to China. These different sociopolitical factors contribute to a misguided belief (again premised on the Orientalist East-versus-West dichotomy) that the very idea of a Hong Kong culture is oxymoronic. This notion is based on the following logic: if China is the cultural origin and future of Hong Kong, one must then judge the authenticity of

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76 Hong Kong culture against that of traditional Chinese "culture"; but since Hong Kong has been so Westernized on the basis of its colonial history. Hong Kong culture cannot be pure and, hence, must be rejected as illegitimate and insignificant. This line of reasoning has led many locals to describe Hong Kong as "a cultural desert" — "Not that there was nothing going on in cinema, architecture, and writing," Abbas explains, "it was just not recognized to be culture as such."" In fact, this state of cultural liminality (as opposed to cultural absence) also allowed the British to utilize Hong Kong as, according to the last governor Chris Patten, "a bridge between the West and China,"'^ without the British government ever needing to commit itself to fight for Hong Kong's right of national autonomy and existence after 1997. The argument is that since colonial Hong Kong has only and always been a "borrowed place," culturally speaking, from China, the "absence" of a legitimate autonomous culture disqualifies Hong Kong from the right to claim postcolonial nationhood.'^ The Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984,'" which set the clock ticking towards 1997, basically awakened many in Hong Kong to the urgency of this question of culture and nation, which Tiananmen Square only intensified and reiterated. In talking about the inception of the new Hong Kong cinema. Abbas observes how historical crises help initiate a paradigm shift in the cultural thinking and national perception of the people in Hong Kong: The Joint Declaration caused a certain amount of anxiety, even though one of its terms is that the sociopolitical structure of Hong Kong will remain unchanged for fifty years (according to the slogan "One country, two systems"). But it also had another effect: it made Hong Kong people look at the place with new eyes. It is as if the possibility of such a social and cultural space disappearing, in the form we know it today, has led to our seeing it in all its complexity and contradiction for the first time, an instance, as Benjamin would have said, of love at last sight. [The

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77 Hong Kong] public [became] suddenly anxious about its cultural identity because so many issues of social and political liberties hinge on that question. It would be that much harder for Hong Kong citizens to argue the case for political autonomy after 1997 if it could not make the case for cultural identity now. Abbas' exploration of the post1984 cultural production in Hong Kong cinema, architecture, and literature reveals "a culture of disappearance" that reflects a strategy Hong Kong artists deploy to cope with the denial of their cultural autonomy by both Britain and China. As a mode of oppositional aesthetics, the notion of "disappearance does not imply nonappearance, absence, or lack of presence," rather it is a moment of "misrecognition," a "pathology of presence," where representations of Hong Kong deploy techniques of "replacement and substitution"'^ and of "reverse hallucination" — of "o/ seeing what is there"'^ — to assert a Hong Kong cultural presence. More simply put, it is a sort of reverse psychology that uses representations of "disappearance to deal with disappearance."'* It is a strategy that negotiates an in-between space through a destabilization of the EastWest, China-Britain binarism that has dominated Hong Kong cultural politics and that has displaced any possibility for the legitimization of a Hong Kong culture. This strategy of disappearance, hence, gives Hong Kong culture "a critical edge, ... a culture that interrogates the very nature of Hong Kong and explores the possibility of its redefinition."'^ By shifting attention at this juncture to the cultural identity issue posed earlier regarding Hong Kong Americans, one can forecast a number of questions raised by the cultural and political struggles of Hong Kong: What difficulties or possibilities do these contested spaces of culture in Hong Kong pose for Hong Kong Americans, particularly when they have to deal with an unsettling double vision of China/Hong Kong as cultural

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78 origin? Do these cultural spaces also offer strategies to resist Western imperialism (in the form of a past British coloniality and a present American neo-colonialism masked by the rhetoric of "democracy") and yet to challenge Chinese centrism (and its logic of cultural return)? How do these strategies help Hong Kong Americans critically tackle the trauma of witnessing the crises in their homeland(s) and, at the same time, present radical democracy as an alternative to its Western capitalist counterpart and as a challenge to Chinese authoritarianism? In an attempt to examine the problematics that these questions delineate, I would like to offer readings of the works of two Hong Kong Americans: Marilyn Chin's poetry on Tiananmen and Wayne Wang's recent filmic tribute to Hong Kong 1997, Chinese Box. The way these works grapple with "crises" is indicative of the demands and contradictions confronting cultural negotiation. Ambiguities of Hope: Marilyn Chin on the Crisis in Tiananmen The spilling of Chinese blood on Tianamen Square marks a terrifying moment of trauma for many diasporic Chinese, a moment that has precipitated an outpouring of artistic expressions to help articulate not only the pain and outrage but also a deep sense of national and cultural crisis that the massacre has inflicted. One of these artistic expressions is a series of poems entitled "Beijing Spring" in Marilyn Chin's second poetry collection The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty^^ What is significant about these poems is that they offer a glimpse into the complex worid of cultural contestation and negotiation of a Hong Kong American, as she struggles to make sense of the crisis and its implications for the increasingly contradictory space she occupies between China and America.

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79 By dedicating the segment "Beijing Spring" to "the Chinese Democratic Movement" (84), Chin establishes from the start that her sympathies do lie with the student protestors and the cause that they were fighting (and, in some cases, dying) for. However, she does not allow her political identification to be co-opted by a simplistic Us/Them binarism — democracy/communism, West/East, victim/oppressor, friend/foe. Instead, the Tiananmen crisis and its aftermath offer Chin the opportunity to bring into question the West's ideological "ownership" of democracy, which she accomplishes through the problematization of the cultural-ideological semiotics involved. Chin also engages the narrative logic of a Chinese utopianism as a means of exploring the contradictions of Chinese cultural and national identities. The established trope of the sexual/love relationship as national allegory also provides a useful and flexible metaphor for Chin to mobilize a two-pronged approach: she first deploys it to challenge China's violence against her own people, before tapping into its more positive and life-affirming aspects to shore up the pwlitical hopes and idealism deflated by the Tiananmen crisis.'^' Chin defines the tone of her poetry beginning with the title of this series "Beijing Spring," about which I would like now to offer a few scattered interpretive observations. The concept of spring in Chinese culture is in many ways no different from its deployment in the Euro-American literary tradition, especially in its association with new life, new hopes, and new beginnings. But the localized specificity of a Beijing spring brings with it a certain contrary element of a lingering harsh winter. This cold is compounded by the bitter freezing winds that sweep through dusty Beijing streets, an image that contradicts and, hence, offers an ironic tension to the optimism of spring, creating what I would call the ambiguities of hope. Such ambiguities open up literary

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80 and poetic possibilities for the depiction of loneliness and love lost, a point I will return to when discussing the poem "Beijing Spring." For the moment, suffice it to say that the ambiguities of hope signify a struggle on the part of Chin to come to terms with the idealism and failure of the student movement in Tiananmen, the budding of political democracy and its premature demise, and the energy of youthful determination and its unfortunate dissipation the instant government tanks rolled over student bodies.^^ Hence, a Beijing spring, when viewed through the political framework of Tiananmen Square, becomes an ironic space where life and death, hope and despair simultaneously reside. It is important, however, to note that it is not a space of paralysis for Chin, but instead an in-between space of contradiction, contestation, and critique. Painful as it is for one to occupy such a position, it has the potential to be an interventional space for cultural, political, and national identity negotiations. The ambiguities and contradictions involved in these negotiations characterize the opening poem "New China," which I have quoted in its entirety below. Though it does not deal directly with Tiananmen, this poem is important in that it appeals to an attachment many diasporic Chinese have to the nation "China" as their cultural center; this attachment is crucial in helping one understand the hopes and the despair that Tiananmen as political signifier embodies: In youth I had nothing That warned me of heaven's vagaries My nature always was to love the hills and waters. Then, suddenly, I plunged Into the squalid pitfall, the world. Once having fallen It would be forty-two years — The worm must dig deeper now to find the light.

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81 Yet, my caged canary Yearns to sing in the forest. The fattened koi in my pond Dreams of the ocean. And I, their master, must one day set them free. No grief nor joy greater than this one. (85) The title "New China" appeals to a Chinese utopianism that many Chinese and diasporic Chinese hold to, a hope that "China" (however one wishes to define the term) may one day regain its political and cultural glory. A "New China" assumes a certain mythic quality that allows it to function as a nationalist rallying call. This "New China," hence, becomes the fitting telos to the postlapsarian narrative that Chin sets up in the first half of the poem. Here, the protagonist falls from a state of Wordsworthian innocence to come face to face with the harshness and the difficulties of "the world;" she must then return to "the light," the original glory, in order to attain salvation from her fallen state. Reading this utopianism within the framework of Tiananmen produces further resonance and complexity in its appeal. The title "New China" gains an ironic dimension— it is precisely a new political China that the Tiananmen movement hopes to achieve; it was a time of great hope and anticipation, as the participants of the movement believed that their political mobilization had set the wheels of change in motion. However, their idealism, which had energized the process, unfortunately also blinded them to the harsh reality of the Chinese government's grip on power. The student protestors, therefore, in a sense, have "fallen" from their political "youth" into "the squalid pitfall" that is "the [Chinese political] worid." This interpretation of the first half of Chin's poem generates two troubling issues that need to be addressed. Firstly, there is the danger of reading into this narrative a

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82 fatalism (a form of pessimistic abandomnent in surrender to "heaven's vagaries") that can induce pohtical passivity in the people. Though there is inevitably a determinism set up by the redemption narrative, the telos of which is idealized as "freedom," as the second half of the poem suggests, human agency is still necessary to help accelerate the progression towards that freedom. Hence, there is a need to "dig deeper now to find the light," to continue the fight, to persevere, to develop new and more effective strategies of political resistance and change, in order to move the country towards the goal of political freedom and democracy. Secondly, we can ask if by invoking the utopianism of a "New China," is Chin then guilty of reifying a form of Chinese cultural centrism? Although this seems to be a danger that is present in the imagery of this particular poem, I am hesitant to conclude definitively that this is Chin's position on the issue. For in other poems in the series. Chin appears to challenge the notion of racial and cultural purity, hence reflecting at least an ambivalence or ambiguity towards the nationalist calls of Chinese centrism. However, what is certain here is Chin's use of ambiguities as a means of complicating this narrative of political redemption, and a way of expressing her own emotional struggles with its contradictions. The second half of the poem demonstrates how the story of political redemption is not a simplistic morality tale of the good guys versus the bad guys; it is a tale plagued by ambiguous positioning, contradictory affiliations, and uneasy alliances, attained through careful cultural negotiations. By shifting the protagonist's perspective to that of a "master" who must eventually emancipate her "caged canary" and "fattened koi," Chin focuses on tiie emotional conflicts of "grief and "joy" that the master simultaneously

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83 experiences. In identifying this contradiction of emotions. Chin is not attempting to reheve the Chinese government of the responsibihty for its crimes; in fact, she is intimating that the master must accept the inevitability of the people's choice for freedom. Yet, at the same time, the master's ambivalence between grief and joy also represents opposing forces of cultural politics at work within Chin: how does one condemn the Chinese government and yet be able to understand the resistance that it feels towards the West's rhetoric of "democracy"? How can a Hong Kong American champion democracy without seeming un-Chinese, as many supporters of the Chinese government would assert? The false dilemma that undergirds these questions may be easy for one to disentangle logically, but the difficulty uhimately lies in the emotional resolution of these cultural "contradictions." In the latter half of the poem "Tienanmen, the Aftermath," Chin takes up this issue once more by engaging the political semiotics that is part of Tiananmen 1989: Hope lies within another country's semaphores. The Goddess of Liberty, the Statue of Mercy — we have it all wrong— big boy, how we choose to love, how we choose to destroy, says Chuangtzu is written in heaven — but leave the innocent ones alone, those alive, yet stillborn, undead, yet waiting in a fitful sleep undeserved of an awakening. (88) Between the months of April and July 1989, the students erected a simulacrum of the Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square, which they christened "Goddess of Democracy." Though the statue in this context was transformed into a Chinese symbol of fi-eedom and democracy, it is ultimately still an American symbol, a borrowed symbol, reminding the Chinese that their hope of freedom still "lies within another country's semaphores." Hence, the patronizing figure of the West as the guardian and teacher of democracy

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84 continues to retain its presence even in the shifting semiotics of the statue. In order to challenge and disrupt the imperialist paradigm of a politically "advanced" (read "democratic") West assuming the burden of teaching a politically "primitive" China the principles of freedom and human rights/^ Chin in a similar fashion concatenates the Chinese Goddess of Mercy with the Statue of Liberty to create the chiasmic inversion "the Goddess of Liberty, the Statue of Mercy," in an attempt to carve out an intersemiotic cultural space for democracy in China. Yet, like the "Goddess of Democracy," the awkwardness of such an inversion of symbols only reinforces the notion that "Western" democracy is intrinsically incompatible with Chinese culture and tradition, hence the need for the Chinese to borrow from the West its political ideals. Therefore, Chin, through the protagonist, takes a further step in challenging this notion by concluding that "we have it all wrong," and that we should displace the concept of political freedom from the culturally coercive spaces of an East/West political semiotics, in order to ensure that both Western imperialism and Chinese culturalism do not block China's path towards democracy. To complete my analysis of Chin's cultural negotiations, 1 would now like to consider the way she uses the trope of the sexual/love relationship to conceptualize the nation China and its Others. The links between nationalism and sexuality/gender have been well established,^'* and Chin selectively mines aspects of that critical tradition in order to represent her complex negotiations of cultural identity. Of particular significance is the trope of Nation-asWoman. George Mosse points out that together with "the idealization of masculinity as the foundation of the nation and society, woman, often accused of shallowness and frivolity, was at the same time idealized as the guardian

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85 of morality, and of public and private order "^^ For this image to work, the Nation-asWoman must be depicted "as chaste, dutiful, daughterly or matemal."^^ It is this representation of the nation that nationalists would frequently invoke as the tropological site for national demarcation and patriotic discourse, a point that Radhakrishnan makes when he discusses the anti-Western logic in nationalist histories of postcolonial states: By mobilizing the inner/outer distinction against the "outemess" of the West, nationalist rhetoric makes "woman" the pure and ahistorical signifier of "interiority." In the fight against the enemy from the outside, something within gets even more repressed, and "woman" becomes the mute but necessary allegorical ground for the transactions of nationalist history. Unable to produce its own history in response to its inner sense of identity, nationalist ideology sets up Woman as victim and goddess simultaneously.^^ The shifting dynamics of the image of Nation-asWoman allow it to denote simultaneously the foundational order (as chaste Woman) and the vulnerability (as victimized Woman) of the nation. These two dimensions work together to produce a nationalist ideology that calls out to patriots to protect and defend the "chastity" of the nation, lest she becomes a victim of enemy assault. In the midst of national crisis and suffering, this image of the Woman as victim also functions as a powerful device to evoke and signify nationalist feelings of anguish and pain, and consequently to draw national solidarity. A case in point is fascist Japan's infamous "rape" of Nanking during World War Two: the brutal rape and murder of countless Chinese women by Japanese soldiers metonymically structure a nationalist historical narrative of China's subjection to Japanese aggression.^* (My goal here is obviously not to detract attention from the real and horrifying brutality endured by the Chinese people under Japanese occupation, nor the national humiliation and encroachments China genuinely suffered at the hands of Japanese and Western

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86 imperialism. Rather, what I hope to examine is how sexual and gender discourses are mobilized within Chinese nationalist rhetoric to deepen anti-colonialist and anti-foreigner sentiments during that time.) Rape, hence, serves as a disturbing but effective metaphor for the territorial and cultural penetration of the land of China by Japan and Western imperialist powers, which sought to carve it into different spheres of influence either for outright colonization or for capitalist exploitation.^^ Chin is clearly cognizant of the rhetoricity of the rape imagery and its ability to generate anti-colonialist feelings. In "Tienanmen, the Aftermath," she appeals to these feelings but then inverts the metaphor so as to turn the tables on the Chinese government: There was blood and guts all over the road. I said I'm sorry, darling, and rolled away, expecting the slate to be clean; and she came, she who was never alive became resurrected. I saw her in a dream ... a young girl in a chipao, bespeckled, forever lingering. (88) The roles are now reversed with the Chinese government (occupying the subject position "I" in the poem) being the victimizer instead of the victim. What is ironic here is the way the metaphor of colonialist rape has been turned inward with the Chinese people becoming victims of their own government's atrocities at Tiananmen. The students who were massacred are represented as "a young giri in a chipao "'^^ who after being raped and murdered returns to haunt her assailant with this troubling question: how can you (the Chinese government) accuse the imperialist powers of "raping" China when you do the same to your own people?^' While the rape metaphor enables Chin to condemn the Chinese government's brutality and expose its hypocrisy, the notion of lovers on Tiananmen Square (a variation on the trope of the sexual/love relationship as national allegory) provides her a path

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87 towards political edification — to encourage and to build up once more the idealism that energized the pro-democracy movement in the first place. This shifting between the metaphors of rape and consensual love in her depiction of Tiananmen also reflects in a way the conflicting need in Chin to both criticize and support China at the same time, a contradictory position she negotiates, for instance, in the latter half of the poem "Beijing Spring": Love, on Tiananmen Square, near the Avenue of Eternal Peace, I believe in the passions of youth, I believe in the eternal spring. As the white blossoms, sweet harbingers, pull a wreath around its city, as heaven spreads its blue indifference over the bloodied quay, I want to hold you against the soft silhouettes of my people. Let me place my mouth over your mouth, let me breathe life into your life, let me summon the paired connubial geese from the far reaches of the galaxy to soar over the red spokes of the sun's slow chariot and begin again. (91) The passion between lovers is life-affirming and life-producing, which metaphorically suggests the political optimism to "begin again." On the other hand, as I have noted earlier regarding the title "Beijing Spring," the idealism is tinged with the ambiguities of hope. Just as a Beijing spring offers for lovers the possibility of reunion, it also brings with the remnants of winter cold depressing feelings of loneliness and love lost. The "bloodied quay" and the "soft silhouettes of my people," hence, will continue to haunt the Hong Kong diasporic's negotiation of a love-hate relationship with China.

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88 Visualizing Hong Kong: Wayne Wang on the Crisis of the 1997 Handover Despite the historicity of the British handover of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997, only two films were produce to commemorate the event: Chinese director Xie Jin's The Opium WaP^ and Wayne Wang's Chinese Box?^ The former is a 9.6 million dollar attempt by the Chinese government to "explain" the rightfulness of China's reclamation of Hong Kong and its territories from Britain, while the latter is a more ambivalent but no less problematic take on the Hong Kong question from the perspective of a Hong Kong American. Director Wayne Wang has an excellent track record in the independent film industry here in the U.S., with his earlier films on Chinese American life such as Chan is Missing (\9S2) and Dim Sum (1984), an adaptation of Louis Chu's novel Eat a Bowl of Tea (1989), the more mainstream The Joy Luck Club (1993), and his recent collaborations with Paul Auster in Smoke (1995) and Blue in the Face (1995). As all his earlier work deals with life in America, Chinese Box marks a filmic return for Wang to the place of his cultural and national origin, a return that enables him to grapple with the conflicting emotions produced by Hong Kong's coloniality and by Wang's own diasporic displacements. Leaving Hong Kong at the age of eighteen for the U.S., Wang has developed ambivalent feelings towards the place: "I love it because it's my home, it's Chinese, the food is great But I also hate it because there's no history, nothing is kept, the air is bad. There is a certain aggressiveness about it that wears you down."^" One can account for this love-hate relationship Wang has with Hong Kong by tracing the tensions and contradictions within the hybrid cultural space occupied by Hong Kong Americans. It is a hybridity inscribed by the cultural legacy of British colonialism, American cultural

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89 imperialism, and a Chinese upbringing, producing a cultural schizophrenia that, as Wang tells bell hooks in an interview, characterizes his childhood: I guess it was growing up in Hong Kong, being Chinese, living under a British colony, watching Rock Hudson and Doris Day movies, listening to The Eagles I've always been, in a sense, on the border, because my parents were always very Chinese. At the same time they wanted me to be more American, more, you know, "Western." ... So I have really been sort of schizophrenic and torn as far back as I can remember.^^ Migrating to the U.S. only further intensified the complexity of this border mentality: When I go back to Hong Kong, people say that I'm not Chinese; they say I'm American. I'm not Chinese like the people in Hong Kong or China. I was bom and raised in Hong Kong, but I'm also completely bastardized by the English culture and the American culture. When I look at things I will look at them from both perspectives. It's unfair to say I'm not Chinese, because I am Chinese; I'm just not pure. But what does that mean today anymore, you know?^^ Wang's struggle with the demands of Chinese cultural purity assumes greater intensity and significance with the arrival of July 1997. For Wang the political crisis of the homeland transforms also into a crisis of cultural contestation. Hence, while the historicity of the Hong Kong handover provides an exciting, dramatic, and opportune canvas for a film about his homeland, it also permits him a space to negotiate his ambivalent feelings towards the place and basically to make peace with it — to offer "the movie [as] a love letter to Hong Kong."" These negotiations also assist him in confi-onting the contradiction of his ovm cultural identity, which one hopes will not resuh in a resignation to the impossibility of "resolving" his cultural hybridity; but instead a realization that hybridity offers the oppositional potential for destabilizing the coercive cultural boundaries set up by cultural purism. Though the film at moments offer such cultural critique, Wang's staging of the plot elements and his cinematographic ftaming push this critique instead to an Orientalizing extreme, hence forcing one now to question

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90 the ambiguous lines of affiliation and identification with Western imperialism that the movie sets up. In order to analyze Wang's problematic positioning, I would like first to examine briefly the movie's plot as political allegory and what it foregrounds and displaces. Then, I would turn to the question of cinematic visuality as a mode of the colonialist gaze, and the way Wang uses it to visualize his Hong Kong. Let me begin with a synopsis of the plot in Chinese Box: John Spencer (played by Jeremy Irons) is a British journalist who has spent the past fifteen years covering the financial news of Hong Kong — knowing enough about his subject to even write a book entitled How to Make Money in Asia. He falls in love with Vivian (Gong Li), a former dance hostess whose "contacts" have helped her boyfiiend Chang (played by veteran comic actor Michael Hui) establish himself as a rich and influential player in the business community. Vivian remains faithful to Chang despite the fact that he is unwilling to bear the social stigma and the economic consequences of marrying what traditional Chinese society would consider a "tainted" woman. While John is unhappy with Vivian's choice, his own world is ftuther disrupted not only by the handover of Hong Kong but also by a personal crisis; he discovers that he has contracted a form of leukemia which gives him only a few months to live. Choosing to hide his illness from his wife, family, fiiends, and even Vivian, he embarks on a quest to get to know the "real" Hong Kong by videotaping the crowded streets and its denizens. This search leads him to discover how Vivian had earlier sacrificed herself for Chang, thus forcing John to confront both of them. When Vivian finally decides to leave Chang and reunite with John, she then hears of John's terminal illness. After spending the final days of the British rule of Hong Kong together

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91 with Vivian, John lies down by a pier and expires on July 1, 1997, leaving Vivian behind with the strength to start her life anew. The political allegory is all too obvious: John represents the dying British presence in Hong Kong; Vivian is the culturally "tainted" Hong Kong that China must now make her own but also deal with in terms of the seeds of democracy that had been planted supposedly by the British; and Chang is, of course, China, the traditional patriarch. To extend this allegory any further would be an inane exercise, as the allegorical correlation between signifier and signified will begin to unravel. It would be more critically productive instead to interrogate the assumptions and the consequences of Wang's deployment of this allegory. The first question that comes to mind is. What does it mean to narrate the Hong Kong crisis as a love story? Though the love relationship offers the kind of gendered hierarchy that emblematizes the power relations evident in Hong Kong's coloniality and postcoloniahty — the submergence of Hong Kong's political and cultural presence beneath the British-Chinese transaction — and reflects the ambivalent feelings the Hong Kong people have towards their British rulers, the love story ultimately masks the exploitative agenda of British colonialism. To say that the colonizer does all he does out of love for the native is not unlike using the rhetoric of Kipling's White Man's Burden to justify imperialism. Furthermore, the depiction of Hong Kong as a woman who prostitutes herself reinforces the idea that Hong Kong (according to the Chinese) has not kept itself culturally pure. At the same time, this metaphor also supports the idea held by many in the West that the Hong Kong people are overly materialistic and politically pragmatic, and lack the moral fiber to stand up for their own political rights. As one critic notes of

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92 the love story's resolution. Hong Kong depends on Britain, even in its departure, for the strength to start anew: If the character's are allegorical stand-ins for their respective countries, what the film shows us is that, by dying, "Britain" forces "Hong Kong" to wake up from its long reliance on imaginary support. Yet all is not lost: what was good of the old Empire, despite having drawn its last breath (i.e. John), is enough to send the reborn Hong Kong off in a brave new direction free of its ancestral moorings and illusory obligations — Vivian breaks up with her traditional boyfriend, knowing that he will never marry her, and takes courage from John's death to strike out on her own.^^ In attributing her courage to John, Vivian, in the final voice-over of the movie, meditates on how she, "like the city, [has] to start over again." If this is Wang's way of coming to terms with the British Empire and Hong Kong's coloniality, and challenging Chinese traditionalism, it only generates questions rather than resolves the problems of colonialism's legacy. Suggesting that Hong Kong must now learn to stand on its own without Britain's support is to say that Hong Kong must assume the blame for her political immaturity, despite the fact that Hong Kong did not choose her colonial status in the first place! If the raison d'etre for Britain's colonial presence and final "death" is to encourage in Hong Kong independent political thinking through democracy, where then is democracy during Britain's more than 150 years hold on the territories? In other words, Britain conveniently waited till the approach of 1997 to promote (as tokenism) democratic thinking so as to valorize the Western rhetoric of democracy, when to do so any earlier would obviously contradict the very ideology and presence of Empire! Is Britain's "dying" in the end, therefore, a way of cementing the legacy of democracy in a colonialist nostalgic glow, which ultimately promotes the "benefits" of imperialist rule and relieves Britain of any further responsibility in moving Hong Kong along in its democratic growth or in offering the Hong Kong people the

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93 alternative of British citizenship? What then is this "brave new direction" that Hong Kong is portrayed as taking when it can never be free from the "ancestral moorings and illusory obligations" when under Chinese rule? Nor can it be free to pursue this "virtual democracy," as Rey Chow calls it, which has been "hastily planted and left behind like a land mine," producing "a political situation that was guaranteed to be a permanent source of irreconcilable conflict among the supposedly decolonized natives."^' Wang has questioned the legitimacy of political readings of his film and even the existence of allegory in it. "We don't make a moral judgment of any kind about the handover," he argues, "about whether it's good or bad."^" In another interview, he denies the fihn's allegorical connections with the handover: "Some people have misread this as symbolism about the handover. ... We did shoot a lot of real things that were happening during the handover, but this is a complicated love story. It's about the heart of the place."*' The argument for apolitical art is, of course, fallacious, though Wang's denial of the allegory is still subject to debate. However, what I find intriguing is his formulation of the film as a treatise on "the heart of the place." Wang has suggested in yet another interview that "the movie is about the city of Hong Kong more than about a character and a story." Stephen Holden of the New York Times confirms this by positing that "the film is essentially a poetic meditation on the meaning of Hong Kong. The characters' ambiguous personal histories are metaphors for the city, which in turn becomes a metaphor for the elusiveness of historical truth itself""^ Chinese Box, therefore, becomes an ontological/epistemic excavation of Hong Kong through the techniques of cinematographic visuality.

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94 The study of the cinematic gaze and its structuring of the subject'object relation is of great theoretical importance to the critique of cinematic Orientalist discourses.'*'* The issue is one of power relations, where the cinematographer, in controlling the roving eye of the camera, also controls the framing of the object. Hence, film as an ethnography of the East allows the filmmaker to stage the object of study in Orientalizing poses, all in the attempt to "know" more about it. Cinematic visuality, hence, becomes "the law of knowledge and the universal form of epistemological coercion."*^ However, Rey Chow warns us against the danger of situating this problematic solely in terms of an EastWest schema where only the West retains the power of gazing upon the East. She instead argues that the East is as capable of self-Orientalism through cinematic autoethnography''^ when "'the East,' too, is a spectator who is equally caught up in the dialectic of seeing."'*' The kind of self-Orientalizing primitivism that Chow pinpoints appears especially in Chinese films that are particularly popular in the West, which suggests that many of these filmmakers may be catering to the Westerner's gaze.'** In the case of the Chinese Box, whose and what kind of gaze has Wang adopted in order to "understand" Hong Kong, to "know" the meaning of the city of his birth? Is the film complicitous in perpetuating the colonialist mode of visual penetration? To answer these questions, one should first turn to Wang's use of a double gaze, where John Spencer's videotaping of the "real" Hong Kong, at certain moments, overiaps and telescopes into Wang's own framing of the movie, the two gazes becoming one. What then is John's vision of Hong Kong, and does it represent Wang's own quest to know Hong Kong in order that he might eventually come to understand himself?

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95 The motivation for John's sudden desire to capture Hong Kong on film springs from personal crisis. His spiritual poverty, after years of writing about the material aspects of the city as a financial reporter, dawns upon him when he is faced with his own mortality. He then turns to Hong Kong in the belief that by understanding the city and its inhabitants, he can arrive at a better understanding of himself and his own existence. Together with Jim, his photographer friend (Reuben Blades), John scours the dirtiest and sleaziest parts of the Hong Kong streets in the hope that by capturing the darker aspects of the city he can also capture its essence.'*^ As John puts it, "So much of Hong Kong exists beneath the surface." What results is a video montage in muted colors (images spliced in a jump-cut MTV style with a pulsating Canto-pop soundtrack which Wang adds for further effect) featuring disparate but often disturbing glimpses of the city's seamier underbelly, for instance prostitutes peddling their trade, workers in sweatshops, gamblers at the mahjong table shouting vulgarities, the abusive training of a scravmy fighting dog, butchers at work slaughtering various animals, and a special close-up of a freshly cut-up fish whose heart is seen beating its last (an image that is of particular significance to John as a signifier for Britain's and his own dying moments in Hong Kong). John's videotaping exercise is essentially an Orientalist mode of staging the Other as a route to self-definition. As Edward Said argued almost two decades ago, the Orient is not only discursively constructed so as to justify Western domination of it; it is also formulated to help "define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience."^" John chooses the dark, sensual side of Hong Kong, just as Joseph Conrad chooses the primeval in the Congo, as a journey into his heart of darkness.

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96 The epistemic violence here involves not only a colonialist visual penetration but also a fixing (or more interestingly, fixating) on film a stereotypical image of Hong Kong in all its negativity, a visuality that unfortunately hides the lines of imperialist and capitalist exploitation that these images only hint at. Hong Kong, therefore, has been reduced to a tool to help one European man attain moral redemption.^' John's videotaping quest finally leads him to Jean (Maggie Cheung), a quirky individual with an unusual scar on her face who spends her time peddling strange wares such as bottled "colonial" air of Hong Kong. Jean becomes for John the elusive signifier, an embodiment of Hong Kong that escapes his ability to comprehend. In his fixation on wanting to get "her story," John insists on interviewing her, which she finally agrees only if she gets to frame her own interview (without questions from John) and to wield the video camera herself (a moment of agency?). She then proceeds to recount her life story on tape, a sordid, titillating tale of sexual abuse and castration, a tale that she knows her male audience would want to hear (a moment of self-Orientalism?). But she leaves out the crux of the interview: "What about the scar and how I got it," she asks in a stoic yet teasing fashion. "This is what I have to say about it. Nothing." The visual epistemic penetration of the camera interview ends in coitus interruptus, an anti-climax emblematized by Jim's question to John, "Did you fiick her?" John's desire to know about Jean is fiiistrated on a number of levels: she not only fails to reveal the source of the scar, but she is obviously telling a fabricated story of herself, which John is painfully aware of Furthermore, when confronted vsdth a newspaper cutting of her suicide attempt, Jean finally reveals how she was jilted by her British boyfiiend and how she tried to end her life. John then arranges a meeting between Jean and her ex-boyfriend William, which

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97 ends with the guy walking out on her again and a sobbing Jean rushing out of a stationary bus she and John are in, leaving John with the cryptic and ambiguous "That wasn't William." Jean, therefore, remains as enigmatic and inscrutable as ever to John, for her parting words basically throw into question again the veracity of her story. One more point about the agency of visuality that needs to be made is how Wang (to his credit) allows the power of visuality to reverse itself momentarily as a way of destabilizing the possibility of ever knowing Hong Kong completely through the cinematic gaze. This reversal ultimately reflects his own realization of the hybrid cultural space that Hong Kong occupies that defies culturalist definitions. It also undermines his own attempt at self-knowledge through a search for the "real" Hong Kong. He accomplishes this by allowing the reins of visual power to pass fi'om John to Jean as she videotapes herself in close-ups. As Gilles Deleuze explains, the facial close-up is an "affective-image" that invites the viewer to ask questions: "what are you thinking about? Or, what is bothering you, what is the matter, what do you sense or feel?"*^ What we get in Jean instead is an impassive countenance that problematizes reading. To further complicate matters is the way she wields the camera in a fashion that impressionistically ruptures the visual framing: the face is rotated one hundred and eighty degrees, the image is often tilted at odd angles, and one gets half-faced shots of Jean. This rupturing of the frame and the destabilizing of images, hence, resist the violence of cinematic visuality's staging of its object as a mode of domination through seeing and knowing. The camera also returns to haunt John in two scenes. The first is where Jim projects the image of Jean onto John as he leans against the wall. Jean's projected face neatly overlaps John's, forming a single entity. The second is when John finally lies

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98 down at the pier to die: the video camera rests on his heaving chest and produces an image of him closing his eyes and slowly slipping away. These two instances provide symbolic moments that demonstrate how the goals of both John's and Wang's visual/cinematic quest ultimately lie in the inward search for a resolution to the moral emptiness (John's) and the cultural contradictions (Wang's) that plague their respective souls. To conclude my analysis and critique of the film, I must first credit Wang for his willingness to question the interrogatory power of film by allowing Hong Kong to continually slip from his grasp despite his attempts at immobilizing it within the cinematic fi-ame. By conceptualizing it as a "Chinese box," which "[Ijike one of those Russian dolls [that] can open layer after layer, but you still never know what's going to be inside,"^^ Wang may have incidentally succeeded in expressing the liminality that the Hong Kong people and culture have been relegated to in the scheme of Sino-British relations. On the other hand, Wang's staging of Hong Kong in his technique of visuality requires critique. If John's visual quest aligns with Wang's, is Wang then guilty of deploying an Orientalizing visuality to negotiate his own cultural difficulties? Maggie Cheung, the well-known Hong Kong actress who plays Jean in the movie, offers a rather ironic extra-textual gloss (especially in light of Jean's radical place within the film) on Wang's vision of Hong Kong: "Wang's point of view of Hong Kong kind of stayed in the 70's, or whenever he left I can't say it's not accurate, but for a local Hong Kong person, it's not really the life."^'* Though Cheung is referring to Wang's inappropriate use of a particular setting for the film, her point can be applied in a general sense to his vision of the place as a form of cultural atavism or nostalgia. Wang's Hong Kong,

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99 therefore, is a staged or constructed imaginary homeland, to borrow Rushdie's terminology, that arises from his own remembrance and (mis)understanding of it. According to his vision, it is a city that cannot be pinned down culturally, symbolizing Wang's own struggle to come to terms with Hong Kong and its contradictions. Unfortunately, this vision can also serve to reinforce the cultural stereotypes of Hong Kong's "inscrutability" and to shift attention away from the very material culture and life of the Hong Kong people, which British imperialism and Chinese culturalism want the world to reject and forget. As John sadly muses, "I used to write about Hong Kong's future as if it had a definite direction and predictable outcome. But everything about this city is always changing; maybe I wasn't meant to figure you out." The figure of Hong Kong as the pragmatic shape-shifter, which can adapt itself to any political condition, is a logic that eliminates the political and cultural voice of the Hong Kong people, rendering it as inconsequential and dispensable— in other words, "Don't worry about them as they return to Chinese rule; they will survive through change and adaptation." Finally, Wang's use of Hong Kong as an instrument to negotiate the tensions between East and West in his cultural identity crisis simply veers too close to being a replication of, firstly, the West's use of the Oriental Other as a means of self-definition (especially in light of Wang's deployment of John's videotaping quest in the film's narrative); and secondly, of Chris Patten's formulation of Hong Kong as a bridge between the West and China. The danger once more lies in Hong Kong's instrumentality, which has already led to the city's "disappearance" between the gaps of Sino-British relations and, as a consequence. Hong Kong's forfeiture of its right to a cultural and political existence.

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100 Notes Marilyn Chin, "Tienanmen, the Aftermath," The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1994), 88. Subsequent references to poetry from this collection will be parenthetically documented. ^ Rey Chow, "King Kong in Hong Kong: Watching the 'Handover' from the U.S.A.," Social Text 16, no.2 (1998): 94. Ibid., 97. The British allowed the Opium drug trade to flourish as a means of shifting the trade imbalance to their favor, at the expense of Chinese lives. Consequently, "gunboat diplomacy" was deployed to strong-arm the Ch'ing government into the treaties of Nanjing and Tianjin after the wars. For a summary of the events leading to the colonization of Hong Kong and its territories, see John Flowerdew, The Final Years of British Hong Kong: The Discourse of Colonial Withdrawal (London: Macmillan P, 1998), 3-15. One can turn to Frank Welsh, A Borrowed Place: The History of Hong Kong (New York: Kodansha International, 1993), for a detailed and colorftil historical account, despite its verbosity and pro-British slant. ^ Chow, "King Kong," 100. ^ The fact of democracy's contradictions and ambiguities in light of British colonialism and China's recent turn to a capitalist economism is the concluding point that Chow makes: "Despite its moralistic overtones, the new narrative of global capital— the narrative that, to all appearances, wants to defend Hong Kong's democratic present against the encroachment of an absolutist China— is really interested only in the trajectory of Hong Kong's continual monetary growth, itself always said to be the result of British colonialism With the emergence of global capital, the older narratives of British colonialism, U.S. imperialism, and Chinese nationalism no longer suffice to account for what is operating as a fluid, transnational, collaborationist structure of financial interests that, despite the ideological divergences of the parties involved, have as their mutually self-serving goal the prosperity and stability of the 'Pearl of the Orient.' In all likelihood, the struggle for democracy will always remain subordinated to this new fluid global structure" ("King Kong," 103-5). ^ Rey Chow, "Between Colonizers: Hong Kong's Postcolonial SelfWriting in the 1990s," Ethics after Idealism: Theory-Culture-Ethnicity-Reading (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1998), 151. Chow uses the notion of "double impossibility" to describe Hong Kong's postcolonial situation where it is "as impossible to submit to Chinese nationalist/nativist repossession as it has been impossible to submit to British colonialism." I am aware that by using the categories "Hong Kong American" and "the Hong Kong people" in a context of engaging a Chinese cultural politics, I may be inadvertently and unmtentionally homogenizing them as solely Chinese ethnic formations and, hence.

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101 ignoring the minority elements within them, for instance, Filipinos, Indians, and various European groups. Ackbar Abbas, Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997), 4. ^ Rey Chow, "Things, Common/Places, Passages of the Port City: On Hong Kong and Hong Kong author Leung Ping-kwan," Ethics after Idealism, 176. In addressing the materialism in Hong Kong, Chow criticizes the tendency of many scholars (including Abbas) to "lament and disapprove of Hong Kong's mercenary degeneracy" (176) despite the argument that "Hong Kong thrives economically only because it is lacking in political autonomy and self-determination" (170). This is the title of Frank Welsh's book on the history of Hong Kong. See note 3 above. Abbas, Hong Kong, 6. Quoted in Jeremy Tambling, "The History Man: The Last Governor of Hong Kong," Public Culture 9 (1997): 370. Ibid., 371 Tambling makes a similar point in his reading of Patten's metaphor of Hong Kong as bridge: "[T]he speech ... is conferring an identity upon Hong Kong by complimenting Hong Kong on being a bridge or a passage to China. Talking this way makes the place exist only instrumentally, as a means to open up Asia — and specifically China— just as the instrumental nature of Hong Kong in relation to Britain speaks also in the colonial power's attitude towards passports for Hong Kong people, whether in denying them or even in thinking that to issue them and suggest that people leave Hong Kong in a new diaspora could be a realistic solution taking into account people's actual wishes [T]he speech fails to allow that there might be a Hong Kong culture outside these terms which are so unselfconsciously using the territory as the image of a place to reconcile two essentialised opponents, reified as a unitary West and East. To acknowledge a Hong Kong cuUure would complicate that neocolonial dream." See Flowerdew, The Final Years of British Hong Kong, 32-52. Abbas, //og/:ong, 23. Ibid., 7-8. Ibid., 6. Ibid., 8. Ackbar Abbas, "Hong Kong: Other Histories, Other Politics," Public Culture 9 (1997):

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102 20 See note 1 for bibliographical information. Chin's first collection of poetry is Dwarf Bamboo (Greenfield Center, NY: Greenfield Review P, 1987). 2 1 Owing to the confines of my thesis, which focuses on "crisis," 1 am unable to explore at length Chin's use of the sexual/love relationship trope to critique its deployment in U.S. Orientalist discourses on Asian Americans. In the poem "A Portrait of the Self as Nation, 1990-1991" (taken from the same volume), which is reminiscent of David Heruy Hwang's M Butterfly, Chin complicates her own "complicitous" place in the United States, especially as she negotiates the contradictions of cultural and national identity formation in the face of U.S. imperialism and cultural hegemony. An analysis of this poem deserves a separate essay. For an inside look at the students and intellectuals involved in the Tiananmen movement, see the documentary The Gate of Heavenly Peace, prod, and dir. Richard Gordon and Carma Hinton, 87 min. and 56 min., NAATA/CrossCurrent Media, two videocassettes. 23 Recently, 1 witnessed a scene in a Chinese restaurant here in Gainesville, Florida, where an old white lady adopted a rather patronizing tone towards her Chinese server by confronting the poor young woman about Tiananmen and by instructing her, in a characteristically loud voice (as if by speaking thus her listener could understand English better), about the benefits of the democratic system in the U.S. What I find offensive is the attitude of superiority the old lady adopted in her attempt to "civilize" politically a young Chinese woman. See the groundbreaking work of George L. Mosse, Nationalism and Sexuality: Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe (New York: Howard Fertig, 1985). Another significant collection of essays is Andrew Parker, Mary Russo, Doris Sommer, and Patricia Yaeger, eds.. Nationalisms and Sexual ities (New YorkRoutledge 1992). Mosse, Nationalism and Sexuality, 17. 26 Andrew Parker et al., introduction to Nationalisms and Sexual ities, 6. R. Radhakrishnan, "Nationalism, Gender, and the Narrative of Identity," Diasporic Mediation: Between Home and Location (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996), 192-93. This essay appeared earlier in Andrew Parker et al.. Nationalisms and Sexual ities, 77-95. 28 Lydia Liu, "The Female Body and Nationalist Discourse: The Field of Life and Death Revisited," Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices, Eds. Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1994), 43-44. What I have dealt with here is only one aspect of the shifting imagery and ideology of Nation-asWoman as it relates to China. For a more extensive discussion of the

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103 complexity of this image in the historical and political discourses in China, see Tani Barlow, "Theorizing Woman: Fmu, Guojia, Mating (Chinese Women, Chinese State, Chinese Family)," which is also available in the above-mentioned collection. 29 Annette Kolodny, The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1975). Kolodny studies how in U.S. literary and historical discourses the land has been conceptualized as Woman. What is of special interest here is the way she uncovers the contradictions of this imagery where the land as virgin also entails violation and conquest. One has in mind, for instance, the colonization of Native American territories and cultures, the ruthless annexation of the northern parts of Mexico, and the destruction of ecosystems as America is extended from sea to shining sea. 30 A chipao is a form of traditional Chinese dress for women. This traditionalism that Chin plays on is a significant foundational element in China's Nation-asWoman nationalist rhetoric. Sexual assault as the metaphor for China's victimization of its ethnic minorities is also invoked in director Joan Chen's recent film Xiu Xiu, The Sent Down Girl. "Chinese Epic about Hong Kong Premieres in Beijing," 97 News File [online], 9 June 1997, available at www.hkl997.china.com. 33 Chinese Box, prod, and dir. Wayne Wang, lOOmin., Trimark Pictures, 1998, videocassette. Quoted in Scarlet Cheng, "The Homecoming," Far Eastern Economic Review, 15 May 1997, 67. 35 bell hooks, "The Cultural Mix: An Interview with Wayne Wang," Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies (New York: Routledge, 1996), 126-27. Quoted in Kristin Hohenadel, "A Human Face for Hong Kong's Identity Crisis," The New York Times, 19 April 1998, 38. James Stemgold, "Wang's World in a Love Story," The New York Times, 9 January 1998, B7. Wena Poon, review of Chinese Box, by Wayne Wang, Film Quarterly 31, no. 1 (1998)34. Chow, "King Kong," 100. Quoted in Cheng, "The Homecoming," 68.

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104 Quoted in Steragold, "Wang's World." Quoted in Hohenadel, "A Human Face," 38. Stephen Holden, "A Meditation on the Meaning of Hong Kong," The New York Times, 17 April 1998, B 18. "'^ The question of visuality is of special significance in Rey Chow's work. She engages the notion of a colonialist cinematic gaze in her critique of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor in "Seeing Modem China: Toward a Theory of Ethnic Spectatorship," Woman and Chinese Modernity: The Politics of Reading between West and East (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1991), 3-33. The self-Orientalizing mechanism of autoethnography in contemporary Chinese cinema Chow explores next in Primitive Passions: Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography, and Contemporary Chinese Cinema (New York: Columbia UP, 1995). Chow, Primitive Passions, 10. This is a term that Chow borrows from Mary Louis Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (New York: Routledge, 1992). Chow, Primitive Passions, 12-13. Ibid., 38. Scarlet Cheng observes that this film offers Wang a means of "showing some of the dark side of Hong Kong life." Cheng, "The Homecoming," 68. Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1978), 1-2. ^' Chinua Achebe, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness," Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays 1965-1987 {London: Heinemann, 1988), 1-20. In discussing the role of Afiica in Conrad's novella, Achebe asks, "Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind?" (12). 52 Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986), 88. Quoted in Seth Faison, "Hong Kong Plays the Role of a Drama-Filled City," The New York Times, 1 July 1997, CI 2. Quoted in Hohenadel, "A Human Face," 38.

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CHAPTER 4 THE POLITICS OF POSTCOLONIAL HYBRIDITY: THE MEMOIR OF SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN LIM "The Native Daughter Made Good"* The literary and critical work of Malaysian-Chinese American Shirley Geok-lin Lim has firmly established her as a prominent and significant figure in the burgeoning fields of postcolonial literature and Asian American studies. By making her mark first as a poet and fiction writer whose imaginary vistas have transported readers from colonial and postcolonial Singapore and Malaysia to the immigrant world of Asian America,^ Shirley Lim has garnered numerous awards including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (1980)— having the distinction of being the first Asian and woman to win the award— and the American Book Award (1990). As an Asian American scholar, she has not only situated herself in the middle of the critical dialogue on Asian American issues through the publication of her theoretical essays,^ but has also championed specifically the writings of Asian American women.'* It is with admiration and encouragement that I look upon Shirley Lim and her work, not just that she represents a happy "success" story of a fellow Southeast Asian who has finally "made good" professionally in the United States, where an oppressive climate of racial prejudice and cultural alienation has claimed many nonwhite migrant casualties; but also that her fiction and poetry have a special resonance for me. One critic likens the reading of Lim's recent memoir to "a journey of shocking recognitions,"^ 105

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106 which in my case is mediated through moments of ethnic, national, cultural, social, and critical identification. Firstly, the cultural and physical geography of Lim's fictional and autobiographical writings is familiar territory, as I myself straddle the national spaces of both Malaysia and Singapore through the family ties that I have in these two neighboring countries. Secondly, like Lim, I also lay claim, though to a lesser degree, to a Nyonya heritage — my paternal grandmother being part Nyonya and part Teochew.^ Hence, Lim's depiction of the plight suffered by these Straits-bom Chinese, whose racial hybridity (Nyonya being a result of Chinese and Malay miscegenation) has situated them in the direct line of fire of both Chinese chauvinism and Malay racial politics, is a reality that I have witnessed firsthand. More specifically on the cultural politics front, Lim's work has often engaged the problematics of hybridity and diasporic discourses in ways that accentuate the oppositional and critical potentialities of these discourses. She critiques both assimilationist rhetoric and traditionalist culturalism, a double-edged emphasis that is crucial to my project on "peripheral" Chinese Americans thus far. As in the critical cosmopolitanism of LiYoung Lee (Chapter Two) and the liminal presence of Hong Kong Americans (Chapter Three), the hybrid subjectivities in Lim's fictional and autobiographical writings, at certain moments, exemplify Lisa Lowe's reformulation of postcolonial hybridity. Lowe argues that a critical notion of Asian American hybridity "does not suggest the assimilation of Asian or immigrant practices to dominant forms but instead marks the history of survival within relationships of unequal power and domination."^ Such an understanding of hybridity Lowe uses to challenge Orientalist conceptualizations of Asian Americans, and to "reftise static or binary conceptions of

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107 culture" as is evident in the coercive rhetoric of both "nativism and assimilation."* Yet, on the other hand, one is painfully cognizant of the fact that the critical possibilities of hybridity can often be overwhelmed and co-opted by the term's easy fit into the project of liberal muhiculturalism, hence making transparent those very unequal power relations and class distinctions it is suppose to interrogate. Unfortunately, it is within the same critical spaces of hybridity and diaspora, which Lim privileges in her writing, that 1 find the aforementioned hidden danger. Reading Lim's recently published memoiT Among the White Moonfaces, therefore, has been for me a contradictory experience marked by both pleasurable moments of cultural and critical identification, and a general uneasiness fostered by Lim's problematic mobilization of hybridity and diaspora in the construction of her life narrative. What I hope to accomplish here is to produce a hermeneutics of ambivalence: a reading of Lim's memoir that will not just seek to celebrate the oppositional potential of the hybridity and diaspora discourses (though I will, to be fair to Lim, point out certain junctures in her text that reflect this, as the occasion permits), but will also present a critique of how these discourses serve to fuel and boost the careers of postcolonial academic intellectuals of which Lim's is a prime example. In the next section of this chapter, I -mW briefly examine some of the major critiques of postcolonial hybridity, which I believe will create an interpretive reference point for one to analyze Lim's construction of her memoir and the preeminent role hybridity plays as a force in propelling the memoir's narrative towards its inevitable conclusion.

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108 Critiques of Postcoloniai Hybridity Hybridity and diaspora, both crucial tropes in the study of postcoloniai theory, are closely interconnected terms; though how they actually relate to each other is subject to debate. For the purposes of argument, one could risk an oversimphfication of the link between these terms by reducing it to a cause-and-effect relationship. Then again, which is the cause and which is the effect? For diaspora will inevitably produce some form of cultural hybridity, while one's sense of hybrid difference may help trigger diasporic displacement. Whichever is the case, my goal here is not to belabor this distinction but to emphasize the theoretical importance of hybridity as a site of contestation as it interacts with the concept of diaspora. What also becomes clear in a diasporic world that is rapidly being transformed and controlled by transnational capital is hybridity' s smooth adaptation into capital's hegemonic deployment of multiculturalism.^ This critique of hybridity is one of Aijaz Ahmad's key arguments as he addresses the rise of postcoloniai theory within the academy in the West. In his attempt to problematize the privileging of migrancy as the "ontological condition of all human beings"'" that the Third World intellectual who lives in the First World is more conscious of, Ahmad turns to the writings of Salman Rushdie who depicts the migrant as a deterritorialized individual who has "floated upwards from history."" Rushdie reformulates this historical deterritorialization from what Ahmad calls the "myth of ontological unbelongingness" to create a "larger myth of excess of belongings." In other words, it is "not that he [the migrant] belongs nowhere, but that he belongs to too many places." This reterritorialization — ^the migrant now occupying multiple national/cultural spaces — is a contradictory twist of logic in that Rushdie wants to

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109 idealize the ungrounded interstitial hybridity of migrancy and, at the same time, cling to the intellectual/political advantage of being grounded in inter-cultural access and immediacy. Occupying both these theoretical spaces profits the Third World intellectual who resides in the First World. This is because hybridity hints of a marginalized subjectivity that supposedly marks one as having faced oppression; while "in occupying a multiplicity of subject positions and an excess of belonging the Third World migrant intellectual/writer has "the ability to see at once from inside and out" which, according to Rushdie, "is a good thing, a piece of good fortune which the indigenous writer cannot enjoy."'" In thus formulating migrant subjectivity, Rushdie privileges the migrant perspective at the expense of the "indigenous" and claims for himself (and other Third World migrant intellectuals) the enlightened voice of authority to speak on behalf of his culture. Or, as Ahmad so cogently puts it, "the figure of the migrant, especially the migrant (postcolonial) intellectual residing in the metropolis, comes to signify a universal condition of hybridity and is said to be the Subject of a Truth that individuals living within their national culture do not possess."'^ The interplay between hybridity and diaspora that one sees in Rushdie is basically the argument that Homi K. Bhabha makes in his theory of hybrid in-betweenness. Bhabha similarly idealizes cultural hybridity as the postcolonial subjectivity that is situated in the "interstitial passage between fixed identifications" and as that which "entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy."'^ This trope of interstitiality allows Bhabha to posit the notion of the "unhomely" as the "paradigmatic colonial and post-colonial condition,"'^ articulated through modernist and postmodernist "discourses of displacement": travel, exile, migration, and diaspora.'^ By foregrounding

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110 "unhomeliness" as the paradigm for the great expanse of historical time one calls "colonial" and "post-colonial," Bhabha has given diasporic consciousness the ontological primacy to be the truly postcolonial perspective. His notions of hybridity, inbetweeimess, and the "unhomely" ultimately feed into a kind of intercultural utopianism, an idealized cosmopolitanism that, for Bhabha, evades the hierarchy that has so plagued colonial and postcolonial cultural power relations: For a willingness to descend into that alien territory where I had led you may reveal that the theoretical recognition of the split-space of enunciation may open the way to conceptualizing an //emational culture, based not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture's hybridity. To that end we should remember that it is the "inter" the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the in-between space that carries the burden of the meaning of culture. It makes it possible to begin envisaging national, antinational histories of the "people." And by exploring this Third Space, we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves.'^ I am not adverse to embracing a critical cosmopolitics (see Chapter Two), for it is after all one of the goals of any radical politics; nor am I closed to hybridity' s oppositional possibilities, especially as a means of critiquing cultural traditionalism and essentialism, a point I have indicated earlier. My discomfort with Bhabha' s formulation of the hybrid Third Space, however, stems from the way he inadvertently pulls the political rug from under the notion of hybridity in his eagerness to circumvent "the politics of polarity," hence denying it the opportunity of engaging a politics of resistance and oppositionality. In trying to rescue it from political irrelevance within the cesspool of multiculturalist and diversity discourses, Bhabha has instead accomplished what he set out to avoid in the first place, which is to blunt hybridity' s political edge to critique, for instance, class hierarchies that often remain transparent in the postcolonial discourses on race and diaspora.

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Ill This issue of power differentials underlies the main critiques of Bhabha's theories. Ella Shohat, for instance, warns us that a "celebration of syncretism and hybridity per se, if not articulated in conjunction with questions of hegemony and neocolonial power relations, runs the risk of appearing to sanctify the fait accompli of colonial violence."^^ It is this danger of complicity that leads Aijaz Ahmad to expose the hegemonic links between hybridity discourses in literary postcoloniality and the imperialist impulses of transnational capitalist strategies. What Ahmad has difficulty accepting is "how the celebration of a postcolonial, transnational, electronically produced hybridity is to be squared with [the] systematic decay of countries and continents, and with decreasing chances for substantial portions of the global population to obtain 2 1 conditions of survival, let alone electronic literacy and gadgetry." This disparity in power and class relations is compoimded by the kind of hybridity that postcolonial theory popularizes. As Arif Dirlik accurately observes, "[t]he hybridity to which postcolonial criticism refers is uniformly between the postcolonial and the First World, never between one postcolonial intellectual and another. "^^ Ahmad, in pursuing a similar line of critique, further situates postcolonial hybridity within the complexities of class and neo-colonial power relations in order to unearth the inequalities that this form of hybridity conceals: The entire logic of the kind of cultural "hybridity" that Bhabha celebrates presumes the intermingling of Europe and non-Europe in a context already determined by advance capital, in the aftermath of colonialism. In this account, non-Europeans hardly ever encounter each other and never without a prior European modulation of the very field of that encounter. Nor do these celebrations of hybridity foreground the unequal relations of cultural power today; rather, intercultural hybridity is presented as a transaction of displaced equals which somehow transcends the profound inequalities engendered by colonialism itself Into whose culture is one to be hybridised and on whose terms? The wilful relegation of this question

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112 to obscurity reveals nevertheless that the underlying logic of this celebratory mode is that of the limitless freedom of a globalised marketplace which pretends that all consumers are equally resourceful and in which all cuhures are equally available for consumption, in any combination that the consumer desires.^^ Ahmad' s maneuver here is needful in the way it reverses the de-historicization of hybridity that one sees in Rushdie and Bhabha, and re-contextualizes it within the history of colonialism and late capitalism. In drawing out these connections and, hence, implicating hybridity in the perpetuation of EuroAmerican racial dominance and of capital's global hegemony, Ahmad demonstrates that this mode of analytical critique is the first step towards reclaiming the term in order that one can re-calibrate it for deployment in a radical politics. Part of that step in one's encounter with postcolonal hybridity is to ask the sorts of questions that will help reveal and problematize the motivations, the alliances, the power relations, and the hierarchies that support or are being supported by the discourses of hybridity; questions such as, "who is mobilizing what in the articulation of the past, deploying what identities, identifications, and in the name of what political vision and goals?"^"* This process of contextualizing hybridity, hence, will inform my analysis and criticism of Shirley Lim's representations of her hybrid subjectivity in her memoir, and how these representations can ultimately be problematic in that they reinforce instead of dismantling certain power and class hierarchies. A "Fugitive Presence" Determined The setting is the 1989 Modem Language Association convention in New York City. Shirley Geok-lin Lim, who has just accepted a position to teach at the University of California in Santa Barbara, runs into Florence Howe, whose admiration for Lim's work

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113 prompted the following declaration: "I want you to write a memoir. "^^ What ensued in that same conversation is equally if not more intriguing; in expressing how happy she is for Lim, Howe articulates her interpretation of Lim's recent good fortune: "When I heard you were moving from a community college to a university, I thought, at last, you were being recognized. And I felt others were being recognized with you" (320). Though she is aware that Howe's "outspoken support" is "mediated through class and institutional grids," Lim still feels "moved" by the kind of feminist and minority camaraderie reflected in her comment. This particular incident extracted from Lim's aforementioned memoir Among the White Moonfaces is fascinating; for in a self-referential way, it subconsciously points (via Howe's comments) to a possible purpose to Lim's writing of her memoir, which is to tell a rags-to-riches story of one woman's rise from her humble Malacca beginnings to that of a prominent intellectual and scholar, who now takes her "rightful" place in a prestigious university in the U.S.^^ In a sense, tiiis is the classic Horatio Alger's narrative retold through the problematics of diaspora, race, hybridity, and intellectual and institutional hierarchies. Though Lim is very careful to confront and negotiate the contradictions in her story, one senses that the cultural and political critiques scattered throughout her narrative are eventually overwhelmed by the master narrative of the American Dream, a myth that Lim herself seems, ironically, to be critical of Lim's foregrounding of her own cultural hybridity, which is intended as a weapon against U.S. assimilationist rhetoric and racist discourses, also unfortunately produces an autobiographical narrative that reifies the very cultural logic it seeks to subvert. As an immigrant story. Among the White Moonfaces recounts the difficulties and pains of displacement, culture shock, alienation, and rejection that a diasporic person

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114 suffers. But more than that, it also depicts a journey of cultural, intellectual, and sexual awakenings and discoveries; a journey where the demarcations of self and community are alternately defined and blurred, and where national and cultural identities are constantly contested and negotiated not only in postcolonial Malaysia but also in the United States — a struggle that continues even after Lim, having endured years of cultural identity crisis, has finally and with much difficulty chosen to surrender her Malaysian citizenship in order to become a U.S. citizen. This journey is also Lim's paradoxical search for "home" despite her knowing that "unhomeliness," to follow Bhabha's formulation, will always be her ontological state of consciousness as a diasporic person and a cultural hybrid. On the other hand, this deterritorialized state is not unproductive in Lim's estimation, as it has helped to spur her growth as a poet, an author, and a scholar; an explanation that is reminiscent of how modernist discourses on exile and alienation have accounted for the creative geniuses of James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Joseph Conrad, and Henry James. These various threads of self-discovery and cultural identification eventually twine around the central tropes of postcolonial hybridity and diasporic displacement. In a sense, hybridity and diaspora not only determine Lim's choice of material in the construction of her memoir, but they also provide the propulsive force that in a deterministic fashion drives the linearity of Lim's narrative, hence producing the sort of conclusion that, in light of the factors involved, would be deemed "inevitable." It is this "inevitability" and its relation to power that I hope to interrogate. In the subtitle of her memoir, Lim calls herself a "Nyonya feminist. "^^ The Nyonya people, or the Peranakans, who are also known as the Straits-bom Chinese, can often trace their ancestry to interracial marriages between fifteenth-century Chinese

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115 merchants and the Malays of the Malacca Sultanate.^^ As Malay-Chinese hybrids, the Peranakans occupy that "impure" cultural space of in-betweenness, thereby often resulting in their marginalization within or exclusion from both Malay and Chinese societies. Although her father is Hokkien,^^ Lim was brought up by her mother to speak Malay, the language of the Peranakans, and to live according to Peranakan cultural traditions. Therefore, it is understandable that Lim would identify more readily with her mother's cultural heritage and racial hybridity. However, Lim's emphasis on the Nyonya aspects of her background at the begirming of her memoir is also politically strategic in that her hybridity offers her the perfect position from which to launch a two-pronged cultural critique. Firstly, it permits Lim to question Chinese centrism and chauvinism: "Chinese-speaking Malayans called me a ^ Kelangkia-kwef — or a Malay devil^'^ — because I could not or would not speak Hokkien" (28); they were "hostile to peranakans, whom they looked down on as degraded people, people who had lost their identity when they stopped speaking Chinese" (70). Secondly, Nyonya hybridity also enables Lim to challenge Malay discrimination against the Chinese in post-independence Malaysia: More and more, the term "Malay" appeared where "British" once stood. The "Malaysian," that new promise of citizenship composed of the best traditions from among Malays, Chinese, Tamils, Eurasians, Dayaks, and so forth, seemed more and more to be a vacuous political fiction, a public relations performance. One group's empowerment appeared to lead to another's oppression. As a thoroughly English-educated mind, emptied of Chinese racialized sentiments, I was a mold into which the idealism of a progressive multiracial identity could be poured. Chinese chauvinism offended me as much as other racisms, for, although of Chinese descent, I was usually treated by Malayan Chinese speakers as foreign, alien, and worse, decadent, an unspeakable because unspeaking, degenerate descendent of pathetic forebears. But Malay chauvinism was no better. (188-89)^'

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116 This twin critique of Chinese and Malay chauvinism is a significant intervention in the context of Malaysian race relations. However, Lim's deployment of hybridity does not end here. What I believe she taps into and draws out of Nyonya hybridity is its biological determinism, which inevitably marks her from the beginning as a person with multiple cultural identities, having what Rushdie calls "an excess of belonging"; and it also inscribes her as a socially excluded and displaced individual. When Lim takes these implications of Nyonya hybridity and uses them to frame her memoir, what she has accomplished is to infuse the rest of her narrative with that determinism, hence accentuating the extent of her oppression in both Malaysia and the U.S, through the cry of "I do not have a choice but to ."^^ This deterministic logic has allowed Lim to continue to construe herself as having "remained a renegade," "a fugitive presence which has not yet fossilized" (25), despite the fact that she has made a life for herself in the upper-middle class stratum of U.S. society and has landed a tenured professor position at a prestigious university. It is essential at this point to qualify the assertions 1 have just made before expanding my arguments further. My critique of Lim's narrative thus far does not suggest my buying into the reactionary argument on responsibility and choice, a rhetoric that questions the existence of social, racial, sexual, and class oppressions, and that deemphasizes progressive social and governmental policies by reifying solely the efficacy of personal choice and responsibility in the changing of one's lot in life. (This issue is complex and the answer probably lies somewhere in between social change and personal choice.) My critique also does not mean that I am denying the reality of Lim's experience— the oppressions perpetrated by the British colonizers in Malaysia, the neo-

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117 colonialism of the British education system in the Commonwealth, the racial chauvinism and violence of both Malay and Chinese ethnocentrism, the racism and discrimination suffered by immigrants as they enter the U.S. all rightly deserve the kind of critique that Lim has engaged in in her memoir.^^ The difficulty I have with Lim's arguments lies in the way she constructs a formulaic migrant narrative that highlights moments in her life which reinforce the determinism in the trope of hybridity. This form of narrative construction, as a result, foregrounds the oppression but masks the privileges that hybridity brings to the Third World intellectual in the First World academy. Lim is conscious of her own class position, but unfortunately resorts to a token acknowledgment of it before circumventing the issue, hence permitting her narrative to become another retelling of the American Dream, though peppered, in contradiction, by moments of politically progressive critique. The three points of contact I would now like to make with Lim's text are that of parental "mutilation," a racialized sexuality, and the notion of returning "home." An examination of these themes will expose the means with which Lim extends the problematics of Peranakan hybridity into other areas of her life experience in order to construct a narrative of inevitability. Lim begins her memoir with an ontological lamentation of her excess of belonging: "Too many names, too many identities, too many languages" (20). The fact that she has too many names — not only Shirley, Geok-lin, and Lim, but also Agnes and Jennifer— is symptomatic of the competing and contradictory forces of Chinese culture, British colonialism, American cultural imperialism through Hollywood, and Roman Catholicism at work in the molding of Lim's childhood. But just as the onomastic shifts

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118 signify the cultural violence and fragmentation these forces have wreaked upon Lim's life, they also implicate the role Lim's parents have played in conjunction with these forces to irrevocably mark her as a "renegade." As Lim reveals in the opening chapter, her "parents have unwittingly mutilated" her (25); and if she had a ''choice over [her] history," she "never would have chosen" them to be a part of it (26; emphasis mine). The psychic and cultural mutilation her parents have subjected her to has led Lim to take on the burden of diaspora so as to "move [herself] as far away from destitution as an ordinary human creature can," a move that takes her from "Malacca, a small town two degrees north of the equator, to New England, then to Brooklyn and to the rich New York suburb of Westchester County, and now to Southern California" (25). Hence, in the chapters that focus on her childhood and youth, Lim proceeds to demonstrate this lack of choice not just in the way her parents have treated her but also in the basic human need to "move from hunger to plenty, poverty to comfort" (25). Part of the "mutilation" that Lim discusses can be seen in her father's choice of "Shirley" as a name for his daughter. Baba, as Lim would call him, is unconventionally "un-Chinese" (42), especially in the fact that he "was the only son to have taken a peranakan woman as his wife" and that he taught his children to speak English (41). He was particularly drawn to the various forms of Western media and entertainment, and has developed a deep fascination with Hollywood, an inclination that would compel him to name his daughter after Shirley Temple. Unfortunately, "Shirley" becomes the signifier for the identity crisis and cultural disjuncture that Lim as a child has to grapple with, particularly when the notions of racial difference and colonial desire fail to align themselves in her mind:

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119 "It's your dimples," Baba told me from the beginning. "You look just like Shirley Temple." 1 thought Shirley Temple was an untidy child, burnt brown, with straight black hair. ... I know the details now: golden hair, blue eyes, Mary Janes on her feet. We could not have been more different as babies and little girls. But growing up I was assured that I was like Shirley Temple; a child star, reborn in Malacca, the glory atoms just the same. (17-18) The contradictions in Lim's name only foretell the cultural fractures and psychological trauma that await her. Her parents' marriage is already on the rocks, which consequently will lead to Lim's alienation from her mother: "I have no memory as a child of the kind of warm physical affection with my mother. Emak appears in my child's album as a self-absorbed driven creature, continuously pregnant ." (55-56). The collapse of the mother-child relationship takes place when Lim's mother finally leaves her family for Singapore: Maternal abandonment is unthinkable in human culture. Maternal malice marks a boundary humans can hardly bear to speak of, reformulating it instead into the wicked stepmother found in the Grimm brothers' fairy tales and numerous Asian folk tales. How then to understand my own mother, mother of six children, who picked herself up off the ground where my father had knocked her down, and left us forever? (56) The psychic violence of maternal abandormient is compounded by the physical violence of paternal anger, of course. (Though one must give Lim the benefit of the doubt and must acknowledge the painful reality of child abuse, her formulaic reading of parental discipline as physical abuse and psychic mutilation is a definite appeal to Western perceptions and sensitivities with regards to child psychology and upbringing. This example of Asian "child abuse" is a classic instance of self-Orientalism.) The fact that Lim's father caned her brothers and her would eventually (and predictably) lead to her own perpetuation of "the cycle of family violence" upon Gershom, her only son. The shame that Lim feels and her "consciousness of one's own precarious position in the

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120 cycle" are the main incentives for her to end the violence (306). Lim, therefore, has distinguished herself to her readers as the enlightened. Western-educated intellectual who has finally turned away from the "savage" and "primitive" practices of the previous generation. The argument that Lim appears to be making thus far is that the alienation and displacement her Nyonya hybridity has produced are intensified by the cultural contradictions of her Asian-Westernized upbringing, the repression inherent in the colonial education system in Malacca, the double trauma of maternal abandonment and paternal violence, and the final "unspoken disintegration of [her] family." Though these various fault lines have contributed to the fracture of Lim's cultural identity, they have also moved her "to rebellion and to literature" and, hence, helped her to define her "emergent sense of self as a poet" (120). The path has now been laid for Lim to take the inevitable step towards leaving home in order to escape poverty, repression, political and racial oppressions, and the painful memories of her childhood; and, more importantly, to shift herself through exilic displacement into a state of the "unhomely," of ftigitive presence, as a means towards self-definition, poetic creativity, and intellectual expansion. Lim has thus succeeded in shaping an image of herself that is similar to the Modernist poets, whose exilic state of alienation and deterritoriahzation had led to periods of brilliant and intense literary output. On the other hand, she has also, as a consequence, situated herself within the similarly elitist space of aesthetic and class distinctions that these Modernist writers occupied, which in her case is further inscribed by institutional power and multiculturalist politics.

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121 I would like now to engage in a brief analysis of Lim's memoir as a narrative of sexual awakening. Lim's emphasis on the theme of a racialized sexuality cannot be viewed in isolation but must be contextualized within the problematics of determinism and hybridity in order for one to visualize the connection. Maternal abandonment and physical violence, as Lim's narrative suggests, have not only scarred her emotionally but also sexually. For instance, the Electra complex shifts into high gear when Emak's leaving her family for Singapore clears a space for a particularly vulnerable and insecure Lim to occupy in close connection to her father. "As a child I adored my father's body," Lim confesses in a quasi-sexual manner. When the family goes swimming together, she saw her siblings and herself as extensions of her "father's confident body, links in an unbreakable, undrownable chain, the meaning of my father's life made manifest to him" (58). When her father in anger physically punishes her for a vulgar sign she has rather irmocently acquired, Lim, for the first time, sees herself defined as a sexual being in the eyes of her father. The fear and taboo of incest would ultimately lead to a further alienation between father and daughter, which is to culminate in her father's marriage to the family servant's daughter Peng, who is only seven years Lim's senior. What this produces in Lim is resentment towards her stepmother and revulsion at her father's sexuality, a consciousness of which is intensified by the sounds that penetrate the thin walls separating her fi-om her father and Peng's bedroom. Lim writes, after an incident where she loses her puppy and where Peng points out "that Father's attachment to [his daughter] was unnatural" (124): The unassuaged grief perhaps had as much to do with Father's betrayal as with the actual loss of a pup. After Peng's accusation I never felt the same way about Father. I was afraid of touching him. I could not bear to be near him. His body which I had loved as a child seemed possessed with a

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122 power of revulsion instead. He became a fully recognized sexual creature to me, and I abhorred his sexuality. (125) This abhorrence assumes greater significance in the racialized fashion with which Lim would later define her sexuality and her choice of sexual partners. Her inclination towards non-Chinese males Lim attempts to justify through a psychoanalytic argument: I would never be able to feel sexual with a Chinese male because of the strong incest inhibitions that I had formed in my family. With eight brothers and troubled memories of Father, I could only feel familial about Chinese men: they drew me as strong companions and brothers or repelled me as tyrants or weaklings, but a bar was raised between my body and theirs beyond which I could not imagine. ( 1 70-7 1 ) Her logic is flawed on multiple levels. But for the sake of conceding to Lim the integrity and sincerity of her assertion, I will just address the impulse of her statement as opposed to critiquing the intricacies of her argument. The question that first comes to mind is, why is there a need for Lim to justify her sexual choices in the first place? In other words, her preference for non-Chinese men is simply a personal preference. One possible reason could be that this is a preemptive strike launched to counteract the accusations of racial betrayal Chinese chauvinists might hurl at her. In a later passage, Lim justifies again her choices by theorizing that in reaction to the "competition for dominance between Chinese and Malay elites, [she] was attracted contrarily to Eurasians and Indians, a romance of minoritism, as a way out of the fixedness of race identity" (1 89). Though she attempts to inject political oppositionality in this version of her explanations, the notion of political choice here contradicts and undermines the determinism of the psychoanalytic interpretation she has offered earlier, a point which I will explore next.

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123 Lim's psychoanalytic justification basically works towards reinforcing the notion of determinism that runs throughout her text. By placing the burden of her sexual choices on "the strong incest inhibitions," her brothers, and "troubled memories of Father," Lim is simply articulating her behef that culture and family history have already determined her inclinations — she has no choice but to choose the Eurasian, the Indian, and the Caucasian men she encounters in her life. The relationships she has with these men, in one way or another, would lead her down new intellectual paths, would help her make up her mind about studying in the U.S., and would eventually help determine her choice of becoming a U.S. citizen. For when a university position opened up for her to teach English in Malaysia upon the completion of her doctoral studies, Lim has to give it up because Charles, her husband, would not be able to secure a similar position there, as the Malaysian government is "in the process of nationalizing the university." Even if this were not the case, Charles would rather stay in New York; for he has expressed to Lim his rather provincial belief that "once you've lived in New York, nowhere else counts" (255). Lim, therefore, has no choice but to honor her commitment to her husband and remain in the U.S. The trouble 1 have here with the causal reasoning in Lim's lack-ofchoice argument is that it only spotlights the oppression suffered by the diasporic in her coerced state of "fugitive presence," while masking the luxuries of choice and opportunity that Lim has enjoyed. One such luxury is the opportunity of a graduate education at Brandeis University paid for by a Fulbright fellowship. Lim's acceptance of this offer signals the first step she would take towards migrating to the U.S., a narrative that occupies the next half of her memoir. What Lim focuses on here is how this single step of leaving Malaysia for

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124 the U.S. would irrevocably alter her cuhural and national identities to produce a diasporic rootlessness, which would further intensify her sense of fugitive presence. The complexity of her Nyonya hybridity is translated into the equally complex, interstitial hybrid spaces she occupies as a "peripheral" Chinese American. The tri-focal images of "home" — America/China/Malaysia — only convince Lim of the need to find a way through which she can come to terms with her displacement and finally come "home even if the latter is simply a construct of her imagination. The diasporic 's sense of dislocation Lim experiences at the point of her departure for the U.S.: "In the airport lounge, gazing at the batik decorations intended for tourist consumption, I felt already the disconnection of the stranger. I would never see Malaysia again, except through the eyes of a traveler" (213). But the hope of easy reterritorrialization is dashed when she is "bedeviled by the super-fi-agmentations that attend alien status in the United States" (246). Coupled with her father's death and the need to support her extended family financially, Lim decries the inevitable and repressive need to reconnect with her cultural roots once again: In writing the bank drafts 1 remained my father's daughter, returning to Father the bargain we had made. This is the meaning of blood — to give, because you cannot eat unless the family is also eating. For years, I woke up nights, heart beating wildly. Oh Asia, that nets its children in ties of blood so blinding that they cut the spirit. (25 1 ) The cultural tension of wanting to be "home" and yet to flee leads Lim to compare herself to the "Chinese children [who] attend public schools" in California and to "their 'astronaut' fathers and mothers [who] live out of satellite apartments in Taiwan and Hong Kong": "Like these parents and their children, guilt and apology dogged my decision to

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125 remain in the United States, and for over a decade, I did an emotional shuttle run between Asia and the United States, voluntarily displaced" (258). The irony of Lim's comparison lies in the transparency of class privilege and Chinese diaspora's links to transnational capital in this particular reference to the "astronaut" parents and their children. In her critique of the "flexible citizenship" of Chinese in diaspora, Aihwa Ong illustrates how Chinese businessmen, in striving to maximize profits by "bypassing the regulations of the nation-state," would have their wives and children live in certain Western countries in order to gain the privileges of residency and citizenship; while they, like "astronauts," would remain "constantly 'in orbit,' caught between the desire to establish family residency abroad and to make money in" Asia. Ong problematizes the astronaut metaphor not only in its connection to transnational capital but also to the way it has been conceptualized as "a Chinese trope of postmodern displacement."^'* In relying on this trope to depict her own state of diasporic deterritorialization, Lim ironically and unwittingly aligns herself with these Chinese "astronaut" families in that they enjoy the luxury of being able to choose where they want to live, or to choose a life of transnational mobility by "shuttling" from one point of the globe to another. Class position, which plays a crucial role in affording her this transnational mobility, also helps to map out, to a degree, Lim's career trajectory. Her first job was at a community college in South Bronx, where she successfully worked with the black and Latino students. But her failure to fit into the Puerto Rican neighborhood where she and Charies live leads her "to despair at [her] middle-class hypocrisy and fears" (269). Though laudable her self-critique, she finally does quit her job "because The City

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126 University of New York was threatening to close it down during yet another budget crisis" (278). She then moves to a suburban community college made up of predominantly white middle-class students. Though comfortable teaching there, Lim fails to obtain the administration's support for her research and publication and, most of all, for her bid to be promoted. Finally, a tenure-track position opens up for Lim at the University of California in Santa Barbara. After agonizing briefly over the hierarchical structure of the U.S. university system, she eventually accepts the position. The progression from the Bronx to Santa Barbara is an evolutionary one, where our heroine after much trial and tribulation overcomes the obstacles in her path and makes it to the pinnacle of her profession. But what is suggestive in this "success" story, when the reader is led to cheer Lim on, is the belief in the eventuality of that "success," modulated by the "disappearance" of class distinctions and hindrances — the notion that one will definitely succeed as long as one puts one's heart and soul to the task. The reasons that Lim provides for her decision to accept the UC Santa Barbara position are interesting in that they work towards the major theme in the conclusion to her memoir — the notion of coming "home." The marginalization Lim experiences at the suburban community college affirms in her the need "to find another, more welcoming America in which poetry, Asia, and woman could be accepted in the same body" (338). Furthermore, "to grow as an AsianAmerican scholar," Lim reasons, "I needed a society of scholars, an abundance of talk, an antagonism of ideas, bracing hostile seriousness, and above all a community of women" (341). Hence, "California is perhaps the closest thing possible to moving home for Asian Americans ." (342). The reasons for Lim's westward move are legitimate and logical. But unfortunately, with these reasons, Lim

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127 also has conveniently sidestepped the problematic and pressing issues of institutional and intellectual elitism that remain unaddressed, apart from a token acknowledgment of their existence. Coming to California completes for Lim the circle that is her life story. It is a moment of cultural, psychological, and social reterritorialization a moment where the contradictions of being a perpetual renegade, a fugitive presence, are finally to be resolved: How do I reconcile these two different yet simultaneous images— the ropes that my mother and father have cunningly woven, invisible like spirits and ghosts, that tie me to the ancestral altar table which presides in every Confucian home; and the crashing surf that knocks me off my feet and throws me onto a beach, which is never the same from moment to moment? The dominant imprint I have carried with me since birth was a Malaysian homeland. It has been an imperative for me to make sense of these birthmarks; they compose the hieroglyphs of my body's senses. We tell stories to bind us to a spot, and often the stories that make us cry knot the thickest ropes. Parents do not die; they merely take on the form of ancestral spirits, tenacious in their power, keeping you a child forever in your first imagination. With such ghosts, it has taken me a longer time to leave home than most immigrants. To give up the struggle for a memorialized homeland may be the most forgiving act 1 can do. Everywhere I have lived in the United States ... I felt an absence of place, myself absent in America. Absence was the story my mother taught me, that being the story of her migrant people, the Malacca peranakans. But perhaps she was also teaching me that home is the place where our stories are told. Had 1 more time to talk to Mother, perhaps 1 could have learned to forgive, listening to her stories. In California, I am beginning to write stories about America, as well as Malaysia. Listening, and telling my own stories, I am moving home. (347-48) The emotional power this passage wields as it concludes Lim's memoir is undeniable. It seeks to reafFmn our belief in literature and it ability to change lives. As moving as this idealized formulation may be, Lim's theories on "absence" and storytelling are troubling and deserve closer examination.

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128 "Absence" as the ontological state of diasporic consciousness produced by hybridity is problematic in that it directs attention to the oppression of cuhural displacement and violation while denying the very rootedness and materiality that mark the reality of everyday life, immigrant or otherwise. In other words, the abstraction of "absence," like the abstract theorization of hybridity and diaspora, masks the political and power hierarchies that enable the sort of mobility that Lim has in translating herself from Malacca, to New York, and finally to Santa Barbara. As for the notion of storytelling, Lim obviously sees it as a way of rooting herself culturally, the idea of finally coming "home," through an aestheticization of the politics of cultural identity, postcoloniality, and diaspora. This is an instance of what Arif Dirlik has observed to be "the tendency of so much postcolonial criticism to start off with a sociology of power relationships only to take refuge in aesthetic phraseology."^^ The problem with Lim's theory of storytelling is not so much in one's doubting literature's efficacy in promoting social, cultural, or political intervention and change; but rather, the telling of stories appears to be too convenient a way of resolving the cultural tensions and contradictions of imperialism, racial politics, class differences, and gender inequalities, especially as they intersect hybridity and diaspora in Lim's memoir. If Among the White Moonfaces is any indication of Lim's notion of storytelling par excellence (and Lim is indeed a brilliant poet and fiction writer), then the telling of her life story has in some ways failed to live up to the work's initial tone of political critique. Lim's token self-critique has been neutralized when the political and institutional power grids that have situated her where she is now remain unexamined. As for the mainstream American reader, Lim's turn to storytelling signals a non-threatening

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129 strategy, which in spite of its engagement in the liberal critique of racism, patriarchy, and imperialism, ultimately comforts the reader in its reification of the myth of the American Dream and the surety of immigrant success. Notes Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Among the White Moonfaces: Memoirs of a Nyonya Feminist (Singapore: Times Books International, 1996), 255. ^ A good introduction to Lim's fictional work between 1967 and 1990 is the collection of short stories entitled. Life 's Mysteries: The Best of Shirley Lim (Singapore: Times Books International, 1995). 3 Shirley Geok-lin Lim, ed.. Approaches to Teaching Kingston 's The Woman Warrior (New York: MLA, 1991); Shiriey Geok-lin Lim and Amy Ling, eds., Reading the Literatures of Asian America (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1992). Other significant essays include: "Reconstructing Asian American Poetry: A Case for Ethnopoetics," MELUS 14, no.2 (1987): 51-63; "Assaying the Gold: Or, Contesting the Ground of Asian American Literature," New Literary History 24 (1993): 147-69; "Immigration and Diaspora," An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature, Ed. King-kok Cheung (New York: Cambridge UP, 1997): 289-3 1 1. Shiriey Geok-lin Lim, Mayumi Tsutakawa, and Margarita Donnelly, eds., The Forbidden Stitch: An Asian American Women 's Anthology (Corvallis, OR: Calyx, 1989). See also the following essays by Lim: "Japanese American Women's Life Stories: Matemality in Monica Sone's Nisei Daughter and Joy Kogawa's Obasan," Feminist Studies 16 (1990): 288-313; "Semiotics, Experience, and the Material Self An Inquiry into the Subject of the Contemporary Asian Woman Writer," Women 's Studies 18, no. 2-3 (1990): 153-76; "Asian American Daughters Rewriting Asian Maternal Texts," Asian Americans: Comparative and Global Perspectives, Eds. Shirley Hume, Hyung-chan Kim, Stephen S. Fugita, and Amy Ling (Pullman: Washington State UP, 1991): 239-48; "The Tradition of Chinese American Women's Life Stories: Thematics of Race and Gender in Jade Snow Wong's Fifth Chinese Daughter and Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, American Women 's Autobiography: Fea(s)ts of Memory, Ed. Margo Culley (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1992): 252-67; "Feminist and Ethnic Literary Theories in Asian American Literature," Feminist Studies 19 (1993): 571-96; "Hegemony and 'Anglo-American Feminism': Living in the Funny House," Tulsa Studies in Women Literature 12 (1993): 279-88; "Up Against the National Canon: Women's War Memoirs from Malaysia and Singapore," The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 28, no. 1 (1993): 47-64; "The Center Can(not) Hold: U.S. Women's Studies and Global Feminism," Women 's Studies Quarterly 26, no.3-4 (1998): 30-39.

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130 ^ Zhou Xiaojing, introduction to Among the White Moonfaces: Memoirs of a Nyonya Feminist, by Shirley Geok-lin Lim (Singapore: Times Books International, 1996), 9. ^ Teochew is one of the many dialect groups that constitute the Chinese race. Lisa Lowe, "Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Asian American Differences," Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham: Duke UP, 1996), 67. Ibid., 75. ^ For a critique of transnational capital's co-optation of multiculturalism to serve its purposes, see David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990); Lisa Lowe, "Imagining Los Angeles in the Production of Multiculturalism," Immigrant Acts, 84-96; Masao Miyoshi, "A Borderless World? From Colonialism to Transnationalism and the Decline of the Nation State," Critical Inquiry 19 (1993): 726-51; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, "Teaching for the Times," Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, Eds. Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997), 468-90. An intriguing case study is available in Katharyne Mitchell, "In Whose Interest? Transnational Capital and the Production of Multiculturalism in Canada," Global/Local: Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary, Eds. Rob Wilson and Wismal Dissanayake (Durham: Duke UP, 1996), 219-51. ^ Aijaz Ahmad, In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (London: Verso, 1992), 127. Quoted in Ahmad, In Theory, 127. Ahmad, In Theory, 127. Ibid., 130. Quoted in Ahmad, In Theory, 130. Aijaz Ahmad, "The Politics of Literary Postcoloniality," Race & Class 36, no.3 (1995): 16 Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 4. Ibid., 9. For further notes on the "unhomely," turn to Bhabha, "The World and the Home," Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, Eds. Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P 1997) 44555. 18 Caren Kaplan, Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (DurhamDuke UP, 1996).

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131 Bhabha, Location of Culture, 38-39. Ella Shohat, "Notes on the 'Post-Colonial,'" Social Text 3X131 (1992): 109. ^' Ahmad, "Politics of Literary Postcoloniality," 12. Arif Dirlik, "The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism," Critical Inquiry 20 (1994): 342. Ahmad, "Politics of Literary Postcoloniality," 17. Shohat, "Notes on the 'Post-Colonial,'" 1 10. Lim, Among the White Moonfaces, 319. Subsequent references to this text will be parenthetically documented. Oft Lim's book is one of the many "academic memoirs" written by women, a genre that has proliferated during the 1990s. See Nancy K. Miller, "Public Statements, Private Lives: Academic Memoirs for the Nineties," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 22 {miy. 981-1015. The subtitle "Memoirs of a Nyonya Feminist" is used in the Singapore/Malaysia edition published by Times International, while the U.S. edition is entitled Among the White Moon Faces: An Asian-American Memoir of Homelands (New York: Feminist P at CUNY, 1996). For the purposes of appealing to a local readership, the term "Nyonya" obviously has more resonance for Singaporeans and Malaysians, especially when the former are predominantly Chinese, many of whom are of Nyonya descent. A brief but lucid account of the Peranakans is available in "Hybrids," chapter eight of Lynn Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor: The Story of the Overseas Chinese (London: Seeker & Warburg, 1990). For a more handsomely illustrated depiction of Nyonya culture, see Joo Ee Khoo, The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History (Amsterdam: Pepin P, 1996). 29 Like Teochew, Hokkien is another major dialect group among the Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore. A more literal translation would be "an Indian-child devil," though Lim is probably referring to the derogatory expression's usage by the Chinese to denote, in a more broadly encompassing way, those who are racially or culturally "tainted." ^' The relations between Chinese and Malays have been tense, to say the least, during much of the colonial and postcolonial history of Malaysia and Singapore. Racial riots between the two groups erupted during the 1960s in both countries. The Malaysian

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132 government has been guilty of instituting an unfair affirmative action-type policy on behalf of the Malay majority, also known as the Bumiputra (roughly translated as the "Princes of the Land"). This policy discriminates against the Chinese and Indian minorities, especially in terms of government employment, university education, financial aid, and political appointments. But to solely excoriate Malay racism and discrimination against the Chinese would be an injustice, as the rich Chinese elite also have a part to play in manipulating and exploiting the economy to their advantage (not unlike the Indonesian Chinese), hence drawing the ire and resentment of the Malay majority. To be more accurate, my subsequent discussion of determinism in Lim's work is not to suggest that there is a total absence of choice but that Lim's choices are determined by the cultural and social spaces she occupies. Some of these themes and Lim's critique of them are also evident in her short stories. See especially "The Farmer's Wife," "A Pot of Rice," "All My Uncles," and "Keng Hua," all available in Life 's Mysteries. ^'^ Aihwa Ong, "On the Edge of Empires: Flexible Citizenship among Chinese in Diaspom" positions 1 (1993): 761. See page 762 for a comic illustration taken from the South China Morning Post, 20 March 1989, depicting a Chinese "astronaut" having lifelines that cormect him to Hong Kong, Canada, and Australia. Dirlik, "Postcolonial Aura," 343. See footnote 20.

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CHAPTER 5 POLITICAL INERTIA AND THE SINGAPOREAN IN DIASPORA: REFLECTIONS ON THE MICHAEL FAY DEBACLE AND FIONA CHEONG'S POETICS OF INNOCENCE Reading the Singaporean in Diaspora The recent appearance of "autobiographical literary criticism" in literary and critical scholarship has served to destabilize the formal and traditional boundaries of criticism as a genre by examining the significance and impact of personal experience on the reading of texts, as well as the formative influence of textuality on shaping personal experiences. The premise of this mode of criticism lies in the idea that "writers [of criticism] know the literature through themselves and know themselves through the literature."' What I find intriguing about this dialectic approach is that it displaces the impersonal detachment of criticism and, in so doing, allows the critic to interrogate more openly his or her own motivations in choosing to engage particular texts and to write about them from certain political perspectives. Conversely, the writing of criticism itself has transformational effects in that such a personal critical space enables one to explore the questions of identity construction and to negotiate shifting political, cultural, and national positioning and alliances, negotiations that will eventually affect the material and everyday existence of the one who occupies this critical space. Though the writing in my dissertation cannot be construed as autobiographical literary criticism per se, the impulse is deeply personal, especially as I examine in 133

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134 retrospect the critical maneuvers 1 have engaged so far and as I anticipate reading and writing "myself (a Singaporean in diaspora) into this concluding chapter on the Singaporean American experience. This entire project on the cultural politics of "peripheral" Chinese Americans has allowed me to wrestle with some of the cultural contradictions that constitute my own diasporic experience as an alien resident in the United States. Although I tackle different issues by tracking the historical and cultural specificities of various "peripheral" Chinese American subgroups, their concerns and problems frequently parallel my own. Therefore, theoretically working through some of these concerns has been productive for me in my own struggle to come to terms with a diasporic identity that is ideologically marked in often conflicting ways by a British neocolonial education, a Chinese upbringing, a Singaporean nationalism, and ten years of an American tertiary education. By choosing to focus on the political — and I am not just referring to the questions of race, gender, and class, but also more specifically to my critique of transnational capitalism, authoritarian regimes, and the violation of human rights — 1 am drawing from a deep well of political suppression and inhibition that characterizes the Singaporean national psyche. The people of the island nation that sits one degree of latitude above the equator have survived and even prospered under the semi-authoritarian government dominated by a single political party for the past thirty-four years since independence. But the miracle of Singapore's economic success, which has elevated it from its humble "Third World" beginnings to become one of Asia's four economic dragons, and the relatively high standard of living that it brings often camouflage the suppression of political dissidence and the violation of political rights and freedoms. This state of

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135 political inhibition has been so naturalized as part of the sociopolitical pragmatism of many Singaporeans that it has translated itself into a social myth of cultural wisdom. Political passivity and complacency are transcribed as positive national values to be handed down from one generation to another.^ As my parents and grandparents, like many other older Singaporeans, used to say, "Politics is something that one should avoid talking about, especially in public. As long as our rice bowl is intact, the government is doing its job." Such platitudes of "wisdom" serve to inculcate the fear of the political in the citizen by invoking the greater fear, be it imaginary or real, of being watched. Singapore, hence, has become what Foucault would term a panoptic "machine" of political and ideological surveillance.^ In my mind's eye, Singapore is visualized as a pristine, politically sanitized, and ideologically controlled urban zone, geopolitically demarcated by its national boundaries. The crossing of these boundaries, especially for many Singaporean diasporics, signifies also a crossing into zones of un-policed political free speech. It is this diasporic imaginary of "release" and freedom that I have in mind when I think of my own motivations for choosing to relocate to the United States. What America stands for for many immigrants is the idealization of democracy, individual rights, and political freedoms, all of which are contested categories that constantly require rethinking and sometimes even critique. My point here is that the diasporic narrative of "release" needs to be critically reexamined, not so much because there is an absence of truth in it, but that it presents a moment of political and cultural contradiction that needs to be carefully negotiated by the Singaporean American. I find in the notion of "release" both pleasure and uneasiness; for just as it offers a critique of the Singapore government's ideological

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136 strategies to remain in power, it also supports the narrative of political progression that situates the West at the forefront of the evolutionary scale. The ambivalence I have articulated towards this notion of "release" is reflective of what Salman Rushdie calls a "stereoscopic vision," where the migrant is subjected to having "a kind of double perspective" by being both "insiders and outsiders."* Instead of trying to privilege this double vision of the migrant as the ideal cultural perspective (a position 1 have critiqued in Chapter Four), I see it more as a troubling state of cultural complexity and negotiation. For the politically radical Singaporean diasporic in America, the stereoscopic vision encompasses a criticism of the political suppression in Singapore that, at the same time, necessitates a questioning of the Orientalizing rhetoric of political progression and evolution in the U.S. Singaporeans, like many who come from newly decolonized nations, have been marked as lacking the political maturity and courage to resist the comforting patemahsm of strong-man regimes; and their "release" from the clutches of their own government is construed as an initiation into an education in the more progressive forms of American political and social values. As a mean of fleshing out this stereoscopic vision, 1 would like to revisit my reactions to Singapore's 1994 international public relations fiasco surrounding the caning of Michael Fay. This incident raises the issue of political (im)maturity, which Fiona Cheong also problematizes in her novel The Scent of the Gods through the construction of a poetics of innocence that challenges the Singapore government's rhetoric of trust. My reading of Cheong's work will permit me to conclude this chapter by examining the implications of her political aesthetics against the backdrop of a Singaporean culture of political dependency and inertia.

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137 The Michael Fay Case: Nationalism, Crisis, and Human Rights In the years I have spent in the United States prior to 1994, 1 have resigned myself to the task of explaining to many Americans I meet that Singapore is not a part of mainland China. But the summer of 1994 provided a brief reprieve for me, though not in the way that I had anticipated. Singapore had suddenly found a place in the geographical vocabulary of the news-reading American public when its criminal justice system came under scrutiny as a result of the Michael Fay case. Fay, an eighteen-year-old teenager from Dayton, Ohio, was convicted of spray-painting and damaging cars in Singapore. The courts there sentenced him to four months imprisonment, a fine of US$2233, and six strokes of the cane (a sentence that was later reduced to four). The controversy of this case lies in the brutality of caning and the fact that an American youth is involved. But what it also does is that it redirects American attention to the issue of crime in U.S. society and the measures that need to be taken to address it. Although I was in the U.S. during that summer, I had the opportunity of talking to many Singaporeans about the issue, those who are living in the U.S. as well as my friends and family in Singapore. Although the opinions 1 received were varied, there was a general consensus that I find disturbing and problematic. A certain triumphant vehemence belies their pointing out that Fay needed to be firmly taught a lesson which his family and the American justice system were unwilling to mete out. What I find horrifying about this response is that many of them, being Singaporeans, are acutely aware of the incredible violence caning inflicts on its victim. As a former director of prisons in Singapore describes it, "The officer uses the whole of his body weight and not just the strength of his arm ... He pivots on his feet to deliver the stroke After three

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138 strokes, the buttocks will be covered in blood."^ Or, as an editorial in the New York Times puts it, and with no exaggeration 1 might add, "the cane delivers skin-splitting whacks so excruciatingly painful that strong men pass out in a state of shock. If Michael Fay does lose consciousness, standard practice would be to revive and re-tether him to complete a flogging certain to leave permanent scars on body and spirit."^ Such accounts of this cruel punishment are so well circulated within the Singapore body social that they are mythologized into the popular folk imaginary and, hence, have become implements of the disciplinary machine that keep Singaporeans politically subdued and generally passive. Furthermore, caning is often reserved for "hard-core" offenders of crimes such as rape, drug trafficking, and manslaughter. Since Singaporeans are aware that caning is an unusually cruel punishment and that, in Fay's case, the severity of the punishment does not fit the petty nature of the crime, why do so many of them approve of the Singapore judicial system's decision in this particular case? I would like to consider a number of possible reasons for this reaction. For Singaporeans who buy into the government's arguments, Michael Fay functions as a convenient and non-threatening target for which to direct anti-West sentiments and rhetoric.^ Since Singapore has the legal right to punish Fay the way it sees fit, this case becomes an opportunity for a tiny nation-state to thumb its nose at the remaining superpower in the world without incurring economic and military repercussions. By using the Fay case to invoke nationalist fervor against an imperialist power, the government has succeeded in manufacturing a "crisis" situation^ that would bind the people together in support of its Eastern values versus Western degeneracy argument. As Hill and Lian note, "the security and identity of citizens [in Singapore]

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139 have to be reinforced by the creation of recurrent 'crises' which draw attention to the state's key arbitrating role."^ Part of that role is to identify "threat[s] from without" in the form of ^'cultural crisis" that is often "represented as the intensified danger of contamination by the West. For instance, a statement from Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs is quick to question the moral authority of the U.S. in preaching its standards of criminal justice and its position on human rights by noting that "Singapore has its own standards of social order" and that it does "not have a situation where acts of vandalism are commonplace, as in cities like New York, where even police cars are not spared the acts of vandals."' One reporter from the Far Eastern Economic Review sees the Fay incident as a "collision of values" and quotes Singapore's Senior Minister and former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as saying that, "The ftmdamental difference between Western concepts of society and government and East Asian concepts is that Eastern societies believe that the individual exists in the context of his family. He is not pristine and separate. The family is part of the extended family, and then friends and the wider society."'^ The American response, on the other hand, took two forms. The more liberal argument, with the New York Times leading the charge, basically condemns the caning sentence as "medieval torture"''' and calls on prominent Americans such as George Bush, who was visiting Singapore at the time, and business leaders stationed in Singapore to register their protest.'^ In fact, the paper drew special attention to the idea that Fay was subjected to police brutality while in custody and that a confession was coerced out of him.'^ More conservative responses vary from that of total support for Fay's caning — Ohio Representative Tony Hall's office received mail that "demands not clemency but

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140 the lash"'^ — to a questioning of the brutality of the punishment that is augmented by an acknowledgment that America is in need of a similar but less extreme version of corporal punishment to deter crime.'* George Bush's response typifies this position. He argues that though "most Americans want stronger jaws," "the punishment should fit the crime — caning is brutal." On the other hand, he praises Singapore's achievements: "When 1 think of Singapore, I think of prosperity, 1 think of democracy, I think of safe streets."'^ My response during the time can be described as a complex shuttling between critiques that seem to contradict one another and that ultimately mark me as both insider and outsider in the eyes of both Singaporeans and Americans. The confrontation I had with my fellow Singaporeans was based on my deconstruction of the Eastern versus Western values dualism and my dismantling of the notion that Asian sociality and individual rights are mutually exclusive (two major critiques that I have engaged in throughout this dissertation). What 1 also tried to appeal to was a sense of justice and fairness, which the Fay sentencing betrayed. Despite the fact that 1 acknowledge my empathy with their nationalist feelings against U.S. imperialism, the Singaporeans 1 talked to have already in their minds labeled me as one "corrupted" by Western notions of human rights and political fi"eedom. Broaching the issue with Americans was a different ball game altogether. Apart from having to acquaint them with the terror and brutality of this form of punishment, which "resembles too closely the childhood spankings or fraternity hazings that many Americans remember with something bordering on nostalgia,"^^ and hence demystify their longing for a quick and easy remedy to an entrenched problem of urban crime, I had

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141 to also carefully negotiate my way around the Orientalizing tendencies of the U.S. media's depiction of cruel punishments in connection with "traditional" Asian culture.^* I was seeking to avoid the kind of primitivism that would consequently be linked to Singaporeans, Asians, and ultimately Asian Americans in general, a goal that made my attempt to describe the caning process an especially difficult task, in light of the fact that I wished to emphasize the savagery and brutality of the process. One way of summarizing my response to the Fay incident is through the notion of political (im)maturity. On the one hand, 1 argue that Singaporeans need to realize that human rights and political freedom are essential components of democratic participation. Only in their willingness to actively take risks in speaking their minds and taking positions that may oppose the status quo will they be able to transcend their political complacency and inertia and deepen their understanding and praxis of participatory government. This argument I make rather uneasily, as it can fit into the thesis that Singaporeans are a politically immature lot, a notion that fails to take into consideration the everyday reality of living in a politically oppressive climate. This idea also situates Singapore as the political Other of the United States, which makes the latter appear more politically evolved, a thesis that needs to be critiqued, especially in that it enables those in America to talk down to others who do not subscribe to American political ideals and forms of government. I believe it is this uneasiness that Singaporean American writers such as Fiona Cheong need to contend with when they choose to depict their homeland. In the following section, I will offer a reading of Cheong's first novel The Scent of the Gods in order to examine her poetics of innocence, which is an attempt to wrestle with

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142 this political (im)maturity problematic and its intersection with the ideology of trust/oppression. Trust/Oppression: Fiona Cheong's Poetics of Innocence The Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 came as a shock to the Chinese people, not just in the horrifying brutality of the government's actions, but also in the people's exposure to the contradictions within Chinese authoritarianism, embedded in the ideology of what Rey Chow calls "goveming-by-trust." In her book Writing Diaspora, Chow observes that the most common response among the Chinese to their government's act of violence is one "of disbelief We can't believe that the party would do such a thing !"^^ This "disbelief ruptures the ideology of trust as the principle of Chinese rule, a trust the Chinese government insists its people should have in their leaders, a trust which was eventually betrayed in the government's attempt to "resolve" the Tiananmen crisis. The Chinese word for "trust," xin, "is made up of 'human being' on one side [of the ideogram] and 'word'/' speech' on the other. Chow's reading of this word, hence, leads her to argue that "the cult of the strong man"^^ forms an integral part of the Chinese political psyche. Trusting the strong leader, as the analysis of the ideogram further suggests, also means taking him at his word.^^ What I find remarkable about Chow's critique is that it reveals how "trust" and "oppression" frequently form rhetorical and ironic flip sides of the ideology of Chinese rule. In the same way, the cult of the strong man, being a crucial part of this ideological apparatus, can also be re-mapped, using the trust/oppression paradigm, into that of the wise and caring Father/patriarchal oppressor. By invoking Chow's theoretical interventions on the Chinese political scene as a starting point to read Fiona Cheong's The Scent of the Gods, which is set in the early

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143 post-independence period in Singapore's nationalist history, I am not in any way suggesting that Singapore, at any point of its postcolonial history, endorses Chinese Communism or engages in the same kind of terrorism and violence on its citizenry as China did; for even the most critical political observers in the West would consider the Singapore government to be only semi-authoritarian in its rule, deploying what one could term a gentle authoritarianism, or what Li Shin, one of the characters in Cheong's novel, rather interestingly calls a "guided democracy. "^^ The point of comparison instead lies in the way the two countries use the political ideology of trust in the interpellation of its citizens into the ruling party's ideological fold. It is this logic of trust that characterizes the political milieu of Cheong's novel. The basic argument that the Chinese government made in defense of its actions at Tiananmen and, similarly, in its response to the Hong Kong people's demands for democracy and the protection of their civil rights is mainland China's need to privilege political stability and economic growth over individual rights. China, in vigorously pursuing a new economic policy in recent days (which is basically capitalism under the guise of Communist reform), believes in the importance of political stability and unity to foster economic growth and to attract international investors; the ideology of trust, thereby, comes in handy as the non-violent alternative of muting political opposition and in conditioning the people to surrender their political rights for the sake of the State. In the initial years after independence, the Singapore government led by the People's Action Party (PAP) has been advocating the need for unity and stability in order for the country to grow economically. Leading a fledgling nation just released from the Federation of Malaya, the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who embodied (and still

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144 embodies) the cult of the strong man,^* emphasized the need for strong government, political order, and national unity (over personal politics and political dissent) in order that Singapore might become a modem nation-state. One can argue and debate the merits of this position, especially when there is so much at stake in terms of the survival of an island-nation without a hinterland, without natural resources, and especially with the threat of racial tensions between the Malays and Chinese looming ahead. The subsequent survival and success of Singapore thus have often been attributed to this position adopted by the ruling party. However, what is problematic about this argimient is that a sustained focus on the need for national stability through political unity hinders the productive interplay of heterogeneous and diverse political voices, and in ways creates in the people a political inertia through a climate of complacency and, sometimes, fear. To understand the workings of the ideology of trust, one needs to examine its place within the parent/child hierarchy. Where the Father/Government leads, the child/citizen must follow. What is thus expected of the child/citizen is a child-like innocence and faith in the good will and wisdom of an all-knowing Father. It is within this notion of innocence and faith that I would like to situate The Scent of the Gods. The first-person narrative that Fiona Cheong constructs is filtered through the consciousness of Su Yen, the eleven-year-old protagonist and narrator. Her narrative reflects a certain child-like innocence and sensibility through which the reader experiences, what Su Yen does, the familial trials and political intrigues of a newly independent Singapore. However, the narrative's silences, denials, and mystifications, instead of obscuring truth, create an ironic clarity that ultimately unmasks the ideology of trust.

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145 The world that Su Yen inhabits is a world where children are supposedly protected and shielded from the trials and tribulations of the adult world. The sphere of the child, therefore, is arbitrarily demarcated by a discursive cordon sanitaire, where certain knowledges are deemed "inappropriate" for a child's ear. "This matter is not for children" (174), Su Yen's Grandma authoritatively and definitively states, even when the other adults in the family debate the need for the children to know about Aunt Daisy's pregnancy. In order to enforce this maternal edict, certain social and discursive mechanisms have been set in place to reify these separate spheres. Adult conversation is often conducted "in low, serious voices" (173) or "in hushed tones" behind closed doors (76), talking which stops when the children's presence is felt. When information inevitably reaches the children, explanation is frequently and intentionally oversimplified, postponed, circumvented or, worst of all, short-circuited v^th an authoritative statement of "fact" that is either incomprehensible or logically contradictory, and that demands the children's acceptance under the imprimatur of adult authority. The children's grandma also resorts to mythopoeic devices such as the traditional Chinese talk-story, which most of us have encountered in Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior. As Su Yen recollects. Grandma "had fringed our lives with her stories of wars and ghosts, and when we were younger we would believe what she said, and do only what she said" (225). These stories serve not just to instruct but also, in some situations, to obfuscate and to avoid explanation. Hence, it is through these social and discursive devices that the adults wield the power to control what the children can or cannot know, thereby shaping the children's world view. Implicit in this control is the assumption of trust: children are to trust that the adults know what is best for them; by obeying

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146 commands and submitting to often mystifying and even illogical explanations of the world around them, the children are apparently relieved of the ethical, philosophical, and political responsibilities that rest on the capable shoulders of the adults. In a sense, this system of trust also functions as a microcosmic view of the larger political world of the novel's 1960s Singapore. The political child/citizen can safely trust in the capable leadership of the adult/government. The child/citizen, hence, is immobilized in a space of political ignorance, producing what one could call a culture of dependency and passivity. By creating a narrative of child-like innocence, Cheong allows her reader to directly access the experiences of the children as they undergo anticipation and frustration in having to trust the adults in spite of the contradictions and mystifications. Cheong, through the narrator Su Yen, skillfully teases the reader by revealing enough to push the plot along and yet withholding most of the information that the adult characters are privy to, to frustrate reader expectation. This anxious need to know enables the reader to empathize with the children who, with the exception of Su Yen's cousin Li Shin, are continually kept in the dark. In order to accomplish this, Cheong deploys a number of narrative strategies: Su Yen overhears bits and pieces of the adults' conversations which require reconstruction and filling in the gaps; description of everyday sounds permeate the narrative, something that one would often take for granted; visual imagery includes scenes and objects that reflect the observations of a child who has been excluded from adult interaction and hence, has the luxury of time to scrutinize the physical details of the world around her. Su Yen's ability to infuse her narrative with such intricate details of sound and sight is a

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147 result of her participation in the disciplinary processes that keep children within their sphere through silence and submission: "No one expected me to say anything. Chinese children were not expected to say much, girls even less so than boys. My duty was to watch and listen. So I watched" (11). This particular passage deserves some attention in that it reveals the obvious ironic intent of my use of the term "narrative of innocence," for clearly subversive strategies are at work in the narrator's recounting of what she has seen and heard as a child. The fragmented bits of adult conversation, Su Yen's imposed silence. Grandma's mystifying talk-stories and "explanation," or her complete avoidance or postponement of such explanations contribute to the overall subversive quality of Su Yen's narrative. "The art of silence," according to King-kok Cheung in her book Articulate Silences, "covers various 'strategies of reticence' -irony, hedging, coded language, muted plots — used by women to tell the forbidden and name the unspeakable."^^ The contesting and revelatory power of silences, cover-ups, and evasions lies not so much in what they tell, but rather in what they do not reveal. The sounds of army trucks rumbling past their house "taking recruits to the barracks" late at night. Uncle Tien disappearing one day after an earlier visit by government men, and Li Shin's death at the hands of some mysterious figures in the dark of the night are instances where silences suggestively outline the political intrigues of the adult world. By fulfilling her duty "to watch and listen," Su Yen provides readers a glimpse into her world and, hence, encourages them to fill in what she does not see and hear. When she does engage in conversation either with her cousins or with the adults, Su Yen, like most children, asks questions which reflect a child's innocent curiosity and a

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148 line of reasoning that is brutally honest and clear. At many points in the narrative, these questions form deconstructive moments which fracture the political logic of trust and expose its contradictions. The following passage, where Su Yen seeks Li Shin's assistance in helping her disentangle the intricacies of Singapore politics, particularly exemplifies how a child-like perspective can rather subtly subvert politically hegemonic rhetoric: In Great-Grandfather's house the grown-ups argued over the Internal Security Act. Uncle Tien kept insisting that it was undemocratic. I asked Li Shin, what was the Internal Security Act? He said, "Arrest and detention without trial." I asked him, what did that mean? He said it meant that the government did not need solid proof that someone was a Communist, that person could be arrested and sent to jail. I asked him, why would the government do that? He said the government wouldn't arrest someone without having a good reason. (49-50) Li Shin's answer to Su Yen's last question is indicative of his own interpellation by the government's ideology of trust, where such circular reasoning becomes acceptable, all on the basis that the government knows best. As children of the State, they must not worry about such so-called "adult" issues and concerns. It is significant at this juncture to point out that this interpellation by the ideology of trust through the adult/child paradigm is not simply effected through the direct relationship between the State and its citizens, but that it also operates through the family, which Louis Althusser has identified as one of the many Ideological State Apparatuses.^*^ The familial and social tradition where children are taught not to question but to simply trust, in this sense, lays the groundwork and prepares them to accept the government's ideology of trust. Su Yen, in having this notion drilled into her consciousness, echoes its lessons in her restatement of what Grandma has often said to her: "One day when I was older, ... I would understand what she;neant, and I would be grateful that ..." (9). And one can fill in the blank.

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149 Another passage I would like to cite, though similar to the one earlier, does provide further insight into the means with which Su Yen often comes to terms with or "resolves" the contradictions she encounters, albeit in an understandably child-like manner: "What is a guided democracy?" I asked. He [Li Shin] said this meant we were guided by the Prime Minister, who was head of PAP. We were not like America. America was a free democracy, he said, because American people did not like being guided. "How come we don't want a free democracy?" I asked. "Because we're Asians," he said. "We don't always believe the same things as Americans." "Do the Communists want a free democracy?" 1 asked. No, he said. Communists did not beheve in democracy at all. Communists beheved that any kind of democracy was actually imperialism. 1 was getting confused because 1 did not understand how a free democracy could be imperialist. But America was not my country. 1 was worried about my country. My country was the one the Communists wanted. And if they succeeded in brainwashing our citizens against the PAP, what would happen? Then we would have a new government, a Communist government. We would have a leader like Chairman Mao. Chairman Mao sent teachers and doctors into rice fields and made them work as farmers, and now China had become backward. The same thing would happen to us. We would become uneducated. Westerners would not be allowed to enter Singapore. We would lose touch with the modem world, and all our citizens would be wearing old-fashioned dark blue Chinese shirts and trousers, and riding on bicycles. (50-51) As she tussles with the political rhetoric Li Shin feeds her, Su Yen innocently asks questions that a child would. The deeper her questions lead her into the political labyrinth the more confused she gets by the discontinuities of logic and the surfacing of contradictions. Through this perspective of child-like innocence, Su Yen's narrative engages the forbidden; and by laying bare the typical political arguments, of which Li

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150 Shin's answers are representative, the narrative cries out to its readers to critique the rhetoric presented. Another significant point about this passage is the way Su Yen in a superficial sense resolves the contradictions she sees. She allows herself to succumb to the fear of a Communist takeover of the country, though she is reacting not entirely to the supposed horrors of Communist austerity and indoctrination, but rather to the thought of losing the material comforts that a capitalist modernity apparently brings. As her narration immediately following this passage illustrates, she recoils in typical teenage horror at the prospect of having to dress in "old-fashioned dark blue Chinese shirts and trousers" and having to bind her feet, a practice that Chinese girls of the upper class were unfortunately and cruelly subjected to during the Ch'ing dynasty. She, like her aduh relatives, however, fails to see the fallacious reasoning behind her conflation of Chinese traditional practices and Communist politics, and the false dilemma of having to choose between a "guided democracy" and Communism. But what is even more telling in her response is the fact that she reacts like any child would. Her immediate material concerns and desires take precedence over her initial curiosity about things political, as one would expect of most eleven-year-olds. Her tendency to shift attention quickly away from the unresolved political contradictions that have momentarily perplexed her underscores her immaturity. My argument, hence, is that Su Yen's political "immaturity," apart fi-om her childlike faith, forms an integral part of the ideology of trust and is what this ideology demands and enforces. (The Singapore government, therefore, is as capable as the West of producing Orientalist images of the people under its rule for the purposes of sustaining its own political hegemony.) Su Yen's concern about the ugly Communist dress code is

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151 also symbolic of what C. J. W.-L. Wee observes to be the newly independent Singapore's "creation of an indigenous, countrywide consumer culture as a mark of success."' To produce this consumer culture, as the government's argument goes, requires Singapore to transform itself into an industrialized modem nation-state. Racial, political, and national unities are imperative, and trust in the government facilitates the formation of such unities. Hence, the need to encourage the citizenry towards independent political thinking and choice must take a back seat to the more "urgent" task at hand. The assumption is that as long as the people's material needs and desires are met, through a consumer culture, and if a strong and politically entrenched government can do the job of moving the nation into an economically and technologically competitive state, why complicate the people's lives with the problems of political difference and, more significantly, political choice? If the people's standard of living has been elevated, why stir political waters, which will only disrupt the comfortable lifestyle the government has provided? Such an argument also belies a gentle threat, premised on a slippery slope argument and on another false dilemma: your comfortable and peaceful way of life can only be maintained through unity and a strong one-party government; the alternative is the disruption of that lifestyle and the nation's collapse into political chaos and economic uncertainty. The Singapore government's desire to freeze its citizens in a state of political childhood by maintaining their attachment to a consumer culture has come into conflict with its project of nation-building and patriotism. This is evident in Thomas Bellows' observation that "Singaporeans ... are permeated with strong doses of self-centeredness, materialism, and self-gratification. On the other hand, the government has repeatedly

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152 called for the maintenance of a 'rugged' society whose members are to be courteous, industrious, family-oriented, and patriotic. "^^ This inconsistency in the government's rhetoric has become even more conspicuous in Singapore today, where the drive towards creativity (for the purposes of capitalist irmovation and expansion) that the government has encouraged in its citizens also produces as an inevitable and much feared by-product of individualized expressions of political thought, analysis, and critique. The ideology of trust and its culture of political inertia and dependency, hence, are untenable in that they assume Singaporeans are not ready and mature enough to think for themselves or to deal with competing and dissenting political voices. In giving her readers a glimpse into the politically stifling world of 1960s Singapore through a poetics of irmocence, Cheong seeks not to valorize this political state of "immaturity" and inertia, which is tropologically represented by the child-like perspective of the narrator. Instead the aporetic moments of silence and obfuscation ironically subvert this perspective by demonstrating how limited it is. I believe also that Cheong' s text is a subtle but urgent call for Singaporeans to question the politics of trust and inertia and to move beyond the complacency and dependency that have characterized the political consciousness of the populace for more than three decades. It is also an affirmation of the Singaporean's ability to deal with the complexities and difficulties that political choice and freedom present.^^ Notes Diane P. Freedman, Olivia Frey, and Frances Murphy Zauhar, introduction to The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism, Eds. Diane P. Freedman, Olivia Frey, and Frances Murphy Zauhar (Durham: Duke UP, 1993), 8.

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153 ^ It would be unfair of me to say that political opposition and dissent are completely absent in Singapore. Apart from the presence of a small number of political opposition parties and their leadership, a younger generation of Singaporeans, though still in the minority, is more willing to air its dissatisfaction with the ruling People's Action Party and its policies. For an interesting but slightly dated account of this growing resistance, see V. G. Kulkami and Rodney Tasker, "Don't Talk Down to Us," Far Eastern Economic Review, 11 July 1985, 34-37. ^ Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1977), 201-2. Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991 (London: Granta Books, 1991), 19. ^ Quoted in Michael Elliot, "Crime and Punishment," Newsweek, 18 April 1994, 18. ^ "A Flogging in Singapore," The New York Times, 2 April 1994, 18. •J The Clinton Administration responded by asking Singapore President Ong Teng Cheong to pardon Fay and show clemency. Q Note the tone of crisis in Straits Times columnist Chua Huck Cheng's warnings in response to a series of editorials from the New York Times condemning Singapore's actions: "Such an act by the country's most important newspaper [the New York Times] can have the unintended consequence of unleashing irrational passions when the caning is carried out, assuming no clemency is granted. If harm comes to Singaporeans on American streets or Chinese-looking people in general on account of a stupid episode over a miscreant, would The New York Times search its soul?" Quoted in "Times Is Criticized Over Editorials," The New York Times, 17 April 1994, 10. Michael Hill and Lian Kwen Fee, The Politics of Nation Building and Citizenship in Singapore (London: Routledge, 1995), 23. Geraldine Heng and Janadas Devan, "State Fatherhood: The Politics of Nationalism, Sexuality, and Race in Singapore," Nationalisms and Sexualities, Eds. Andrew Parker et al. (New York: Routledge, 1992), 351. Quoted in Philip Shenon, "Singapore, the Tiger Whose Teeth Are Not Universally Scorned," The New York Times, 10 April 1994, E5. Frank Ching, "Fay Case: Collision of Values," Far Eastern Economic Review, 5 May 1994, 38. In a Newsweek poll, 38% approve of the caning while 52% disapprove. Elliot, "Crime and Punishment," 19. The Singapore embassy capitalized on the "support" for the caning

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154 reflected in this poll by stating that the phone calls it received from Americans were 60 to 40 in favor of the sentence. Susumu Awanohara, "Whipping Boy: Americans Get Worked Up About Michael Fay's Caning," Far Eastern Economic Review, 28 April 1994, 25. Frank Ching of the Far Eastern Economic Review argues that the "unexpected support for punishment pronounced 'extreme' by Clinton is less a reflection of American approval for Singapore than dissatisfaction with their own society. The public is fed up with the crime and violence that characterise life in U.S. cities." Ching, "Fay Case," 38. "Condemn Singapore's Brutality," The New York Times, 10 April 1994, 18. "Time to Assert American Values," The New York Times, 13 April 1994, A20. Philip Shenon, "Overlooked Question in Singapore Caning Debate: Is the Teen-Ager Guilty?" The New York Times, 17 April 1994, 10. "No Mercy: Singapore Justice and American Reaction," The Nation, 25 April 1994, 543. See for instance, William J. Bennett, "Raising Cain on Values," Newsweek, 18 April 1994, 23. Quoted in "Bush Criticizes Caning but Likes Singapore," The New York Times, 16 April 1994, 4. Bush's praise of Singapore is troubling in that it is an implicit sanction of the Singapore government's argument that economic and social stability should transcend individual and political freedom. Bush's position is reminiscent of the support that the Reagan administration gave to numerous authoritarian governments around the world in order to "contain" Communism and to ensure the success of U.S. big business ventures in the Third World. "Condemn Singapore's Brutality," 18. Elliot's essay "Crime and Punisment" in Newsweek is an instance of the way the media has constructed a narrative of political progression — the Oriental cultures still resort to brutal and cruel modes of punishment, while the West has evolved in their approach to a more civilized penal code. The article even features a timeline that situates the various stages of the American penal system. 22 Rey Chow, Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993), 86. Ibid., 83. Ibid., 84. Ibid., 85.

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155 Ibid., 84. Fiona Cheong, The Scent of the Gods (New York: Norton, 1991), 50. Subsequent references to this work will be parenthetically documented. Conservative William Safire, the perennial nemesis of Lee Kuan Yew, calls him, in a quasi-sarcastic fashion, "the world's most intelligent, and to some most likable, despot." In an interview with Lee, Safire questions him on a number of sensitive issues (which remain off limits in Singapore's government-controlled Straits Times): the neutralization of political dissident Chee Soon Juan, the absence of free labor unions, the nepotism that appears in Lee Hsien Loong's (one of Lee's sons) rapid rise to power, and allusions to the law suits and caning practices that form the legal modus operandi of controlling dissent. William Safire, "The Dictator Speaks: A Chat with Lee Kuan Yew," The Gainesville Sm, 16 February 1999. King-kok Cheung, Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993), 4. Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation)," Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review P, 1971), 143. ^' C. J. W.-L. Wee, "Contending with Primordialism: The 'Modem' Construction of Postcolonial Singapore," /?05/Y/o5 1 (1993): 724. Thomas J. Bellows, "Bridging Tradition and Modernization: The Singapore Bureaucracy," Confucianism and Economic Development: An Oriental Alternative? Ed. Hung-chao Tai (Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute P, 1989), 214. I am looking forward to Cheong' s future work and how she will depict, if she so chooses to, the Singaporean American experience in the U.S. The problematic of political inertia has a special resonance for the Singaporean diasporic and it would be intriguing to examine a literary text that engages this issue in the context of American political ideals.

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166 Schueller, Malini Johar. U.S. Orientalisms: Race, Nation, and Gender in Literature, 1790-1890. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1998. Shenon, Philip. "Overlooked Question in Singapore Caning Debate: Is Teen-Ager Guilty?" The New York Times, 17 April 1994, 10. — "Singapore, the Tiger Whose Teeth Are Not Universally Scorned." The New York Times, 10 April 1994, E5. Shohat, Ella. "Notes on the 'Post-Colonial.'" Social Text 3\/32 (1992): 99-1 13. Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues. Edited by Sarah Harasym. New York: Routledge, 1990. — "Teaching for the Times." In Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, edited by Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997. Stemgold, James. "Wang's World in a Love Story." The New York Times, 9 January 1998, B7. Tai, Hung-chao, ed. Confucianism and Economic Development: An Oriental Alternative? Washington, DC: Washington Institute P, 1989. "Taipei Rejects 'One Country' Suggestions." South China Morning Post [online], 1 July 1997, www.hongkong97.com.hk. Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. New York: Penguin, 1989. Tambling, Jeremy. "The History Man: The Last Governor of Hong Kong." Public Culture 9 {\997y. 355-75. Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Ivy, 1989. — The Kitchen God's Wife. New York: Ivy, 1991. — "Mother Tongue." In Asian American Literature: A Brief Introduction and Anthology, edited by Shawn Wong. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. "Time to Assert American Values." The New York Times, 13 April 1994, A20. "Times Is Criticized Over Editorials." The New York Times, 17 April 1994, 10. Tu, Wei-ming. "Cultural China: The Periphery as the Center." Daedalus 120, no. 2 (1991): 1-32.

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167 Wang, Gungwu. "Among Non-Chinese." Z)aei/a/u5 120, no.2 (1991): 135-57. Wang, L. Ling-chi. "Roots and Changing Identity of the Chinese in the United States." Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 181-206. Wang, Ping. American Visa. Minneapolis: Coffee House, 1994. — Foreign Devil. Minneapolis: Coffee House, 1996. Wee, C. J. W.-L., "Contending with Primordialism: The 'Modem' Construction of Postcolonial Singapore." positions 1 (1993): 715-43. Wei, William. The Asian American Movement. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1993. Welsh, Frank. A Borrowed Place: The History of Hong Kong. New York: Kodansha International, 1993. Wilson, Rob, and Wismal Dissanayake, eds. Global/Local: Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary. Durham: Duke UP, 1996. Wong, Sau-ling Cynthia. "Chinese American Literature." In An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature, edited by King-kok Cheung. New York: Cambridge UP, 1997. — Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993. Wu, David Yen-ho. "The Construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese Identities." Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 159-79. Yamamoto, Traise. "Different Silences." In The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism, edited by Diane P. Freeman, Olivia Frey, and Frances Murphy Zauhar. Durham: Duke UP, 1993.

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Keng Wah Kenneth Chan is a native of Singapore. He has received a Bachelor of Arts degree in the humanities (summa cum laude) from Bob Jones University, Greenville, South Carolina; a Master of Arts in English from Clemson University; and a Doctor of Philosophy in English from the University of Florida. His areas of specialization include postcolonial theory and Asian American studies. 168

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I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. R. Brandon Kershner, Chair Alumni Professor of English I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Malini Johar Schueller Professor of English I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Amitava Kumar Associate Professor of English I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Philfip Wegner Assistant Professor of English

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I certify that I have read this study and that in my opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Associate Professor of Germanic and Slavic Studies This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and to the Graduate School and was accepted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. December 1999 Dean, Graduate School


57
through beatings or by denying his family food while he himself eats and his wife and
children watch in hunger), and sexual assault (visited upon Fei, Lees sister). The latter
marks the limit for the young Lee, provoking him to swear in ... [his] heart of hearts ...
[hed] chop the old man up and feed him to the birds, and never go home (175). Yeh
Yeh functions as a signifier in Lees narrative of the oppressive elements within Chinese
traditionalism. Therefore, for Lee to express such hatred for his grandfather is to create
ironic moments within the text to undermine the call of blood to familial and social
conformity. Another such moment is found in Old Asays telling of the clan feud
between the Shaw and the Lee families, both being arch rivals in the fishing industry in
China. She dramatizes in the heroic mode how each family had to select a champion to
contest and lay claim to certain territorial waters. What ultimately motivated these men
was the belief in defending their family name and honor, prompting each of them to
stoically plunge their arms past the elbows into the boiling oil, and then walk home
unaided; both becoming, as Lee editorializes, sacrificial victims to the cause of
blood and tradition (178).
The way Lee complicates his reading of the winged seed metaphor prevents him
from settling too easily into a naive humanism or uncritiqued cosmopolitanism. On the
other hand, by foregrounding the potentiality of the seed, he validates his cosmopolitical
vision, which he further accomplishes through the notion of a human connectedness that
transcends social, national, and cultural boundaries. This idea of connection forms a
thematic consistency in a series of stories and occurrences within the seemingly random
and serendipitous remembrances that structure Lees seed-like narrative. What is radical
and politically effective about his concept of connectedness is that it dislocates the elitist


82
fatalism (a form of pessimistic abandonment in surrender to heavens vagaries) that can
induce political passivity in the people. Though there is inevitably a determinism set up
by the redemption narrative, the telos of which is idealized as freedom, as the second
half of the poem suggests, human agency is still necessary to help accelerate the
progression towards that freedom. Hence, there is a need to dig deeper now to find the
light, to continue the fight, to persevere, to develop new and more effective strategies of
political resistance and change, in order to move the country towards the goal of political
freedom and democracy.
Secondly, we can ask if by invoking the utopianism of a New China, is Chin
then guilty of reifying a form of Chinese cultural centrism? Although this seems to be a
danger that is present in the imagery of this particular poem, I am hesitant to conclude
definitively that this is Chins position on the issue. For in other poems in the series,
Chin appears to challenge the notion of racial and cultural purity, hence reflecting at least
an ambivalence or ambiguity towards the nationalist calls of Chinese centrism. However,
what is certain here is Chins use of ambiguities as a means of complicating this narrative
of political redemption, and a way of expressing her own emotional struggles with its
contradictions.
The second half of the poem demonstrates how the story of political redemption is
not a simplistic morality tale of the good guys versus the bad guys; it is a tale plagued by
ambiguous positioning, contradictory affiliations, and uneasy alliances, attained through
careful cultural negotiations. By shifting the protagonists perspective to that of a
master who must eventually emancipate her caged canary and fattened koi, Chin
focuses on the emotional conflicts of grief and joy that the master simultaneously


79
By dedicating the segment Beijing Spring to the Chinese Democratic
Movement (84), Chin establishes from the start that her sympathies do lie with the
student protestors and the cause that they were fighting (and, in some cases, dying) for.
However, she does not allow her political identification to be co-opted by a simplistic
Us/Them binarismdemocracy/communism, West/East, victim/oppressor, friend/foe.
Instead, the Tiananmen crisis and its aftermath offer Chin the opportunity to bring into
question the Wests ideological ownership of democracy, which she accomplishes
through the problematization of the cultural-ideological semiotics involved. Chin also
engages the narrative logic of a Chinese utopianism as a means of exploring the
contradictions of Chinese cultural and national identities. The established trope of the
sexual/love relationship as national allegory also provides a useful and flexible metaphor
for Chin to mobilize a two-pronged approach: she first deploys it to challenge Chinas
violence against her own people, before tapping into its more positive and life-affirming
aspects to shore up the political hopes and idealism deflated by the Tiananmen crisis.21
Chin defines the tone of her poetry beginning with the title of this series Beijing
Spring, about which I would like now to offer a few scattered interpretive observations.
The concept of spring in Chinese culture is in many ways no different from its
deployment in the Euro-American literary tradition, especially in its association with new
life, new hopes, and new beginnings. But the localized specificity of a Beijing spring
brings with it a certain contrary element of a lingering harsh winter. This cold is
compounded by the bitter freezing winds that sweep through dusty Beijing streets, an
image that contradicts and, hence, offers an ironic tension to the optimism of spring,
creating what I would call the ambiguities of hope. Such ambiguities open up literary


11
the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows
skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
Walter Benjamin29
July 1, 1997: the day the worlds attention was riveted on Hong Kong; the day
Hong Kong officially returned to the Chinese fold after 156 years under British colonial
rule; a day of epic history in the making! But, for me, to contemplate the historicity
of the event is also to have Benjamins angel of history color my sense of the moment
with profound irony and contradiction. While in Singapore at the time of the Hong Kong
handover, I gathered with my family and relatives before the television set to witness the
event in all its spectacle and pageantry. What struck me as remarkable is not only the
mediatized celebration that transpired on the screen, but also the verbal storm that was
brewing in our living room, leaving wreckage upon wreckage of bruised egos and
conflicted cultural identities, traces of historydiasporic and colonial. In identifying
with their Chinese ancestry and, being part of postcolonial Singapore, rightly resisting
British imperialism, some of my relatives see this event as a glorious reclamation of lost
Chinese territory from the former British Empire and a restoration of the honor and
face lost when a severely weakened and outmatched Ching government capitulated to
British gunboat diplomacy during the Opium Wars. On the other hand, others sense, as
Rey Chow does, that one cannot but problematize China... at the same time as one
dismantles Britain00; for in light of the Tiananmen massacre, Hong Kong is seen as
being in transit between colonizers, as an authoritarian regime replaces an exploitative
one. For them, the countdown to July 1997 was fraught with much apprehension and
fear that those who chose (or had no choice but) to remain in the now renamed Hong
Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) may eventually forfeit their civil rights to the


134
retrospect the critical maneuvers I have engaged so far and as I anticipate reading and
writing myself (a Singaporean in diaspora) into this concluding chapter on the
Singaporean American experience. This entire project on the cultural politics of
peripheral Chinese Americans has allowed me to wrestle with some of the cultural
contradictions that constitute my own diasporic experience as an alien resident in the
United States. Although I tackle different issues by tracking the historical and cultural
specificities of various peripheral Chinese American subgroups, their concerns and
problems frequently parallel my own. Therefore, theoretically working through some of
these concerns has been productive for me in my own struggle to come to terms with a
diasporic identity that is ideologically marked in often conflicting ways by a British neo
colonial education, a Chinese upbringing, a Singaporean nationalism, and ten years of an
American tertiary education.
By choosing to focus on the politicaland I am not just referring to the questions
of race, gender, and class, but also more specifically to my critique of transnational
capitalism, authoritarian regimes, and the violation of human rightsI am drawing from
a deep well of political suppression and inhibition that characterizes the Singaporean
national psyche. The people of the island nation that sits one degree of latitude above the
equator have survived and even prospered under the semi-authoritarian government
dominated by a single political party for the past thirty-four years since independence.
But the miracle of Singapores economic success, which has elevated it from its humble
Third World beginnings to become one of Asias four economic dragons, and the
relatively high standard of living that it brings often camouflage the suppression of
political dissidence and the violation of political rights and freedoms. This state of


A Fugitive Presence Determined 112
Notes 129
5 POLITICAL INERTIA AND THE SINGAPOREAN IN DIASPORA:
REFLECTIONS ON THE MICHAEL FAY DEBACLE AND FIONA
CHEONGS POETICS OF INNOCENCE 133
Reading the Singaporean in Diaspora 133
The Michael Fay Case: Nationalism, Crisis, and Human Rights 137
Trust/Oppression: Fiona Cheongs Poetics of Innocence 142
Notes 152
BIBLIOGRAPHY 156
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 168
IV


167
Wang, Gungwu. Among Non-Chinese. Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 135-57.
Wang, L. Ling-chi. Roots and Changing Identity of the Chinese in the United States.
Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 181-206.
Wang, Ping. American Visa. Minneapolis: Coffee House, 1994.
. Foreign Devil. Minneapolis: Coffee House, 1996.
Wee, C. J. W.-L., Contending with Primordialism: The Modem Construction of
Postcolonial Singapore. positions 1 (1993): 715-43.
Wei, William. The Asian American Movement. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1993.
Welsh, Frank. A Borrowed Place: The History of Hong Kong. New York: Kodansha
International, 1993.
Wilson, Rob, and Wismal Dissanayake, eds. Global/Local: Cultural Production and the
Transnational Imaginary. Durham: Duke UP, 1996.
Wong, Sau-ling Cynthia. Chinese American Literature. In An Interethnic Companion
to Asian American Literature, edited by King-kok Cheung. New York:
Cambridge UP, 1997.
. Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to Extravagance. Princeton:
Princeton UP, 1993.
Wu, David Yen-ho. The Construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese Identities.
Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 159-79.
Yamamoto, Traise. Different Silences. In The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical
Literary Criticism, edited by Diane P. Freeman, Olivia Frey, and Frances Murphy
Zauhar. Durham: Duke UP, 1993.


84
continues to retain its presence even in the shifting semiotics of the statue. In order to
challenge and disrupt the imperialist paradigm of a politically advanced (read
democratic) West assuming the burden of teaching a politically primitive China the
principles of freedom and human rights, Chin in a similar fashion concatenates the
Chinese Goddess of Mercy with the Statue of Liberty to create the chiasmic inversion
the Goddess of Liberty, the Statue of Mercy, in an attempt to carve out an intersemiotic
cultural space for democracy in China. Yet, like the Goddess of Democracy, the
awkwardness of such an inversion of symbols only reinforces the notion that Western
democracy is intrinsically incompatible with Chinese culture and tradition, hence the
need for the Chinese to borrow from the West its political ideals. Therefore, Chin,
through the protagonist, takes a further step in challenging this notion by concluding that
we have it all wrong, and that we should displace the concept of political freedom from
the culturally coercive spaces of an East/West political semiotics, in order to ensure that
both Western imperialism and Chinese culturalism do not block Chinas path towards
democracy.
To complete my analysis of Chins cultural negotiations, I would now like to
consider the way she uses the trope of the sexual/love relationship to conceptualize the
nation China and its Others. The links between nationalism and sexuality/gender have
been well established,24 and Chin selectively mines aspects of that critical tradition in
order to represent her complex negotiations of cultural identity. Of particular
significance is the trope of Nation-as-Woman. George Mosse points out that together
with the idealization of masculinity as the foundation of the nation and society, woman,
often accused of shallowness and frivolity, was at the same time idealized as the guardian


118
signify the cultural violence and fragmentation these forces have wreaked upon Urns
life, they also implicate the role Lims parents have played in conjunction with these
forces to irrevocably mark her as a renegade. As Lim reveals in the opening chapter,
her parents have . unwittingly mutilated her (25); and if she had a choice over. .
[her] history, she never would have chosen them to be a part of it (26; emphasis
mine). The psychic and cultural mutilation her parents have subjected her to has led Lim
to take on the burden of diaspora so as to move ... [herself] as far away from destitution
as an ordinary human creature can, a move that takes her from Malacca, a small town
two degrees north of the equator, to New England, then to Brooklyn and to the rich New
York suburb of Westchester County, and now to Southern California (25). Hence, in the
chapters that focus on her childhood and youth, Lim proceeds to demonstrate this lack of
choice not just in the way her parents have treated her but also in the basic human need to
move from hunger to plenty, poverty to comfort (25).
Part of the mutilation that Lim discusses can be seen in her fathers choice of
Shirley as a name for his daughter. Baba, as Lim would call him, is unconventionally
un-Chinese (42), especially in the fact that he was the only son to have taken a
peranakan woman as his wife and that he taught his children to speak English (41). He
was particularly drawn to the various forms of Western media and entertainment, and has
developed a deep fascination with Hollywood, an inclination that would compel him to
name his daughter after Shirley Temple. Unfortunately, Shirley becomes the signifier
for the identity crisis and cultural disjuncture that Lim as a child has to grapple with,
particularly when the notions of racial difference and colonial desire fail to align
themselves in her mind:


BIBLIOGRAPHY
Abbas, Ackbar. Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance. Minneapolis:
U of Minnesota P, 1997.
. Hong Kong: Other Histories, Other Politics. Public Culture 9 (1997): 293-313.
Achebe, Chinua. Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays 1965-1987. London:
Heinemann, 1988.
Ahmad, Aijaz. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London: Verso, 1992.
. The Politics of Literary Postcoloniality. Race & Class 36, no.3 (1995): 13.
Althusser, Louis. Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Translated by Ben Brewster.
New York: Monthly Review P, 1971.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991.
Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization.
Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996.
Awanohara, Susumu. Whipping Boy: Americans Get Worked Up about Michael Fays
Caning. Far Eastern Economic Review, 28 April 1994, 25.
Backman, Michael. Blame Indonesias Chinese? Far Eastern Economic Review,
5 March 1998, 34.
Barlow, Tani. Theorizing Woman: Funu, Guojia, Jiating (Chinese Women, Chinese
State, Chinese Family). In Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and
Transnational Feminist Practices, edited by Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan.
Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1994.
Bellows, Thomas J. Bridging Tradition and Modernization: The Singapore
Bureaucracy. In Confucianism and Economic Development: An Oriental
Alternative? edited by Hung-chao Tai. Washington, DC: Washington Institute P,
1989.
156


59
Perhaps it was my fathers calling to love every mangled or lost or refused
soul. (82)
These stories and instances of human compassion and connection populate Lees
childhood and imagination, and provide the emotional accuracy (123)46 which enables
the production of an alternative cosmopolitical vision that is both humane we/just.
To complete my reading of Lees cosmopolitanism, I would like to examine his
deployment of cannibalism as a trope for cultural incorporation. The concept of cultural
cannibalism has a theoretical legacy of critical intervention in Asian American literary
discourse. It uncovers the oppression and cultural violence of racism and assimilationist
rhetoric endured by Asian Americans. In discussing alimentary and quasi-cannibaliStic
images in Asian American literature, Sau-ling Cynthia Wong warns critics against relying
solely on Western and Christian understandings of these images and proposes that by
reading them contextually and collectively (within the parameters of Asian American
textuality and experience), these images could symbolize Necessityall the hardships,
deprivations, restrictions, disenfranchisements, and dislocations that Asian Americans
have collectively suffered as immigrants and minorities in a white-dominated country.47
While Lee taps into this imagistic and tropological tradition by demonstrating how state-
sponsored terrorism, diasporic displacement, and cultural violations have eaten into the
lives of his family, he also directionally reverses the image in order to convey unity,
circularity, and connection. This two-fold deployment of the trope of cultural
cannibalism opens spaces for cosmopolitical possibilities, though not at the expense of
political critique.
bell hooks argues that the commodification and consumption of the Other
provide a means of perpetuating white racism, imperialism, and sexist domination; by


29
readers ethnographic gaze of Chinese culture, especially in all its traditional finery and
exotic flavors and colors. Works by Chinese Americans who seek to assimilate into
Anglo-America function as safe Chinatown tour guides, leading their readers into the
dark, sin-filled, opium-infested alleyways of Chinatown. They provide descriptions of
strange and exotic Chinese cuisine and traditional (hence, backward) social practices and
customs. The goal is to show contempt for things Chinese [by] alternating with repeated
apology for Chinese or Chinese American culture and values and praise for everything
American, in the attempt to win acceptance into Anglo-America by reproducing the
binary logic of China.. [as] the symbol of backwardness, but America ... [as] the
epitome of modernity.69 Though these authors were technically rejecting Chinese
culture, they represented an inverted mode of cultural return in the form of self-
Orientalism. In so doing, they seek not to glorify their culture but to reject it by seeking
out the worst in order to feed prevalent stereotypes.
The post-Civil Rights era saw a growth in publishing opportunities for minority
writing, ushering in a prolific output of Chinese American literature and film in a
multiplicity of genres and tackling a broader spectrum of issues that reflect the
complexity and heterogeneity of Chinese American identity, culture, and experience.70
Contemporary Chinese American textuality has shifted its concern from submitting to the
logic of assimilation to that of racial empowerment and ethnic pride, beginning with the
works of authors like Frank Chin, Shawn Hsu Wong, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Jeffrey
Paul Chan, whose efforts were directed at debunking stereotypes, unabashedly returning
to ethnic roots, and claiming Americawhich Kingston proclaims is the purpose of her
book China Men1for Chinese (and Asian) Americans. In offering the strategic


85
of morality, and of public and private order.25 For this image to work, the Nation-as-
Woman must be depicted as chaste, dutiful, daughterly or maternal. It is this
representation of the nation that nationalists would frequently invoke as the tropological
site for national demarcation and patriotic discourse, a point that Radhakrishnan makes
when he discusses the anti-Western logic in nationalist histories of postcolonial states:
By mobilizing the inner/outer distinction against the outemess of the
West, nationalist rhetoric makes woman the pure and ahistorical
signifier of interiority. In the fight against the enemy from the outside,
something within gets even more repressed, and woman becomes the
mute but necessary allegorical ground for the transactions of nationalist
history.... Unable to produce its own history in response to its inner
sense of identity, nationalist ideology sets up Woman as victim and
goddess simultaneously.27
The shifting dynamics of the image of Nation-as-Woman allow it to denote
simultaneously the foundational order (as chaste Woman) and the vulnerability (as
victimized Woman) of the nation. These two dimensions work together to produce a
nationalist ideology that calls out to patriots to protect and defend the chastity of the
nation, lest she becomes a victim of enemy assault.
In the midst of national crisis and suffering, this image of the Woman as victim
also functions as a powerful device to evoke and signify nationalist feelings of anguish
and pain, and consequently to draw national solidarity. A case in point is fascist Japans
infamous rape of Nanking during World War Two: the brutal rape and murder of
countless Chinese women by Japanese soldiers metonymically structure a nationalist
historical narrative of Chinas subjection to Japanese aggression.28 (My goal here is
obviously not to detract attention from the real and horrifying brutality endured by the
Chinese people under Japanese occupation, nor the national humiliation and
encroachments China genuinely suffered at the hands of Japanese and Western


110
unhomeliness as the paradigm for the great expanse of historical time one calls
colonial and post-colonial, Bhabha has given diasporic consciousness the ontological
primacy to be the truly postcolonial perspective. His notions of hybridity, in
betweenness, and the unhomely ultimately feed into a kind of intercultural utopianism,
an idealized cosmopolitanism that, for Bhabha, evades the hierarchy that has so plagued
colonial and postcolonial cultural power relations:
For a willingness to descend into that alien territory where I had led
you may reveal that the theoretical recognition of the split-space of
enunciation may open the way to conceptualizing an international culture,
based not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures,
but on the inscription and articulation of cultures hybridity. To that end
we should remember that it is the inter the cutting edge of translation
and negotiation, the in-between space that carries the burden of the
meaning of culture. It makes it possible to begin envisaging national, anti
national histories of the people. And by exploring this Third Space, we
may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves.19
I am not adverse to embracing a critical cosmopolitics (see Chapter Two), for it is
after all one of the goals of any radical politics; nor am I closed to hybriditys
oppositional possibilities, especially as a means of critiquing cultural traditionalism and
essentialism, a point I have indicated earlier. My discomfort with Bhabhas formulation
of the hybrid Third Space, however, stems from the way he inadvertently pulls the
political rug from under the notion of hybridity in his eagerness to circumvent the
politics of polarity, hence denying it the opportunity of engaging a politics of resistance
and oppositionality. In trying to rescue it from political irrelevance within the cesspool
of multiculturalist and diversity discourses, Bhabha has instead accomplished what he set
out to avoid in the first place, which is to blunt hybriditys political edge to critique, for
instance, class hierarchies that often remain transparent in the postcolonial discourses on
race and diaspora.


CHAPTER 3
CRISES IN THE HOMELAND(S):
HONG KONG AMERICANS AND THE ART OF CULTURAL NEGOTIATION
Hope lies within another countrys semaphores.
The Goddess of Liberty, the Statue of Mercy....
Marilyn Chin
from Tienanmen, the Aftermath
Taking Sides?
Any discussion in the West about the fate of Hong Kong after 1997 inevitably
encompasses the words democracy, human rights, and political freedoms in its
discursive vocabulary, especially when Tiananmen Square 1989 functions for many as
the historical signifter that disturbs the narrative of Hong Kongs return to the motherland
and that unveils the ideological and political implications of the Chinese rule of Hong
Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region). In a recent conversation at a dinner party,
this issue was raised, and a Chinese friend of mine who was visiting the U.S. at the time
made the following observation: I do not understand why Americans are so obsessed
with Tiananmen; in China, it is a matter of little significance to the rest of the country .
The debate that expectedly ensued was critically intense. But in a calmer moment of
retrospection (after all the dust has settled), I realize that what my mainland friend has
said unintentionally offers an aporetic space for one to (reexamine the public discourses
that swirl around the Hong Kong question and their impact on global and cultural
politics, especially for Chinese in diaspora. The obvious problem with my friends
71


132
government has been guilty of instituting an unfair affirmative action-type policy on
behalf of the Malay majority, also known as the Bumiputra (roughly translated as the
Princes of the Land). This policy discriminates against the Chinese and Indian
minorities, especially in terms of government employment, university education,
financial aid, and political appointments. But to solely excoriate Malay racism and
discrimination against the Chinese would be an injustice, as the rich Chinese elite also
have a part to play in manipulating and exploiting the economy to their advantage (not
unlike the Indonesian Chinese), hence drawing the ire and resentment of the Malay
majority.
To be more accurate, my subsequent discussion of determinism in Lims work is not to
suggest that there is a total absence of choice but that Lims choices are determined by
the cultural and social spaces she occupies.
33 Some of these themes and Lims critique of them are also evident in her short stories.
See especially The Farmers Wife, A Pot of Rice, All My Uncles, and Keng
Hua, all available in Life's Mysteries.
34 Aihwa Ong, On the Edge of Empires: Flexible Citizenship among Chinese in
Diaspora, positions 1 (1993): 761. See page 762 for a comic illustration taken from the
South China Morning Post, 20 March 1989, depicting a Chinese astronaut having
lifelines that connect him to Hong Kong, Canada, and Australia.
35 Dirlik, Postcolonial Aura, 343. See footnote 20.


Ill
This issue of power differentials underlies the main critiques of Bhabhas
theories. Ella Shohat, for instance, warns us that a celebration of syncretism and
hybridity per se, if not articulated in conjunction with questions of hegemony and neo
colonial power relations, runs the risk of appearing to sanctify the fait accompli of
colonial violence.20 It is this danger of complicity that leads Aijaz Ahmad to expose the
hegemonic links between hybridity discourses in literary postcoloniality and the
imperialist impulses of transnational capitalist strategies. What Ahmad has difficulty
accepting is how the celebration of a postcolonial, transnational, electronically produced
hybridity is to be squared with ... [the] systematic decay of countries and continents, and
with decreasing chances for substantial portions of the global population to obtain
91
conditions of survival, let alone electronic literacy and gadgetry.
This disparity in power and class relations is compounded by the kind of hybridity
that postcolonial theory popularizes. As Arif Dirlik accurately observes, [t]he hybridity
to which postcolonial criticism refers is uniformly between the post colonial and the First
World, never... between one post colonial intellectual and another.22 Ahmad, in
pursuing a similar line of critique, further situates postcolonial hybridity within the
complexities of class and neo-colonial power relations in order to unearth the inequalities
that this form of hybridity conceals:
The entire logic of the kind of cultural hybridity that Bhabha celebrates
presumes the intermingling of Europe and non-Europe in a context already
determined by advance capital, in the aftermath of colonialism. In this
account, non-Europeans hardly ever encounter each other and never
without a prior European modulation of the very field of that encounter.
Nor do these celebrations of hybridity foreground the unequal relations of
cultural power today, rather, intercultural hybridity is presented as a
transaction of displaced equals which somehow transcends the profound
inequalities engendered by colonialism itself. Into whose culture is one to
be hybridised and on whose terms? The wilful relegation of this question


113
prompted the following declaration: I want you to write a memoir.23 What ensued in
that same conversation is equally if not more intriguing; in expressing how happy she is
for Lim, Howe articulates her interpretation of Urns recent good fortune: When I heard
you were moving from a community college to a university, I thought, at last, you were
being recognized. And I felt others were being recognized with you (320). Though she
is aware that Howes outspoken support is mediated through class and institutional
grids, Lim still feels moved by the kind of feminist and minority camaraderie reflected
in her comment. This particular incident extracted from Lims aforementioned memoir
Among the White Moonfaces is fascinating; for in a self-referential way, it subconsciously
points (via Howes comments) to a possible purpose to Lims writing of her memoir,
which is to tell a rags-to-riches story of one womans rise from her humble Malacca
beginnings to that of a prominent intellectual and scholar, who now takes her rightful
place in a prestigious university in the U.S.26 In a sense, this is the classic Horatio
Algers narrative retold through the problematics of diaspora, race, hybridity, and
intellectual and institutional hierarchies. Though Lim is very careful to confront and
negotiate the contradictions in her story, one senses that the cultural and political
critiques scattered throughout her narrative are eventually overwhelmed by the master
narrative of the American Dream, a myth that Lim herself seems, ironically, to be critical
of. Lims foregrounding of her own cultural hybridity, which is intended as a weapon
against U.S. assimilationist rhetoric and racist discourses, also unfortunately produces an
autobiographical narrative that reifies the very cultural logic it seeks to subvert.
As an immigrant story, Among the White Moonfaces recounts the difficulties and
pains of displacement, culture shock, alienation, and rejection that a diasporic person


121
I would like now to engage in a brief analysis of Lims memoir as a narrative of
sexual awakening. Lims emphasis on the theme of a racialized sexuality cannot be
viewed in isolation but must be contextualized within the problematics of determinism
and hybridity in order for one to visualize the connection. Maternal abandonment and
physical violence, as Lims narrative suggests, have not only scarred her emotionally but
also sexually. For instance, the Electra complex shifts into high gear when Emaks
leaving her family for Singapore clears a space for a particularly vulnerable and insecure
Lim to occupy in close connection to her father. As a child I adored my fathers body,
Lim confesses in a quasi-sexual manner. When the family goes swimming together, she
saw her siblings and herself as extensions of her fathers confident body,... links in an
unbreakable, undrownable chain, the meaning of my fathers life made manifest to him
(58). When her father in anger physically punishes her for a vulgar sign she has rather
innocently acquired, Lim, for the first time, sees herself defined as a sexual being in the
eyes of her father. The fear and taboo of incest would ultimately lead to a further
alienation between father and daughter, which is to culminate in her fathers marriage to
the family servants daughter Peng, who is only seven years Lims senior. What this
produces in Lim is resentment towards her stepmother and revulsion at her fathers
sexuality, a consciousness of which is intensified by the sounds that penetrate the thin
walls separating her from her father and Pengs bedroom. Lim writes, after an incident
where she loses her puppy and where Peng points out that Fathers attachment to ...
[his daughter] was unnatural (124):
The unassuaged grief perhaps had as much to do with Fathers betrayal as
with the actual loss of a pup. After Pengs accusation I never felt the same
way about Father. I was afraid of touching him. I could not bear to be
near him. His body which I had loved as a child seemed possessed with a


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to thank my dissertation committee for their suggestions, constructive
criticism, and, most of all, encouragement through the entire writing process; my parents
for their emotional and financial support; and, of course, my wife Mary for her love,
understanding, and endurance throughout my academic career.
11


93
alternative of British citizenship? What then is this brave new direction that Hong
Kong is portrayed as taking when it can never be free from the ancestral moorings and
illusory obligations when under Chinese rule? Nor can it be free to pursue this virtual
democracy, as Rey Chow calls it, which has been hastily planted and left behind...
like a land mine, producing a political situation that was guaranteed to be a permanent
source of irreconcilable conflict among the supposedly decolonized natives.39
Wang has questioned the legitimacy of political readings of his film and even the
existence of allegory in it. We dont make a moral judgment of any kind about the
handover, he argues, about whether its good or bad.40 In another interview, he denies
the films allegorical connections with the handover: Some people have misread this as
symbolism about the handover.... We did shoot a lot of real things that were happening
during the handover, but this is a complicated love story. Its about the heart of the
place.41 The argument for apolitical art is, of course, fallacious, though Wangs denial
of the allegory is still subject to debate. However, what I find intriguing is his
formulation of the film as a treatise on the heart of the place. Wang has suggested in
yet another interview that the movie is about the city of Hong Kong more than about a
character and a story. 4 Stephen Holden of the New York Times confirms this by
positing that the film is essentially a poetic meditation on the meaning of Hong Kong.
The characters ambiguous personal histories are metaphors for the city, which in turn
becomes a metaphor for the elusiveness of historical truth itself.43 Chinese Box,
therefore, becomes an ontological/epistemic excavation of Hong Kong through the
techniques of cinematographic visuality.


33
of PC As also suggest the theoretical importance of hybridity and the challenge it presents
to Chinese return and cultural identity, a concept I will engage and problematize in my
reading of Malaysian-Chinese American Shirley Geok-lin Lims Among the White
Moonfaces in Chapter 4. And finally, Chapter 5 offers an opportunity for me to write
myself, as a Singaporean in diaspora, into this project by examining the notion of
political inertia through an analysis of Fiona Cheongs poetics of innocence in The Scent
of the Gods.
Notes
1 William Wei, The Asian American Movement (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1993). See
especially Chapter 5, Activists and the Development of Asian American Studies, which
chronicles the links between early Asian American political activism and the subsequent
formation of Asian American studies programs within the politically charged climate of
these two universities.
King-kok Cheung, Re-Viewing Asian American Literary Studies, An Interethnic
Companion to Asian American Literature, Ed. King-kok Cheung (New York: Cambridge
UP, 1997), 1.
3 James Clifford, Diaspora, Cultural Anthropology 9 (1994): 311.
4 David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural
Change (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990), 141-72.
5 Arif Dirlik, The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global
Capitalism, Critical Inquiry 20 (1994): 351. In problematizing postcolonialisms
complicity with global capitalism, Dirlik here connects the latter with the global motions
of peoples in the past two to three decades.
6 Congress extended this act in 1892, 1902, and indefinitely in 1904. Apart from the
Chinese, other Asians were soon included in this exclusion: Japanese and Koreans (the
Gentlemens Agreement of 1907-1908), Indians (1917 Immigration Act), and Filipinos
(the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934). For a detailed account see Sucheng Chan,
Hostility and Conflict, Asian Americans: An Interpretive History (Boston: Twayne,
1991), 45-61; Paul Ong and John M. Liu, U.S. Immigration Policies and Asian
Migration, The New Asian Immigration in Los Angeles and Global Restructuring, Eds.
Paul Ong, Edna Bonacich, and Lucie Cheng (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1994), 45-73;


114
suffers. But more than that, it also depicts a journey of cultural, intellectual, and sexual
awakenings and discoveries; a journey where the demarcations of self and community are
alternately defined and blurred, and where national and cultural identities are constantly
contested and negotiated not only in postcolonial Malaysia but also in the United
Statesa struggle that continues even after Lim, having endured years of cultural
identity crisis, has finally and with much difficulty chosen to surrender her Malaysian
citizenship in order to become a U.S. citizen. This journey is also Lims paradoxical
search for home despite her knowing that unhomeliness, to follow Bhabhas
formulation, will always be her ontological state of consciousness as a diasporic person
and a cultural hybrid. On the other hand, this deterritorialized state is not unproductive in
Lims estimation, as it has helped to spur her growth as a poet, an author, and a scholar;
an explanation that is reminiscent of how modernist discourses on exile and alienation
have accounted for the creative geniuses of James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Joseph
Conrad, and Henry James. These various threads of self-discovery and cultural
identification eventually twine around the central tropes of postcolonial hybridity and
diasporic displacement. In a sense, hybridity and diaspora not only determine Lims
choice of material in the construction of her memoir, but they also provide the propulsive
force that in a deterministic fashion drives the linearity of Lims narrative, hence
producing the sort of conclusion that, in light of the factors involved, would be deemed
inevitable. It is this inevitability and its relation to power that I hope to interrogate.
In the subtitle of her memoir, Lim calls herself a Nyonya feminist.27 The
Nyonya people, or the Peranakans, who are also known as the Straits-bom Chinese, can
often trace their ancestry to interracial marriages between fifteenth-century Chinese


97
ends with the guy walking out on her again and a sobbing Jean rushing out of a stationary
bus she and John are in, leaving John with the cryptic and ambiguous That wasnt
William. Jean, therefore, remains as enigmatic and inscrutable as ever to John, for her
parting words basically throw into question again the veracity of her story.
One more point about the agency of visuality that needs to be made is how Wang
(to his credit) allows the power of visuality to reverse itself momentarily as a way of
destabilizing the possibility of ever knowing Hong Kong completely through the
cinematic gaze. This reversal ultimately reflects his own realization of the hybrid cultural
space that Hong Kong occupies that defies culturalist definitions. It also undermines his
own attempt at self-knowledge through a search for the real Hong Kong. He
accomplishes this by allowing the reins of visual power to pass from John to Jean as she
videotapes herself in close-ups. As Giles Deleuze explains, the facial close-up is an
affective-image that invites the viewer to ask questions: what are you thinking about?
Or, what is bothering you, what is the matter, what do you sense or feel?52 What we get
in Jean instead is an impassive countenance that problematizes reading. To further
complicate matters is the way she wields the camera in a fashion that impressionistically
ruptures the visual framing: the face is rotated one hundred and eighty degrees, the image
is often tilted at odd angles, and one gets half-faced shots of Jean. This rupturing of the
frame and the destabilizing of images, hence, resist the violence of cinematic visualitys
staging of its object as a mode of domination through seeing and knowing.
The camera also returns to haunt John in two scenes. The first is where Jim
projects the image of Jean onto John as he leans against the wall. Jeans projected face
neatly overlaps Johns, forming a single entity. The second is when John finally lies


45
Contemporary Chinese Cosmopolitanism: Hegemonic Alliances
The Indonesian crisis, in this sense, foregrounds the complex social, economic,
and political spaces, particularly within the Asia-Pacific Rim, that diasporic Chinese
inhabit and from which they are deterritorialized. It also unveils the problematics of
transnational culture and capital, as they intersect with the localized dimensions of race
and class. Although I advocate complex readings of diasporic experience that engage
local specificities, and resist reductive comparative analysis, the Indonesian situation
presents significant insights into the U.S. regimes of truth and power that the Chinese,
peripheral Chinese, and other Asian Americans have to negotiate and be subjected to.
The complexity of the Asian American context similarly rejects the simplistic political
dichotomy of oppressors and victims. Recent charges of illegal campaign contributions
to the Democratic Party by Asian and Asian American donors illustrate this complexity.14
With Republican politicians and conservative commentators crying foul, the issue of race
enters the political and media discourse, just as it has in Indonesia. Images of the
Chinese in America have been calibrated into xenophobic stereotypes that now transcend
the former Cold War dualism of the good (capitalist) Chinese versus the bad (communist)
Chinese,15 to assume the new version of the unscrupulous and unethical Chinese
transnational capitalist-exploiter, whom the Clinton administration has politically coddled
for Asian money,16 and who had in turn diverted wealth and jobs away from the
American people. Such generalizations and stereotypes once again mask the reality of
class distinction within a minority community through racial homogenization.
As is in the case of the Indonesian Chinese elite, what gets similarly highlighted
here is the place of transnational capital in the culture and politics of Asian America,


69
40 Ba is the Chinese version of Dad, constituting a more casual form of address than
Father.
41 Sukarno became the first president of a newly decolonized Indonesia in 1945.
42 The politics of language and speech patterns is a problematic well laid out by a number
of Asian American authors, hence highlighting its significance and importance to Asian
American studies and activism. See especially Maxine Hong Kingstons A Song for a
Barbarian Reed Pipe in The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts
(New York: Vintage, 1976); Amy Tan, Mother Tongue, Asian American Literature: A
Brief Introduction and Anthology, Ed. Shawn Wong (New York: HarperCollins, 1996),
40-44; and Traise Yamamoto, Different Silences, The Intimate Critique:
Autobiographical Literary Criticism, Eds. Diane P. Freedman, Olivia Frey, and Frances
Murphy Zauhar (Durham: Duke UP, 1993), 127-34.
43 Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Introduction: Rhizome, A Thousand Plateaus:
Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P,
1987), 3-25.
44 One is reminded of E. M. Forsters dictum here to only connect, as articulated by
Margaret Schlegel in Howards End. Forsters idealization of personal relationships as
one of the tenets of his philosophical creed presented in What I Believe, though heart
warming in its humanism, falters into an elitism that has also plagued the liberalism of
the Bloomsbury Group on the whole. See Edward Morgan Forster, What I Believe,
Two Cheers for Democracy (New York: Harcourt, 1951).
4~ Rey Chow, Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural
Studies (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993), 179.
46 In a different context, Lee uses this term to describe the stories his Javanese maid
servants Seeti and Lammi told him while he was a little boy. What Lee found to be
true is not the stories per se, but the stories behind the stories that convinced him
our island of cities and rice fields, forests, rivers, and volcanoes was The World (123).
I would argue that this constitutes the seed, the beginning, of Lees cosmopolitical
thought.
47 Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to
Extravagance (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993), 20.
48 bell hooks, Eating the Other: Desire and Representation, Black Looks: Race and
Representation (Boston: South End P, 1992), 36.
49 Edward W. Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP,
1983).


155
26 Ibid., 84.
27 Fiona Cheong, The Scent of the Gods (New York: Norton, 1991), 50. Subsequent
references to this work will be parenthetically documented.
28 Conservative William Safire, the perennial nemesis of Lee Kuan Yew, calls him, in a
quasi-sarcastic fashion, the worlds most intelligent, and to some most likable, despot.
In an interview with Lee, Safire questions him on a number of sensitive issues (which
remain off limits in Singapores government-controlled Straits Times)-, the neutralization
of political dissident Chee Soon Juan, the absence of free labor unions, the nepotism that
appears in Lee Hsien Loongs (one of Lees sons) rapid rise to power, and allusions to the
law suits and caning practices that form the legal modus operandi of controlling dissent.
William Safire, The Dictator Speaks: A Chat with Lee Kuan Yew, The Gainesville Sun,
16 February 1999.
29 King-kok Cheung, Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy
Kogawa (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993), 4.
30 Louis Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an
Investigation), Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Trans. Ben Brewster (New
York: Monthly Review P, 1971), 143.
31 C. J. W.-L. Wee, Contending with Primordialism: The Modern Construction of
Postcolonial Singapore, positions 1 (1993): 724.
32 Thomas J. Bellows, Bridging Tradition and Modernization: The Singapore
Bureaucracy, Confucianism and Economic Development: An Oriental Alternative? Ed.
Hung-chao Tai (Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute P, 1989), 214.
331 am looking forward to Cheongs future work and how she will depict, if she so
chooses to, the Singaporean American experience in the U.S. The problematic of
political inertia has a special resonance for the Singaporean diasporic and it would be
intriguing to examine a literary text that engages this issue in the context of American
political ideals.


13
pomp and military pageantry of the Joint Sino-British Handover Ceremony held at the
Convention and Exhibition Centre attended by Prince Charles, Prime Minister Tony
Blair, President Jiang Zemin, and Premier Li Peng. 33
Before I begin reading the tropological significance of the handover for diasporic
Chinese, I believe it is important at this juncture to acknowledge the material reality of
those whose lives are most directly affected by this historic event: the Hong Kong people
themselves. In the tumultuous explosion of celebration activities and in the grand scheme
of geopolitical relations between Britain and mainland China, the Hong Kong people and
their voices face erasure. Their transparency in this narrative of history is echoed in the
following sentiments of Hong Kong students studying in the U.S.:
What can a ceremony like that mean to us as a whole when it wasnt even
accessible to the common majority? ... That says to me that this doesnt
involve us. Just as the actual flags of Hong Kong were smaller and
secondary to the flags of the United Kingdom and the Peoples Republic
of China, so is the real Hong Kong.
The most striking effect of this occurrence was the image of C. H. Tung
[Beijing appointee to oversee Hong Kongs transition] standing side by
side with Chinas current president Jiang Zemin, speaking the language of
the Motherland rather than the language of the people he was chosen to
govern. Many local residents were bothered by this fact, and rightly so.34
The liminality of the Hong Kong people in the proceedings marks their continued
marginalization within the scheme of British and Chinese national self-interest. As
Ackbar Abbas theorizes, one of Hong Kongs ways of coping with this crisis is through a
cultural and political aesthetics of disappearance as a strategy of subjectivity,
producing a kind of ironic counter-discourse of resistance through self-erasure. 35
For diasporic Chinese, the significance of Hong Kongs return to the
Motherland, though it cannot be matched by the immediacy and urgency the moment


107
o
culture as is evident in the coercive rhetoric of both nativism and assimilation. Yet,
on the other hand, one is painfully cognizant of the fact that the critical possibilities of
hybridity can often be overwhelmed and co-opted by the terms easy fit into the project
of liberal multiculturalism, hence making transparent those very unequal power relations
and class distinctions it is suppose to interrogate. Unfortunately, it is within the same
critical spaces of hybridity and diaspora, which Lim privileges in her writing, that I find
the aforementioned hidden danger.
Reading Lims recently published memoir Among the White Moonfaces,
therefore, has been for me a contradictory experience marked by both pleasurable
moments of cultural and critical identification, and a general uneasiness fostered by
Lims problematic mobilization of hybridity and diaspora in the construction of her life
narrative. What I hope to accomplish here is to produce a hermeneutics of ambivalence:
a reading of Lims memoir that will not just seek to celebrate the oppositional potential of
the hybridity and diaspora discourses (though I will, to be fair to Lim, point out certain
junctures in her text that reflect this, as the occasion permits), but will also present a
critique of how these discourses serve to fuel and boost the careers of postcolonial
academic intellectuals of which Lims is a prime example. In the next section of this
chapter, I will briefly examine some of the major critiques of postcolonial hybridity,
which I believe will create an interpretive reference point for one to analyze Lims
construction of her memoir and the preeminent role hybridity plays as a force in
propelling the memoirs narrative towards its inevitable conclusion.


151
also symbolic of what C. J. W.-L. Wee observes to be the newly independent Singapores
creation of an indigenous, countrywide consumer culture as a mark of success.^1 To
produce this consumer culture, as the governments argument goes, requires Singapore to
transform itself into an industrialized modem nation-state. Racial, political, and national
unities are imperative, and trust in the government facilitates the formation of such
unities. Hence, the need to encourage the citizenry towards independent political
thinking and choice must take a back seat to the more urgent task at hand. The
assumption is that as long as the peoples material needs and desires are met, through a
consumer culture, and if a strong and politically entrenched government can do the job of
moving the nation into an economically and technologically competitive state, why
complicate the peoples lives with the problems of political difference and, more
significantly, political choice? If the peoples standard of living has been elevated, why
stir political waters, which will only disrupt the comfortable lifestyle the government has
provided? Such an argument also belies a gentle threat, premised on a slippery slope
argument and on another false dilemma: your comfortable and peaceful way of life can
only be maintained through unity and a strong one-party government; the alternative is
the disruption of that lifestyle and the nations collapse into political chaos and economic
uncertainty.
The Singapore governments desire to freeze its citizens in a state of political
childhood by maintaining their attachment to a consumer culture has come into conflict
with its project of nation-building and patriotism. This is evident in Thomas Bellows
observation that Singaporeans ... are permeated with strong doses of self-centeredness,
materialism, and self-gratification. On the other hand, the government has repeatedly


103
complexity of this image in the historical and political discourses in China, see Tani
Barlow, Theorizing Woman: Funu, Guojia, Mating (Chinese Women, Chinese State,
Chinese Family), which is also available in the above-mentioned collection.
29 Annette Kolodny, The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in
American Life and Letters (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1975). Kolodny studies
how in U.S. literary and historical discourses the land has been conceptualized as
Woman. What is of special interest here is the way she uncovers the contradictions of
this imagery where the land as virgin also entails violation and conquest. One has in
mind, for instance, the colonization of Native American territories and cultures, the
ruthless annexation of the northern parts of Mexico, and the destruction of ecosystems as
America is extended from sea to shining sea.
30 A chipao is a form of traditional Chinese dress for women. This traditionalism that
Chin plays on is a significant foundational element in Chinas Nation-as-Woman
nationalist rhetoric.
31
Sexual assault as the metaphor for Chinas victimization of its ethnic minorities is also
invoked in director Joan Chens recent film Xiu Xiu, The Sent Down Girl.
32 Chinese Epic about Hong Kong Premieres in Beijing, 97 News File [online], 9 June
1997, available at www.hkl997.china.com.
Chinese Box, prod, and dir. Wayne Wang, lOOmin., Trimark Pictures, 1998,
videocassette.
34 Quoted in Scarlet Cheng, The Homecoming, Far Eastern Economic Review, 15 May
1997,67.
33 bell hooks, The Cultural Mix: An Interview with Wayne Wang, Reel to Real: Race,
Sex, and Class at the Movies (New York: Routledge, 1996), 126-27.
36 Quoted in Kristin Hohenadel, A Human Face for Hong Kongs Identity Crisis, The
New York Times, 19 April 1998, 38.
37 James Stemgold, Wangs World in a Love Story, The New York Times, 9 January
1998, B7.
38
Wena Poon, review of Chinese Box, by Wayne Wang, Film Quarterly 31, no. 1 (1998):
34.
39 Chow, King Kong, 100.
40 Quoted in Cheng, The Homecoming, 68.


145
The world that Su Yen inhabits is a world where children are supposedly
protected and shielded from the trials and tribulations of the adult world. The sphere of
the child, therefore, is arbitrarily demarcated by a discursive cordon sanitaire, where
certain knowledges are deemed inappropriate for a childs ear. This matter is not for
children (174), Su Yens Grandma authoritatively and definitively states, even when the
other adults in the family debate the need for the children to know about Aunt Daisys
pregnancy. In order to enforce this maternal edict, certain social and discursive
mechanisms have been set in place to reify these separate spheres. Adult conversation is
often conducted in low, serious voices (173) or in hushed tones behind closed doors
(76), talking which stops when the childrens presence is felt. When information
inevitably reaches the children, explanation is frequently and intentionally over
simplified, postponed, circumvented or, worst of all, short-circuited with an authoritative
statement of fact that is either incomprehensible or logically contradictory, and that
demands the childrens acceptance under the imprimatur of adult authority. The
childrens grandma also resorts to mythopoeic devices such as the traditional Chinese
talk-story, which most of us have encountered in Maxine Hong Kingstons The Woman
Warrior. As Su Yen recollects, Grandma had fringed our lives with her stories of wars
and ghosts, and when we were younger we would believe what she said, and do only
what she said (225). These stories serve not just to instruct but also, in some situations,
to obfuscate and to avoid explanation. Hence, it is through these social and discursive
devices that the adults wield the power to control what the children can or cannot know,
thereby shaping the childrens world view. Implicit in this control is the assumption of
trust: children are to trust that the adults know what is best for them; by obeying


40
67 Elaine Kim discusses only a few of these authors in Asian American Literature. For a
more comprehensive list of women writers and their works during the period, see Amy
Ling, Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry (New York: Pergamon,
1990).
/o
Kim, Asian American Literature, 24-25.
69 Ibid., 61, 63.
70 For a brief introduction to and bibliography of contemporary Chinese American
literature and its major contributors, see Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, Chinese American
Literature, An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature, Ed. King-kok
Cheung (New York: Cambridge UP, 1997), 39-61.
71 Timothy Pfaff, Talk with Mrs. Kingston, New York Times Book Review, 18 June
1980, 1. Also quoted in Kim, Asian American Literature, 209.
72 Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club (New York: Ivy, 1989), 331.
Wang Ping, American Visa (Minneapolis: Coffee House, 1994). See also her latest
novel Foreign Devil (Minneapolis: Coffee House, 1996).
74 Amy Tan, The Kitchen Gods Wife (New York: Ivy, 1991).
73 Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts
(New York: Vintage, 1976), 6.
76 David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1988).


136
strategies to remain in power, it also supports the narrative of political progression that
situates the West at the forefront of the evolutionary scale.
The ambivalence I have articulated towards this notion of release is reflective of
what Salman Rushdie calls a stereoscopic vision, where the migrant is subjected to
having a kind of double perspective by being both insiders and outsiders.4 Instead of
trying to privilege this double vision of the migrant as the ideal cultural perspective (a
position I have critiqued in Chapter Four), I see it more as a troubling state of cultural
complexity and negotiation. For the politically radical Singaporean diasporic in America,
the stereoscopic vision encompasses a criticism of the political suppression in Singapore
that, at the same time, necessitates a questioning of the Orientalizing rhetoric of political
progression and evolution in the U.S. Singaporeans, like many who come from newly
decolonized nations, have been marked as lacking the political maturity and courage to
resist the comforting paternalism of strong-man regimes; and their release from the
clutches of their own government is construed as an initiation into an education in the
more progressive forms of American political and social values.
As a mean of fleshing out this stereoscopic vision, I would like to revisit my
reactions to Singapores 1994 international public relations fiasco surrounding the caning
of Michael Fay. This incident raises the issue of political (im)maturity, which Fiona
Cheong also problematizes in her novel The Scent of the Gods through the construction of
a poetics of innocence that challenges the Singapore governments rhetoric of trust. My
reading of Cheongs work will permit me to conclude this chapter by examining the
implications of her political aesthetics against the backdrop of a Singaporean culture of
political dependency and inertia.


55
disrupting cultural and political boundaries and traditionsas Lee rather teasingly asks,
what is it about seeds that might so offend a military regime or cause dictators [to]
fear? (46). The seed, therefore, holds for Lee a cosmopolitical faith in humanity and the
hope of new beginnings.
Furthermore, I would like to read The Winged Seed as a sort of seed narrative in
its construction. Lee disregards, in a postmodern way, narrative conventions of
chronological linearity and logical progression, but collapses time and space, as in the
dense, compact interiority of a seed, by shuttling between remembrances which are
weakly and spontaneously linked together by a succession of memory triggers. This
technique allows Lee to form an intricate interpenetrating network of life experiences and
possibilities, which does not just tropologically reflect the seeds life force but instead
resonates its own.
It is possible, on the other hand, to read Lees musings on the seed as a form of
prelapsarian utopianism mediated through a sort of Third World primordialism or
primitivism, a critique that many have justly leveled at the traditionalism and humanism
of contemporary Chinese cosmopolitanism. However, a contextualized look at Lees
formulation of his cosmopolitical vision via the seed metaphor reveals that he is
cognizant of the pitfalls, particularly the disadvantages of the metaphor itself and the way
he deploys it. For instance, he observes how stripping the morning glory seeds of their
gold husk reveals blacker thoughts, the seeds! (52), the lesson being that one must
come to terms with human weakness and evil, just as one celebrates human strength and
goodness. Lee is also painfully conscious of the biological/cultural determinism (as he is
equally resistant to his parents brand of Christian predestination) inherent in the very


160
Grewal, Inderpal, and Caren Kaplan, eds. Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and
Transnational Feminist Practices. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1994.
Hall, Stuart. Cultural Identity and Diaspora. In Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial
Theory: A Reader, edited by Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman. New York:
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. The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity. In Dangerous Liaisons:
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Harding, Harry. The Concepts of Greater China: Themes, Variations and
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Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural
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Andrew Parker, Mary Russo, Doris Sommer, and Patricia Yaeger. New York:
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Hill, Michael, and Lian Kwen Fee. The Politics of Nation Building and Citizenship in
Singapore. London: Routledge, 1995.
Hohenadel, Kristin. A Human Face for Hong Kongs Identity Crisis. The New York
Times, 19 April 1998, 29, 38.
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Morning Post [online], 1 July 1997, www.hongkong97.com.hk.


75
struggle with this double vision. What I am suggesting here is not so much the erasure of
a material Hong Kong culture with the handover in 1997, but rather the intensification of
a politics of subjectivity that the Hong Kong people and Hong Kong diasporics, including
Hong Kong Americans, have to negotiate as Hong Kong itself shuffles between a British
colonial legacy, a Chinese nationality, and a distinct but marginalized Hong Kong
cultural identity. Hence, the notion of Hong Kong Americans witnessing the historical
crises (as in Tiananmen Square and the 1997 handover) is crucial in my analysis,
particularly in the way such events dislocate these cultural negotiations and throw into
crisis the question of subjectivity.
A brief examination of the cultural and political scene that the Hong Kong people
have occupied is critical in shedding some light on the Hong Kong American cultural
identity predicament. Since the beginning of British rule, Hong Kong, the port city, has
regularly been regarded as a space of transit, a city of migrants who adopt what Ackbar
Abbas calls a port mentality, where everything is provisional, ad hoc and where
everything floatscurrencies, values, human relations.8 This feeling of transience was
compounded by the British who, for imperialist reasons, minimized the political
participation of the Hong Kong people, who could only channel their energies into the
economic sphere, which is their only condition of possibility.9 Politically and
culturally, many also see Hong Kong as a borrowed place,10 which will one day be
returned to China. These different sociopolitical factors contribute to a misguided belief
(again premised on the Orientalist East-versus-West dichotomy) that the very idea of a
Hong Kong culture is oxymoronic. This notion is based on the following logic: if China
is the cultural origin and future of Hong Kong, one must then judge the authenticity of


115
merchants and the Malays of the Malacca Sultanate.28 As Malay-Chinese hybrids, the
Peranakans occupy that impure cultural space of in-betweenness, thereby often
resulting in their marginalization within or exclusion from both Malay and Chinese
societies. Although her father is Hokkien,29 Lim was brought up by her mother to speak
Malay, the language of the Peranakans, and to live according to Peranakan cultural
traditions. Therefore, it is understandable that Lim would identify more readily with her
mothers cultural heritage and racial hybridity. However, Lims emphasis on the Nyonya
aspects of her background at the beginning of her memoir is also politically strategic in
that her hybridity offers her the perfect position from which to launch a two-pronged
cultural critique. Firstly, it permits Lim to question Chinese centrism and chauvinism:
Chinese-speaking Malayans called me a Kelangkia-kwefor a Malay devil30
because I could not or would not speak Hokkien (28); they were hostile to peranakans,
whom they looked down on as degraded people, people who had lost their identity when
they stopped speaking Chinese (70). Secondly, Nyonya hybridity also enables Lim to
challenge Malay discrimination against the Chinese in post-independence Malaysia:
More and more, the term Malay appeared where British once stood.
The Malaysian, that new promise of citizenship composed of the best
traditions from among Malays, Chinese, Tamils, Eurasians, Dayaks, and
so forth, seemed more and more to be a vacuous political fiction, a public
relations performance. ... One groups empowerment appeared to lead to
anothers oppression. As a thoroughly English-educated mind, emptied of
Chinese racialized sentiments, I was a mold into which the idealism of a
progressive multiracial identity could be poured. Chinese chauvinism
offended me as much as other racisms, for, although of Chinese descent, I
was usually treated by Malayan Chinese speakers as foreign, alien, and
worse, decadent, an unspeakable because unspeaking, degenerate
descendent of pathetic forebears. But Malay chauvinism was no better.
(188-89)31


162
Lim, Shirley Geok-lin. Among the White Moonfaces: Memoirs of a Nyortya Feminist.
Singapore: Times Books International, 1996.
. Asian American Daughters Rewriting Asian Maternal Texts. In Asian Americans:
Comparative and Global Perspectives, edited by Shirley Hume, Hyung-chan
Kim, Stephen S. Fugita, and Amy Ling. Pullman: Washington State UP, 1991.
. Assaying the Gold: Or, Contesting the Ground of Asian American Literature.
New Literary History 24 (1993): 147-69.
. The Center Can(not) Hold: U.S. Womens Studies and Global Feminism.
Women 's Studies Quarterly 26, no.3-4 (1998): 30-39.
. Feminist and Ethnic Literary Theories in Asian American Literature. Feminist
Studies 19(1993): 571-96.
. Hegemony and Anglo-American Feminism: Living in the Funny House. Tulsa
Studies in Women Literature 12 (1993): 279-88.
. Immigration and Diaspora. In An Interethnic Companion to Asian American
Literature, edited by King-kok Cheung. New York: Cambridge UP, 1997.
. Japanese American Womens Life Stories: Matemality in Monica Sones Nisei
Daughter and Joy Kogawas Obasan. Feminist Studies 16 (1990): 288-313.
. Lifes Mysteries: The Best of Shirley Lim. Singapore: Times Books International,
1995.
. Reconstructing Asian American Poetry: A Case for Ethnopoetics. MELUS 14,
no.2 (1987): 51-63.
. Semiotics, Experience, and the Material Self: An Inquiry into the Subject of the
Contemporary Asian Woman Writer. Women's Studies 18, no.2-3 (1990):
153-76.
. The Tradition of Chinese American Womens Life Stories: Thematics of Race and
Gender in Jade Snow Wongs Fifth Chinese Daughter and Maxine Hong
Kingstons The Woman Warrior. In American Womens Autobiography:
Fea(s)ts of Memory, edited by Margo Culley. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1992.
. Up Against the National Canon: Womens War Memoirs from Malaysia and
Singapore. The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 28, no. 1 (1993): 47-64.
, ed. Approaches to Teaching Kingston's The Woman Warrior. New York: MLA,
1991.


49
This alliance between cultural conservatism and transnational capitalism accounts
in part for the entrenchment of the kind of class oppressive systems one finds in
Indonesia and increasingly in the United States. With the complication of racism and
racial politics, the Chinese in both these countries realize the importance of political
mobilization. However, the confluence of cultural elitism and transnational capital in
Chinese cosmopolitanism, as it meets up with the need to confront racism, produces a
neo-conservative politics that is willing to question the injustices of racial prejudice and
racist crimes but refuses to confront the inequities of class differences, which Chinese
cosmopolitanism only further reinforces. Glenn Omatsu exposes this contradiction in his
analysis of Asian American neo-conservatism. As products of the Reagan-Bush era,
these neo-conservatives are children of the corporate offensive against workers, the
massive transfer of resources from the poor to the rich, and the rebirth of so-called
traditional values.31 What Omatsu obliquely alludes to but does not extrapolate are the
connections between Asian American traditional values, Asian transnational culture,
and global business. The figure of the Asian American neo-conservative, in this context,
represents the problematic mobilization of minority politics without fully engaging in a
critical fashion the intersecting discourses of class, race, and transnational capital.
Its alignment with late capitalism and conservative politics had liberal
intellectuals shying away from the notion of cosmopolitanism, as Bruce Robbins notes in
Secular Vocations. Instead of relinquishing claim of the concept to his political
opponents, Robbins offers a radical recasting of the term, an argument he takes up in the
recently published Cosmopolitics, a volume he co-edited with Pheng Cheah. Though
cosmopolitanism is clearly an outgrowth or ideological reflection of global capitalism,


34
Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (New
York: Penguin, 1989), 3-18.
7 Ong and Liu, U.S. Immigration Policies and Asian Migration, 50-51.
8 Ibid., 48. Of course, the authors are quick, and correct, to point out the irony of reading
these events in counterpoint to the internment of Japanese Americans and the presence of
racial quotas in subsequent immigration legislation.
9 Paul Ong, Edna Bonacich, and Lucie Cheng, The Political Economy of Capitalist
Restructuring and the New Asian Immigration, The New Asian Immigration, 24.
10 Ong and Liu, U.S. Immigration Policies and Asian Migration, 52.
11 Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Studies (Durham: Duke UP,
1996), 60-83. Subsequent references to this text will be parenthetically documented. The
chapter I am specifically referring to here is Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity:
Asian American Differences.
12 John M. Liu and Lucie Cheng, Pacific Rim Development and the Duality of Post-
1965 Asian Immigration to the United States, The New Asian Immigration, 74.
13 On the question of Asian American panethnic solidarity, see Yen Le Espritu, Asian
American Panethnicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities (Philadelphia: Temple UP,
1992). Espritu takes up the issue of class in Yen Espritu and Paul Ong, Class
Constraints on Racial Solidarity among Asian Americans, The New Asian Immigration,
295-321. The post-1965 professional immigrants tend to have difficulty identifying with
the class struggles fought by Asian American activists during the Civil Rights era. The
authors, hence, argue the need for Asian Americans to unite politically across class
structures as the welfare state bureaucracy treats Asian Americans as a single
administrative unit in the distribution of economic and political resources, [and] it
imposes a racial structure on persons and communities dependent on government
support (301).
14 Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 1.
15 Frank Chin, Jeffrey Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Hsu Wong, eds.,
Aiiieeeeel: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers (Washington, DC: Howard UP,
1974). In the preface of this landmark anthology, the editors define Asian-American/zess
as a sensibility one acquires through birth, but add that one can also develop this
sensibility by choice. (ix-x) The problem with this argument lies not only in the
definition of this sensibility but also in that it can lead to a hierarchy of Asian
American cultural authenticity.


53
Overnight, the Lees were transformed into outcasts and, later, political refugees, as
Sukarnos anti-Chinese purging intensified and expanded across the country. In Lees
own ominous words, Escape was impossible, the purge had begun, weapons were being
handed out to farmers as well as thugs, and all over the island, agents of the president
were preaching the evils of Chinese and other foreigners.... What was obviously about
to happen, chaos and killing, had already begun (194). Bas imprisonment strangely and
fortuitously provided a channel of escape for the family. While being transferred to
another prison in Macau, Ba escaped, with the help of a friend. The Lee familys exile
brought them to Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore (38), before they arrived in Seattle in
1964 (12) and eventually settled in East Liberty, Pennsylvania (78). Lee refuses to reify
the U.S. as a paradisal political safe haven. Though physical endangerment was no
longer a major concern in America, diaspora has translated the Lees from cultural
periphery (as Chinese minorities in Indonesia) to cultural periphery (as Asian
Americans). In the U.S., the family had to cope with a different set of racial and
assimilationist politics, one that was comparatively benign (vis--vis Sukarnos
Indonesia) but no less violent in its mechanism of cultural oppression and alienation:
while Ba, as a pastor of a church, cares for a congregation that labels him as their
heathen minister (82), Lee himself struggles with the psychological trauma and self
doubt that inevitably come from failing to speak American English with the correct
accent and pronunciationWhile some sounds were tolerated, some even granting the
speaker a certain status in the instances of, say, French or British, other inflections
condemned one to immediate alien.... More than once I was told I sounded ugly. My
mouth was a shame to me, an indecent trench (76)42


52
In a sense, the deterritorialized state of the winged seed is cosmopolitan in its
production of multiple belongings, not unlike that of the flexible citizenship of Chinese
transnational capitalists. However, to avoid the conservative celebratory gesture of the
latters cosmopolitanism, Lee reveals the mechanisms that enable (or force) diasporic
flight and dispersion (frequently of the exilic type), hence unmasking the political
violence and cultural nationalisms that marginalize, uproot, and displace groups of people
into diasporic existence.
The story of Lees diasporic flight begins in Jakarta in 1957 where he was bom.
Three years later his father was charged with working for the CIA in plans to bomb
military installations on the island of Java and for spreading discontent by preaching
ideas from the West;39 he was subsequently imprisoned for a year. Lee proceeds to
detail the terrorism enacted upon Ba40 and his family by President Sukarnos
government,41 hence fleshing out the tactics of social alienation, racial incitement, and
ideological purging:
While blueprints taken from . [Bas] office only showed plans for
classroom buildings, copies of certain letters proved incriminating enough
for Sukarno to have him taken from his home by armed men. The squad
of booted and uniformed men marching up our steps and the sight of four
big army jeeps idling in our narrow street, which was barely wide enough
for the coffer seller and the coconut peddler to pass shoulder to shoulder
trundling their pushcarts, was enough of a signal to the entire
neighborhood that wed become pariahs. Anyone associating with us
risked the same treatment. From that day on, even friends stopped coming
by.
He was, of course, innocent from the start. My father was one of
the most nonpolitical persons Ive ever known.... But suspicion fell on
him because, first of all, he was Chinese, and then because, as vice
president of Gamaliel University, hed invited a number of teachers and
scholars from seminaries all over the United States to visit Jakarta as part
of an exchange program, and he had on one occasion housed a minister
from Ohio. Such associations while Sukamo was trying to ally himself
with China and Russia could not be tolerated. (107-8)


50
he argues, it remains possible to speak (in [Paul] Rabinows phrase) of critical
cosmopolitanism.33 By registering cosmopolitanism as a domain of contested
politics,34 radical intellectuals should proffer cosmopoliticalto use Robbins and
Cheahs play on the titlealternatives to challenge transnational capitals version(s) of it.
Hence, one can envisage a critical Chinese cosmopolitanism as a theoretical mode of
intervention that uncouples the links connecting Chinese traditionalism and neo
conservatism to transnational capitalism and, in the process, confronts the issues of class
disparity and exploitation that are often elided in the postcolonial critique of racial,
cultural, and political oppressions. In taking a step towards formulating such a notion of
critical Chinese cosmopolitanism, the next section of my essay will offer a reading of
the work of Indonesian-Chinese American poet Li-Young Lee as a route towards
engaging these issues. I am aware that a political project of this scope cannot be
adequately addressed by mere exegesis of literary texts; therefore, my interpretation of
Leewho is by no means radical in his political identificationserves only to tease out
possibilities and positionings, albeit within the literary framework, to contest and disrupt
Chinese cosmopolitanism and to foster further thinking on the formulation of critical
alternatives.33
Winged Deterritorialization and Cultural Cannibalism:
The Cosmopolitical Visions of Li-Young Lee
The poetry of Li-Young Lee, which has been compared to that of John Keats,
Rainer Maria Rilke, and Theodore Roethke,36 has earned him a place among Asian
American literary figures of national standing. With two collections to his creditRose
(1986) and The City in Which I Love You (1990), Lee has also recently published an


154
reflected in this poll by stating that the phone calls it received from Americans were 60 to
40 in favor of the sentence. Susumu Awanohara, Whipping Boy: Americans Get
Worked Up About Michael Fays Caning, Far Eastern Economic Review, 28 April
1994, 25. Frank Ching of the Far Eastern Economic Review argues that the unexpected
support for punishment pronounced extreme by Clinton is less a reflection of American
approval for Singapore than dissatisfaction with their own society. The public is fed up
with the crime and violence that characterise life in U.S. cities. Ching, Fay Case, 38.
14 Condemn Singapores Brutality, The New York Times, 10 April 1994, 18.
15 Time to Assert American Values, The New York Times, 13 April 1994, A20.
16 Philip Shenon, Overlooked Question in Singapore Caning Debate: Is the Teen-Ager
Guilty? The New York Times, 17 April 1994, 10.
17 No Mercy: Singapore Justice and American Reaction, The Nation, 25 April 1994,
543.
18 See for instance, William J. Bennett, Raising Cain on Values, Newsweek, 18 April
1994, 23.
19 Quoted in Bush Criticizes Caning but Likes Singapore, The New York Times, 16
April 1994,4. Bushs praise of Singapore is troubling in that it is an implicit sanction of
the Singapore governments argument that economic and social stability should transcend
individual and political freedom. Bushs position is reminiscent of the support that the
Reagan administration gave to numerous authoritarian governments around the world in
order to contain Communism and to ensure the success of U.S. big business ventures in
the Third World.
20 Condemn Singapores Brutality, 18.
21*
Elliots essay Crime and Punisment in Newsweek is an instance of the way the media
has constructed a narrative of political progressionthe Oriental cultures still resort to
brutal and cruel modes of punishment, while the West has evolved in their approach to a
more civilized penal code. The article even features a timeline that situates the various
stages of the American penal system.
22
Rey Chow, Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural
Studies (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993), 86.
23 Ibid., 83.
24 Ibid., 84.
25
Ibid., 85.


PERIPHERAL CHINESE AMERICANS
AND THE CULTURAL POLITICS OF
CHINESE DIASPORA, TRANSNATIONALISM, AND RETURN
By
KENG WAH KENNETH CHAN
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
1999

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to thank my dissertation committee for their suggestions, constructive
criticism, and, most of all, encouragement through the entire writing process; my parents
for their emotional and financial support; and, of course, my wife Mary for her love,
understanding, and endurance throughout my academic career.
11

TABLE OF CONTENTS
page
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ii
ABSTRACT v
CHAPTERS
1 FROM PERIPHERY TO PERIPHERY: PERIPHERAL CHINESE
AMERICANS AND THE MYTHOGRAPHY OF CHINESE RETURN 1
Hong Kong 97: Return in the Chinese Diasporic Imaginary 10
Problematizing Return: Cultural Traditionalism and U.S. Orientalism 20
Coda: Reading Return in Chinese America 25
Notes 33
2 CHINESE COSMOPOLITANISM CRITIQUED: CRITICAL ALTERNATIVES
IN THE WORK OF LI-YOUNG LEE 41
Indonesia in Crisis: Race, Class, and Chinese Transnational Capital 41
Contemporary Chinese Cosmopolitanism: Hegemonic Alliances 45
Winged Deterritorialization and Cultural Cannibalism: The Cosmopolitical
Visions of Li-Young Lee 50
Notes 65
3 CRISES IN THE HOMELAND(S): HONG KONG AMERICANS AND THE
ART OF CULTURAL NEGOTIATION 71
Taking Sides? 71
Ambiguities of Hope: Marilyn Chin on the Crisis in Tiananmen 78
Visualizing Hong Kong: Wayne Wang on the Crisis of the 1997 Handover 88
Notes 100
4 THE POLITICS OF POSTCOLONIAL HYBRIDITY: THE MEMOIR OF
SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN LIM 105
The Native Daughter Made Good 105
Critiques of Postcolonial Hybridity 108
iii

A Fugitive Presence Determined 112
Notes 129
5 POLITICAL INERTIA AND THE SINGAPOREAN IN DIASPORA:
REFLECTIONS ON THE MICHAEL FAY DEBACLE AND FIONA
CHEONGS POETICS OF INNOCENCE 133
Reading the Singaporean in Diaspora 133
The Michael Fay Case: Nationalism, Crisis, and Human Rights 137
Trust/Oppression: Fiona Cheongs Poetics of Innocence 142
Notes 152
BIBLIOGRAPHY 156
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 168
IV

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
PERIPHERAL CHINESE AMERICANS
AND THE CULTURAL POLITICS OF
CHINESE DIASPORA, TRANSNATIONALISM, AND RETURN
By
Keng Wah Kenneth Chan
December 1999
Chairman: R. Brandon Kershner
Major Department: English Department
The ethnic category of peripheral Chinese Americans encompasses ethnic
Chinese who do not come from mainland China but come from other parts of Asia and
Southeast Asia such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. In the
struggle with their hybrid and diasporic identities and their double marginality, these
peripheral Chinese Americans have to confront not just U.S. Orientalism but also
Chinese nativisms claim to cultural traditionalism in the name of racial authenticity. The
latter is achieved through the historical and ideological workings and transformations of
Chinese return, and its influence on the formation of a Chinese transnational imaginary.
The impact of return on this imaginary emerges in the 1997 Hong Kong handover, which
one can theorize as a mass-mediated, globalized space where the ideology of return is
disseminated to an imaginary community of diasporic Chinese. The handover and its
terrifying Other, Tiananmen Square, form critical and contradictory aspects of the
v

diasporic consciousness of Hong Kong Americans, forcing them to engage in cultural
negotiations, as Marilyn Chins poetry in The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty and
Wayne Wangs Chinese Box illustrate. One finds another configuration of return in a
Chinese cosmopolitanism that forges a link between transnational capital and neo-
Confucian humanism. Going beyond a critique of this alliance, the work of Li-Young
Lee presents the beginnings of a critical alternative to this cosmopolitanism. The
multiply-inscribed identities of peripheral Chinese Americans also suggest the
theoretical importance of hybridity and the challenge it presents to Chinese return and the
contradictions of cultural identity formation. Although Shirley Geok-lin Lims academic
memoir Among the White Moonfaces effectively uses cultural hybridity to unhinge the
hegemony of Western imperialism and Third World cultural chauvinism, it fails to
address the questions of class privilege and institutional elitism. And finally, as a
Singaporean-Chinese in the United States, 1 write myself into this project through an
analysis of my response to the Michael Fay incident and an examination of Fiona
Cheongs poetics of innocence in The Scent of the Gods, in order to foreground the
Singaporean Americans struggle to overcome the politics of inertia.
vi

CHAPTER 1
FROM PERIPHERY TO PERIPHERY:
PERIPHERAL CHINESE AMERICANS AND THE MYTHOGRAPHY OF
CHINESE RETURN
The discursive terrain of Asian American studies in the 1990s has undergone
significant changes since the inception of the Asian American Movement in the late
1960s and the formation of the first Asian American studies program at the University of
California at Berkeley and San Francisco State University.1 In re-assessing the field of
Asian American literary studies, King-kok Cheung notes that while identity politics -
with its stress on cultural nationalism and American nativity governed earlier
theoretical and critical formulations, the stress is not on heterogeneity and diaspora. The
shift has been from seeking to claim America to forging a connection between Asia and
Asian America.2 In a specific way, Cheungs observation exemplifies James Cliffords
argument that diasporic language appears to be replacing, or at least supplementing,
minority discourse.3
It comes as no surprise that this foregrounding of heterogeneity and diaspora
within Asian American social and critical discourse arises in tandem with the economic
ascendancy of Asian countries within the Pacific Rim, particularly in the 1980s and early
1990s, and with the post-World War II neo-colonial entanglements of the United States
within the region in the form of anti-Communist military adventurism and transnational
capitalist hegemony. The U.S. Cold War era policy of Communist containment is
1

2
inextricably bound to the promotion of capitalist ideology through, for instance, the
political support of certain authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes in Asia, so as to
promote political stability in the region and, consequently, to ensure a supply of
markets and cheap labor for U.S. transnational corporations as part of their flexible
accumulation strategy.4 This political and economic network created ultimately
facilitates the diasporic flows of immigrants, exiles, refugees, students, professionals, and
intellectuals into the U.S.,5 especially from the Third World and, in particular, Asia.
This Asian influx was due in part to the Immigration Act of 1965, which marked a
significant and important shift in a U.S. immigration policy that had been plagued by a
racist history of anti-Asian legislation dating back to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.6
The 1965 law fundamentally reversed the earlier policy of exclusion by dismantling the
national-origins quotas and the Asia-Pacific Triangle concept, both set up by Congress
to limit Asian immigration, and by encouraging reunification of family members
separated by the exclusion acts.7 This political change of heart might in part be
attributed to the fact that the U.S. governments position had become increasingly
contradictory in its attempt to maintain a racist policy at home while functioning as the
unofficial global police in criticizing human rights violations and abuses abroad. For
instance, after World War Two, the international communitys acceptance of the U.S. as
wartime leader of the free world added pressure to abolish all racially discriminating
policies and to adopt immigration policies congruous with democracys fight against
fascism. Another reason for the 1965 shift in policy was to promote the interests of
U.S. transnational capital in the Asia-Pacific region, for the U.S. government could no
longer afford to maintain a blatantly racist immigration policy with respect to the

3
region9 when its goal was to create a political and social climate in the Pacific Rim
countries congenial to U.S. business interests.
By briefly drawing out the relationships between transnational capitalism, the
trans-Pacific Asian migration, and the U.S. Immigration Act of 1965,1 seek to highlight
their significance to the current emphasis in Asian American studies on the problematics
of heterogeneity and diaspora, especially by cultural and literary critics in the field. In
opening the immigration floodgates, the U.S. government did not anticipate the in
pouring of Asian immigrants, not only from China and Japan (as families are being
reunited after years of separation due to the exclusion acts) but also from India, the
Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other Southeast Asian countries.10
Although the presence of these new Asian migrants has infused new blood into the
Asian American communities, they also further contribute to the heterogeneity, hybridity,
and multiplicity11 of Asian America in ways that extend beyond the categories of
ethnicity and national origin. By conceptualizing the Asian American experience through
the notions of heterogeneity, hybridity, and multiplicity, cultural theorists can disrupt, as
Lisa Lowe argues, the dominant, orientalist construction of Asian Americans (67) and
can disengage the nativism-versus-assimilation binary logic (75). Asian American
cultural identity, therefore, should be theorized not as a fixed, established given, but
rather being in a continual process of flux and transformation (64). I also find Lowes
deployment of the term multiplicity particularly useful in that it prevents the slide of
heterogeneity and hybridity into an uncritiqued celebration of differences, as is
evident in the current predicament of the multiculturalist project. By defining
multiplicity as the ways in which subjects located with social relations are determined

4
by several axes of power, [and] are multiply determined by the contradictions of
capitalism, patriarchy, and race relations (67), Lowe foregrounds the questions of class,
gender, and uneven power differentials that confront the Asian American community,
especially with the arrival of the post-1965 immigrants. The Immigration Act of 1965
has created what John Liu and Lucie Cheng calls a duality of Asian immigration into
the U.S., where the migrants that arrive are no longer made up of the semi-skilled or
unskilled but also include the professional and managerial class.12 Hence, to flatten the
distinct class differences in order to initiate this latter group into the majority/minority
paradigm of U.S. race relations is to ignore the possible intra-ethnic tensions created by
class, which will ultimately affect Asian American solidarity13 and cultural identity.
The growing presence of a diasporic consciousness in post-1965 Asian American
cultural productions also stems in part from the need of Asian Americans to articulate this
heterogeneity, multiplicity, and hybridity in their social and cultural identity formation.
To highlight ones diasporic-es.s is to engage questions of cultural translation,
deterritorialization, displacement, all of which contribute to an understanding of Homi
Bhabhas notions of hybrid in-betweeness.14 Diaspora also means disrupting the notion
of immigrants as Lockean tabulae rasae upon which American culture can be easily
inscribed for assimilation purposes. Instead of resorting to an essentialist response, as the
editors of Aiiieeeee! have in the 1970s,1 ^ a diasporic consciousness ultimately hopes to
reinscribe the historical, political, and cultural connections of the Asia-Pacific, Asian
America, and the United States; and to problematize the hermetic views of U.S. history
by situating it within the context of a broader regional perspective ... [in order] to
question the ways in which it has been conceived and written.16 Though Sau-ling

5
Wong cautions against an uncritical adoption of a diasporic perspective because it vacates
the position on the domestic American scene that Asian Americans hold to create their
own panethnic solidarity and identity with people of color,17 my sense is that the goals
of panethnic solidarity and those of diasporic studies of Asian Americans need not be
antithetical or mutually exclusive; in fact, diaspora provides moments of self-critique
within the field by challenging theorists to rethink constantly the category of Asian
American and not prematurely settle for a cementing of the term in reaction to the
dominant discourse of racial taxonomy.
The above deliberation on heterogeneity and diaspora is my circuitous way of
mapping out the historical and theoretical contours of Asian American discourse in order
10
to situate the topic of this project: peripheral Chinese Americans and the problematics
as evident in their cultural productions. The issues that I have raised above will be of
relevance when I focus on the specificity of peripheral Chinese Americans.
The category of peripheral Chinese Americans is clearly an artificial ethnic
subgroup, which I am designating as a site for cultural analysis and intervention.
Peripheral Chinese Americans (PCAs), for the purposes of this project, refer to
Americans of Chinese descent who are not from mainland China but come from countries
such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the
Philippines, and other Asian and Southeast Asian countries, representing part of the
Chinese diaspora or, what some sinologists and historians of Chinese history have
recently termed, Greater China, a concept I will deal with later in this chapter. It is
significant at this point to note that there is a merging of the diasporic histories of PCAs
and the early Chinese migrants to the U.S. Both groups can trace their ancestries to the

6
originating point of the Chinese diasporic movement: the earliest Chinese Americans
arrived in the U.S. directly from China, whereas the ancestors of the PC As settled in
other parts of Asia before their descendants migrated to the U.S.
Early in the fifteenth century when Chinese junks plied the Southeast Asian trade
routes, many Chinese began settling in places like Malacca and some intermarried with
the locals. The greatest wave of migration from China to various parts of Asia occurred
between 1848 and 1888 during the Ching dynasty, leading to the arrival of even more
Chinese in Southeast Asia, the West Indies, and Australia,19 and, hence adding to the
growing Chinese population in these regions. The post-1965 migration of the Chinese
from Southeast Asia, Taiwan, and Hong Kong to the U.S. would eventually help
constitute the category of PCAs.
The diasporic history of the Chinese Americans also runs parallel to that of the
PCAs. Between 1848 and 1888, migrants coming directly from China arrived in Hawaii
and in the continental United States through California, many of whom were lured by the
Gold Rush of 1849, and later by the coolie trade and indentured labor system to supply
the needed manpower20 for the building of the transcontinental railroads. These migrants
would form the ancestral lineage of the pre-1965 Chinese Americans. The influx of
Chinese migrants into the U.S. abated in 1882 with the Chinese Exclusion Act, and it was
not till 1965 that the Chinese diasporic flows resumed with fewer restrictions.
Meanwhile, between 1882 and 1965, much transpired for the multiple generations
of Chinese diasporics who had settled in their host countries in Asia and Southeast Asia
(the ancestors of the future PCAs). New cultural, political, and national identities were
forged. Many are also considered cultural hybrids, such as the Peranakans (products of

7
Malay-Chinese intermarriages) in Malacca, Penang, and Singapore, who are also known
as Straits Chinese,21 many of whom do not speak the Chinese language but still identify
themselves as Chinese ethnically. The turbulent history of twentieth-century China also
witnessed the birth of Taiwan and colonial Hong Kong. The cultural identity of the
Chinese population in these two countries has also been transformed, particularly by their
political distance from mainland China. Migrants from all of these different Asian
countries form a significant part of the post-1965 Chinese influx into the U.S. (with the
mainland Chinese making up the rest of this migration) and would help build the PCA
population. Though the PCAs strongly cling to their ethnic identity as Chinese, they are
different culturally, socially, and politically from both the earlier Chinese Americans and
the new immigrants who come directly from China.
The perimeters I have set for the category of peripheral Chinese Americans are
artificial in that the categorys boundaries are fluid and permeable; in incorporating the
experiences and cultural productions of particular groups in this study, I will inevitably
leave out many others. Hence, instead of aiming for an exhaustive enumeration of all the
possible hybrid subgroups in such a category, which is not only counter-productive but
also antithetical to the overall agenda of this project, this study aspires to examine the
problematics laid out and the questions raised in select cultural texts of PCAs in an
attempt to understand and theorize about the experience of the PCAs in order to further
destabilize the boundaries of the ethnic category, instead of reifying them. The
interventional function of questioning cultural boundaries is to challenge the center-
periphery paradigm deployed by Chinese cultural chauvinism globally, and by racist
ideology within the U.S.; for the periphery in PCAs denotes for them a double

8
marginality, emphasizing not only their marginal status within Chinese culturalism, but
also their place in the shared marginality of U.S. ethnic minorities.
Two other objections which may be raised against such a project merit
consideration. One might argue that by further subdividing a minority group, am I not
splitting, so to speak, ethnic hairs and fueling further division in an already fragile
panethnic solidarity? Would not one also be guilty of reifying the center through the
margins when engaging the specificities of the PC As. With reference to the first
question, I believe the above discussion on heterogeneity and the significance of diaspora
to Asian American studies in a way addresses this issue; but I would also like to invoke
Lisa Lowes argument against conceptualizing cultural identity as a stable and fixed
entity for the purposes of political solidarity:
The articulation of an Asian American identity as an organizing tool has
provided a concept of political unity that enables diverse Asian groups to
understand unequal circumstances and histories as being related.... Yet
to the extent that Asian American culture fixes Asian American identity
and suppresses differencesof national origin, generation, gender,
sexuality, classit risks particular dangers: not only does it underestimate
the differences and hybridities among Asians, but it may also
inadvertently support the racist discourse that constructs Asians as a
homogenous group, that implies Asians are all alike and conform to
types. (70-71)
In response to the second objection against reifying the center through the
margins, I refer to a text by Gayatri Spivak where she addresses the question of class
consciousness by naming the subaltern:
The subaltern is all that is not elite, but the trouble with those kinds of
names is that if you have any kind of political interest you name it in the
hope that the name will disappear. Thats what class consciousness is in
the interest of: the class disappearing. What politically we want to see is
that the name would not be possible,23

9
This political gesture of naming a category in order to erase it serves to unhinge the
very mechanism of domination that produced the category in the first place. Another
point that needs to be made regarding this notion of erasure as deployed in conjunction
with ethnicity is that it is not meant to deny the cultural materiality of ethnic groups or
subgroups, but rather it serves to problematize the nativists claim to cultural and racial
authenticity and purity. So, to name the peripheral Chinese American culture is to
disturb the sanctified cultural boundaries of Chinese and Chinese American culture,
which in turn leads to the re-examination of Asian American identity and, ultimately, of
the very category of American culture itself.
This last point provides a convenient segue towards an articulation of the main
goals of this cultural critical study on PCAs. I envision this as an interventionist project
that will enable one to begin (i) to unlearn, as Rey Chow puts it in Writing Diaspora,
the submission to ones ethnicity such as Chinese-ness as the ultimate signified,24 as a
means of challenging Chinese nativisms claim to the category in the name of cultural
authenticity and racial purity; (ii) to interrogate the limits of categories such as
Chinese American, Asian American, and American, and what is left out,25 by
engaging the questions raised within the dynamics of a diasporic consciousness, such as
cultural identity, hybridity, deterritorialization, imaginary homelands, class differences,
the politics of citizenship, and imagined (national and transnational) communities; and
(iii) to move the PCAs doubleness of marginality beyond a sense of paralytic
contradiction to that of a more productive, and less myopic, critique of oppressive,
hegemonic ideologies within the interlocking axes of race, gender, class, and sexuality.

10
In the remainder of this chapter, I will focus on the mythography of Chinese
return and its politics so as to tackle Chiness-ness as a cultural construct. As a point of
entry, I will first provide a brief reading of the British return of Hong Kong to
mainland China as a means of tapping into the metaphoricity of the event, especially as a
cultural signifier for the Chinese in diaspora, in order to theorize a Chinese transnational
imaginary. Such a reading will allow me also to critique the binary logic of center versus
periphery, and Chinese nativism versus Western modernity; and to unmask the
complicitous role such logic plays in its co-optation by U.S. Orientalism and the culture
of transnational capitalism.26 It is then within the midst of this cultural critique that I
would like to situate the peripheral Chinese Americans and examine how the discourses
of Chinese culturalism, U.S. Orientalism, and late-capitalist ideology delimit their place
within American society.
Hong Kong 97: Return in the Chinese Diasporic Imaginary
Our delegations trip to Hong Kong will surely reflect the feeling of glory and
pride of all our nationalities regarding Hong Kongs return to the motherland....
Chinese President Jiang Zemin27
From the perspective of those in Tibet, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, the prominent
question is .. Can one say no to China? The significance of this question, which
would require interested scholars to confront the contradictions of Chinese as a
constructed ethnicity, is yet to be recognized in the cultural studies relating to
China.
Rey Chow28
This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past.
Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps
piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would
like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a
storm is brewing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence
that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into

11
the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows
skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
Walter Benjamin29
July 1, 1997: the day the worlds attention was riveted on Hong Kong; the day
Hong Kong officially returned to the Chinese fold after 156 years under British colonial
rule; a day of epic history in the making! But, for me, to contemplate the historicity
of the event is also to have Benjamins angel of history color my sense of the moment
with profound irony and contradiction. While in Singapore at the time of the Hong Kong
handover, I gathered with my family and relatives before the television set to witness the
event in all its spectacle and pageantry. What struck me as remarkable is not only the
mediatized celebration that transpired on the screen, but also the verbal storm that was
brewing in our living room, leaving wreckage upon wreckage of bruised egos and
conflicted cultural identities, traces of historydiasporic and colonial. In identifying
with their Chinese ancestry and, being part of postcolonial Singapore, rightly resisting
British imperialism, some of my relatives see this event as a glorious reclamation of lost
Chinese territory from the former British Empire and a restoration of the honor and
face lost when a severely weakened and outmatched Ching government capitulated to
British gunboat diplomacy during the Opium Wars. On the other hand, others sense, as
Rey Chow does, that one cannot but problematize China... at the same time as one
dismantles Britain00; for in light of the Tiananmen massacre, Hong Kong is seen as
being in transit between colonizers, as an authoritarian regime replaces an exploitative
one. For them, the countdown to July 1997 was fraught with much apprehension and
fear that those who chose (or had no choice but) to remain in the now renamed Hong
Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region) may eventually forfeit their civil rights to the

12
incoming regime. For most of us, there was a general sense of contradiction and
paralysis in terms of conflicting allegiances and political identifications, a state of mind
that arises from an unwillingness] to criticize ... [the] hegemony [of Third World
ruling elites] for fear of playing into the hands of Western imperialism,32 a fear that
obviously needs to be overcome. In a microcosmic way, the varied reactions evoked
before the television set in our living room reflect the heterogeneous responses to the
Hong Kong return among Chinese in diaspora.
This notion of contradictionpolitical and culturalforms a kind of
metanarrative in counterpoint to the almost seamless grand narrative of Chinese return as
constructed in the well-polished mediatized spectacle of the Hong Kong handover. The
key themes of this multimedia extravaganza were celebration and reunification,
which of course ironically begs the questions, What exactly is there to celebrate? and
What does reunification ultimately mean for the Hong Kong people? The sheer size of
the event and the carnival atmospherics were carefully calibrated to dissipate,
overshadow, or mask the ominous tension in such questions. The spectacle of
celebration, hence, served to displace or even erase the historical memory of its
terrifying Other, the spectacle of violence, as enacted on the square of Tiananmen. This
blemish in Chinese history, however, could not be allowed to disrupt the Hollywood-
style show and party the incoming government and its sympathizers had drawn up.
Festivities include numerous Celebration of Reunification carnivals, fun fairs,
exhibitions, galas, parties, mass dances, parades, localized ceremonies, countdown balls,
banquets, a fireworks display (at Victoria Harbour), musical extravaganzas and concerts
featuring local and international pop stars and celebrities, and finally culminating in the

13
pomp and military pageantry of the Joint Sino-British Handover Ceremony held at the
Convention and Exhibition Centre attended by Prince Charles, Prime Minister Tony
Blair, President Jiang Zemin, and Premier Li Peng. 33
Before I begin reading the tropological significance of the handover for diasporic
Chinese, I believe it is important at this juncture to acknowledge the material reality of
those whose lives are most directly affected by this historic event: the Hong Kong people
themselves. In the tumultuous explosion of celebration activities and in the grand scheme
of geopolitical relations between Britain and mainland China, the Hong Kong people and
their voices face erasure. Their transparency in this narrative of history is echoed in the
following sentiments of Hong Kong students studying in the U.S.:
What can a ceremony like that mean to us as a whole when it wasnt even
accessible to the common majority? ... That says to me that this doesnt
involve us. Just as the actual flags of Hong Kong were smaller and
secondary to the flags of the United Kingdom and the Peoples Republic
of China, so is the real Hong Kong.
The most striking effect of this occurrence was the image of C. H. Tung
[Beijing appointee to oversee Hong Kongs transition] standing side by
side with Chinas current president Jiang Zemin, speaking the language of
the Motherland rather than the language of the people he was chosen to
govern. Many local residents were bothered by this fact, and rightly so.34
The liminality of the Hong Kong people in the proceedings marks their continued
marginalization within the scheme of British and Chinese national self-interest. As
Ackbar Abbas theorizes, one of Hong Kongs ways of coping with this crisis is through a
cultural and political aesthetics of disappearance as a strategy of subjectivity,
producing a kind of ironic counter-discourse of resistance through self-erasure. 35
For diasporic Chinese, the significance of Hong Kongs return to the
Motherland, though it cannot be matched by the immediacy and urgency the moment

14
holds for the people of Hong Kong, still assumes a potency in the construction of Chinese
identity and culture. As President Jiang Zemin noted in a speech on his way to attend the
handover ceremony (see the first epigraph of this section), Hong Kongs return should
evoke glory and pride in every true-blooded Chinese. His point strategically serves to
interpellate ethnic Chinese, at home and abroad, through the nationalist rhetoric of return.
It is important to note that this production of a mythography (which Aijun Appadurai
defines as a public discourse constructed by a mass-mediated imaginary that...
transcends national space)36 of Chinese return is not new or specific to the question of
Hong Kongs handover; there is a historical, cultural, and philosophical lineage that takes
on a special resonance for many ethnic Chinese, something that Jiang Zemin consciously
taps into by subtly shifting the focus from the national implications of the event to a
broader ethnic and diasporic one.
The notion of Chinese return is deeply embedded in Chinese cosmological and
ontological thought; for instance, the very name of China, Zhongguo or, literally, Middle
Kingdom, semantically reifies the centrality of China in the hearts and minds of its
people. Traditionally, the view of being at the center of existence has always been an
important aspect of being Chinese and such a view is based on a deep-rooted sense of
belonging to a unified civilization that boasts several thousands of years of uninterrupted
history.37 At the epicenter of this history, at least up to the Ching dynasty,38 is
enthroned the Chinese Emperor; the notion of centrality, as embodied in the person and
position of the Emperor, radiates outward to encompass within its sphere the Chinese
nation, Chinese culture and society, and geographical China.39 Hence, many Chinese

15
pride themselves in their racial purity by being able to trace their ancestral links to the
Yellow Emperor Huang Ti.40
As integral to its logic, any concept of return presupposes a prior movement
away from a center and demands a movement back to that same point of origin.
Centrifugal forces in the form of political fragmentation and diasporic flows characterize
much of modem Chinese history, thereby producing this need for return. Early Ming
traders and merchants represent the beginnings of the diasporic flow, a trickle that turned
into a flood of migration (with varying degrees of intensity) during the Ching period, the
Nationalist era, and during Communist rule from 1949 to the present. Territorial
fragmentation began with the loss of Macao to the Portuguese in 1557, Hong Kong (and
later the Kowloon Peninsula) to the British after the Opium Wars, and the formation of
the Republic of China (in contestation to the PRCs claim of legitimate rule) on the island
of Taiwan. All these forces constitute disruptions to the centrality of China; therefore,
in the Chinese mind, return becomes part of an inexorable, logical progression, the
telos of which is to restore once again the glory of Chinese centrality.
The ideology of Chinese return functions on at least three interconnected levels,
the first of which is political. Though many diasporic Chinese acknowledge the
uncertainty of democracys future in Hong Kongs reunification with the motherland,
their celebration stems from the view that Hong Kongs return signals the first step
towards complete political unity: Macao in 1999 and, possibly even, Taiwans
reconciliation and reunion with the mainland, the ultimate goal of Chinese political
reunification. Hence, the Hong Kong handover is pregnant with political symbolism
emblematizing this hope. The one country, two systems model, as set out in the Joint

16
Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong (December 19, 1984), was carefully
engineered to suggest, as Premier Li Peng does, that it can also work for Taiwan,41 a
suggestion that has met with tepid response, if not outright rejection by the Taiwanese.
However, many in Taiwan still cling to the possibility of return, instead of declaring its
independence as a Taiwanese state. Such a sentiment can partially be explained in terms
of the ideology of Chinese centrality and return, apart from, of course, the significant
threat of Chinese military retaliation against such separatist moves.
Physical return constitutes the second level of Chinese return. This need to go
home to the motherland is of particular importance to the Chinese diaspora (huaqiao).
Early migrants to Southeast Asia and the United States, for instance, visualized
themselves as sojourners, temporary residents in a foreign land, whose purpose was to
accrue wealth so as to return to China to live the remainder of their days in comfort and
luxury. The Chinese four-word paradigm yeluo guigen metaphorically encapsulates this
attachment to the homeland and the imperative of return, an expression that, when
loosely translated, characterizes the Chinese abroad as fallen leaves that must
eventually, even inevitably return to their roots in the soil of China.42 Though some
succeed in returning, a review of Chinese diasporic history will reveal that many do not,
the result of a multiplicity of push-and-pull factors43 functioning as incentives, barriers,
or obstacles discouraging return. Even with the hope of a permanent return to China
extinguished, some diasporic Chinese in various parts of the world still harbor the dream
of being buried in their ancestral homeland, a tolerable quid pro quo for a chance to live
out their remaining years in the motherland. The notion of return has been so ingrained
into the cultural fabric of the diasporic Chinese psyche that even subsequent generations

17
of ethnic Chinese, who no longer have ties to the mainland and who loyally pledge
national allegiances to their country of citizenship, often believe in the cultural value of
visiting China, especially in their old age, engaging in a sort of quasi-return to ones
roots, even if it is only in a superficially touristic fashion.
The preeminence of political and physical return in Chinese diasporic thinking
naturally filters down to the cultural level forming the third way return operates. For
whatever reason a physical return is unfeasible or impossible, one could still return to the
homeland in ones heart. Such a return, therefore, takes on a cultural emphasis as
diasporic Chinese seek to accentuate aspects of what they believe constitutes their
Chinese-ness, often through a return to Chinese culture and the arts, the Chinese
language, and traditional Chinese values, ideals, and philosophies. The movement
towards a cultural center, however problematically that center is defined, provides a
channel of resistance to racist or assimilationist politics they encounter. On the other
hand, the danger in such reactive culturalism lies in its ethnocentric potential and in its
reification of East-West differences and the center-periphery dichotomy, issues I will
address in the next section.
These different strands of Chinese return work together to add to the emotional
resonance and cultural significance Hong Kongs return has for diasporic Chinese. But
what made this event successful in its invocation and dissemination of the ideology of
return was its ability to involve its audience vicariously in the physicality of return
through a mediatized global space of interaction, instantaneity, and participatory
presence. The Chinese diaspora was brought together communally for those few hours of
celebration, thanks to the ability of late-twentieth century telecommunications wizardry

18
to bridge migrant peoples through space and time. Cognizant of this potential, the
mainland government wasted no effort in enlisting the medias power to reach ethnic
Chinese on a worldwide scale. Via global satellite link-up, diasporic Chinese and the rest
of the world experienced live television coverage of the handover ceremony and the
party that was to precede and follow it. Cyberspace potential was similarly tapped
into: Internet users could witness the handover live from noon June 30 to noon July 2,
courtesy of the Computer Services Centre of the Chinese University of Hong Kong in
collaboration with Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) and other Internet services.44
Since June 1997, cinema audiences across Asia and Southeast Asia also saw the release
of The Opium War. Helmed by well-known Chinese director Xie Jin, the 9.6 million-
dollar film, though not an official government production, helped to elicit nationalist
fervor and provided a filmic channel for the mainland governments criticism of Western
imperialism, all through the cinematic lure of epic story-telling and mass entertainment.
As the 74-year-old Xie explains, The aim of shooting such a movie is to remind all
Chinese of the past. For any nation, ignorance of the outside world means backwardness,
and a backward country is doomed to be bullied.43
The emotional and cultural pull of communal identification through a mediatized
event such as the Hong Kong handover takes Benedict Andersons idea of a nations
imagined community46 to a new transnational level, the impact of which cannot be
dismissed. The Chinese government saw and used the ideological flow generated by a
Chinese transnational imaginary and its links to mass mediation to disseminate their
rhetoric of political return. Here I am using again Arjun Appadurais terminology and
concepts articulated in Modernity at Large, where he examines how a nascent

19
postnational imaginary emerges from the relationship between mass mediation and
migration to constitute what he calls diasporic public spheres.47 (I have chosen,
however, to conceptualize the mythography of return within the framework of a Chinese
transnational imaginary, as opposed to Appadurais/?o.s/national one, as it may be
premature to herald the demise of the nation-state and, hence, underestimate its
effectiveness in enacting cultural and racial violence.) What is of particular relevance to
my argument here is that Appadurai also observes how the ideological flow between
media and audience is not unidirectionalas in the theory of media as the opium of the
people48but rather, it is interactive:
As mass mediation becomes increasingly dominated by electronic media
..., and as such media increasingly link producers and audiences across
national boundaries, and as these audiences themselves start new
conversations between those who move and those who stay, we find a
growing number of diasporic public spheres.49
In offering both positive potential and hidden dangers, this diasporic network is
significant in two ways. Firstly, the fact that audiences are not simply static receptacles
for ideological fashioning through the media foregrounds the complex and often
conflicted identity formation of diasporic individuals, as illustrated by my relatives
contradictory reactions to the question of Hong Kong. They interact with the mediatized
transmission and with one another; decisions are made, often prematurely, on cultural and
political positions and re-positioning; and the mythography of return is challenged or
reaffirmed, and frequently restructured into hybrid formations. It is in this discursive
swirl of ideological interaction that the intervention of a radical politics of critique
becomes especially necessary and urgent. Secondly, in spite of the fact that the
mythography of return as transmitted via the mediatized ideoscape50 of the Chinese

20
culturalistsin conversation with diasporic Chineseto propagate sinocentrism, the
possibilities for dialogue within the diasporic public spheres should encourage radical
diasporic Chinese to use this channel for the contestation and critique of ethnocentric
culturalism. Instead of fearing the accusations of disrupting ethnic solidarity and unity,
one should problematize such imagined communality by unmasking its exclusionary
cultural politics.
Problematizing Return: Cultural Traditionalism and U.S. Orientalism
The term Greater China (dazhonghua) has gained, in recent years, much
currency in media and scholarly circles, prompting even The China Quarterly to devote
an entire volume (vol. 136) to discuss the use of the expression in various discursive and
disciplinary spheres. The semantic value of the term varies significantly, depending on
whether one is thinking along economic, political, or cultural lines; as Harry Harding, in
a definitional essay featured in the above-mentioned volume, attempts to articulate:
As is so often the case with the phrase of the moment, however, the
precise meaning of Greater China ... is not entirely clear. In essence, it
refers to the rapidly increasing interaction among Chinese societies around
the world as the political and administrative barriers to their intercourse
fall. But different analysts use the term in different ways. Some refer
primarily to the commercial ties among ethnic Chinese, whereas others are
more interested in cultural interactions, and still others in the prospects for
political reunification. Some observers focus exclusively on Hong Kong,
Macao, Taiwan and mainland China, others incorporate Singapore, and
still others include the overseas Chinese living in South-east Asia,
America and Europe. To some writers, Greater China is simply a way
of summarizing the new linkages among the far-flung international
Chinese community; to others, it is a prescription of the institutions that
should govern those ties.31
Harding and the various contributors to the issue have been cautious enough to identify
the hegemonic potential of such a term, but the privileging of it in Chinese and Chinese-

21
related discourse raises interesting, if not troubling, concerns for my problematization of
return. As Hardings definition above suggests, Greater China as cultural
nomenclature arises from the centers need to engage the diaporic Chineses claim to
Chinese cultural authenticity, dissonant voices that can no longer be ignored, especially
in light of the latters economic ascendancy in the Asia-Pacific region and their
contribution to Chinas economic restructuring. But in extending the hand of recognition
and concession, the double-edged term reinscribes center-periphery cultural relations
through the production of a concentric hierarchy with China still occupying the core,
radiating influence outward through the diasporic sphere. Hence, it is of no surprise to
hear cultural critics and sinologists, in dealing with the suddenly important question of
defining Chinese-ness in the midst of diasporic de-centering, call for new cultural
strategies such as Confucian humanism,53 homeland-in-the-heart,54 and Chinese
cosmopolitanism,^ most of which re-articulates the old ideology of Chinese cultural
return within a contemporary globalized framework.
To problematize Chinese return, one needs first to deconstruct the binary logic of
nativist traditionalism versus Western modernity that structures its rhetoric. This logic
forms a comfortable part of the age-old East-West conflict in Chinas historical
tradition of resisting the imperialistic encroachments of the West, territorially,
economically, and culturally. As much as the project of anti-Western imperialism is
laudable, Chinese traditionalism frequently resorts to cultural chauvinism, uncritiqued
nostalgia, and a primitivism that privileges traditional or ancient culture as authentic.
Such nativism, unfortunately, replicates the kind of cultural violence one finds

22
inexcusable in Western imperialism and colonization in the first place, as Rey Chow, in
analyzing the paradox of primitivism, concludes:
In a culture caught between the forces of first world imperialism and
third world nationalism, such as that of twentieth century China, the
primitive is the precise paradox, the amalgamation of the two modes of
signification known as culture and nature. If Chinese culture is
primitive in the pejorative sense of being backward (being stuck in an
earlier stage of culture and thus closer to nature) when compared to
the West, it is also primitive in the meliorative sense of being an ancient
culture (it was there first, before many Western nations). A strong sense
of primordial, rural rootedness thus goes hand in hand with an equally
compelling conviction of Chinas primariness, of Chinas potential
primacy as a modem nation with a glorious civilization. This paradox of a
primitivism that sees China as simultaneously victim and empire is what
leads modem Chinese intellectuals to their so-called obsession with
China.56
Furthermore, it is important to see this traditionalism not simply as a knee-jerk response
to Western cultural imperialism, but also as a political tactic that paradigmatically
formulates and reformulates Chinese culture within the rubric of tradition in order to
meet the political or discursive contingency of the moment. To illustrate this point, one
need only turn to the speech of Hong Kongs Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, given on
the first day of Chinese rule of the Hong Kong SAR. In promising to be tolerant of
dissenting viewpoints and to protect individual rights, Tung also emphasizes
collective responsibility. Because Hong Kong has embraced the eastern and western
cultures, he reasons, we will continue to encourage diversity in our society, but we
must also reaffirm and respect the fine traditional Chinese values, including filial piety,
love for the family, modesty and integrity, and the desire for continuous improvement.57
What Tung has done is to ethnicize the latter as Chinese values so as to establish,
through a return to Chinese tradition and culture, an interpretive loophole for justifying

23
future acts of authoritarianism, a rhetorical move not unlike those made by other
authoritarian and semi-authoritarian governments in Asia and Southeast Asia.
The fact that Chinese traditionalism can be and has been deterritorialized through
a mythography of return within the Chinese transnational imaginary illustrates Stuart
Halls point that globalization has its localized cultural effects, in this case the
dissemination and strengthening of Chinese chauvinism, especially in the diasporic
Chineses response to the Western host nation-states regression] to a very defensive
and highly dangerous form of national identity .. driven by a very aggressive form of
racism.38 Peripheral Chinese Americans, for instance, find themselves caught between
the tense and violent space of these polarities, and are coerced to embrace either Chinese
(or Chinese American)39 nativism or Anglo-American culture. The assimilationist
demands of the latter need to be rejected tout court, while the formers identity politics,
being similarly violent in its culturalism, is no less acceptable; for Chinese traditionalism
confronts PCAs to meet its demands and standards of cultural authenticity: Can you
speak the Chinese language? Are you well versed in Chinese culture, traditions, history,
and social practices? In other words, prove to us that you are as Chinese as we are!
Ironically, such reactive nativism, instead of disabling racism and the dominant
logic of assimilation, supplies its opponents with ammunition by allowing the recourse to
cultural nostalgia, primitivism, and traditionalism to be co-opted by U.S. Orientalist
discourses. This unwitting cooperation has led Rey Chow to describe Western
Orientalism and Third World nativism as the obverse and reverse of the same coin, and
to expose, for example, the alliance of nativist elitism and institutional Orientalism in
the teaching of Asian literatures in universities across the U.S.60 Chinese traditionalism,

24
thereby, reifies the exotic and primordial (hence, degenerate, uncivilized, and sensual)
stereotypes of the Chinese already established in the public imaginary by government,
political, literary, and media discourses throughout U.S. history.61 Such images of the
exotic and the evil (think sensual Suzie Wong, the inscrutable Charlie Chan, and the
diabolical Fu Manchu) become interchangeable with the more recent configuration of
Asians as industrious and passive model minorities, a shifting politics of imaging the
Asian Other to suit the political goals of the racial dominant. Both stereotypes, in
serving to maintain the Us/Them division, provide the basis for dominating,
restructuring, and having authority over the Oriental Other, as Edward Saids
Orientalism demonstrates.62 This form of U.S. Orientalism participates in what Malini
Schueller calls the task of imperial self-definition where various raced and gendered
distinctions between Orientals and Anglo-Americans are deployed to repress or allay
fears about the wholeness and stability of the nation in the face of diverse ethnic
immigration and African American and Native American presences."63
Stereotypes such as these do not simply remain within the imaginary but are
frequently translated into the U.S. public sphere of governmental and institutional
legislation, where policies discriminatory towards Asian Americans and immigrants are
enacted. Lisa Lowe is correct to observe how culture has become the site of
conceptualizing American citizenship (2-3); Asian Americans are the outsiders-inside,
the foreigner-within (5):
In the last century and a half, the American citizen has been defined over
against the Asian immigrant, legally, economically, and culturally. These
definitions have cast Asian immigrants both as persons and populations to
be integrated into the national political sphere and as the contradictory,
confusing, unintelligible elements to be marginalized and returned to their
alien origins. (4)

25
The material implications of this racialized politics of citizenship are significant. Anglo-
Americas understanding of the Asian minority (be it the Yellow Peril or the model
minority stereotype) often constitutes the basis for discriminatory governmental and
institutional policies on immigration, welfare, affirmative action, educational quotas and
programs, employment, law enforcement, and community assistance and restructuring.
The needs of Asian Americans and Asian immigrants, therefore are marginalized, made
transparent (they are industrious and self-reliant, and can survive any adverse situation
you put them in, without governmental assistance), or simply ignored (often as a result of
a lack of political consequences). Therefore, to challenge Chinese (or any other ethnic)
traditionalism marks an initial step one can take towards dismantling the Us/Them
Orientalist binary opposition, disrupting racist Asian stereotypes, and mobilizing political
forces to represent the rights of and address the needs and concerns of Asian America.
Coda: Reading Return in Chinese America
My historicization and subsequent problematization of the ideology of Chinese
return are not intended to suggest its exclusivity as a problematic for peripheral Chinese
Americans; in fact, most Chinese Americans have dealt with and continue to deal with
returns interpellating logic, as is reflected in the various ways they have engaged the
issue in their cultural productions. As a conclusion to this chapter, I will briefly survey
its presence in Chinese American textual/literary history, which I hope will serve to
highlight some of the common problems that are similarly faced by PCAs. Such a survey
would also provide a point of departure from which to examine the different problematics
and historical specificities that distinguish the PCAs experience from that of the Chinese
Americans.

26
Tu Wei-mings point that any examination of return as an ideological formation
should not be conducted in a de-historicized and de-contextualized fashion bears re
emphasis here (see note 43). Instead of conceptualizing Chinese return in a reductive
manner, one should complicate it by analyzing its relationship to and interaction with the
social, political, and cultural forces at work within its space of deployment. Chinese
American literature, apart from functioning as a channel of artistic expression, also
provides a means for emotional release and political reaction to a hostile and racist
environment. Early Chinese migrant and Chinese American texts, produced in the
absence of publication luxuries and, hence, taking the form of talk-stories, poetry, and
other oral traditions (frequently in the Chinese language), feature a longing for the
Chinese homeland in their nostalgic recollections of home, a pining for wife and family,
an expression of patriotic sentiments for a strong China, and a stoic determination to
preserve Chinese culture from the barbaric influences of Anglo-America. The ideology
of return, therefore, has been intertwined with reactions to the anti-Chinese climate in the
nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America.
Serving as an example of the poetic responses to the discriminatory immigration
policies and practices against Chinese immigrants, Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy
Yung have put together a collection of poetry written by Chinese immigrantsmore
specifically, poems carved on the walls of the detention camps on Angel Island, off the
coast of California, between 1910 and 1940. These immigrants were held there for
interrogation, which lasted for days and even months, all in the INSs hope to weed out
paper sons, immigrants who had forged evidence of relational ties to Chinese
Americans, a legal loophole that circumscribed the exclusionary U.S. policy of admitting

27
only Chinese students and merchants. The need to return physically and politically was
intensified as a result of the incarceration and humiliation suffered on Angel Island, as
the following lines from some of the poems indicate:64
I wish to go back to my motherland to carry the farmers hoe (40).
After experiencing such loneliness and sorrow, why not just return home
and learn to plow the fields? (68).
All my compatriots should please be mindful. Once you have some small
gains, return home early (66).
If my country had contrived to make herself strong, this would never have
happened (86).
One could argue that these poems are situational and, hence, are not accurately
representative of Chinese American sentiments on return. Many Chinese in America at
the turn of the century, after years of failure to earn enough money so as to return home,
abandoned themselves to their fate by psychologically disengaging from the hope of
returning to China. But the sojourners mentality still prevailed as the Chinese could
not become citizens and were prevented from integrating into American society as a
result of various forms of discrimination. As Marlon K. Horn notes in his introduction to
a collection of Cantonese rhymes from San Franciscos Chinatown composed in the early
1910s, the sojourners mentality was also a product of anti-Chinese practices for the
political and social policies [of the U.S. government] did not provide favorable
conditions for the Chinese to establish families and to stay permanently in America.65
The ideology of return, hence, sustained and intensified its appeal especially under such
alienating circumstances. The following poem not only reflects the Chinese immigrants
sense of the difficulties and the transience of their stay in America, but it also engages the

28
ideology of return in its political, physical, and cultural dimensions, particularly in the
final line of the poem:
My friends, remember by all means:
Dont let yourselves be stranded in a foreign country.
Brows besieged by sorrow from frequent worries of home;
Thousands of miles of clouds and mountains further impede a gloomy
stay.
Separation brings out misery.
Have your belongings always packed and ready.
A journey to America is only a search for wealth.
Return to the old country quickly, to avoid going astray ,66
The earliest published works in English by Chinese immigrants were
predominantly autobiographical or ethnographic in their intent. Writers such as Chiang
Yee, Lee Yan Phou, Lin Yutang, and Helena Kuo67 sought to portray Chinese culture and
China in a positive light, frequently deploying idealized images of Chinese culture and
civilization in all its rich tradition (normally that of the upper class) as a corrective to the
negative views Anglo-Americans hold of the Chinese during that period. In describing
some of these authors as ambassadors of goodwill, Elaine Kim criticizes them for
accepting discrimination against the poor and uneducated members of their own race
z.o
and only questioning the logic of discrimination against the educated elite. Their
desire to win American acceptance of their culture has led them to a return, in their
writing, to a traditionalist portrayal of Chinese culture that neatly fits into the
predominantly Orientalist conception of Chinese and Asians in the U.S. during this era of
exclusion.
The popularity of autobiography as a genre among early Chinese immigrant
writers such as those I have mentioned above and second generation Chinese Americans
like Jade Snow Wong and Pardee Lowe attest to the significance of catering to the white

29
readers ethnographic gaze of Chinese culture, especially in all its traditional finery and
exotic flavors and colors. Works by Chinese Americans who seek to assimilate into
Anglo-America function as safe Chinatown tour guides, leading their readers into the
dark, sin-filled, opium-infested alleyways of Chinatown. They provide descriptions of
strange and exotic Chinese cuisine and traditional (hence, backward) social practices and
customs. The goal is to show contempt for things Chinese [by] alternating with repeated
apology for Chinese or Chinese American culture and values and praise for everything
American, in the attempt to win acceptance into Anglo-America by reproducing the
binary logic of China.. [as] the symbol of backwardness, but America ... [as] the
epitome of modernity.69 Though these authors were technically rejecting Chinese
culture, they represented an inverted mode of cultural return in the form of self-
Orientalism. In so doing, they seek not to glorify their culture but to reject it by seeking
out the worst in order to feed prevalent stereotypes.
The post-Civil Rights era saw a growth in publishing opportunities for minority
writing, ushering in a prolific output of Chinese American literature and film in a
multiplicity of genres and tackling a broader spectrum of issues that reflect the
complexity and heterogeneity of Chinese American identity, culture, and experience.70
Contemporary Chinese American textuality has shifted its concern from submitting to the
logic of assimilation to that of racial empowerment and ethnic pride, beginning with the
works of authors like Frank Chin, Shawn Hsu Wong, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Jeffrey
Paul Chan, whose efforts were directed at debunking stereotypes, unabashedly returning
to ethnic roots, and claiming Americawhich Kingston proclaims is the purpose of her
book China Men1for Chinese (and Asian) Americans. In offering the strategic

30
potential for minority empowerment, this search for ones ethnic roots, unfortunately,
may sometimes lead to the exclusivist danger of cultural essentialism, insiderism, and
ethnocentricity, extreme positions upon which the ideology of return capitalizes.
Chinese American writing of the 1980s and early 1990s, in moving away from
identity politics, as I noted at the beginning of the chapter, have mobilized a greater range
of issues concerning Chinese America, for example feminism and Chinese patriarchy
(Kingston and Amy Tan), U.S. imperialism and gay sexuality (David Henry Hwangs M.
Butterfly), and revisionist history (Frank Chins Donald Duk). This is a positive and
healthy step for Chinese America, as its literature has begun to address the complex
human experiences that were marginalized in the earlier fights for literary representation.
However, Chinese return has not, as a result receded in its relevance, but has instead
maintained its presence in reconfigured formations. Diaspora and globality are newfound
terrain for the ideology of return to entrench itself. The transnational opportunities of air
travel provide a new sense of cultural connectedness to originary homelands, thereby
allowing return to flourish as a myth of cultural rejuvenation: In Peter Wangs 1985 film
A Great Wall, the protagonist Leo Fang and his Chinese American family visited his
sister and her family in mainland China to return to the U.S. in a state of psychological,
cultural, and spiritual refreshment. Jing-Mei Woos trip to China to meet her long-lost
half sisters, in Amy Tans The Joy Luck Club, generates an emotional catharsis and
resolution in her struggle to connect with her mother and her cultureI look at their
faces again and I see no trace of my mother in them. Yet they still look familiar. And
now I also see what part of me is Chinese. It is so obvious. It is my family. It is in our
blood. After all these years, it can finally be let go.72 Return has also re-appeared in a

31
familiar face, in the novels of Wang Ping, where China is depicted in a negative light,
this time emphasizing the repressions of Communist China as a foil to an uncritiqued
idealization of America as a land of freedom and opportunity.73 In a similar vein,
feminist critique of Chinese patriarchal oppression, productively and rightfully mobilized
in Kingstons The Woman Warrior and Amy Tans The Joy Luck Club, turns ugly in
Tans next book The Kitchen Gods Wife, which unfortunately resorts to a sensationalized
narrative of sexist violence perpetrated by monstrous male caricatures.74 Instead of
spotlighting the oppression faced by Chinese women, Tans novel, in returning to a
traditionalist depiction of a Chinese family in pre-Communist China in order to paint the
atrocities committed against the female characters, problematically reifies and confirms
Orientalized critiques by Western feminists of the deplorable and backward state of
gender relations in Third World cultures.
It is crucial for me to point out that not all engagements with the notion of
return have been negative. Kingstons The Woman Warrior and Hwangs M Butterfly,
for instance, are two major works, among many others, that effectively disrupt Chinese
centrism by challenging cultural and genre boundaries (in Kingstons work), and in the
use of reversals to problematize Orientalist discourses (in Hwangs play). Kingstons
memoirs incorporate various elements from her life experience and purposefully blur
the boundaries between cultural myth and cultural realityshe uses talk-stories,
childhood memories, traditional Chinese folk tales, and movies, by reworking and
interweaving them into a cultural tapestryin order to question what is Chinese and
what is Chinese tradition.75 In a similarly subversive fashion, David Henry Hwang in
M. Butterfly takes advantage of the entrenched Orientalist depiction of Chinese passive

32
femininity and sexual submission to reveal the power relations involved in imperialist
discourses on the East. What is so significant about Hwangs return to these
traditionalist images of Chinese women is the role reversals that take place in the end of
the play where the Orientalist image of Song Liling as Rene Gallimards ideal butterfly is
smashed, exposing the oppressive strategies of Western imperialism and Chinese self-
Orientalism.76
My brief sketch of return in Chinese American texts brings me now to peripheral
Chinese American cultural productions. Some of the issues, problems, and critiques
raised in contemporary Chinese American literature and film are similar to those faced by
PCAs. However, one must take into consideration the PCAs double marginality and a
new set of problematics it raises in relation to the questions of diaspora, hybridity,
postcolonialism, transnationality, class distinctions, and global capitalism. The rest of
this project will engage these issues by using Chinese return not so much as a sole focus
but rather as a stepping-off point to pursue different theoretical trajectories and critical
readings. In Chapter 2,1 will resume my discussion of the complicitous alliance return
has formed with transnational capitalism through the formers transformation into a
Chinese cosmopolitanism based on a link between neo-Confucian ideology and a Chinese
economism. I will argue that the work of Indonesian-Chinese American Li-Young Lee,
which will also be analyzed within this theoretical framework, opens up possible spaces
for a critical alternative to Chinese cosmopolitanism. Chapter 3 features a reading of
Marilyn Chins poetic response to the Tiananmen massacre of 1989, and a look at Wayne
Wangs latest opus Chinese Box, both attempts by Hong Kong Americans at cultural
negotiation as they witness crises in the homeland(s). The multiply-inscribed identities

33
of PC As also suggest the theoretical importance of hybridity and the challenge it presents
to Chinese return and cultural identity, a concept I will engage and problematize in my
reading of Malaysian-Chinese American Shirley Geok-lin Lims Among the White
Moonfaces in Chapter 4. And finally, Chapter 5 offers an opportunity for me to write
myself, as a Singaporean in diaspora, into this project by examining the notion of
political inertia through an analysis of Fiona Cheongs poetics of innocence in The Scent
of the Gods.
Notes
1 William Wei, The Asian American Movement (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1993). See
especially Chapter 5, Activists and the Development of Asian American Studies, which
chronicles the links between early Asian American political activism and the subsequent
formation of Asian American studies programs within the politically charged climate of
these two universities.
King-kok Cheung, Re-Viewing Asian American Literary Studies, An Interethnic
Companion to Asian American Literature, Ed. King-kok Cheung (New York: Cambridge
UP, 1997), 1.
3 James Clifford, Diaspora, Cultural Anthropology 9 (1994): 311.
4 David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural
Change (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990), 141-72.
5 Arif Dirlik, The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global
Capitalism, Critical Inquiry 20 (1994): 351. In problematizing postcolonialisms
complicity with global capitalism, Dirlik here connects the latter with the global motions
of peoples in the past two to three decades.
6 Congress extended this act in 1892, 1902, and indefinitely in 1904. Apart from the
Chinese, other Asians were soon included in this exclusion: Japanese and Koreans (the
Gentlemens Agreement of 1907-1908), Indians (1917 Immigration Act), and Filipinos
(the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934). For a detailed account see Sucheng Chan,
Hostility and Conflict, Asian Americans: An Interpretive History (Boston: Twayne,
1991), 45-61; Paul Ong and John M. Liu, U.S. Immigration Policies and Asian
Migration, The New Asian Immigration in Los Angeles and Global Restructuring, Eds.
Paul Ong, Edna Bonacich, and Lucie Cheng (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1994), 45-73;

34
Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (New
York: Penguin, 1989), 3-18.
7 Ong and Liu, U.S. Immigration Policies and Asian Migration, 50-51.
8 Ibid., 48. Of course, the authors are quick, and correct, to point out the irony of reading
these events in counterpoint to the internment of Japanese Americans and the presence of
racial quotas in subsequent immigration legislation.
9 Paul Ong, Edna Bonacich, and Lucie Cheng, The Political Economy of Capitalist
Restructuring and the New Asian Immigration, The New Asian Immigration, 24.
10 Ong and Liu, U.S. Immigration Policies and Asian Migration, 52.
11 Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Studies (Durham: Duke UP,
1996), 60-83. Subsequent references to this text will be parenthetically documented. The
chapter I am specifically referring to here is Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity:
Asian American Differences.
12 John M. Liu and Lucie Cheng, Pacific Rim Development and the Duality of Post-
1965 Asian Immigration to the United States, The New Asian Immigration, 74.
13 On the question of Asian American panethnic solidarity, see Yen Le Espritu, Asian
American Panethnicity: Bridging Institutions and Identities (Philadelphia: Temple UP,
1992). Espritu takes up the issue of class in Yen Espritu and Paul Ong, Class
Constraints on Racial Solidarity among Asian Americans, The New Asian Immigration,
295-321. The post-1965 professional immigrants tend to have difficulty identifying with
the class struggles fought by Asian American activists during the Civil Rights era. The
authors, hence, argue the need for Asian Americans to unite politically across class
structures as the welfare state bureaucracy treats Asian Americans as a single
administrative unit in the distribution of economic and political resources, [and] it
imposes a racial structure on persons and communities dependent on government
support (301).
14 Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 1.
15 Frank Chin, Jeffrey Paul Chan, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn Hsu Wong, eds.,
Aiiieeeeel: An Anthology of Asian-American Writers (Washington, DC: Howard UP,
1974). In the preface of this landmark anthology, the editors define Asian-American/zess
as a sensibility one acquires through birth, but add that one can also develop this
sensibility by choice. (ix-x) The problem with this argument lies not only in the
definition of this sensibility but also in that it can lead to a hierarchy of Asian
American cultural authenticity.

35
16 Arif Dirlik, The Asia-Pacific in Asian-American Perspective, What Is in a Rim?:
Critical Perspectives on the Pacific Region Idea, Ed. Arif Dirlik (Boulder, CO: Westview
P, 1993), 305.
17 Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Immigration and Diaspora, An Interethnic Companion to
Asian American Literature, Ed. King-kok Cheung (New York: Cambridge UP, 1997),
290-91. The quotation is Lims paraphrase of Wongs argument presented in a 1993
conference paper delivered at the University of California, Santa Barbara, entitled Going
Diasporic? Concepts and Constituencies in Asian American Literature.
18 For the rest of this chapter, I will dispense of the use of quotation marks in conjunction
with the word peripheral out of convenience. The quotation marks serve to
problematize the category itself and the center-periphery paradigm upon which it is
based.
19 Lynn Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor: The Story of the Overseas Chinese (London:
Seeker & Warburg, 1990), 43.
The gender specificity of the word appropriately highlights the fact that the Chinese
population was predominantly male. The exigency of having to leave their wives at
home in China was transformed and transcribed into a gendering of the racist
legislative discourse for Chinese immigrants, as the Page Law of 1875 and a later ban on
Chinese laborers spouses had effectively halted the immigration of Chinese women,
preventing the formation of families and generations among Chinese immigrants. Lisa
Lowe, Immigrant Acts, 11-12.
21 Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor, 168-70.
99
Arif Dirlik, Culturalism as Hegemonic Ideology and Liberating Practice, The Nature
and Context of Minority Discourse, Eds. Abdul R. JanMohamed and David Lloyd (New
York: Oxford UP, 1990), 394-431. Dirlik first problematizes the term and them reclaims
it; I am thinking here of the former sense of the word, as a hegemonic ideology which
not only reduces everything to questions of culture, but has a reductionist conception of
the latter as well (395).
23 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies,
Dialogues, Ed. Sarah Harasym (New York: Routledge, 1990), 158. Emphasis mine.
~4 Rey Chow, Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural
Studies (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993), 25.
25
Spivak, The Post-Colonial Critic, 18-19. Spivak is here explaining post
structuralisms interrogation of the limits of the grand recits of the Western
philosophical tradition and what they ultimately leave out in their narrative logic.

36
26 The alliance between Chinese nativism and U.S. transnational capital I will discuss in
Chapter Two, Chinese Cosmopolitanism Critiqued: Critical Alternatives in the Work of
Li-Young Lee.
27 Quoted in President Vows to Uphold Freedoms, South China Morning Post [online],
30 June 1997, available at www.hongkong97.com.hk/news.
28 Rey Chow, Can One Say No to China? New Literary History 28, no. 1 (1997): 151.
Emphasis mine.
29 Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History, Illuminations, Trans. Harry
Zohn (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), 259-60.
30 Rey Chow, Between Colonizers: Hong Kongs Postcolonial Self-Writing in the
1990s, Ethics after Idealism: Theory-Culture-Ethnicity-Reading (Bloomington: Indiana
UP, 1998), 154.
31 The British-Hong Kong government chose Christopher Pattens term of office to
institute democratic electoral reform, allowing the Hong Kong people limited
participatory access to government. Such a move is not only belated but also smacks of
tokenism that masks the contradictions between the argument for democracy/human
rights and the exploitative basis of British colonialism and capitalism. For Pattens
argument that democracy is crucial to sustain Hong Kongs economic viability and
prosperity, see Jacques deLisle and Kevin P. Lane, Cooking the Rice without Cooking
the Goose: The Rule of Law, the Battle over Business, and the Quest of Prosperity in
Hong Kong after 1997, Hong Kong under Chinese Rule: The Economic and Political
Implications of Reversion, Eds. Warren I. Cohen and Li Zhao (Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge UP, 1997), 40. For a related and similar argument on the importance of
autonomy for Hong Kong, as presented in a speech by Patten, see Christopher Patten,
The Implementation of the Joint Declaration: An Overview, Hong Kong's Transition:
A Decade after the Deal, Eds. Wang Gungwu and Wong Siu-lan (Hong Kong: Oxford
UP, 1995), 152-63.
32 Dirlik, Culturalism as Hegemonic Ideology and Liberating Practice, 415.
33 For a calendar of events spanning the two days of the handover, go to South China
Morning Post [online] at www.hongkong97.com.hk.
34 Hong Kong Handover Tugs on Student Heartstrings, Herald Sphere [online], 3
October 1997, available at www.netspace.org.
35 Ackbar Abbas, Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance (Minneapolis:
U of Minnesota P, 1997), 14-15. I will discuss the notions of liminality and
disappearance at greater length in Chapter 3, Crises in the Homeland(s): Hong Kong
Americans and the Art of Cultural Negotiation.

37
36 Aijun Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization
(Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996), 6.
37 David Yen-ho Wu, The Construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese Identities,
Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 160.
38 The rulers of the Ching (or Qing) dynasty were basically Manchu, which the Han
people viewed as not Chinese enough; hence, rebellions during this dynastic era assumed
an anti-foreigner tone, an attitude compounded by resentment against British, French,
Russian, Portuguese, and American trade, military, and/or, territorial intrusions.
39 Prior to modern cartographic understanding, the land of China, in the minds of the
Chinese, occupied a geographical centrality, which the following historical anecdote
illustrates. In their attempt to proselytize the Chinese beginning in 1583, the Jesuit
priests Michele Ruggieri and Matteo Ricci sought to impress the Chinese with European
knowledge and inventions, which include European cartography. Their map of the world
positions Europe at the center with the Americas on the left and China on the right.
Obviously, it did not win popular approval among the Chinese. All it took was for the
adaptive Ricci to reverse the positions of the continents in order to win the praise and
acceptance the missionaries had hoped for. Immanuel C. Y. Hsu, The Rise of Modern
China, 3rd ed. (Hong Kong: Oxford UP, 1983), 97-98.
40 Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor, 10-12.
41 Quoted in Taipei Rejects One Country Suggestion, South China Morning Post
[online], 1 July 1997, available at www.hongkong97.com.hk. Beijing reiterated its call
recently when Jiang Zemin, at a three-day, top-level policy meeting on the question of
Taiwan, stated that the reunification of the motherland should be accelerated. See
Jiang Calls for Reunification, The Straits Times Interactive [online], 14 May 1998,
available at straitstimes.asial.com.
42 L. Ling-chi Wang, Roots and Changing Identity of the Chinese in the United States,
Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 183.
43 Tu Wei-ming, Cultural China: The Periphery as the Center, Daedalus 120, no.2
(1991): 17-18. Tu argues that to characterize Chinese diasporics as being drawn
primarily by the magnetic power of the homeland is simplistic. The reason that overseas
Chinese rarely consider themselves thoroughly assimilated in their adopted countries is
much more complex. In the United States, racial discrimination against the Chinese was,
until recently, blatant; the Chinatown mentality, as a response to the hostile environment,
may be seen as a psychological defense and adaptation.
44 Hong Kong 1997 Handover Live on Internet, press release, 23 June 1997, The
Chinese University of Hong Kong [online], available at www.cuhk.edu.hk.

38
43 Chinese Epic about Hong Kong Premieres in Beijing, 91 News File [online], 9 June
1997, available at www.hkl997.china.com. The recent limited release of Chinese
American director Wayne Wangs Chinese Box provides, if not an alternative, at least a
Hong Kong Americans take on the event. See Chapter 3 for my reading of Wangs film.
46 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991).
47 Appadurai, Modernity at Large, 21.
48 Ibid., 7.
49 Ibid., 22.
30 Ibid., 36. In his seminal essay Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural
Economy, which first appeared in Public Culture (2, no.2) and now forms a chapter in
Modernity at Large, Appadurai theorizes on the five dimensions of global cultural
flows: ethnoscapes, mediascapes, technoscapes, financescapes, and ideoscapes (33).
51 Harry Harding, The Concepts of'Greater China: Themes, Variations and
Reservations, The China Quarterly 136 (1993): 660.
32 Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991), an issue entitled The Living Tree: The Changing Meaning
of Being Chinese Today, tackles the question of how the Chinese diaspora aifects and is
affected by the definition of Chinese-ness. Though a crucial and significant issue to
address, I find somewhat befuddling the assumption of a homogeneity and an untainted
wholeness to Chinese culture prior to contemporary diasporic disruptions.
33 Tu, Cultural China, 27. In referring to the Third Epoch of Confucian Humanism,
Tu does not explicitly endorse this movement, but reflects his sympathies with it by
interposing the de-humanizing dangers created by Western modernity and technology.
34 Leo Ou-fan Lee, On the Margins of the Chinese Discourse: Some Personal Thoughts
on the Cultural Meaning of the Periphery, Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 221. In
discussing the political estrangement of Chinese intellectuals from the Chinese
government after the Tiananmen tragedy, Lee theorizes this China by observing how
the Chinese nation, instead of the state,... remains the central object of their loyalty
their motherland. However, Lees conceptualization of an imaginary motherland,
though intended as a means of critiquing Chinese political centrism, remains in its
assumptions culturally centrist.
55 Ibid., 215. For a discussion and critique of Chinese cosmopolitanism, see Chapter
Two.

39
56 Rey Chow, Primitive Passions: Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography, and Contemporary
Chinese Cinema (New York: Columbia UP, 1995), 23.
37 Quoted in HK To Be Tolerant Society, But with 'Chinese Values, Says Tung, South
China Morning Post [online], 1 July 1997, available at www.hongkong97.com.hk.
Emphasis mine.
38 Stuart Hall, The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity, Dangerous
Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, Eds. Anne McClintock, Aamir
Mufti, and Ella Shohat (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997), 178.
391 am thinking here of AiiieeeeePs editors formulation of an Asian American
sensibility (see note 15) in an attempt to differentiate between FOB (Fresh-off-the-
Boat) Chinese and ABCs (American-born Chinese).
60 Chow, Writing Diaspora, 6, 126.
61 For an insightful and detailed account of the way the Chinese were stereotypically
depicted (including some fascinating pictorial illustrations and photographs), see James
S. Moy, Marginal Sights: Staging the Chinese in American (Iowa City: U of Iowa P,
1993). Elaine Kim also offers an analysis of stereotypical caricatures of the Chinese and
other Asian Americans in the literary work of Anglo-American authors such as Jack
London and Mark Twain. Elaine H. Kim, Asian American Literature: An Introduction to
the Writings and Their Social Context (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1982). See Chapter 1
of Kims book.
62 Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1978), 3.
63 *
Malini Johar Schueller, US. Orientalisms: Race, Nation, and Gender in Literature,
1790-1890 (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1998), 4.
64 Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung, Island: Poetry and History of Chinese
Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940 (Seattle: U of Washington P, 1980). The
numbers in parenthesis after each line represent page numbers and not the numbering of
the poems in the book.
63Marlon K. Horn, Songs of Gold Mountain: Cantonese Rhymes from San Francisco
Chinatown (Berkeley: U of California P, 1987), 62-63. These poems were culled and
translated from anthologies of Cantonese folk rhymes. They represent the literary
productivity of San Franciscos Chinatown, which often took the form of poetry writing
competitions modeled after Chinese literary traditions.
66 Ibid., 158. Poem number 76. Emphasis mine.

40
67 Elaine Kim discusses only a few of these authors in Asian American Literature. For a
more comprehensive list of women writers and their works during the period, see Amy
Ling, Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry (New York: Pergamon,
1990).
/o
Kim, Asian American Literature, 24-25.
69 Ibid., 61, 63.
70 For a brief introduction to and bibliography of contemporary Chinese American
literature and its major contributors, see Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, Chinese American
Literature, An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature, Ed. King-kok
Cheung (New York: Cambridge UP, 1997), 39-61.
71 Timothy Pfaff, Talk with Mrs. Kingston, New York Times Book Review, 18 June
1980, 1. Also quoted in Kim, Asian American Literature, 209.
72 Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club (New York: Ivy, 1989), 331.
Wang Ping, American Visa (Minneapolis: Coffee House, 1994). See also her latest
novel Foreign Devil (Minneapolis: Coffee House, 1996).
74 Amy Tan, The Kitchen Gods Wife (New York: Ivy, 1991).
73 Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts
(New York: Vintage, 1976), 6.
76 David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly (New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1988).

CHAPTER 2
CHINESE COSMOPOLITANISM CRITIQUED:
CRITICAL ALTERNATIVES IN THE WORK OF LI-YOUNG LEE
Indonesia in Crisis: Race, Class, and Chinese Transnational Capital
Storm clouds of the Asian economic crisis began gathering early in 1997,
culminating in the currency devaluation, stock market crash, and social upheaval in
numerous Asian countries such as Thailand, Japan, South Korea, and Malaysia. Among
the first few to encounter this economic onslaught was a particularly ravaged Indonesia,
whose rupiahs downward spiral, coupled with the Suharto governments financial
mismanagement and ironhanded rule, brought on the recent social unrest in the country:
widespread retrenchment, high unemployment, famine, student and mass protests against
the government, and the eventual (and long overdue) replacement of Suharto by his
deputy B. J. Habibie (whom many consider to be a tolerable, though temporary, exchange
for Suhartos thirty-year hold on power).1 An especially horrifying part of this unrest is
the ethnic violence directed at the Indonesian Chinese who are being blamed for their
countrys economic woes. Reports from Western and pro-Chinese media depict
seemingly coordinated riots against Chinese businesses, the looting of Chinese-owned
stores, and the rape of Chinese women; reports that are further intensified by the
circulation of unconfirmed accounts and rumors on the Internet, graphically detailing the
horrors of the anti-Chinese mob violence.
41

42
As shocked as one is by the accounts of these racially driven atrocities, the
scapegoating and the cultural cleansing2 of the ethnic Chinese come as no surprise; for
anti-Chinese sentiments, unfortunately, constitute a recurring theme in Indonesias
colonial and postcolonial history. When the Dutch colonized the Indonesian islands, they
encouraged diasporic Chinese to trade in the Dutch East Indies; hence, for generations
the Chinese lived in Indonesia but were not o/Indonesia.3 This perception of the
Chinese as outsiders was exacerbated by the 1965 anti-Communist massacre, what one
historian calls the Indonesian Chinese holocaust, 4 where an estimated half-a-million
Chinese lives were taken.3 Indonesian Chinese were culturally and socially alienated and
deprived of their rights when the government in 1965 banned the Chinese language,
theater, and religious observances from public spaces, while Chinese schools were shut
down by the 1970s.6 As they were also denied a political voice in government, the
Chinese turned instead to the task of money-making, hence finding security by
dominating Indonesias economy. Protected by Suharto (who obviously benefited from
this alliance), the rich Chinese elite now control 70 percent of the countrys wealth
though the Chinese only represent 4 percent of the total population.7
With Suhartos political future in jeopardy, a consequence of the economic crisis,
anti-Chinese violence began to erupt as early as January 1998. Resentment against
Chinese wealth has been identified as the cause of the violence, though many suspect that
the scapegoating of the Chinese and the rioters deliberate targeting of Chinese
businesses were orchestrated to shift attention away from the countrys economic
troubles and the governmental policies that led to the present crisis.8 One commentator
has noted pithily that the Chinese, by depending too much on Suharto, have put all their

43
eggs in the economic basket,9 instead of finding ways to participate in Indonesian
politics. On the other hand, one positive outcome of the ethnic violence is that it has
mobilized some Indonesian Chinese out of their political apathy and inertia, to form the
Indonesian Chinese Reform Party and other pressure groups to work towards political
change.10 Many have come to realize that ultimately economic prosperity cannot
guarantee them a place in Indonesian society.
By reviewing the complexity of the Indonesian Chinese situation, I seek to
problematize any hasty assignation of blame, which tends to reduce an overdetermined
political/social problem to a simplistic oppressor-victim dualism. As much as one must
forcefully condemn the racially motivated mob violence, the cultural terrorism visited
upon the Chinese, and the Indonesian governments role in indirectly sanctioning such
racism, one must also question the Chinese elites complicity in creating a class-
oppressive system where a rich minority of both native Indonesians and ethnic Chinese
has amassed most of the countrys wealth and resources, leaving a widening economic
gap between the rich and the poor. To mobilize the Indonesian Chinese politically, as
media commentators have suggested, is an important and crucial first step. But a
conservative Indonesian Chinese politics will only further reinforce the present economic
class structures; for though it may offer temporary solutions to the racial strife, it will fail
to address the related underlying problem of class disparity. One must instead encourage
a radical politics that not only mobilizes communal and national identification between
Chinese and native Indonesian across religious1 and cultural differences, but also
critiques the role played by the Indonesian Chinese transnational capitalists in helping to

44
create and exploit a class oppressive (and often corrupt) system through the flexible
accumulation of wealth, labor, and material resources.
The strategies of this elite class of transnational Indonesian Chinese exemplify
what Donald Nonini and Aihwa Ong have described as forms of power that collude with
the contemporary regimes of truth and power organizing the new flexible capitalisms and
modem nation-states, but also act obliquely to them, and systematically set out to
transgress the shifting boundaries set by both.12 These corporate elite Indonesian
Chinese manipulate and work within the Indonesian regime of power to accrue wealth,
frequently by developing a symbiotic relationship with the Suharto government in order
to receive its protection and ensure its support. At the same time, the flexible strategies
of accumulation offer the elite Chinese mobility and, hence, the possibility of escape,
particularly in times of crisis such as the current climate of anti-Chinese sentiments and
hostilities. With the early reports and rumors of anti-Chinese uprising, many rich
Chinese had already fled to the safe havens of Singapore and other Southeast Asian
countries, leaving behind the majority of the ethnic Chinese, who belong to the lower and
lower-middle classes, to bear the brunt of the violence. The latter ultimately are the true
victims of both racial violence and class oppression. As one Indonesian Chinese sadly
testifiesand in so doing disrupts the stereotype of the rich ethnic ChineseIm one of
the have-nots. Thats the role of the conglomerates: they can go abroad. The have-nots
just stay here and take what comes.13

45
Contemporary Chinese Cosmopolitanism: Hegemonic Alliances
The Indonesian crisis, in this sense, foregrounds the complex social, economic,
and political spaces, particularly within the Asia-Pacific Rim, that diasporic Chinese
inhabit and from which they are deterritorialized. It also unveils the problematics of
transnational culture and capital, as they intersect with the localized dimensions of race
and class. Although I advocate complex readings of diasporic experience that engage
local specificities, and resist reductive comparative analysis, the Indonesian situation
presents significant insights into the U.S. regimes of truth and power that the Chinese,
peripheral Chinese, and other Asian Americans have to negotiate and be subjected to.
The complexity of the Asian American context similarly rejects the simplistic political
dichotomy of oppressors and victims. Recent charges of illegal campaign contributions
to the Democratic Party by Asian and Asian American donors illustrate this complexity.14
With Republican politicians and conservative commentators crying foul, the issue of race
enters the political and media discourse, just as it has in Indonesia. Images of the
Chinese in America have been calibrated into xenophobic stereotypes that now transcend
the former Cold War dualism of the good (capitalist) Chinese versus the bad (communist)
Chinese,15 to assume the new version of the unscrupulous and unethical Chinese
transnational capitalist-exploiter, whom the Clinton administration has politically coddled
for Asian money,16 and who had in turn diverted wealth and jobs away from the
American people. Such generalizations and stereotypes once again mask the reality of
class distinction within a minority community through racial homogenization.
As is in the case of the Indonesian Chinese elite, what gets similarly highlighted
here is the place of transnational capital in the culture and politics of Asian America,

46
especially when diaspora becomes an increasingly significant cultural trope to
conceptualize the Asian American experience. To be able to critique the exploitative role
played by modem Chinese transnationalism as it intersects with the discourses of global
capitalism, Orientalism, Chinese traditionalism, and neo-conservative Asian American
politics, I would like to turn to Chinese cosmopolitanism, a concept that has recently
gained theoretical currency in transnational and Chinese cultural studies.
The questions of diaspora and globalization have begun to deterritorialize the
notion ofChinese-ness from its discursive roots within the former framework of the
nation-state. Therefore, with the inadequacy of the center-periphery paradigm that has
mainland China occupying the political and cultural center, sinologists and historians
have started to rethink theories on Chinese culture to account for the growing
significance of the Chinese diaspora in shaping Chinese modernity. Instead of
completely destabilizing the center-periphery model, many of these scholars opt for a
revised version of it, where Chinese diasporic culture becomes what Mike Featherstone
has termed a global Third Culture,17 which not only accounts for its transnationality18
but also retains its peripheral position within the earlier cultural paradigm.
What is specifically global about this Chinese transnational culture is its links to
global business and transnational capitalism. But instead of simply theorizing modem
Chinese transnationalism as an Eastern auxiliary to Western capitalism, sinologists
envision it as an equally (if not more) successful and more humane alternative. Hence, to
explain the profitability and economic viability of Chinese transnational businesses,
many point to values like industriousness, trustworthiness, risk taking, and family
cohesion and the cooperation and solidarity generated by clan and occupational

47
associations as the reasons for success.19 This form of guanxi capitalism20 (based on
familial, clan, and racial connections) deploys Chinese traditionalism and neo-
Confucianism to lend humanism and socialitywhat Singapores former Prime
Minister Lee Kuan Yew characterizes as the glow of Chinese fraternity to the
otherwise cruel world of late capitalist practices and strategies. The term Chinese
cosmopolitanism, therefore, invokes on behalf of transnationalism this humanism and
sociality. Leo Ou-fan Lee notes that Chinese cosmopolitanism embraces both a
fundamental commitment to Chinese culture and a multicultural receptivity, which
effectively cuts across all conventional national boundaries. With greater
philosophical grandeur, Tu Wei-ming argues that many Asian countries and Chinese
communities throughout the world have shown not only the relevance of Confucian
ethics to their modus operandi but also the dynamics of the Confucian tradition in
shaping their forms of life, hence producing a new inclusive humanism with profound
ethical-religious implications for the spiritual self-definition of humanity that will
ultimately affect cultural China.24
Aihwa Ongs critical work on the flexible citizenship of Chinese cosmopolitans
constitutes an indispensable starting point in mobilizing any critique of modem Chinese
transnationalism. In problematizing the petty orientalist discourse25 of a racialized
economism marked by Chinese values, Ong argues that Chinese biopolitics and neo-
Confucian humanism, as structured within Chinese cosmopolitanism, mask the economic
exploitation and class oppression engendered by transnational corporatism.26 To
demonstrate this, she traces the concept of guanxi from its deployment during the era of
colonial capitalism to that of transnational capitalism:

48
In everyday life ... there is widespread misrecognition of guarns
violence, while its humanism is widely extolled by ordinary folk,
businessmen, and cultural chauvinist alike. Such symbolic violenceor
the erasure of collective complicity over relations of domination and
exploitationis also present in academic writings that unduly celebrate
guanxi as the basis of recent overseas Chinese affluence. Misrecognition
of business guanxi as basically a structure of limits and inequality for
many and enabling of flexibility and mobility for the few to accumulate
wealth is part of the ritual euphemization of Chinese values, especially
among transnational Chinese and their spokesmen.27
What Ong has also incisively demonstrated in Chinese cosmopolitanism here is Stuart
Halls point that the global and the local are not antithetical and antagonistic formations
but instead constitute the two faces of the same movement from one epoch of
globalization.28 In her excellent examination of Hmong diasporic identification and
Miao political positioning, Louisa Schein also destabilizes the conceptualization of
transnationalism and the nation-state as mutually exclusive and as locked in
competition for paradigmatic primacy, by asking the question: Why, instead, can these
debates not work toward imagining nation-state and transnational as interlocked,
enmeshed, mutually constituting? On the strength of this logic, I would like to argue
that Chinese cosmopolitanism invokes both the global and the local by reformulating and
incorporating the localizedVnationalist ideology of Chinese cultural return into a so-
called Chinese global economism. Frequently drawing on neo-Confucian principles,
advocates of Chinese cosmopolitanism identify Chinese values and work ethics in this
economism, hence successfully concatenating Chinese cultural traditionalism and late
capitalist strategies. Chinese centrism, therefore, has adapted itself to serve transnational
capital in a mutually beneficial relationship20 and, in the process, has reasserted its own
political relevance and cultural hegemony within the Chinese transnational imaginary and
diasporic sphere.

49
This alliance between cultural conservatism and transnational capitalism accounts
in part for the entrenchment of the kind of class oppressive systems one finds in
Indonesia and increasingly in the United States. With the complication of racism and
racial politics, the Chinese in both these countries realize the importance of political
mobilization. However, the confluence of cultural elitism and transnational capital in
Chinese cosmopolitanism, as it meets up with the need to confront racism, produces a
neo-conservative politics that is willing to question the injustices of racial prejudice and
racist crimes but refuses to confront the inequities of class differences, which Chinese
cosmopolitanism only further reinforces. Glenn Omatsu exposes this contradiction in his
analysis of Asian American neo-conservatism. As products of the Reagan-Bush era,
these neo-conservatives are children of the corporate offensive against workers, the
massive transfer of resources from the poor to the rich, and the rebirth of so-called
traditional values.31 What Omatsu obliquely alludes to but does not extrapolate are the
connections between Asian American traditional values, Asian transnational culture,
and global business. The figure of the Asian American neo-conservative, in this context,
represents the problematic mobilization of minority politics without fully engaging in a
critical fashion the intersecting discourses of class, race, and transnational capital.
Its alignment with late capitalism and conservative politics had liberal
intellectuals shying away from the notion of cosmopolitanism, as Bruce Robbins notes in
Secular Vocations. Instead of relinquishing claim of the concept to his political
opponents, Robbins offers a radical recasting of the term, an argument he takes up in the
recently published Cosmopolitics, a volume he co-edited with Pheng Cheah. Though
cosmopolitanism is clearly an outgrowth or ideological reflection of global capitalism,

50
he argues, it remains possible to speak (in [Paul] Rabinows phrase) of critical
cosmopolitanism.33 By registering cosmopolitanism as a domain of contested
politics,34 radical intellectuals should proffer cosmopoliticalto use Robbins and
Cheahs play on the titlealternatives to challenge transnational capitals version(s) of it.
Hence, one can envisage a critical Chinese cosmopolitanism as a theoretical mode of
intervention that uncouples the links connecting Chinese traditionalism and neo
conservatism to transnational capitalism and, in the process, confronts the issues of class
disparity and exploitation that are often elided in the postcolonial critique of racial,
cultural, and political oppressions. In taking a step towards formulating such a notion of
critical Chinese cosmopolitanism, the next section of my essay will offer a reading of
the work of Indonesian-Chinese American poet Li-Young Lee as a route towards
engaging these issues. I am aware that a political project of this scope cannot be
adequately addressed by mere exegesis of literary texts; therefore, my interpretation of
Leewho is by no means radical in his political identificationserves only to tease out
possibilities and positionings, albeit within the literary framework, to contest and disrupt
Chinese cosmopolitanism and to foster further thinking on the formulation of critical
alternatives.33
Winged Deterritorialization and Cultural Cannibalism:
The Cosmopolitical Visions of Li-Young Lee
The poetry of Li-Young Lee, which has been compared to that of John Keats,
Rainer Maria Rilke, and Theodore Roethke,36 has earned him a place among Asian
American literary figures of national standing. With two collections to his creditRose
(1986) and The City in Which I Love You (1990), Lee has also recently published an

51
autobiographical work entitled The Winged Seed: A Remembrance,'37 Though much of
his writing emphasizes his relationship to his father,38 responses to his Christian
upbringing, and a deep sense of connection to his wife Donna, Lee also retraces his steps
as a diasporic Chinese and an immigrant to the U.S. By exploring the complexities and
contradictions of being Indonesian, Chinese, and American, Lees work elicits the same
kinds of cultural and political questions the historicity of the present Indonesian crisis
evokes. But instead of simply reinscribing textually his triple marginality (as an ethnic
Chinese in Indonesia, as a diasporic Chinese, and as a minority in America), he finds in
the cultural, racial, and class violence the possibility of human connectedness, a
cosmopolitical vision that does not elide the violence and the oppression but foregrounds
them as connecting links in bridging the world through its humanity. The two major
tropes that Lee uses to enact this vision are the deterritorialized winged seed and the
image of cannibalism as cultural incorporation.
The winged seed is a powerful botanical metaphor to describe the
deterritorialization and global mobility of diasporic peoples in general. In fact, the term
diaspora is derived etymologically from the Greek verb to sow or to scatter, a
concept borrowed from the dispersion of seeds by plants through various means such as
water, wind, or animal/human carriers. Plants that employ wind dispersion such as the
tropical Angsana tree often have built-in structures or wing extensions that enable their
seeds to fly across vast distances. Li-Young Lees use of this metaphor not only in the
title of his latest book but also as the central trope around which he weaves his
remembrances reveals its effectiveness in emblematizing both the trajectory of his own
migratory history and the global scope and mobility of Chinese diaspora.

52
In a sense, the deterritorialized state of the winged seed is cosmopolitan in its
production of multiple belongings, not unlike that of the flexible citizenship of Chinese
transnational capitalists. However, to avoid the conservative celebratory gesture of the
latters cosmopolitanism, Lee reveals the mechanisms that enable (or force) diasporic
flight and dispersion (frequently of the exilic type), hence unmasking the political
violence and cultural nationalisms that marginalize, uproot, and displace groups of people
into diasporic existence.
The story of Lees diasporic flight begins in Jakarta in 1957 where he was bom.
Three years later his father was charged with working for the CIA in plans to bomb
military installations on the island of Java and for spreading discontent by preaching
ideas from the West;39 he was subsequently imprisoned for a year. Lee proceeds to
detail the terrorism enacted upon Ba40 and his family by President Sukarnos
government,41 hence fleshing out the tactics of social alienation, racial incitement, and
ideological purging:
While blueprints taken from . [Bas] office only showed plans for
classroom buildings, copies of certain letters proved incriminating enough
for Sukarno to have him taken from his home by armed men. The squad
of booted and uniformed men marching up our steps and the sight of four
big army jeeps idling in our narrow street, which was barely wide enough
for the coffer seller and the coconut peddler to pass shoulder to shoulder
trundling their pushcarts, was enough of a signal to the entire
neighborhood that wed become pariahs. Anyone associating with us
risked the same treatment. From that day on, even friends stopped coming
by.
He was, of course, innocent from the start. My father was one of
the most nonpolitical persons Ive ever known.... But suspicion fell on
him because, first of all, he was Chinese, and then because, as vice
president of Gamaliel University, hed invited a number of teachers and
scholars from seminaries all over the United States to visit Jakarta as part
of an exchange program, and he had on one occasion housed a minister
from Ohio. Such associations while Sukamo was trying to ally himself
with China and Russia could not be tolerated. (107-8)

53
Overnight, the Lees were transformed into outcasts and, later, political refugees, as
Sukarnos anti-Chinese purging intensified and expanded across the country. In Lees
own ominous words, Escape was impossible, the purge had begun, weapons were being
handed out to farmers as well as thugs, and all over the island, agents of the president
were preaching the evils of Chinese and other foreigners.... What was obviously about
to happen, chaos and killing, had already begun (194). Bas imprisonment strangely and
fortuitously provided a channel of escape for the family. While being transferred to
another prison in Macau, Ba escaped, with the help of a friend. The Lee familys exile
brought them to Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore (38), before they arrived in Seattle in
1964 (12) and eventually settled in East Liberty, Pennsylvania (78). Lee refuses to reify
the U.S. as a paradisal political safe haven. Though physical endangerment was no
longer a major concern in America, diaspora has translated the Lees from cultural
periphery (as Chinese minorities in Indonesia) to cultural periphery (as Asian
Americans). In the U.S., the family had to cope with a different set of racial and
assimilationist politics, one that was comparatively benign (vis--vis Sukarnos
Indonesia) but no less violent in its mechanism of cultural oppression and alienation:
while Ba, as a pastor of a church, cares for a congregation that labels him as their
heathen minister (82), Lee himself struggles with the psychological trauma and self
doubt that inevitably come from failing to speak American English with the correct
accent and pronunciationWhile some sounds were tolerated, some even granting the
speaker a certain status in the instances of, say, French or British, other inflections
condemned one to immediate alien.... More than once I was told I sounded ugly. My
mouth was a shame to me, an indecent trench (76)42

54
By briefly tracing his diasporic narrative above, I hope to demonstrate Lees
refusal to render the trope of the winged seed politically inefficacious through an
uncritiqued cosmopolitanism and humanism. Instead, he unveils the various structures of
oppression that litter the flight path of the diasporic. His cosmopolitical vision, however,
does not wallow, so to speak, in the self-pitying ethos of the victim mentality; but
trancends it through the notions of potentiality and connectedness, which the winged seed
seems to offer.
Lees interrogation and exploration of the winged seed metaphor represent an
internalized struggle on his part to negotiate between cultural risks and difficulties on the
one hand, and hope, potentiality, and renewal on the other, as his description of a
morning glory seed indicates:
What is a seed? Is it its flower? Is it the leaves it utters? Is it a house?
Where is the honey hidden, in which room? Where is the owner? How
much room is a flower to a bee? Who could tenant a house so narrow as a
seed? Only the least among us could live there. Lighter than the flower, it
is where the flower closes at evening. Yet, in it may be growing the
flower that will overthrow all governments of crows or senators. This
seed comes to divide me from all I thought I knew. This seed revises all
existing boundaries of an ungrasped hour. This seed carries news of a new
continent and our first citizenship, and I hold it. (36)
Soon, a seed will wake, who lay all night along a ledge. Meanwhile, I
cradle in my hand this odorless seed like one dead, like one who recalls
nothing of his actions or inactions, one who bears inside now only a
remembered shapeliness of certain desires or need, but things more
elemental, akin to oceans, sandstorms, and the yearning wings reveal by
their action in time. (52)
The seeds power lies in its ability to collapse time and space into its diminutive casing,
latently storing the possibility and promise of life. Rhizomic in character (according to
Deleuze and Guattaris conceptualization of the term4), a seed deterritorialized is not
only emblematic of the diasporics humanity, but it also signifies his or her potential in

55
disrupting cultural and political boundaries and traditionsas Lee rather teasingly asks,
what is it about seeds that might so offend a military regime or cause dictators [to]
fear? (46). The seed, therefore, holds for Lee a cosmopolitical faith in humanity and the
hope of new beginnings.
Furthermore, I would like to read The Winged Seed as a sort of seed narrative in
its construction. Lee disregards, in a postmodern way, narrative conventions of
chronological linearity and logical progression, but collapses time and space, as in the
dense, compact interiority of a seed, by shuttling between remembrances which are
weakly and spontaneously linked together by a succession of memory triggers. This
technique allows Lee to form an intricate interpenetrating network of life experiences and
possibilities, which does not just tropologically reflect the seeds life force but instead
resonates its own.
It is possible, on the other hand, to read Lees musings on the seed as a form of
prelapsarian utopianism mediated through a sort of Third World primordialism or
primitivism, a critique that many have justly leveled at the traditionalism and humanism
of contemporary Chinese cosmopolitanism. However, a contextualized look at Lees
formulation of his cosmopolitical vision via the seed metaphor reveals that he is
cognizant of the pitfalls, particularly the disadvantages of the metaphor itself and the way
he deploys it. For instance, he observes how stripping the morning glory seeds of their
gold husk reveals blacker thoughts, the seeds! (52), the lesson being that one must
come to terms with human weakness and evil, just as one celebrates human strength and
goodness. Lee is also painfully conscious of the biological/cultural determinism (as he is
equally resistant to his parents brand of Christian predestination) inherent in the very

56
physiological make-up of the seed, which the following passage depicting the seeds
flight suggests:
A seed, bom flying, flew, knowing nothing else, it flew, and in that
persistence resembling praise it took no respite. But its natural course
was inevitably radial, away from its birth and into the second day, no
frontier, and the seed flew through.... The seeds only companion was
the call it heard at its ear, coming from its birthplace, realm of its first day,
a call coming from behind it, prior, as it were, to the seed itself.
(92; emphasis mine).
The inexorable call of culture leads Lee to pun on the word seed as sperm, thereby
delineating a response to his Chinese-ness: The age beginning with the Yellow Emperor
continues through me, whose history is in my face, my undoubled lid and alien eye,
whose future is a question forming between my thighs,... bed for seed (95). One must
acknowledge the benefits and revolutionary possibilities of cultural and ethnic
identification; however, this must be tempered by a critique of essentialism, in this case
that of the ideology of Chinese return, which I have engaged in Chapter One. Lee, in
fact, views as suspect the notion of blood having claim on him just because it was the
oldest thing. He notes that Ba felt clogged with it and damned with the talking about
it (175).
In the style of Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan, Lee weaves two tales, one
about his paternal grandfather and another he hears from his grandfathers servant Old
Asay told in the talk-story tradition, both of which Lee uses to subvert the primacy of
blood and the idea of an unquestioning filial piety. Lees grandfather is almost a
caricature of patriarchal, sexist, and sexual violence. Practically the embodiment of evil
and pure malice, Yeh Yeh (as Lee addresses him) is capable of matricide (a threat which
enables him to gain control of the family wealth), spousal and child abuse (committed

57
through beatings or by denying his family food while he himself eats and his wife and
children watch in hunger), and sexual assault (visited upon Fei, Lees sister). The latter
marks the limit for the young Lee, provoking him to swear in ... [his] heart of hearts ...
[hed] chop the old man up and feed him to the birds, and never go home (175). Yeh
Yeh functions as a signifier in Lees narrative of the oppressive elements within Chinese
traditionalism. Therefore, for Lee to express such hatred for his grandfather is to create
ironic moments within the text to undermine the call of blood to familial and social
conformity. Another such moment is found in Old Asays telling of the clan feud
between the Shaw and the Lee families, both being arch rivals in the fishing industry in
China. She dramatizes in the heroic mode how each family had to select a champion to
contest and lay claim to certain territorial waters. What ultimately motivated these men
was the belief in defending their family name and honor, prompting each of them to
stoically plunge their arms past the elbows into the boiling oil, and then walk home
unaided; both becoming, as Lee editorializes, sacrificial victims to the cause of
blood and tradition (178).
The way Lee complicates his reading of the winged seed metaphor prevents him
from settling too easily into a naive humanism or uncritiqued cosmopolitanism. On the
other hand, by foregrounding the potentiality of the seed, he validates his cosmopolitical
vision, which he further accomplishes through the notion of a human connectedness that
transcends social, national, and cultural boundaries. This idea of connection forms a
thematic consistency in a series of stories and occurrences within the seemingly random
and serendipitous remembrances that structure Lees seed-like narrative. What is radical
and politically effective about his concept of connectedness is that it dislocates the elitist

58
potential in humanism and Chinese cosmopolitanism by drawing instead on the solidarity
and empathy felt between the marginalized and the oppressed, the discarded lives
(81).44
Having just arrived in Seattle in 1964 and experiencing the trauma of
displacement and alienation which migrancy bestows (through what Rey Chow theorizes
as a new ecology... of human-as-waste45), the Lee family espies in a train station a
young woman in a trench coat and the baby in her arms, wrapped in the piss-sodden
pages of a Spiegel catalog (14), both of them emaciated by hunger and homelessness.
Despite their own state of poverty and material wanttwo tins of butter cookies and
sixty dollars are all that is left to feed the family of six till work can be foundLees
mother offers an unopened tin and a sweater to the young woman and child, and even
shows her how to feed the baby with freshly masticated butter cookies. Another instance
of compassionate connection one finds in Lees recollections of his father reaching out to
the other members of... [his] congregation whose liminality and marginalization
from the social mainstream of the church resulted in their living uncounted, discarded
lives (81). There is Mrs. Ethel Black whose family has abandoned her in her senility to
a soiled and a half crazed state of existence (78-81); or Mona Cook whose
prostitution and alcoholism have driven her to psychopathic hallucinations and violence
(81-82; 84-85).
[Ba] used to lie awake at night thinking about them, his prayers worrying
God about this and or that persons misfortune or pain. I think he loved
each and every one of them, and more than I ever felt they deserved, they
who referred to him as their heathen minister, these alcoholic mothers
delinquent children, shell-shocked bus drivers, pedophilic schoolteachers,
adulterous barmaids, desiccated widowers, bruised prostitutes ..., boring
executives, retarded janitors, liars, cheaters, drinkers, dopers,
motherfuckers, prodigals, sinners each and every one of us, and believers.

59
Perhaps it was my fathers calling to love every mangled or lost or refused
soul. (82)
These stories and instances of human compassion and connection populate Lees
childhood and imagination, and provide the emotional accuracy (123)46 which enables
the production of an alternative cosmopolitical vision that is both humane we/just.
To complete my reading of Lees cosmopolitanism, I would like to examine his
deployment of cannibalism as a trope for cultural incorporation. The concept of cultural
cannibalism has a theoretical legacy of critical intervention in Asian American literary
discourse. It uncovers the oppression and cultural violence of racism and assimilationist
rhetoric endured by Asian Americans. In discussing alimentary and quasi-cannibaliStic
images in Asian American literature, Sau-ling Cynthia Wong warns critics against relying
solely on Western and Christian understandings of these images and proposes that by
reading them contextually and collectively (within the parameters of Asian American
textuality and experience), these images could symbolize Necessityall the hardships,
deprivations, restrictions, disenfranchisements, and dislocations that Asian Americans
have collectively suffered as immigrants and minorities in a white-dominated country.47
While Lee taps into this imagistic and tropological tradition by demonstrating how state-
sponsored terrorism, diasporic displacement, and cultural violations have eaten into the
lives of his family, he also directionally reverses the image in order to convey unity,
circularity, and connection. This two-fold deployment of the trope of cultural
cannibalism opens spaces for cosmopolitical possibilities, though not at the expense of
political critique.
bell hooks argues that the commodification and consumption of the Other
provide a means of perpetuating white racism, imperialism, and sexist domination; by

60
eating the Other... one asserts power and privilege.48 Displacing this critical
understanding of cannibalism from its American context allows Lee to demonstrate its
applicability within the Indonesian setting:
Mu was getting devoured. First, there was Bas absence, which ate her
daily, leaving her thin; her eyes stared and looked bruised, Fei recalls.
And the other men ate her, the ones at every Administration doorway, the
ones at the prison gates. Not only was her body becoming lighter, so was
her purse, and eventually her house. One day a group of soldiers arrived
in a truck to seize our belongings.... And then more men came, the ones
dressed in shabby uniforms and sandals, wild, hungry-looking men who
materialized all over the city, who capitalized on the chaos that was
spreading all over the city. (116)
Lees powerful employment of the above imagethe cannibalization of Muspeaks
voluminously of the persecution suffered by the Chinese and other opponents of the
Sukarno government. It interestingly also allows Lee to affirm the oppositional potential
and political legitimacy of the tropes conventional usage in Asian American literature,
before re-mobilizing it as a building block for his cosmopolitanism. Hence, cannibalism
and quasi-cannibalism begin to shift in their tropological valence towards notions of unity
and connection through ones humanity.
In order to link the body physical to the body social, in his conceptualization of
cosmopolitical oneness, Lee directs his attention to the human body, immersing in all its
physicality, appetites, needs, functions, and processes. Particularly engaging and telling
are the passages in The Winged Seed that reflect Lees persistent fascination with his
fathers body, especially as the latter ages and approaches death. Because in him [Ba]
was my beginning and from him I rose, Lee reasons, naturally, his body interested
me continually (181). Lee describes in excruciating scatological detail the ordeal of
having to help relieve a badly constipated Ba (invalided in his old age) by physically

61
extricating the hard lumps from Bas body (158-9). As odious as this task is to him,
Lee is able to transcend his repugnance towards human waste, and to philosophize, rather
poetically I might add, on the proverbial circle of life:
For shits boon too, result of stomach, a self, and rank fire threshing bonds
and forcing matter through base great changes, changing eaten stuff to life
and death to be shat out in hot lumps looking nothing like us, yet, so us,
utterly. And that smell in the air is what but dying? Nothing but perfume.
Let us be singing the body passed out of the body, the evicted self, flesh of
waste, for we are up from fire and straight to ashes. Where better for
seeds than a residence of dung? Where better for flowers to be springing
all but their secret: The dream color. Where is our true bed but this
aromatic bread? We are bread. We should, like bread, be rising singing
and, unlike bread, be knowing singings ground, the tongue stuck in a cave
of the cave-ridden, hive-laden, pitted, pocked body which shits itself, blind
or disillusioned. The tongue, roughed up from shit, utters good vapors
into magnificat. The sacrament is excrement, the true host is earth, peeled
from us who are our guts and their furnace which make of impersonal
bounties our Personhoods. (137-38)
The circularity of the imagery, in depicting the interconnectedness of all life, sutures
disparate and oppositional elementsfood and excrement, ingestion and expulsion,
perfume and stench, life and death, the spiritual and the materialto create a monadic
world view that destabilizes the boundaries between the privileged and the discarded, the
individual and the cosmos.
This lesson that Lee learns from things elemental provides the philosophical basis
for him to emphasize the importance of cultural change, adaptation, and incorporation in
the calibration of a diasporic identity; and for him to extend this diasporic consciousness
into a secular, or worldly (to borrow Edward Saids critical formulation49), vision of
human oneness. On this final point, I would like to turn to a poem entitled The
Cleaving, taken from Lees second volume The City in Which I Love You. Here, Lee
reverses the negativity of cultural cannibalism, employs it in a way that reflects Stuart

62
Halls conception of cultural identity as a matter ofbecoming as well as being,50
and uses it to flesh out his cosmopolitical vision of connectedness.
The poem begins with the protagonists visit to the Hon Kee Grocery to watch a
meat seller, who has a sorrowful Chinese face,51 cut and sell roast pork and duck. He
becomes enthralled by the way the butcher violates the ducks carcass, a process which
Lee describes in graphic and yet sensual terms. Death, dismemberment, and eating are
intricately entwined:
Did this animal, after all, at the moment
its neck broke,
image the way his executioner
shrinks from his own death?
Is this how
I, too, recoil from my day?
The butcher sees me eye this delicacy [the ducks brain].
With a finger, he picks it
out of the skull-cradle
and offers it to me.
I take it gingerly between my fingers
and suck it down.
I eat my man. (79-80)
After witnessing the violent cleaving of the duck and his complicitous but pleasurable
partaking of its body, the protagonist encounters a fish dealer and contemplates
cannibalism, where he would incorporate the butcher and the world around him into his
own sense of diasporic existence and cultural specificity:
What is it in me will not let
the world be, would eat
not just this fish,
but the one who killed it,
the butcher who cleaned it.
I would eat the way he
squats, the way he
reaches into the plastic tubs
and pulls out a fish, clubs it, takes it

63
to the sink, guts it, drops it on the weighing pan.
The deaths at the sinks, those bodies prepared
for eating, I would eat,
and the standing deaths
at the counters, in the aisles,
the walking deaths in the streets,
the death-far-from-home, the death-
in-a-strange-land, these Chinatown
deaths, these American deaths.
I would devour this race to sing it,
this race that according to Emerson
managed to preserve to a hair
for three or four thousand years
the ugliest features in the world.
I would eat these features, eat
the last three or four thousand years, every hair.
And I would eat Emerson, his transparent soul, his
soporific transcendence. (82-83)
The physicality of eating, cultural eating, enables the protagonist to empathize and
connect with other Asian Americans, past and present, in a solidarity of marginalized
experiences. Although he, metaphorically or in actuality, has swallowed, as Sau-ling
Cynthia Wong puts it, the physical hardship or humiliation02 suffered by the early
Chinese immigrants, the protagonist is by no means stereotypically submissive and
passive (as evident in the model minority paradigm) in his acceptance of the anti-Asian
racism and discrimination. Instead of responding in kind through cultural nationalism
and essentialism, he envisions instead a more inclusive cosmopolitical unity:
No easy thing, violence.
One of its names? Change. Change
resides in the embrace
of the effaced and the effacer,
in the covenant of the opened and the opener;
the axe accomplishes it on the souls axis.
What then may I do
but cleave to what cleaves me.
I kiss the blade and eat my meat.
I thank the wielder and receive,

64
while terror spirits
my change, sorrow also.
The terror the butcher
scripts in the unhealed
air, the sorrow of his Shang
dynasty face,
African face with slit eyes. He is
my sister, this
beautiful Bedouin, this Shulamite,
keeper of sabbaths, diviner
of holy texts, this dark
dancer, this Jew, this Asian, this one
with the Cambodian face, Vietnamese face, this Chinese
I daily face,
this immigrant,
this man with my own face. (86-87)
As he embraces the cleaving violence of the butchers blade, he also welcomes the
breaking down of cultural boundaries; not in the sense that he denies the oppositional and
political usefulness of affirming differences in terms of race, gender, sexuality, and
religion, but rather in that he sees the social and cultural multiplicity as a mosaic,
heterogenous parts of a collective whole, connected in oneness through a common
humanity. The ability of the protagonist, Lees cosmopolitan, to identify with the Other
makes his cosmopolitical oneness truly global, vis--vis the cultural provincialism
implicit in contemporary Chinese cosmopolitanism. On the other hand, one must also
acknowledge that the celebratory imagery in this particular passage unfortunately can
also camouflage dangers one finds in U.S. multiculturalism, where class inequalities and
uneven power distribution are often made transparent, and where cultural diversity is
frequently co-opted to further the hegemonic goals of transnational capital. These are the
pitfalls that Lee needs to circumvent and to critique as he constructs a cosmopolitical
vision that can in any sense be called critical.

65
The political piquancy of Li-Young Lees vision lies ultimately in his ability to
push it to the theoretical edge of a cosmopolitical humanism in order to draw on its
idealism, often without allowing it to fall off into the deep end of an uncritical liberal
humanisma humanism that conceptualizes the Euro-American experience as the
universal norm at the expense of minority cultural identities. To keep in check this
idealism, Lee unrelentingly excavates the different strata of cultural violence, political
domination, racial oppression, and class exploitation. Hence, cultural cannibalism and
incorporation (despite the possible dangers) demonstrate not just the idealized hope of
unity and connection, but also the cultural and political violence emblematized by the
butchering of carcasses and the protagonists consumption of them. It is this two-fold
approach of idealization and critique that renders Lees vision a viable starting point for
theorizing a radical alternative to the hegemony of contemporary Chinese
cosmopolitanism and transnational capitalist culture.
Notes
1 President Habibies government is now facing a critical juncture in its tenure. In
November of 1998, military troops and security forces clashed with student protestors,
who were demanding greater democratic changes in the political system, the removal of
the military from politics, and an investigation into the corrupt practices of former
president Suharto. At least sixteen people were killed. Hundreds March as Indonesian
Parliament Promises to Enact Reforms, CNN Interactive [online], 18 November 1998,
available at cnn.com.
~ Michael Backman, Blame Indonesias Chinese? Far Eastern Economic Review, 5
March 1998, 34.
3 Jonathan Paris, Minority Rules: How Indonesias Chinese Can Survive, The New
Republic, 13 July 1998, 21.
4 Tu Wei-ming, Cultural China: The Periphery as the Center, Daedalus 120, no.2
(1991): 19.

66
5 Seth Mydans, Indonesia Turns Its Chinese into Scapegoats, The New York Times, 2
February 1998, A3.
6 David Yen-ho Wu, The Construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese Identities,
Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 166.
7 Steven Butler, Chinese Bear the Brunt of Anger, U.S. News & World Report, 2 March
1998,51.
8 John McBeth, with Salil Tripathi, Playing with Ire, Far Eastern Economic Review, 5
March 1998, 18-19. Though there is no evidence that the government is involved in the
riots, Human Rights Watch believes that the government should shoulder part of the
blame as it failed to explain that high food prices and food shortages are not the fault of
individual retailers and that the ethnic Chinese are a valued and important part of
Indonesian society (18).
9 Paris, Minority Rules, 20.
10 Frank Ching, Indonesian-Chinese Mobilizes, Far Eastern Economic Review, 25 June
1998,37.
11 Islam is the state religion of Indonesia, while the ethnic Chinese are predominantly
Buddhists and Christians. Though the religious differences multiply the cultural tensions
between the two ethnic groups, as demonstrated in Li-Young Lees The Winged Seed,
Lee also offers in his text the possibility of connection and harmony in spite of these
differences. See my discussion of Lee below.
12 Donald M. Nonini and Aihwa Ong, Chinese Transnationalism as an Alternative
Modernity, Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese
Transnationalism, Eds. Aihwa Ong and Donald M. Nonini (New York: Routledge, 1997),
20.
13
Quoted in Mydans, Indonesians Turn Its Chinese into Scapegoats.
14 For a chronicle of the complicated relationship between the Clinton administration and
rich and well-connected Asians and Asian Americans such as John Huang and James
Riady (a wealthy Indonesian transnational capitalist), see John Kifner, Clinton
Advertising Plan Led to Asian-American Donors, The New York Times [online], 14
April 1997, available at nytimes.com.
15 Aihwa Ong, Flexible Citizenship among Chinese Cosmopolitans, Cosmopolites:
Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation, Eds. Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins
(Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998), 151. This is a revised version of her essay On

67
the Edge of Empires: Flexible Citizenship among Chinese in Diaspora, positions 1
(1993): 745-78.
16 David E. Sanger, The Asian Money Machine Stirs Old Fears in America, The New
York Times [online], 4 January 1997, available at nytimes.com.
17 Mike Featherstone, Global Culture: An Introduction, Global Culture: Nationalism,
Globalization and Modernity, Ed. Mike Featherstone (London: SAGE, 1990), 1.
18 Nonini and Ong have observed how modem Chinese transnationalism is a form of this
third culture. Nonini and Ong, Chinese Transnationalism as an Alternative
Modernity, 11.
19 Gungwu Wang, Among Non-Chinese, Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 140.
20 Tu, Cultural China, 6.
71
Hung-chao Tai, ed., Confucianism and Economic Development: An Oriental
Alternative? (Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute P, 1989).
22 Quoted in Aihwa Ong, Chinese Modernities: Narrative of Nation and of Capitalism,
Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism, 179.
23 Leo Ou-fan Lee, On the Margins of the Chinese Discourse: Some Personal Thoughts
on the Cultural Meaning of the Periphery, Daedalus 120, no.2 (1991): 215.
24 Tu, Cultural China, 26-27. Cultural China is used as an inclusive term for Chinese
culture in a global setting.
25 Ong, Flexible Citizenship, 135.
26 For TNC exploitation, see Masao Miyoshi, A Borderless World? From Colonialism
to Transnationalism and the Decline of the Nation State, Critical Inquiry 19 (1993):
726-51.
27 Ong, Flexible Citizenship, 139-40.
"8 Stuart Hall, The Local and the Global: Globalization and Ethnicity, Dangerous
Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, Eds. Anne McClintock, Aamir
Mufti, and Ella Shohat (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998), 169-70.
9 Louisa Schein, Importing Miao Brethren to Hmong America: A Not-So-Stateless
Transnationalism Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation, Eds. Pheng
Cheah and Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998), 169-70.

68
30 This point also illustrates Stuart Halls argument that capital does not negate
particularity in its process of commodification but rather works through the specificities
of culture, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality. Hall, The Local and the Global, 180.
31 Glenn Omatsu, The Four Prisons and the Movements of Liberation: Asian American
Activism from the 1960s to the 1990s, The State of Asian American: Activism and
Resistance in the 1990s, Ed. Karin Aguilar-San Juan (Boston: South End P, 1994), 46.
For Omatsus excellent unraveling of the contradictory logic behind Asian American
neo-conservative politics, see especially pages 42-50.
32 Bruce Robbins, Secular Vocations: Intellectuals, Professionalism, Culture (London:
Verso, 1993), 182.
33 Bruce Robbins, Introduction Part I: Actually Existing Cosmopolitanism,
Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation, Eds. Pheng Cheah and Bruce
Robbins (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1998), 7-8.
34 Ibid., 12.
35 My tentative approach towards defining (in rather reactive terms) a critical alternative
to Chinese cosmopolitanism is indicative of the fact that we do not yet have the
knowledge or the discourse, as Paul Bove observes, to deal with the TNC-world
Miyoshi... summons as the nightmare fact of the global division of labor. Paul A.
Bove, Afterword: Global/Local Memory and Thought, Global Local: Cultural
Production and the Transnational Imaginary, Eds. Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake
(Durham: Duke UP, 1996), 380-81. Despite the belatedness of such critical work, one
needs to press on in the search for fresh strategies in dealing with capitals present global
hegemony, in the hopes of stumbling upon measures that will prove to be proactive
instead of simply responsive to transnational capitalisms trajectory.
36 See Gerald Stems forward to Li-Young Lees Rose.
37 Li-Young Lee, Rose (Brockport, NY: BOA Editions, 1986); The City in Which I Love
You (Brockport, NY: BOA Editions, 1990); The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (New
York: Simon & Schuster, 1995). The City in Which I Love You was the 1990 Lamont
Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets.
38 John C. Hawley, Gus Lee, Chang-Rae Lee, and Li-Young Lee: The Search for the
Father in Asian American Literature, Ideas of Home: Literature of Asian Migration, Ed.
Geoffrey Kain (East Lansing: Michigan State UP, 1997), 183-95.
39 Lee, The Winged Seed, 107. Subsequent references to this text will be parenthetically
documented.

69
40 Ba is the Chinese version of Dad, constituting a more casual form of address than
Father.
41 Sukarno became the first president of a newly decolonized Indonesia in 1945.
42 The politics of language and speech patterns is a problematic well laid out by a number
of Asian American authors, hence highlighting its significance and importance to Asian
American studies and activism. See especially Maxine Hong Kingstons A Song for a
Barbarian Reed Pipe in The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts
(New York: Vintage, 1976); Amy Tan, Mother Tongue, Asian American Literature: A
Brief Introduction and Anthology, Ed. Shawn Wong (New York: HarperCollins, 1996),
40-44; and Traise Yamamoto, Different Silences, The Intimate Critique:
Autobiographical Literary Criticism, Eds. Diane P. Freedman, Olivia Frey, and Frances
Murphy Zauhar (Durham: Duke UP, 1993), 127-34.
43 Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Introduction: Rhizome, A Thousand Plateaus:
Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P,
1987), 3-25.
44 One is reminded of E. M. Forsters dictum here to only connect, as articulated by
Margaret Schlegel in Howards End. Forsters idealization of personal relationships as
one of the tenets of his philosophical creed presented in What I Believe, though heart
warming in its humanism, falters into an elitism that has also plagued the liberalism of
the Bloomsbury Group on the whole. See Edward Morgan Forster, What I Believe,
Two Cheers for Democracy (New York: Harcourt, 1951).
4~ Rey Chow, Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural
Studies (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993), 179.
46 In a different context, Lee uses this term to describe the stories his Javanese maid
servants Seeti and Lammi told him while he was a little boy. What Lee found to be
true is not the stories per se, but the stories behind the stories that convinced him
our island of cities and rice fields, forests, rivers, and volcanoes was The World (123).
I would argue that this constitutes the seed, the beginning, of Lees cosmopolitical
thought.
47 Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, Reading Asian American Literature: From Necessity to
Extravagance (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993), 20.
48 bell hooks, Eating the Other: Desire and Representation, Black Looks: Race and
Representation (Boston: South End P, 1992), 36.
49 Edward W. Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP,
1983).

70
50 Stuart Hall, Cultural Identity and Diaspora, Colonial Discourse and Postcolonial
Theory: A Reader, Eds. Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (New York: Columbia UP,
1994), 394. Originally published in J. Rutherford, ed., Identity: Community, Culture,
Difference (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990), 222-37.
51 Lee, The City in Which I Love You, 77. Subsequent references to the poem from this
volume will be parenthetically documented.
Wong, Reading Asian American Literature, 37.

CHAPTER 3
CRISES IN THE HOMELAND(S):
HONG KONG AMERICANS AND THE ART OF CULTURAL NEGOTIATION
Hope lies within another countrys semaphores.
The Goddess of Liberty, the Statue of Mercy....
Marilyn Chin
from Tienanmen, the Aftermath
Taking Sides?
Any discussion in the West about the fate of Hong Kong after 1997 inevitably
encompasses the words democracy, human rights, and political freedoms in its
discursive vocabulary, especially when Tiananmen Square 1989 functions for many as
the historical signifter that disturbs the narrative of Hong Kongs return to the motherland
and that unveils the ideological and political implications of the Chinese rule of Hong
Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region). In a recent conversation at a dinner party,
this issue was raised, and a Chinese friend of mine who was visiting the U.S. at the time
made the following observation: I do not understand why Americans are so obsessed
with Tiananmen; in China, it is a matter of little significance to the rest of the country .
The debate that expectedly ensued was critically intense. But in a calmer moment of
retrospection (after all the dust has settled), I realize that what my mainland friend has
said unintentionally offers an aporetic space for one to (reexamine the public discourses
that swirl around the Hong Kong question and their impact on global and cultural
politics, especially for Chinese in diaspora. The obvious problem with my friends
71

72
statement is not that he questions the factuality of Tiananmen 1989 but that he denies or,
more accurately, represses into his political unconscious its brutality and its reverberating
and debilitating effects on movements that champion individual and political rights and
freedoms in China. Therefore, in his mind, the massacre has been conveniently relegated
to a footnote in Chinese history, explained away as a moment of youthful indiscretion
and immaturity on the part of the student protesters. My critique of his positionwhich
also happens to be the position adopted by the Chinese governmentis a familiar and
convincing one for many of us in the West. However, I would like to take a further step
in unpacking the implications and assumptions nestled in my friends statement, not just
to explore the limits of its ideology but also to use it to interrogate the strategies of
democracy as deployed by the West.
The place of human rights and democracy in U.S. public, media, and foreign
policy discourses on China has been naturalized to the point where my Chinese friends
accusation of Americas obsession would appear to us as misguided, illogical, or even
politically motivated. Though his observation is ultimately flawed, what I would argue is
that it helps one rethink the logic of democracysomething that we in the West take
for grantedand to examine what this logic can mask. Hence, I would like to reinterpret
this obsession as an effect of an Orientalizing discourse Rey Chow has characterized as
the King Kong syndrome, where China has been conceptualized as a spectacular
primitive monster whose despotism necessitates the salvation of its people by outsiders.2
To avoid demonizing China, the West should accompany its criticism, especially in the
case of Hong Kong, with a critique of Western imperialism; for without this critique, the
rhetoric of democracy simply exposes, as Chow puts it, the double standard of the

73
Westany recitation of Hong Kongs colonial history will reveal Britains naked
aggression in precipitating the Opium Wars, a point which the U.S. media habitually
ignores.3 In light of Britains eleventh-hour attempt at democratizing Hong Kong, the
Wests insistence on democracy becomes glaringly hypocritical.4 The language of
democracy furthermore camouflages the exploitation and hegemonic manipulation of
global capitalism, in an age where foreign policy works to protect transnational
corporatism.5
On the other hand, one cannot deny that what is operative in my friends attempt
to distance himself (on behalf of all mainland Chinese) from Americas obsession with
Tiananmen, through articulating a homogenizing view of public indifference to the crisis,
is a politics of denial which allows him to cope in complicity with the Chinese
governments tactics of violence and suppression. The mechanism through which this
politics is deployed is none other than a self-Orientalizing Us/Them binarism that reifies
an East/West cultural division. This split constructs the obsession with Tiananmen as a
metonymy for Westerners selfish regard for individuality (as if social relations are of
little importance in the West), while it nativistically brackets the East within the cultural
inevitability of Asian social and familial ties (as if only the community and the nation
assumed preeminence in the minds of the people, and personal rights and freedoms did
not command any significance at all).
The violence that this binarism produces is not just epistemological, but it is also
culturally, socially, and politically coercive. What it confronts diasporic Chinese with is
a demand that they take sides, either to claim an Eastern sense of social responsibility
and stability at the expense of political difference and individual voice, or to embrace

74
Western individualistic ways and, hence, to taint oneself culturally and to prostitute ones
political soul to the schemes of Western imperialism: a choice of double impossibility.6
A way of circumventing and critiquing this binary logic is to negotiate a cultural and
political space in-between these poles, a space in which I would like now to situate the
problematics of Hong Kong Americans diasporic consciousness and cultural/political
identity negotiation, especially as they view the crises of their original homeland(s) from
afar.
The difficult questions of cultural and diasporic identity asked by Hong Kong
Americans are in ways no different from those of the average Chinese American : What
does it mean to be an ethnic Chinese in America? How does one grapple with ones
Asian-ness and yet establish an American identity? How can Chinese (and other Asian)
Americans come to terms with U.S. neo-colonialism, especially when the Asia-Pacific
region is the theater where American imperialist adventurism is often played out?
However, these contradictions that come to bear on Chinese Americans in general were
compounded for Hong Kong Americans with the arrival of 1997, when the
postcoloniality of Hong Kong in effect erases the former British outpost from the map
of international relations. The notion of homeland, as a result, becomes problematic
when Hong Kong as a national (if I can even use this term) entity disappears and is
incorporated into the larger polity that is mainland China. This event creates for Hong
Kong diasporics a split vision of China/Hong Kong as imaginary homeland (which
accounts for the parenthesized plural suffix s I have attached to the word
homeland(s) in the title for this chapter). This plurality confers upon the notions of
cultural and national origins a certain liminality for Hong Kong Americans as they

75
struggle with this double vision. What I am suggesting here is not so much the erasure of
a material Hong Kong culture with the handover in 1997, but rather the intensification of
a politics of subjectivity that the Hong Kong people and Hong Kong diasporics, including
Hong Kong Americans, have to negotiate as Hong Kong itself shuffles between a British
colonial legacy, a Chinese nationality, and a distinct but marginalized Hong Kong
cultural identity. Hence, the notion of Hong Kong Americans witnessing the historical
crises (as in Tiananmen Square and the 1997 handover) is crucial in my analysis,
particularly in the way such events dislocate these cultural negotiations and throw into
crisis the question of subjectivity.
A brief examination of the cultural and political scene that the Hong Kong people
have occupied is critical in shedding some light on the Hong Kong American cultural
identity predicament. Since the beginning of British rule, Hong Kong, the port city, has
regularly been regarded as a space of transit, a city of migrants who adopt what Ackbar
Abbas calls a port mentality, where everything is provisional, ad hoc and where
everything floatscurrencies, values, human relations.8 This feeling of transience was
compounded by the British who, for imperialist reasons, minimized the political
participation of the Hong Kong people, who could only channel their energies into the
economic sphere, which is their only condition of possibility.9 Politically and
culturally, many also see Hong Kong as a borrowed place,10 which will one day be
returned to China. These different sociopolitical factors contribute to a misguided belief
(again premised on the Orientalist East-versus-West dichotomy) that the very idea of a
Hong Kong culture is oxymoronic. This notion is based on the following logic: if China
is the cultural origin and future of Hong Kong, one must then judge the authenticity of

76
Hong Kong culture against that of traditional Chinese culture; but since Hong Kong
has been so Westernized on the basis of its colonial history, Hong Kong culture cannot be
pure and, hence, must be rejected as illegitimate and insignificant. This line of reasoning
has led many locals to describe Hong Kong as a cultural desertNot that there was
nothing going on in cinema, architecture, and writing, Abbas explains, it was just not
recognized to be culture as such.11 In fact, this state of cultural liminality (as opposed to
cultural absence) also allowed the British to utilize Hong Kong as, according to the last
governor Chris Patten, a bridge ... between the West and China,12 without the British
government ever needing to commit itself to fight for Hong Kongs right of national
autonomy and existence after 1997. The argument is that since colonial Hong Kong has
only and always been a borrowed place, culturally speaking, from China, the absence
of a legitimate autonomous culture disqualifies Hong Kong from the right to claim
postcolonial nationhood.13
The Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984,14 which set the clock ticking towards
1997, basically awakened many in Hong Kong to the urgency of this question of culture
and nation, which Tiananmen Square only intensified and reiterated. In talking about the
inception of the new Hong Kong cinema, Abbas observes how historical crises help
initiate a paradigm shift in the cultural thinking and national perception of the people in
Hong Kong:
The Joint Declaration caused a certain amount of anxiety, even though one
of its terms is that the sociopolitical structure of Hong Kong will remain
unchanged for fifty years (according to the slogan One country, two
systems). But it also had another effect: it made Hong Kong people look
at the place with new eyes. It is as if the possibility of such a social and
cultural space disappearing, in the form we know it today, has led to our
seeing it in all its complexity and contradiction for the first time, an
instance, as Benjamin would have said, of love at last sight.... [The

77
Hong Kong] public [became] suddenly anxious about its cultural identity
because so many issues of social and political liberties hinge on that
question. It would be that much harder for Hong Kong citizens to argue
the case for political autonomy after 1997 if it could not make the case for
cultural identity now.15
Abbas exploration of the post-1984 cultural production in Hong Kong cinema,
architecture, and literature reveals a culture of disappearance that reflects a strategy
Hong Kong artists deploy to cope with the denial of their cultural autonomy by both
Britain and China. As a mode of oppositional aesthetics, the notion of disappearance
... does not imply nonappearance, absence, or lack of presence, rather it is a moment of
misrecognition, a pathology of presence, where representations of Hong Kong
deploy techniques of replacement and substitution16 and of reverse hallucinationof
not seeing what is there to assert a Hong Kong cultural presence. More simply put,
it is a sort of reverse psychology that uses representations of disappearance to deal with
disappearance.18 It is a strategy that negotiates an in-between space through a
destabilization of the East-West, China-Britain binarism that has dominated Hong Kong
cultural politics and that has displaced any possibility for the legitimization of a Hong
Kong culture. This strategy of disappearance, hence, gives Hong Kong culture a critical
edge, ... a culture that interrogates the very nature of Hong Kong and explores the
possibility of its redefinition.19
By shifting attention at this juncture to the cultural identity issue posed earlier
regarding Hong Kong Americans, one can forecast a number of questions raised by the
cultural and political struggles of Hong Kong: What difficulties or possibilities do these
contested spaces of culture in Hong Kong pose for Hong Kong Americans, particularly
when they have to deal with an unsettling double vision of China/Hong Kong as cultural

78
origin? Do these cultural spaces also offer strategies to resist Western imperialism (in the
form of a past British coloniality and a present American neo-colonialism masked by the
rhetoric of democracy) and yet to challenge Chinese centrism (and its logic of cultural
return)? How do these strategies help Hong Kong Americans critically tackle the trauma
of witnessing the crises in their homeland(s) and, at the same time, present radical
democracy as an alternative to its Western capitalist counterpart and as a challenge to
Chinese authoritarianism? In an attempt to examine the problematics that these questions
delineate, I would like to offer readings of the works of two Hong Kong Americans:
Marilyn Chins poetry on Tiananmen and Wayne Wangs recent filmic tribute to Hong
Kong 1997, Chinese Box. The way these works grapple with crises is indicative of the
demands and contradictions confronting cultural negotiation.
Ambiguities of Hope: Marilyn Chin on the Crisis in Tiananmen
The spilling of Chinese blood on Tianamen Square marks a terrifying moment of
trauma for many diasporic Chinese, a moment that has precipitated an outpouring of
artistic expressions to help articulate not only the pain and outrage but also a deep sense
of national and cultural crisis that the massacre has inflicted. One of these artistic
expressions is a series of poems entitled Beijing Spring in Marilyn Chins second
poetry collection The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty20 What is significant about
these poems is that they offer a glimpse into the complex world of cultural contestation
and negotiation of a Hong Kong American, as she struggles to make sense of the crisis
and its implications for the increasingly contradictory space she occupies between China
and America.

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By dedicating the segment Beijing Spring to the Chinese Democratic
Movement (84), Chin establishes from the start that her sympathies do lie with the
student protestors and the cause that they were fighting (and, in some cases, dying) for.
However, she does not allow her political identification to be co-opted by a simplistic
Us/Them binarismdemocracy/communism, West/East, victim/oppressor, friend/foe.
Instead, the Tiananmen crisis and its aftermath offer Chin the opportunity to bring into
question the Wests ideological ownership of democracy, which she accomplishes
through the problematization of the cultural-ideological semiotics involved. Chin also
engages the narrative logic of a Chinese utopianism as a means of exploring the
contradictions of Chinese cultural and national identities. The established trope of the
sexual/love relationship as national allegory also provides a useful and flexible metaphor
for Chin to mobilize a two-pronged approach: she first deploys it to challenge Chinas
violence against her own people, before tapping into its more positive and life-affirming
aspects to shore up the political hopes and idealism deflated by the Tiananmen crisis.21
Chin defines the tone of her poetry beginning with the title of this series Beijing
Spring, about which I would like now to offer a few scattered interpretive observations.
The concept of spring in Chinese culture is in many ways no different from its
deployment in the Euro-American literary tradition, especially in its association with new
life, new hopes, and new beginnings. But the localized specificity of a Beijing spring
brings with it a certain contrary element of a lingering harsh winter. This cold is
compounded by the bitter freezing winds that sweep through dusty Beijing streets, an
image that contradicts and, hence, offers an ironic tension to the optimism of spring,
creating what I would call the ambiguities of hope. Such ambiguities open up literary

80
and poetic possibilities for the depiction of loneliness and love lost, a point I will return
to when discussing the poem Beijing Spring. For the moment, suffice it to say that the
ambiguities of hope signify a struggle on the part of Chin to come to terms with the
idealism and failure of the student movement in Tiananmen, the budding of political
democracy and its premature demise, and the energy of youthful determination and its
unfortunate dissipation the instant government tanks rolled over student bodies.22 Hence,
a Beijing spring, when viewed through the political framework of Tiananmen Square,
becomes an ironic space where life and death, hope and despair simultaneously reside. It
is important, however, to note that it is not a space of paralysis for Chin, but instead an
in-between space of contradiction, contestation, and critique. Painful as it is for one to
occupy such a position, it has the potential to be an interventional space for cultural,
political, and national identity negotiations.
The ambiguities and contradictions involved in these negotiations characterize the
opening poem New China, which I have quoted in its entirety below. Though it does
not deal directly with Tiananmen, this poem is important in that it appeals to an
attachment many diasporic Chinese have to the nation China as their cultural center;
this attachment is crucial in helping one understand the hopes and the despair that
Tiananmen as political signifier embodies:
In youth I had nothing
That warned me of heavens vagaries
My nature always was to love the hills and waters.
Then, suddenly, I plunged
Into the squalid pitfall, the world.
Once having fallen
It would be forty-two years
The worm must dig deeper now to find the light.
* *

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Yet, my caged canary
Yearns to sing in the forest.
The fattened koi in my pond
Dreams of the ocean.
And I, their master, must one day set them free.
No grief nor joy greater than this one. (85)
The title New China appeals to a Chinese utopianism that many Chinese and diasporic
Chinese hold to, a hope that China (however one wishes to define the term) may one
day regain its political and cultural glory. A New China assumes a certain mythic
quality that allows it to function as a nationalist rallying call. This New China, hence,
becomes the fitting telos to the postlapsarian narrative that Chin sets up in the first half of
the poem. Here, the protagonist falls from a state of Wordsworthian innocence to come
face to face with the harshness and the difficulties of the world; she must then return to
the light, the original glory, in order to attain salvation from her fallen state. Reading
this utopianism within the framework of Tiananmen produces further resonance and
complexity in its appeal. The title New China gains an ironic dimensionit is
precisely a new political China that the Tiananmen movement hopes to achieve; it was a
time of great hope and anticipation, as the participants of the movement believed that
their political mobilization had set the wheels of change in motion. However, their
idealism, which had energized the process, unfortunately also blinded them to the harsh
reality of the Chinese governments grip on power. The student protestors, therefore, in a
sense, have fallen from their political youth into the squalid pitfall that is the
[Chinese political] world.
This interpretation of the first half of Chins poem generates two troubling issues
that need to be addressed. Firstly, there is the danger of reading into this narrative a

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fatalism (a form of pessimistic abandonment in surrender to heavens vagaries) that can
induce political passivity in the people. Though there is inevitably a determinism set up
by the redemption narrative, the telos of which is idealized as freedom, as the second
half of the poem suggests, human agency is still necessary to help accelerate the
progression towards that freedom. Hence, there is a need to dig deeper now to find the
light, to continue the fight, to persevere, to develop new and more effective strategies of
political resistance and change, in order to move the country towards the goal of political
freedom and democracy.
Secondly, we can ask if by invoking the utopianism of a New China, is Chin
then guilty of reifying a form of Chinese cultural centrism? Although this seems to be a
danger that is present in the imagery of this particular poem, I am hesitant to conclude
definitively that this is Chins position on the issue. For in other poems in the series,
Chin appears to challenge the notion of racial and cultural purity, hence reflecting at least
an ambivalence or ambiguity towards the nationalist calls of Chinese centrism. However,
what is certain here is Chins use of ambiguities as a means of complicating this narrative
of political redemption, and a way of expressing her own emotional struggles with its
contradictions.
The second half of the poem demonstrates how the story of political redemption is
not a simplistic morality tale of the good guys versus the bad guys; it is a tale plagued by
ambiguous positioning, contradictory affiliations, and uneasy alliances, attained through
careful cultural negotiations. By shifting the protagonists perspective to that of a
master who must eventually emancipate her caged canary and fattened koi, Chin
focuses on the emotional conflicts of grief and joy that the master simultaneously

83
experiences. In identifying this contradiction of emotions, Chin is not attempting to
relieve the Chinese government of the responsibility for its crimes; in fact, she is
intimating that the master must accept the inevitability of the peoples choice for
freedom. Yet, at the same time, the masters ambivalence between grief and joy also
represents opposing forces of cultural politics at work within Chin: how does one
condemn the Chinese government and yet be able to understand the resistance that it feels
towards the Wests rhetoric of democracy? How can a Hong Kong American
champion democracy without seeming un-Chinese, as many supporters of the Chinese
government would assert? The false dilemma that undergirds these questions may be
easy for one to disentangle logically, but the difficulty ultimately lies in the emotional
resolution of these cultural contradictions.
In the latter half of the poem Tienanmen, the Aftermath, Chin takes up this
issue once more by engaging the political semiotics that is part of Tiananmen 1989:
Hope lies within another countrys semaphores.
The Goddess of Liberty, the Statue of Mercy
we have it all wrongbig boy, how we choose to love,
how we choose to destroy, says Chuangtzu is written
in heavenbut leave the innocent ones alone,
those alive, yet stillborn, undead, yet waiting
in a fitful sleep undeserved of an awakening. (88)
Between the months of April and July 1989, the students erected a simulacrum of the
Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square, which they christened Goddess of Democracy.
Though the statue in this context was transformed into a Chinese symbol of freedom and
democracy, it is ultimately still an American symbol, a borrowed symbol, reminding the
Chinese that their hope of freedom still lies within another countrys semaphores.
Hence, the patronizing figure of the West as the guardian and teacher of democracy

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continues to retain its presence even in the shifting semiotics of the statue. In order to
challenge and disrupt the imperialist paradigm of a politically advanced (read
democratic) West assuming the burden of teaching a politically primitive China the
principles of freedom and human rights, Chin in a similar fashion concatenates the
Chinese Goddess of Mercy with the Statue of Liberty to create the chiasmic inversion
the Goddess of Liberty, the Statue of Mercy, in an attempt to carve out an intersemiotic
cultural space for democracy in China. Yet, like the Goddess of Democracy, the
awkwardness of such an inversion of symbols only reinforces the notion that Western
democracy is intrinsically incompatible with Chinese culture and tradition, hence the
need for the Chinese to borrow from the West its political ideals. Therefore, Chin,
through the protagonist, takes a further step in challenging this notion by concluding that
we have it all wrong, and that we should displace the concept of political freedom from
the culturally coercive spaces of an East/West political semiotics, in order to ensure that
both Western imperialism and Chinese culturalism do not block Chinas path towards
democracy.
To complete my analysis of Chins cultural negotiations, I would now like to
consider the way she uses the trope of the sexual/love relationship to conceptualize the
nation China and its Others. The links between nationalism and sexuality/gender have
been well established,24 and Chin selectively mines aspects of that critical tradition in
order to represent her complex negotiations of cultural identity. Of particular
significance is the trope of Nation-as-Woman. George Mosse points out that together
with the idealization of masculinity as the foundation of the nation and society, woman,
often accused of shallowness and frivolity, was at the same time idealized as the guardian

85
of morality, and of public and private order.25 For this image to work, the Nation-as-
Woman must be depicted as chaste, dutiful, daughterly or maternal. It is this
representation of the nation that nationalists would frequently invoke as the tropological
site for national demarcation and patriotic discourse, a point that Radhakrishnan makes
when he discusses the anti-Western logic in nationalist histories of postcolonial states:
By mobilizing the inner/outer distinction against the outemess of the
West, nationalist rhetoric makes woman the pure and ahistorical
signifier of interiority. In the fight against the enemy from the outside,
something within gets even more repressed, and woman becomes the
mute but necessary allegorical ground for the transactions of nationalist
history.... Unable to produce its own history in response to its inner
sense of identity, nationalist ideology sets up Woman as victim and
goddess simultaneously.27
The shifting dynamics of the image of Nation-as-Woman allow it to denote
simultaneously the foundational order (as chaste Woman) and the vulnerability (as
victimized Woman) of the nation. These two dimensions work together to produce a
nationalist ideology that calls out to patriots to protect and defend the chastity of the
nation, lest she becomes a victim of enemy assault.
In the midst of national crisis and suffering, this image of the Woman as victim
also functions as a powerful device to evoke and signify nationalist feelings of anguish
and pain, and consequently to draw national solidarity. A case in point is fascist Japans
infamous rape of Nanking during World War Two: the brutal rape and murder of
countless Chinese women by Japanese soldiers metonymically structure a nationalist
historical narrative of Chinas subjection to Japanese aggression.28 (My goal here is
obviously not to detract attention from the real and horrifying brutality endured by the
Chinese people under Japanese occupation, nor the national humiliation and
encroachments China genuinely suffered at the hands of Japanese and Western

86
imperialism. Rather, what I hope to examine is how sexual and gender discourses are
mobilized within Chinese nationalist rhetoric to deepen anti-colonialist and anti-foreigner
sentiments during that time.) Rape, hence, serves as a disturbing but effective metaphor
for the territorial and cultural penetration of the land of China by Japan and Western
imperialist powers, which sought to carve it into different spheres of influence either for
outright colonization or for capitalist exploitation.29
Chin is clearly cognizant of the rhetoricity of the rape imagery and its ability to
generate anti-colonialist feelings. In Tienanmen, the Aftermath, she appeals to these
feelings but then inverts the metaphor so as to turn the tables on the Chinese government:
There was blood and guts all over the road.
I said Im sorry, darling, and rolled away,
expecting the slate to be clean; and she came,
she who was never alive became resurrected.
I saw her in a dream ... a young girl in a chipao,
bespeckled, forever lingering. ... (88)
The roles are now reversed with the Chinese government (occupying the subject position
I in the poem) being the victimizer instead of the victim. What is ironic here is the way
the metaphor of colonialist rape has been turned inward with the Chinese people
becoming victims of their own governments atrocities at Tiananmen. The students who
were massacred are represented as a young girl in a chipao,30 who after being raped
and murdered returns to haunt her assailant with this troubling question: how can you (the
Chinese government) accuse the imperialist powers of raping China when you do the
same to your own people?31
While the rape metaphor enables Chin to condemn the Chinese governments
brutality and expose its hypocrisy, the notion of lovers on Tiananmen Square (a variation
on the trope of the sexual/love relationship as national allegory) provides her a path

87
towards political edificationto encourage and to build up once more the idealism that
energized the pro-democracy movement in the first place. This shifting between the
metaphors of rape and consensual love in her depiction of Tiananmen also reflects in a
way the conflicting need in Chin to both criticize and support China at the same time, a
contradictory position she negotiates, for instance, in the latter half of the poem Beijing
Spring:
Love, on Tiananmen Square, near the Avenue of Eternal Peace,
I believe in the passions of youth,
I believe in the eternal spring.
As the white blossoms, sweet harbingers,
pull a wreath around its city,
as heaven spreads its blue indifference over
the bloodied quay, I want to hold you
against the soft silhouettes of my people.
Let me place my mouth over your mouth,
let me breathe life into your life,
let me summon the paired connubial geese
from the far reaches of the galaxy
to soar over the red spokes of the suns slow chariot
and begin again. (91)
The passion between lovers is life-affirming and life-producing, which metaphorically
suggests the political optimism to begin again. On the other hand, as I have noted
earlier regarding the title Beijing Spring, the idealism is tinged with the ambiguities of
hope. Just as a Beijing spring offers for lovers the possibility of reunion, it also brings
with the remnants of winter cold depressing feelings of loneliness and love lost. The
bloodied quay and the soft silhouettes of my people, hence, will continue to haunt the
Hong Kong diasporics negotiation of a love-hate relationship with China.

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Visualizing Hong Kong: Wayne Wang on the Crisis of the 1997 Handover
Despite the historicity of the British handover of Hong Kong to China on July 1,
1997, only two films were produce to commemorate the event: Chinese director Xie Jins
The Opium War32 and Wayne Wangs Chinese Box/3 The former is a 9.6 million dollar
attempt by the Chinese government to explain the rightfulness of Chinas reclamation
of Hong Kong and its territories from Britain, while the latter is a more ambivalent but no
less problematic take on the Hong Kong question from the perspective of a Hong Kong
American.
Director Wayne Wang has an excellent track record in the independent film
industry here in the U.S., with his earlier films on Chinese American life such as Chan is
Missing (1982) and Dim Sum (1984), an adaptation of Louis Chus novel Eat a Bowl of
Tea (1989), the more mainstream The Joy Luck Club (1993), and his recent
collaborations with Paul Auster in Smoke (1995) and Blue in the Face (1995). As all his
earlier work deals with life in America, Chinese Box marks a filmic return for Wang to
the place of his cultural and national origin, a return that enables him to grapple with the
conflicting emotions produced by Hong Kongs coloniality and by Wangs own diasporic
displacements. Leaving Hong Kong at the age of eighteen for the U.S., Wang has
developed ambivalent feelings towards the place: I love it because its my home, its
Chinese, the food is great... But I also hate it because theres no history, nothing is kept,
the air is bad. There is a certain aggressiveness about it that wears you down.34 One can
account for this love-hate relationship Wang has with Hong Kong by tracing the tensions
and contradictions within the hybrid cultural space occupied by Hong Kong Americans.
It is a hybridity inscribed by the cultural legacy of British colonialism, American cultural

89
imperialism, and a Chinese upbringing, producing a cultural schizophrenia that, as Wang
tells bell hooks in an interview, characterizes his childhood:
I guess it was growing up in Hong Kong, being Chinese, living under a
British colony, watching Rock Hudson and Doris Day movies, listening to
The Eagles ... Ive always been, in a sense, on the border, because my
parents were always very Chinese. At the same time they wanted me to be
more American, more, you know, Western. ... So I have really been
sort of schizophrenic and tom as far back as I can remember.35
Migrating to the U.S. only further intensified the complexity of this border mentality:
When I go back to Hong Kong,. . people say that Im not Chinese; they
say Im American. Im not Chinese like the people in Hong Kong or
China. I was bom and raised in Hong Kong, but Im also completely
bastardized by the English culture and the American culture. When I look
at things I will look at them from both perspectives. Its unfair to say Im
not Chinese, because I am Chinese; Im just not pure. But what does that
mean today anymore, you know?36
Wangs struggle with the demands of Chinese cultural purity assumes greater
intensity and significance with the arrival of July 1997. For Wang the political crisis of
the homeland transforms also into a crisis of cultural contestation. Hence, while the
historicity of the Hong Kong handover provides an exciting, dramatic, and opportune
canvas for a film about his homeland, it also permits him a space to negotiate his
ambivalent feelings towards the place and basically to make peace with itto offer the
movie [as] a love letter to Hong Kong.37 These negotiations also assist him in
confronting the contradiction of his own cultural identity, which one hopes will not result
in a resignation to the impossibility of resolving his cultural hybridity; but instead a
realization that hybridity offers the oppositional potential for destabilizing the coercive
cultural boundaries set up by cultural purism. Though the film at moments offer such
cultural critique, Wangs staging of the plot elements and his cinematographic framing
push this critique instead to an Orientalizing extreme, hence forcing one now to question

90
the ambiguous lines of affiliation and identification with Western imperialism that the
movie sets up. In order to analyze Wangs problematic positioning, I would like first to
examine briefly the movies plot as political allegory and what it foregrounds and
displaces. Then, I would turn to the question of cinematic visuality as a mode of the
colonialist gaze, and the way Wang uses it to visualize his Hong Kong.
Let me begin with a synopsis of the plot in Chinese Box: John Spencer (played by
Jeremy Irons) is a British journalist who has spent the past fifteen years covering the
financial news of Hong Kongknowing enough about his subject to even write a book
entitled How to Make Money in Asia. He falls in love with Vivian (Gong Li), a former
dance hostess whose contacts have helped her boyfriend Chang (played by veteran
comic actor Michael Hui) establish himself as a rich and influential player in the business
community. Vivian remains faithful to Chang despite the fact that he is unwilling to bear
the social stigma and the economic consequences of marrying what traditional Chinese
society would consider a tainted woman. While John is unhappy with Vivians choice,
his own world is further disrupted not only by the handover of Hong Kong but also by a
personal crisis: he discovers that he has contracted a form of leukemia which gives him
only a few months to live. Choosing to hide his illness from his wife, family, friends, and
even Vivian, he embarks on a quest to get to know the real Hong Kong by videotaping
the crowded streets and its denizens. This search leads him to discover how Vivian had
earlier sacrificed herself for Chang, thus forcing John to confront both of them. When
Vivian finally decides to leave Chang and reunite with John, she then hears of Johns
terminal illness. After spending the final days of the British rule of Hong Kong together

91
with Vivian, John lies down by a pier and expires on July 1, 1997, leaving Vivian behind
with the strength to start her life anew.
The political allegory is all too obvious: John represents the dying British
presence in Hong Kong; Vivian is the culturally tainted Hong Kong that China must
now make her own but also deal with in terms of the seeds of democracy that had been
planted supposedly by the British; and Chang is, of course, China, the traditional
patriarch. To extend this allegory any further would be an inane exercise, as the
allegorical correlation between signifier and signified will begin to unravel. It would be
more critically productive instead to interrogate the assumptions and the consequences of
Wangs deployment of this allegory. The first question that comes to mind is, What does
it mean to narrate the Hong Kong crisis as a love story? Though the love relationship
offers the kind of gendered hierarchy that emblematizes the power relations evident in
Hong Kongs coloniality and postcolonialitythe submergence of Hong Kongs political
and cultural presence beneath the British-Chinese transactionand reflects the
ambivalent feelings the Hong Kong people have towards their British rulers, the love
story ultimately masks the exploitative agenda of British colonialism. To say that the
colonizer does all he does out of love for the native is not unlike using the rhetoric of
Kiplings White Mans Burden to justify imperialism.
Furthermore, the depiction of Hong Kong as a woman who prostitutes herself
reinforces the idea that Hong Kong (according to the Chinese) has not kept itself
culturally pure. At the same time, this metaphor also supports the idea held by many in
the West that the Hong Kong people are overly materialistic and politically pragmatic,
and lack the moral fiber to stand up for their own political rights. As one critic notes of

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the love storys resolution, Hong Kong depends on Britain, even in its departure, for the
strength to start anew:
If the characters are allegorical stand-ins for their respective countries,
what the film shows us is that, by dying, Britain forces Hong Kong to
wake up from its long reliance on imaginary support.... Yet all is not
lost: what was good of the old Empire, despite having drawn its last breath
(i.e. John), is enough to send the reborn Hong Kong off in a brave new
direction free of its ancestral moorings and illusory obligationsVivian
breaks up with her traditional boyfriend, knowing that he will never marry
her, and takes courage from Johns death to strike out on her own.38
In attributing her courage to John, Vivian, in the final voice-over of the movie, meditates
on how she, like the city,... [has] to start over again.
If this is Wangs way of coming to terms with the British Empire and Hong
Kongs coloniality, and challenging Chinese traditionalism, it only generates questions
rather than resolves the problems of colonialisms legacy. Suggesting that Hong Kong
must now learn to stand on its own without Britains support is to say that Hong Kong
must assume the blame for her political immaturity, despite the fact that Hong Kong did
not choose her colonial status in the first place! If the raison detre for Britains colonial
presence and final death is to encourage in Hong Kong independent political thinking
through democracy, where then is democracy during Britains more than 150 years hold
on the territories? In other words, Britain conveniently waited till the approach of 1997
to promote (as tokenism) democratic thinking so as to valorize the Western rhetoric of
democracy, when to do so any earlier would obviously contradict the very ideology and
presence of Empire! Is Britains dying in the end, therefore, a way of cementing the
legacy of democracy in a colonialist nostalgic glow, which ultimately promotes the
benefits of imperialist rule and relieves Britain of any further responsibility in moving
Hong Kong along in its democratic growth or in offering the Hong Kong people the

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alternative of British citizenship? What then is this brave new direction that Hong
Kong is portrayed as taking when it can never be free from the ancestral moorings and
illusory obligations when under Chinese rule? Nor can it be free to pursue this virtual
democracy, as Rey Chow calls it, which has been hastily planted and left behind...
like a land mine, producing a political situation that was guaranteed to be a permanent
source of irreconcilable conflict among the supposedly decolonized natives.39
Wang has questioned the legitimacy of political readings of his film and even the
existence of allegory in it. We dont make a moral judgment of any kind about the
handover, he argues, about whether its good or bad.40 In another interview, he denies
the films allegorical connections with the handover: Some people have misread this as
symbolism about the handover.... We did shoot a lot of real things that were happening
during the handover, but this is a complicated love story. Its about the heart of the
place.41 The argument for apolitical art is, of course, fallacious, though Wangs denial
of the allegory is still subject to debate. However, what I find intriguing is his
formulation of the film as a treatise on the heart of the place. Wang has suggested in
yet another interview that the movie is about the city of Hong Kong more than about a
character and a story. 4 Stephen Holden of the New York Times confirms this by
positing that the film is essentially a poetic meditation on the meaning of Hong Kong.
The characters ambiguous personal histories are metaphors for the city, which in turn
becomes a metaphor for the elusiveness of historical truth itself.43 Chinese Box,
therefore, becomes an ontological/epistemic excavation of Hong Kong through the
techniques of cinematographic visuality.

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The study of the cinematic gaze and its structuring of the subject/object relation is
of great theoretical importance to the critique of cinematic Orientalist discourses.44 The
issue is one of power relations, where the cinematographer, in controlling the roving eye
of the camera, also controls the framing of the object. Hence, film as an ethnography of
the East allows the filmmaker to stage the object of study in Orientalizing poses, all in the
attempt to know more about it. Cinematic visuality, hence, becomes the law of
knowledge and the universal form of epistemological coercion.45 However, Rey Chow
warns us against the danger of situating this problematic solely in terms of an East-West
schema where only the West retains the power of gazing upon the East. She instead
argues that the East is as capable of self-Orientalism through cinematic
autoethnography46 when the East, too, is a spectator who is equally caught up in the
dialectic of seeing.47 The kind of self-Orientalizing primitivism that Chow pinpoints
appears especially in Chinese films that are particularly popular in the West, which
suggests that many of these filmmakers may be catering to the Westerners gaze.48
In the case of the Chinese Box, whose and what kind of gaze has Wang adopted in
order to understand Hong Kong, to know the meaning of the city of his birth? Is the
film complicitous in perpetuating the colonialist mode of visual penetration? To answer
these questions, one should first turn to Wangs use of a double gaze, where John
Spencers videotaping of the real Hong Kong, at certain moments, overlaps and
telescopes into Wangs own framing of the movie, the two gazes becoming one. What
then is Johns vision of Hong Kong, and does it represent Wangs own quest to know
Hong Kong in order that he might eventually come to understand himself?

95
The motivation for Johns sudden desire to capture Hong Kong on film springs
from personal crisis. His spiritual poverty, after years of writing about the material
aspects of the city as a financial reporter, dawns upon him when he is faced with his own
mortality. He then turns to Hong Kong in the belief that by understanding the city and its
inhabitants, he can arrive at a better understanding of himself and his own existence.
Together with Jim, his photographer friend (Reuben Blades), John scours the dirtiest and
sleaziest parts of the Hong Kong streets in the hope that by capturing the darker aspects
of the city he can also capture its essence.49 As John puts it, So much of Hong Kong
exists beneath the surface. What results is a video montage in muted colors (images
spliced in a jump-cut MTV style with a pulsating Canto-pop soundtrack which Wang
adds for further effect) featuring disparate but often disturbing glimpses of the citys
seamier underbelly, for instance prostitutes peddling their trade, workers in sweatshops,
gamblers at the mahjong table shouting vulgarities, the abusive training of a scrawny
fighting dog, butchers at work slaughtering various animals, and a special close-up of a
freshly cut-up fish whose heart is seen beating its last (an image that is of particular
significance to John as a signifier for Britains and his own dying moments in Hong
Kong).
Johns videotaping exercise is essentially an Orientalist mode of staging the Other
as a route to self-definition. As Edward Said argued almost two decades ago, the Orient
is not only discursively constructed so as to justify Western domination of it; it is also
formulated to help define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea,
personality, experience.00 John chooses the dark, sensual side of Hong Kong, just as
Joseph Conrad chooses the primeval in the Congo, as a journey into his heart of darkness.

96
The epistemic violence here involves not only a colonialist visual penetration but also a
fixing (or more interestingly, fixating) on film a stereotypical image of Hong Kong in all
its negativity, a visuality that unfortunately hides the lines of imperialist and capitalist
exploitation that these images only hint at. Hong Kong, therefore, has been reduced to a
tool to help one European man attain moral redemption.31
Johns videotaping quest finally leads him to Jean (Maggie Cheung), a quirky
individual with an unusual scar on her face who spends her time peddling strange wares
such as bottled colonial air of Hong Kong. Jean becomes for John the elusive signifier,
an embodiment of Hong Kong that escapes his ability to comprehend. In his fixation on
wanting to get her story, John insists on interviewing her, which she finally agrees only
if she gets to frame her own interview (without questions from John) and to wield the
video camera herself (a moment of agency?). She then proceeds to recount her life story
on tape, a sordid, titillating tale of sexual abuse and castration, a tale that she knows her
male audience would want to hear (a moment of self-Orientalism?). But she leaves out
the crux of the interview: What about the scar and how I got it, she asks in a stoic yet
teasing fashion. This is what I have to say about it. Nothing. The visual epistemic
penetration of the camera interview ends in coitus interruptus, an anti-climax
emblematized by Jims question to John, Did you fuck her? Johns desire to know
about Jean is frustrated on a number of levels: she not only fails to reveal the source of
the scar, but she is obviously telling a fabricated story of herself, which John is painfully
aware of. Furthermore, when confronted with a newspaper cutting of her suicide attempt,
Jean finally reveals how she was jilted by her British boyfriend and how she tried to end
her life. John then arranges a meeting between Jean and her ex-boyfriend William, which

97
ends with the guy walking out on her again and a sobbing Jean rushing out of a stationary
bus she and John are in, leaving John with the cryptic and ambiguous That wasnt
William. Jean, therefore, remains as enigmatic and inscrutable as ever to John, for her
parting words basically throw into question again the veracity of her story.
One more point about the agency of visuality that needs to be made is how Wang
(to his credit) allows the power of visuality to reverse itself momentarily as a way of
destabilizing the possibility of ever knowing Hong Kong completely through the
cinematic gaze. This reversal ultimately reflects his own realization of the hybrid cultural
space that Hong Kong occupies that defies culturalist definitions. It also undermines his
own attempt at self-knowledge through a search for the real Hong Kong. He
accomplishes this by allowing the reins of visual power to pass from John to Jean as she
videotapes herself in close-ups. As Giles Deleuze explains, the facial close-up is an
affective-image that invites the viewer to ask questions: what are you thinking about?
Or, what is bothering you, what is the matter, what do you sense or feel?52 What we get
in Jean instead is an impassive countenance that problematizes reading. To further
complicate matters is the way she wields the camera in a fashion that impressionistically
ruptures the visual framing: the face is rotated one hundred and eighty degrees, the image
is often tilted at odd angles, and one gets half-faced shots of Jean. This rupturing of the
frame and the destabilizing of images, hence, resist the violence of cinematic visualitys
staging of its object as a mode of domination through seeing and knowing.
The camera also returns to haunt John in two scenes. The first is where Jim
projects the image of Jean onto John as he leans against the wall. Jeans projected face
neatly overlaps Johns, forming a single entity. The second is when John finally lies

98
down at the pier to die: the video camera rests on his heaving chest and produces an
image of him closing his eyes and slowly slipping away. These two instances provide
symbolic moments that demonstrate how the goals of both Johns and Wangs
visual/cinematic quest ultimately lie in the inward search for a resolution to the moral
emptiness (Johns) and the cultural contradictions (Wangs) that plague their respective
souls.
To conclude my analysis and critique of the film, I must first credit Wang for his
willingness to question the interrogatory power of film by allowing Hong Kong to
continually slip from his grasp despite his attempts at immobilizing it within the
cinematic frame. By conceptualizing it as a Chinese box, which [l]ike one of those
Russian dolls ... [that] can open layer after layer, but you still never know whats going
to be inside,33 Wang may have incidentally succeeded in expressing the liminality that
the Hong Kong people and culture have been relegated to in the scheme of Sino-British
relations. On the other hand, Wangs staging of Hong Kong in his technique of visuality
requires critique. If Johns visual quest aligns with Wangs, is Wang then guilty of
deploying an Orientalizing visuality to negotiate his own cultural difficulties? Maggie
Cheung, the well-known Hong Kong actress who plays Jean in the movie, offers a rather
ironic extra-textual gloss (especially in light of Jeans radical place within the film) on
Wangs vision of Hong Kong: Wangs point of view of Hong Kong kind of stayed in the
70s, or whenever he left.... I cant say its not accurate, but for a local Hong Kong
person, its not really the life.34 Though Cheung is referring to Wangs inappropriate
use of a particular setting for the film, her point can be applied in a general sense to his
vision of the place as a form of cultural atavism or nostalgia. Wangs Hong Kong,

99
therefore, is a staged or constructed imaginary homeland, to borrow Rushdies
terminology, that arises from his own remembrance and (mis)understanding of it.
According to his vision, it is a city that cannot be pinned down culturally, symbolizing
Wangs own struggle to come to terms with Hong Kong and its contradictions.
Unfortunately, this vision can also serve to reinforce the cultural stereotypes of Hong
Kongs inscrutability and to shift attention away from the very material culture and life
of the Hong Kong people, which British imperialism and Chinese culturalism want the
world to reject and forget. As John sadly muses, I used to write about Hong Kongs
future as if it had a definite direction and predictable outcome. But everything about this
city is always changing; maybe I wasnt meant to figure you out. The figure of Hong
Kong as the pragmatic shape-shifter, which can adapt itself to any political condition, is a
logic that eliminates the political and cultural voice of the Hong Kong people, rendering
it as inconsequential and dispensablein other words, Dont worry about them as they
return to Chinese rule; they will survive through change and adaptation.
Finally, Wangs use of Hong Kong as an instrument to negotiate the tensions
between East and West in his cultural identity crisis simply veers too close to being a
replication of, firstly, the Wests use of the Oriental Other as a means of self-definition
(especially in light of Wangs deployment of Johns videotaping quest in the films
narrative); and secondly, of Chris Pattens formulation of Hong Kong as a bridge
between the West and China. The danger once more lies in Hong Kongs
instrumentality, which has already led to the citys disappearance between the gaps of
Sino-British relations and, as a consequence, Hong Kongs forfeiture of its right to a
cultural and political existence.

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Notes
1 Marilyn Chin, Tienanmen, the Aftermath, The Phoenix Gone, The Terrace Empty
(Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1994), 88. Subsequent references to poetry from this
collection will be parenthetically documented.
2 Rey Chow, King Kong in Hong Kong: Watching the Handover from the U.S.A.,
Social Text 16, no.2 (1998): 94.
3 Ibid., 97. The British allowed the Opium drug trade to flourish as a means of shifting
the trade imbalance to their favor, at the expense of Chinese lives. Consequently,
gunboat diplomacy was deployed to strong-arm the Ching government into the treaties
of Nanjing and Tianjin after the wars. For a summary of the events leading to the
colonization of Hong Kong and its territories, see John Flowerdew, The Final Years of
British Hong Kong: The Discourse of Colonial Withdrawal (London: Macmillan P,
1998), 3-15. One can turn to Frank Welsh, A Borrowed Place: The History of Hong
Kong (New York: Kodansha International, 1993), for a detailed and colorful historical
account, despite its verbosity and pro-British slant.
4 Chow, King Kong, 100.
5 The fact of democracys contradictions and ambiguities in light of British colonialism
and Chinas recent turn to a capitalist economism is the concluding point that Chow
makes: Despite its moralistic overtones, the new narrative of global capitalthe
narrative that, to all appearances, wants to defend Hong Kongs democratic present
against the encroachment of an absolutist Chinais really interested only in the
trajectory of Hong Kongs continual monetary growth, itself always said to be the ...
result of British colonialism.... With the emergence of global capital, the older
narratives of British colonialism, U.S. imperialism, and Chinese nationalism no longer
suffice to account for what is operating as a fluid, transnational, collaborationist structure
of financial interests that, despite the ideological divergences of the parties involved,
have as their mutually self-serving goal the prosperity and stability of the Pearl of the
Orient. In all likelihood, the struggle for democracy will always remain subordinated to
this new fluid global structure (King Kong, 103-5).
6 Rey Chow, Between Colonizers: Hong Kongs Postcolonial Self-Writing in the
1990s, Ethics after Idealism: Theory-Culture-Ethnicity-Reading (Bloomington: Indiana
UP, 1998), 151. Chow uses the notion of double impossibility to describe Hong
Kongs postcolonial situation where it is as impossible to submit to Chinese
nationalist/nativist repossession as it has been impossible to submit to British
colonialism.
71 am aware that by using the categories Hong Kong American and the Hong Kong
people in a context of engaging a Chinese cultural politics, I may be inadvertently and
unintentionally homogenizing them as solely Chinese ethnic formations and, hence,

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ignoring the minority elements within them, for instance, Filipinos, Indians, and various
European groups.
8 Ackbar Abbas, Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance (Minneapolis: U
of Minnesota P, 1997), 4.
9 Rey Chow, Things, Common/Places, Passages of the Port City: On Hong Kong and
Hong Kong author Leung Ping-kwan, Ethics after Idealism, 176. In addressing the
materialism in Hong Kong, Chow criticizes the tendency of many scholars (including
Abbas) to lament and disapprove of Hong Kongs mercenary degeneracy (176) despite
the argument that Hong Kong thrives economically only because it is lacking in political
autonomy and self-determination (170).
10 This is the title of Frank Welshs book on the history of Hong Kong. See note 3 above.
11 Abbas, Hong Kong, 6.
12 Quoted in Jeremy Tambling, The History Man: The Last Governor of Hong Kong,
Public Culture 9 (1997): 370.
13 Ibid., 371. Tambling makes a similar point in his reading of Pattens metaphor of
Hong Kong as bridge: [T]he speech ... is conferring an identity upon Hong Kong ...
by complimenting Hong Kong on being a bridge or a passage to China. Talking this way
makes the place exist only instrumentally, as a means to open up Asiaand specifically
Chinajust as the instrumental nature of Hong Kong in relation to Britain speaks also in
the colonial powers attitude towards passports for Hong Kong people, whether in
denying them or even in thinking that to issue them and suggest that people leave Hong
Kong in a new diaspora could be a realistic solution taking into account peoples actual
wishes.... [T]he speech fails to allow that there might be a Hong Kong culture outside
these terms which are so unselfconsciously using the territory as the image of a place to
reconcile two essentialised opponents, reified as a unitary West and East. To
acknowledge a Hong Kong culture would complicate that neocolonial dream.
14 See Flowerdew, The Final Years of British Hong Kong, 32-52.
15 Abbas, Hong Kong, 23.
16 Ibid., 7-8.
17 Ibid., 6.
18 Ibid., 8.
19 Ackbar Abbas, Hong Kong: Other Histories, Other Politics, Public Culture 9 (1997):
304.

102
20 See note 1 for bibliographical information. Chins first collection of poetry is Dwarf
Bamboo (Greenfield Center, NY: Greenfield Review P, 1987).
21 Owing to the confines of my thesis, which focuses on crisis, I am unable to explore
at length Chins use of the sexual/love relationship trope to critique its deployment in
U.S. Orientalist discourses on Asian Americans. In the poem A Portrait of the Self as
Nation, 1990-1991 (taken from the same volume), which is reminiscent of David Henry
Hwangs M. Butterfly, Chin complicates her own complicitous place in the United
States, especially as she negotiates the contradictions of cultural and national identity
formation in the face of U.S. imperialism and cultural hegemony. An analysis of this
poem deserves a separate essay.
22 For an inside look at the students and intellectuals involved in the Tiananmen
movement, see the documentary The Gate of Heavenly Peace, prod, and dir. Richard
Gordon and Carma Hinton, 87 min. and 56 min., NAATA/CrossCurrent Media, two
videocassettes.
23 Recently, I witnessed a scene in a Chinese restaurant here in Gainesville, Florida,
where an old white lady adopted a rather patronizing tone towards her Chinese server by
confronting the poor young woman about Tiananmen and by instructing her, in a
characteristically loud voice (as if by speaking thus her listener could understand English
better), about the benefits of the democratic system in the U.S. What 1 find offensive is
the attitude of superiority the old lady adopted in her attempt to civilize politically a
young Chinese woman.
24 See the groundbreaking work of George L. Mosse, Nationalism and Sexuality:
Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe (New York: Howard Fertig,
1985). Another significant collection of essays is Andrew Parker, Mary Russo, Doris
Sommer, and Patricia Yaeger, eds., Nationalisms and Sexualities (New York: Routledge,
1992).
25
Mosse, Nationalism and Sexuality, 17.
26
Andrew Parker et al., introduction to Nationalisms and Sexualities, 6.
27 R. Radhakrishnan, Nationalism, Gender, and the Narrative of Identity, Diasporic
Mediation: Between Home and Location (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996), 192-93.
This essay appeared earlier in Andrew Parker et al., Nationalisms and Sexualities, 77-95.
28 Lydia Liu, The Female Body and Nationalist Discourse: The Field of Life and Death
Revisited, Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices,
Eds. Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1994), 43-44.
What I have dealt with here is only one aspect of the shifting imagery and ideology of
Nation-as-Woman as it relates to China. For a more extensive discussion of the

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complexity of this image in the historical and political discourses in China, see Tani
Barlow, Theorizing Woman: Funu, Guojia, Mating (Chinese Women, Chinese State,
Chinese Family), which is also available in the above-mentioned collection.
29 Annette Kolodny, The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in
American Life and Letters (Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1975). Kolodny studies
how in U.S. literary and historical discourses the land has been conceptualized as
Woman. What is of special interest here is the way she uncovers the contradictions of
this imagery where the land as virgin also entails violation and conquest. One has in
mind, for instance, the colonization of Native American territories and cultures, the
ruthless annexation of the northern parts of Mexico, and the destruction of ecosystems as
America is extended from sea to shining sea.
30 A chipao is a form of traditional Chinese dress for women. This traditionalism that
Chin plays on is a significant foundational element in Chinas Nation-as-Woman
nationalist rhetoric.
31
Sexual assault as the metaphor for Chinas victimization of its ethnic minorities is also
invoked in director Joan Chens recent film Xiu Xiu, The Sent Down Girl.
32 Chinese Epic about Hong Kong Premieres in Beijing, 97 News File [online], 9 June
1997, available at www.hkl997.china.com.
Chinese Box, prod, and dir. Wayne Wang, lOOmin., Trimark Pictures, 1998,
videocassette.
34 Quoted in Scarlet Cheng, The Homecoming, Far Eastern Economic Review, 15 May
1997,67.
33 bell hooks, The Cultural Mix: An Interview with Wayne Wang, Reel to Real: Race,
Sex, and Class at the Movies (New York: Routledge, 1996), 126-27.
36 Quoted in Kristin Hohenadel, A Human Face for Hong Kongs Identity Crisis, The
New York Times, 19 April 1998, 38.
37 James Stemgold, Wangs World in a Love Story, The New York Times, 9 January
1998, B7.
38
Wena Poon, review of Chinese Box, by Wayne Wang, Film Quarterly 31, no. 1 (1998):
34.
39 Chow, King Kong, 100.
40 Quoted in Cheng, The Homecoming, 68.

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41 Quoted in Stemgold, Wangs World.
42 Quoted in Hohenadel, A Human Face, 38.
43 Stephen Holden, A Meditation on the Meaning of Hong Kong, The New York Times,
17 April 1998, B18.
44 The question of visuality is of special significance in Rey Chows work. She engages
the notion of a colonialist cinematic gaze in her critique of Bernardo Bertoluccis The
Last Emperor in Seeing Modem China: Toward a Theory of Ethnic Spectatorship,
Woman and Chinese Modernity: The Politics of Reading between West and East
(Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1991), 3-33. The self-Orientalizing mechanism of
autoethnography in contemporary Chinese cinema Chow explores next in Primitive
Passions: Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography, and Contemporary Chinese Cinema (New
York: Columbia UP, 1995).
43 Chow, Primitive Passions, 10.
46 This is a term that Chow borrows from Mary Louis Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel
Writing and Transculturation (New York: Routledge, 1992).
47 Chow, Primitive Passions, 12-13.
48 Ibid., 38.
49 Scarlet Cheng observes that this film offers Wang a means of showing some of the
dark side of Hong Kong life. Cheng, The Homecoming, 68.
50 Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage, 1978), 1-2.
31 Chinua Achebe, An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrads Heart of Darkness," Hopes
and Impediments: Selected Essays 1965-1987 (London: Heinemann, 1988), 1-20. In
discussing the role of Africa in Conrads novella, Achebe asks, Can nobody see the
preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the
break-up of one petty European mind? (12).
52
Giles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara
Habberjam (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986), 88.
53 Quoted in Seth Faison, Hong Kong Plays the Role of a Drama-Filled City, The New
York Times, 1 July 1997, Cl2.
34 Quoted in Hohenadel, A Human Face, 38.

CHAPTER 4
THE POLITICS OF POSTCOLONIAL HYBRIDITY:
THE MEMOIR OF SHIRLEY GEOK-LIN LIM
The Native Daughter Made Good1
The literary and critical work of Malaysian-Chinese American Shirley Geok-lin
Lim has firmly established her as a prominent and significant figure in the burgeoning
fields of postcolonial literature and Asian American studies. By making her mark first as
a poet and fiction writer whose imaginary vistas have transported readers from colonial
and postcolonial Singapore and Malaysia to the immigrant world of Asian America,
Shirley Lim has garnered numerous awards including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize
(1980)having the distinction of being the first Asian and woman to win the award
and the American Book Award (1990). As an Asian American scholar, she has not only
situated herself in the middle of the critical dialogue on Asian American issues through
the publication of her theoretical essays,3 but has also championed specifically the
writings of Asian American women.4
It is with admiration and encouragement that I look upon Shirley Lim and her
work, not just that she represents a happy success story of a fellow Southeast Asian
who has finally made good professionally in the United States, where an oppressive
climate of racial prejudice and cultural alienation has claimed many non-white migrant
casualties; but also that her fiction and poetry have a special resonance for me. One critic
likens the reading of Lims recent memoir to a journey of shocking recognitions,5
105

106
which in my case is mediated through moments of ethnic, national, cultural, social, and
critical identification. Firstly, the cultural and physical geography of Lims fictional and
autobiographical writings is familiar territory, as I myself straddle the national spaces of
both Malaysia and Singapore through the family ties that I have in these two neighboring
countries. Secondly, like Lim, I also lay claim, though to a lesser degree, to a Nyonya
heritagemy paternal grandmother being part Nyonya and part Teochew.6 Hence, Lims
depiction of the plight suffered by these Straits-bom Chinese, whose racial hybridity
(Nyonya being a result of Chinese and Malay miscegenation) has situated them in the
direct line of fire of both Chinese chauvinism and Malay racial politics, is a reality that I
have witnessed firsthand.
More specifically on the cultural politics front, Lims work has often engaged the
problematics of hybridity and diasporic discourses in ways that accentuate the
oppositional and critical potentialities of these discourses. She critiques both
assimilationist rhetoric and traditionalist culturalism, a double-edged emphasis that is
crucial to my project on peripheral Chinese Americans thus far. As in the critical
cosmopolitanism of Li-Young Lee (Chapter Two) and the liminal presence of Hong
Kong Americans (Chapter Three), the hybrid subjectivities in Lims fictional and
autobiographical writings, at certain moments, exemplify Lisa Lowes reformulation of
postcolonial hybridity. Lowe argues that a critical notion of Asian American hybridity
does not suggest the assimilation of Asian or immigrant practices to dominant forms but
instead marks the history of survival within relationships of unequal power and
domination.7 Such an understanding of hybridity Lowe uses to challenge Orientalist
conceptualizations of Asian Americans, and to refuse static or binary conceptions of

107
o
culture as is evident in the coercive rhetoric of both nativism and assimilation. Yet,
on the other hand, one is painfully cognizant of the fact that the critical possibilities of
hybridity can often be overwhelmed and co-opted by the terms easy fit into the project
of liberal multiculturalism, hence making transparent those very unequal power relations
and class distinctions it is suppose to interrogate. Unfortunately, it is within the same
critical spaces of hybridity and diaspora, which Lim privileges in her writing, that I find
the aforementioned hidden danger.
Reading Lims recently published memoir Among the White Moonfaces,
therefore, has been for me a contradictory experience marked by both pleasurable
moments of cultural and critical identification, and a general uneasiness fostered by
Lims problematic mobilization of hybridity and diaspora in the construction of her life
narrative. What I hope to accomplish here is to produce a hermeneutics of ambivalence:
a reading of Lims memoir that will not just seek to celebrate the oppositional potential of
the hybridity and diaspora discourses (though I will, to be fair to Lim, point out certain
junctures in her text that reflect this, as the occasion permits), but will also present a
critique of how these discourses serve to fuel and boost the careers of postcolonial
academic intellectuals of which Lims is a prime example. In the next section of this
chapter, I will briefly examine some of the major critiques of postcolonial hybridity,
which I believe will create an interpretive reference point for one to analyze Lims
construction of her memoir and the preeminent role hybridity plays as a force in
propelling the memoirs narrative towards its inevitable conclusion.

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Critiques of Postcolonial Hybridity
Hybrdity and diaspora, both crucial tropes in the study of postcolonial theory, are
closely interconnected terms; though how they actually relate to each other is subject to
debate. For the purposes of argument, one could risk an oversimplification of the link
between these terms by reducing it to a cause-and-effect relationship. Then again, which
is the cause and which is the effect? For diaspora will inevitably produce some form of
cultural hybridity, while ones sense of hybrid difference may help trigger diasporic
displacement. Whichever is the case, my goal here is not to belabor this distinction but to
emphasize the theoretical importance of hybridity as a site of contestation as it interacts
with the concept of diaspora. What also becomes clear in a diasporic world that is
rapidly being transformed and controlled by transnational capital is hybriditys smooth
adaptation into capitals hegemonic deployment of multiculturalism.9
This critique of hybridity is one of Aijaz Ahmads key arguments as he addresses
the rise of postcolonial theory within the academy in the West. In his attempt to
problematize the privileging of migrancy as the ontological condition of all human
beings10 that the Third World intellectual who lives in the First World is more conscious
of, Ahmad turns to the writings of Salman Rushdie who depicts the migrant as a
deterritorialized individual who has floated upwards from history.11 Rushdie
reformulates this historical deterritorialization from what Ahmad calls the myth of
ontological unbelongingness to create a larger myth of excess of belongings. In other
words, it is not that he [the migrant] belongs nowhere, but that he belongs to too many
places. This reterritorializationthe migrant now occupying multiple
national/cultural spacesis a contradictory twist of logic in that Rushdie wants to

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idealize the ungrounded interstitial hybridity of migrancy and, at the same time, cling to
the intellectual/political advantage of being grounded in inter-cultural access and
immediacy. Occupying both these theoretical spaces profits the Third World intellectual
who resides in the First World. This is because hybridity hints of a marginalized
subjectivity that supposedly marks one as having faced oppression; while in occupying a
multiplicity of subject positions and an excess of belonging,'^ the Third World migrant
intellectual/writer has the ability to see at once from inside and out' which, according to
Rushdie, is a good thing, a piece of good fortune which the indigenous writer cannot
enjoy.14 In thus formulating migrant subjectivity, Rushdie privileges the migrant
perspective at the expense of the indigenous and claims for himself (and other Third
World migrant intellectuals) the enlightened voice of authority to speak on behalf of his
culture. Or, as Ahmad so cogently puts it, the figure of the migrant, especially the
migrant (postcolonial) intellectual residing in the metropolis, comes to signify a universal
condition of hybridity and is said to be the Subject of a Truth that individuals living
within their national culture do not possess.15
The interplay between hybridity and diaspora that one sees in Rushdie is basically
the argument that Homi K. Bhabha makes in his theory of hybrid in-betweenness.
Bhabha similarly idealizes cultural hybridity as the postcolonial subjectivity that is
situated in the interstitial passage between fixed identifications and as that which
entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy.16 This trope of
interstitiality allows Bhabha to posit the notion of the unhomely as the paradigmatic
colonial and post-colonial condition,17 articulated through modernist and postmodernist
discourses of displacement: travel, exile, migration, and diaspora.18 By foregrounding

110
unhomeliness as the paradigm for the great expanse of historical time one calls
colonial and post-colonial, Bhabha has given diasporic consciousness the ontological
primacy to be the truly postcolonial perspective. His notions of hybridity, in
betweenness, and the unhomely ultimately feed into a kind of intercultural utopianism,
an idealized cosmopolitanism that, for Bhabha, evades the hierarchy that has so plagued
colonial and postcolonial cultural power relations:
For a willingness to descend into that alien territory where I had led
you may reveal that the theoretical recognition of the split-space of
enunciation may open the way to conceptualizing an international culture,
based not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures,
but on the inscription and articulation of cultures hybridity. To that end
we should remember that it is the inter the cutting edge of translation
and negotiation, the in-between space that carries the burden of the
meaning of culture. It makes it possible to begin envisaging national, anti
national histories of the people. And by exploring this Third Space, we
may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves.19
I am not adverse to embracing a critical cosmopolitics (see Chapter Two), for it is
after all one of the goals of any radical politics; nor am I closed to hybriditys
oppositional possibilities, especially as a means of critiquing cultural traditionalism and
essentialism, a point I have indicated earlier. My discomfort with Bhabhas formulation
of the hybrid Third Space, however, stems from the way he inadvertently pulls the
political rug from under the notion of hybridity in his eagerness to circumvent the
politics of polarity, hence denying it the opportunity of engaging a politics of resistance
and oppositionality. In trying to rescue it from political irrelevance within the cesspool
of multiculturalist and diversity discourses, Bhabha has instead accomplished what he set
out to avoid in the first place, which is to blunt hybriditys political edge to critique, for
instance, class hierarchies that often remain transparent in the postcolonial discourses on
race and diaspora.

Ill
This issue of power differentials underlies the main critiques of Bhabhas
theories. Ella Shohat, for instance, warns us that a celebration of syncretism and
hybridity per se, if not articulated in conjunction with questions of hegemony and neo
colonial power relations, runs the risk of appearing to sanctify the fait accompli of
colonial violence.20 It is this danger of complicity that leads Aijaz Ahmad to expose the
hegemonic links between hybridity discourses in literary postcoloniality and the
imperialist impulses of transnational capitalist strategies. What Ahmad has difficulty
accepting is how the celebration of a postcolonial, transnational, electronically produced
hybridity is to be squared with ... [the] systematic decay of countries and continents, and
with decreasing chances for substantial portions of the global population to obtain
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conditions of survival, let alone electronic literacy and gadgetry.
This disparity in power and class relations is compounded by the kind of hybridity
that postcolonial theory popularizes. As Arif Dirlik accurately observes, [t]he hybridity
to which postcolonial criticism refers is uniformly between the post colonial and the First
World, never... between one post colonial intellectual and another.22 Ahmad, in
pursuing a similar line of critique, further situates postcolonial hybridity within the
complexities of class and neo-colonial power relations in order to unearth the inequalities
that this form of hybridity conceals:
The entire logic of the kind of cultural hybridity that Bhabha celebrates
presumes the intermingling of Europe and non-Europe in a context already
determined by advance capital, in the aftermath of colonialism. In this
account, non-Europeans hardly ever encounter each other and never
without a prior European modulation of the very field of that encounter.
Nor do these celebrations of hybridity foreground the unequal relations of
cultural power today, rather, intercultural hybridity is presented as a
transaction of displaced equals which somehow transcends the profound
inequalities engendered by colonialism itself. Into whose culture is one to
be hybridised and on whose terms? The wilful relegation of this question

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to obscurity reveals nevertheless that the underlying logic of this
celebratory mode is that of the limitless freedom of a globalised
marketplace which pretends that all consumers are equally resourceful and
in which all cultures are equally available for consumption, in any
combination that the consumer desires.23
Ahmads maneuver here is needful in the way it reverses the de-historicization of
hybridity that one sees in Rushdie and Bhabha, and re-contextualizes it within the history
of colonialism and late capitalism. In drawing out these connections and, hence,
implicating hybridity in the perpetuation of Euro-American racial dominance and of
capitals global hegemony, Ahmad demonstrates that this mode of analytical critique is
the first step towards reclaiming the term in order that one can re-calibrate it for
deployment in a radical politics. Part of that step in ones encounter with postcolonal
hybridity is to ask the sorts of questions that will help reveal and problematize the
motivations, the alliances, the power relations, and the hierarchies that support or are
being supported by the discourses of hybridity; questions such as, who is mobilizing
what in the articulation of the past, deploying what identities, identifications, and in the
name of what political vision and goals?24 This process of contextualizing hybridity,
hence, will inform my analysis and criticism of Shirley Lims representations of her
hybrid subjectivity in her memoir, and how these representations can ultimately be
problematic in that they reinforce instead of dismantling certain power and class
hierarchies.
A Fugitive Presence Determined
The setting is the 1989 Modem Language Association convention in New York
City. Shirley Geok-lin Lim, who has just accepted a position to teach at the University of
California in Santa Barbara, runs into Florence Howe, whose admiration for Lims work

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prompted the following declaration: I want you to write a memoir.23 What ensued in
that same conversation is equally if not more intriguing; in expressing how happy she is
for Lim, Howe articulates her interpretation of Urns recent good fortune: When I heard
you were moving from a community college to a university, I thought, at last, you were
being recognized. And I felt others were being recognized with you (320). Though she
is aware that Howes outspoken support is mediated through class and institutional
grids, Lim still feels moved by the kind of feminist and minority camaraderie reflected
in her comment. This particular incident extracted from Lims aforementioned memoir
Among the White Moonfaces is fascinating; for in a self-referential way, it subconsciously
points (via Howes comments) to a possible purpose to Lims writing of her memoir,
which is to tell a rags-to-riches story of one womans rise from her humble Malacca
beginnings to that of a prominent intellectual and scholar, who now takes her rightful
place in a prestigious university in the U.S.26 In a sense, this is the classic Horatio
Algers narrative retold through the problematics of diaspora, race, hybridity, and
intellectual and institutional hierarchies. Though Lim is very careful to confront and
negotiate the contradictions in her story, one senses that the cultural and political
critiques scattered throughout her narrative are eventually overwhelmed by the master
narrative of the American Dream, a myth that Lim herself seems, ironically, to be critical
of. Lims foregrounding of her own cultural hybridity, which is intended as a weapon
against U.S. assimilationist rhetoric and racist discourses, also unfortunately produces an
autobiographical narrative that reifies the very cultural logic it seeks to subvert.
As an immigrant story, Among the White Moonfaces recounts the difficulties and
pains of displacement, culture shock, alienation, and rejection that a diasporic person

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suffers. But more than that, it also depicts a journey of cultural, intellectual, and sexual
awakenings and discoveries; a journey where the demarcations of self and community are
alternately defined and blurred, and where national and cultural identities are constantly
contested and negotiated not only in postcolonial Malaysia but also in the United
Statesa struggle that continues even after Lim, having endured years of cultural
identity crisis, has finally and with much difficulty chosen to surrender her Malaysian
citizenship in order to become a U.S. citizen. This journey is also Lims paradoxical
search for home despite her knowing that unhomeliness, to follow Bhabhas
formulation, will always be her ontological state of consciousness as a diasporic person
and a cultural hybrid. On the other hand, this deterritorialized state is not unproductive in
Lims estimation, as it has helped to spur her growth as a poet, an author, and a scholar;
an explanation that is reminiscent of how modernist discourses on exile and alienation
have accounted for the creative geniuses of James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Joseph
Conrad, and Henry James. These various threads of self-discovery and cultural
identification eventually twine around the central tropes of postcolonial hybridity and
diasporic displacement. In a sense, hybridity and diaspora not only determine Lims
choice of material in the construction of her memoir, but they also provide the propulsive
force that in a deterministic fashion drives the linearity of Lims narrative, hence
producing the sort of conclusion that, in light of the factors involved, would be deemed
inevitable. It is this inevitability and its relation to power that I hope to interrogate.
In the subtitle of her memoir, Lim calls herself a Nyonya feminist.27 The
Nyonya people, or the Peranakans, who are also known as the Straits-bom Chinese, can
often trace their ancestry to interracial marriages between fifteenth-century Chinese

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merchants and the Malays of the Malacca Sultanate.28 As Malay-Chinese hybrids, the
Peranakans occupy that impure cultural space of in-betweenness, thereby often
resulting in their marginalization within or exclusion from both Malay and Chinese
societies. Although her father is Hokkien,29 Lim was brought up by her mother to speak
Malay, the language of the Peranakans, and to live according to Peranakan cultural
traditions. Therefore, it is understandable that Lim would identify more readily with her
mothers cultural heritage and racial hybridity. However, Lims emphasis on the Nyonya
aspects of her background at the beginning of her memoir is also politically strategic in
that her hybridity offers her the perfect position from which to launch a two-pronged
cultural critique. Firstly, it permits Lim to question Chinese centrism and chauvinism:
Chinese-speaking Malayans called me a Kelangkia-kwefor a Malay devil30
because I could not or would not speak Hokkien (28); they were hostile to peranakans,
whom they looked down on as degraded people, people who had lost their identity when
they stopped speaking Chinese (70). Secondly, Nyonya hybridity also enables Lim to
challenge Malay discrimination against the Chinese in post-independence Malaysia:
More and more, the term Malay appeared where British once stood.
The Malaysian, that new promise of citizenship composed of the best
traditions from among Malays, Chinese, Tamils, Eurasians, Dayaks, and
so forth, seemed more and more to be a vacuous political fiction, a public
relations performance. ... One groups empowerment appeared to lead to
anothers oppression. As a thoroughly English-educated mind, emptied of
Chinese racialized sentiments, I was a mold into which the idealism of a
progressive multiracial identity could be poured. Chinese chauvinism
offended me as much as other racisms, for, although of Chinese descent, I
was usually treated by Malayan Chinese speakers as foreign, alien, and
worse, decadent, an unspeakable because unspeaking, degenerate
descendent of pathetic forebears. But Malay chauvinism was no better.
(188-89)31

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This twin critique of Chinese and Malay chauvinism is a significant intervention
in the context of Malaysian race relations. However, Lims deployment of hybridity does
not end here. What I believe she taps into and draws out of Nyonya hybridity is its
biological determinism, which inevitably marks her from the beginning as a person with
multiple cultural identities, having what Rushdie calls an excess of belonging; and it
also inscribes her as a socially excluded and displaced individual. When Lim takes these
implications of Nyonya hybridity and uses them to frame her memoir, what she has
accomplished is to infuse the rest of her narrative with that determinism, hence
accentuating the extent of her oppression in both Malaysia and the U.S, through the cry
of 1 do not have a choice but to ,32 This deterministic logic has allowed Lim to
continue to construe herself as having remained a renegade, a fugitive presence which
has not yet fossilized (25), despite the fact that she has made a life for herself in the
upper-middle class stratum of U.S. society and has landed a tenured professor position at
a prestigious university.
It is essential at this point to qualify the assertions I have just made before
expanding my arguments further. My critique of Lims narrative thus far does not
suggest my buying into the reactionary argument on responsibility and choice, a rhetoric
that questions the existence of social, racial, sexual, and class oppressions, and that de-
emphasizes progressive social and governmental policies by reifying solely the efficacy
of personal choice and responsibility in the changing of ones lot in life. (This issue is
complex and the answer probably lies somewhere in between social change and personal
choice.) My critique also does not mean that I am denying the reality of Lims
experiencethe oppressions perpetrated by the British colonizers in Malaysia, the neo-

117
colonialism of the British education system in the Commonwealth, the racial chauvinism
and violence of both Malay and Chinese ethnocentrism, the racism and discrimination
suffered by immigrants as they enter the U.S. all rightly deserve the kind of critique that
Lim has engaged in in her memoir.33 The difficulty I have with Lims arguments lies in
the way she constructs a formulaic migrant narrative that highlights moments in her life
which reinforce the determinism in the trope of hybridity. This form of narrative
construction, as a result, foregrounds the oppression but masks the privileges that
hybridity brings to the Third World intellectual in the First World academy. Lim is
conscious of her own class position, but unfortunately resorts to a token acknowledgment
of it before circumventing the issue, hence permitting her narrative to become another
retelling of the American Dream, though peppered, in contradiction, by moments of
politically progressive critique.
The three points of contact I would now like to make with Lims text are that of
parental mutilation, a racialized sexuality, and the notion of returning home. An
examination of these themes will expose the means with which Lim extends the
problematics of Peranakan hybridity into other areas of her life experience in order to
construct a narrative of inevitability.
Lim begins her memoir with an ontological lamentation of her excess of
belonging: Too many names, too many identities, too many languages (20). The fact
that she has too many namesnot only Shirley, Geok-lin, and Lim, but also Agnes and
Jenniferis symptomatic of the competing and contradictory forces of Chinese culture,
British colonialism, American cultural imperialism through Hollywood, and Roman
Catholicism at work in the molding of Lims childhood. But just as the onomastic shifts

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signify the cultural violence and fragmentation these forces have wreaked upon Urns
life, they also implicate the role Lims parents have played in conjunction with these
forces to irrevocably mark her as a renegade. As Lim reveals in the opening chapter,
her parents have . unwittingly mutilated her (25); and if she had a choice over. .
[her] history, she never would have chosen them to be a part of it (26; emphasis
mine). The psychic and cultural mutilation her parents have subjected her to has led Lim
to take on the burden of diaspora so as to move ... [herself] as far away from destitution
as an ordinary human creature can, a move that takes her from Malacca, a small town
two degrees north of the equator, to New England, then to Brooklyn and to the rich New
York suburb of Westchester County, and now to Southern California (25). Hence, in the
chapters that focus on her childhood and youth, Lim proceeds to demonstrate this lack of
choice not just in the way her parents have treated her but also in the basic human need to
move from hunger to plenty, poverty to comfort (25).
Part of the mutilation that Lim discusses can be seen in her fathers choice of
Shirley as a name for his daughter. Baba, as Lim would call him, is unconventionally
un-Chinese (42), especially in the fact that he was the only son to have taken a
peranakan woman as his wife and that he taught his children to speak English (41). He
was particularly drawn to the various forms of Western media and entertainment, and has
developed a deep fascination with Hollywood, an inclination that would compel him to
name his daughter after Shirley Temple. Unfortunately, Shirley becomes the signifier
for the identity crisis and cultural disjuncture that Lim as a child has to grapple with,
particularly when the notions of racial difference and colonial desire fail to align
themselves in her mind:

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Its your dimples, Baba told me from the beginning. You look just like
Shirley Temple. I thought Shirley Temple was an untidy child, burnt
brown, with straight black hair. ... I know the details now: golden hair,
blue eyes, Mary Janes on her feet. We could not have been more different
as babies and little girls. But growing up I was assured that I was like
Shirley Temple; a child star, reborn in Malacca, the glory atoms just the
same. (17-18)
The contradictions in Lims name only foretell the cultural fractures and
psychological trauma that await her. Her parents marriage is already on the rocks, which
consequently will lead to Lims alienation from her mother: I have no memory as a child
of the kind of warm physical affection with my mother.... Emak appears in my childs
album as a self-absorbed driven creature, continuously pregnant..(55-56). The
collapse of the mother-child relationship takes place when Lims mother finally leaves
her family for Singapore:
Maternal abandonment is unthinkable in human culture. Maternal malice
marks a boundary humans can hardly bear to speak of, reformulating it
instead into the wicked stepmother found in the Grimm brothers fairy
tales and numerous Asian folk tales. How then to understand my own
mother, mother of six children, who picked herself up off the ground
where my father had knocked her down, and left us forever? (56)
The psychic violence of maternal abandonment is compounded by the physical
violence of paternal anger, of course. (Though one must give Lim the benefit of the
doubt and must acknowledge the painful reality of child abuse, her formulaic reading of
parental discipline as physical abuse and psychic mutilation is a definite appeal to
Western perceptions and sensitivities with regards to child psychology and upbringing.
This example of Asian child abuse is a classic instance of self-Orientalism.) The fact
that Lims father caned her brothers and her would eventually (and predictably) lead to
her own perpetuation of the cycle of family violence upon Gershom, her only son. The
shame that Lim feels and her consciousness of ones own precarious position in the

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cycle are the main incentives for her to end the violence (306). Lim, therefore, has
distinguished herself to her readers as the enlightened, Western-educated intellectual who
has finally turned away from the savage and primitive practices of the previous
generation.
The argument that Lim appears to be making thus far is that the alienation and
displacement her Nyonya hybridity has produced are intensified by the cultural
contradictions of her Asian-Westernized upbringing, the repression inherent in the
colonial education system in Malacca, the double trauma of maternal abandonment and
paternal violence, and the final unspoken disintegration of... [her] family. Though
these various fault lines have contributed to the fracture of Lims cultural identity, they
have also moved her to rebellion and to literature and, hence, helped her to define her
emergent sense of self as a poet (120). The path has now been laid for Lim to take the
inevitable step towards leaving home in order to escape poverty, repression, political and
racial oppressions, and the painful memories of her childhood; and, more importantly, to
shift herself through exilic displacement into a state of the unhomely, of fugitive
presence, as a means towards self-definition, poetic creativity, and intellectual expansion.
Lim has thus succeeded in shaping an image of herself that is similar to the Modernist
poets, whose exilic state of alienation and deterritorialization had led to periods of
brilliant and intense literary output. On the other hand, she has also, as a consequence,
situated herself within the similarly elitist space of aesthetic and class distinctions that
these Modernist writers occupied, which in her case is further inscribed by institutional
power and multiculturalist politics.

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I would like now to engage in a brief analysis of Lims memoir as a narrative of
sexual awakening. Lims emphasis on the theme of a racialized sexuality cannot be
viewed in isolation but must be contextualized within the problematics of determinism
and hybridity in order for one to visualize the connection. Maternal abandonment and
physical violence, as Lims narrative suggests, have not only scarred her emotionally but
also sexually. For instance, the Electra complex shifts into high gear when Emaks
leaving her family for Singapore clears a space for a particularly vulnerable and insecure
Lim to occupy in close connection to her father. As a child I adored my fathers body,
Lim confesses in a quasi-sexual manner. When the family goes swimming together, she
saw her siblings and herself as extensions of her fathers confident body,... links in an
unbreakable, undrownable chain, the meaning of my fathers life made manifest to him
(58). When her father in anger physically punishes her for a vulgar sign she has rather
innocently acquired, Lim, for the first time, sees herself defined as a sexual being in the
eyes of her father. The fear and taboo of incest would ultimately lead to a further
alienation between father and daughter, which is to culminate in her fathers marriage to
the family servants daughter Peng, who is only seven years Lims senior. What this
produces in Lim is resentment towards her stepmother and revulsion at her fathers
sexuality, a consciousness of which is intensified by the sounds that penetrate the thin
walls separating her from her father and Pengs bedroom. Lim writes, after an incident
where she loses her puppy and where Peng points out that Fathers attachment to ...
[his daughter] was unnatural (124):
The unassuaged grief perhaps had as much to do with Fathers betrayal as
with the actual loss of a pup. After Pengs accusation I never felt the same
way about Father. I was afraid of touching him. I could not bear to be
near him. His body which I had loved as a child seemed possessed with a

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power of revulsion instead. He became a fully recognized sexual creature
to me, and I abhorred his sexuality. (125)
This abhorrence assumes greater significance in the racialized fashion with which
Lim would later define her sexuality and her choice of sexual partners. Her inclination
towards non-Chinese males Lim attempts to justify through a psychoanalytic argument:
I would never be able to feel sexual with a Chinese male because of the
strong incest inhibitions that I had formed in my family. With eight
brothers and troubled memories of Father, I could only feel familial about
Chinese men: they drew me as strong companions and brothers or repelled
me as tyrants or weaklings, but a bar was raised between my body and
theirs beyond which I could not imagine. (170-71)
Her logic is flawed on multiple levels. But for the sake of conceding to Lim the integrity
and sincerity of her assertion, I will just address the impulse of her statement as opposed
to critiquing the intricacies of her argument. The question that first comes to mind is,
why is there a need for Lim to justify her sexual choices in the first place? In other
words, her preference for non-Chinese men is simply a personal preference. One
possible reason could be that this is a preemptive strike launched to counteract the
accusations of racial betrayal Chinese chauvinists might hurl at her. In a later passage,
Lim justifies again her choices by theorizing that in reaction to the competition for
dominance between Chinese and Malay elites, [she]... was attracted contrarily to
Eurasians and Indians, a romance of minoritism, as a way out of the fixedness of race
identity (189). Though she attempts to inject political oppositionality in this version of
her explanations, the notion of political choice here contradicts and undermines the
determinism of the psychoanalytic interpretation she has offered earlier, a point which I
will explore next.

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Lims psychoanalytic justification basically works towards reinforcing the notion
of determinism that runs throughout her text. By placing the burden of her sexual choices
on the strong incest inhibitions, her brothers, and troubled memories of Father, Lim
is simply articulating her belief that culture and family history have already determined
her inclinationsshe has no choice but to choose the Eurasian, the Indian, and the
Caucasian men she encounters in her life. The relationships she has with these men, in
one way or another, would lead her down new intellectual paths, would help her make up
her mind about studying in the U.S., and would eventually help determine her choice of
becoming a U.S. citizen. For when a university position opened up for her to teach
English in Malaysia upon the completion of her doctoral studies, Lim has to give it up
because Charles, her husband, would not be able to secure a similar position there, as the
Malaysian government is in the process of nationalizing the university. Even if this
were not the case, Charles would rather stay in New York; for he has expressed to Lim
his rather provincial belief that once youve lived in New York, nowhere else counts
(255). Lim, therefore, has no choice but to honor her commitment to her husband and
remain in the U.S. The trouble I have here with the causal reasoning in Lims lack-of-
choice argument is that it only spotlights the oppression suffered by the diasporic in her
coerced state of fugitive presence, while masking the luxuries of choice and
opportunity that Lim has enjoyed.
One such luxury is the opportunity of a graduate education at Brandis University
paid for by a Fulbright fellowship. Lims acceptance of this offer signals the first step
she would take towards migrating to the U.S., a narrative that occupies the next half of
her memoir. What Lim focuses on here is how this single step of leaving Malaysia for

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the U.S. would irrevocably alter her cultural and national identities to produce a diasporic
rootlessness, which would further intensify her sense of fugitive presence. The
complexity of her Nyonya hybridity is translated into the equally complex, interstitial
hybrid spaces she occupies as a peripheral Chinese American. The tri-focal images of
homeAmerica/China/Malaysiaonly convince Lim of the need to find a way
through which she can come to terms with her displacement and finally come home,
even if the latter is simply a construct of her imagination.
The diasporics sense of dislocation Lim experiences at the point of her departure
for the U.S.: In the airport lounge, gazing at the batik decorations intended for tourist
consumption, I felt already the disconnection of the stranger. I would never see Malaysia
again, except through the eyes of a traveler (213). But the hope of easy
reterritorrialization is dashed when she is bedeviled by the super-fragmentations that
attend alien status in the United States (246). Coupled with her fathers death and the
need to support her extended family financially, Lim decries the inevitable and repressive
need to reconnect with her cultural roots once again:
In writing the bank drafts I remained my fathers daughter, returning to
Father the bargain we had made. This is the meaning of bloodto give,
because you cannot eat unless the family is also eating. For years, I woke
up nights, heart beating wildly. Oh Asia, that nets its children in ties of
blood so blinding that they cut the spirit. (251)
The cultural tension of wanting to be home and yet to flee leads Lim to compare herself
to the Chinese children [who] attend public schools in California and to their
astronaut fathers and mothers [who] live out of satellite apartments in Taiwan and Hong
Kong: Like these parents and their children, guilt and apology dogged my decision to

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remain in the United States, and for over a decade, I did an emotional shuttle run between
Asia and the United States, voluntarily displaced (258).
The irony of Lims comparison lies in the transparency of class privilege and
Chinese diasporas links to transnational capital in this particular reference to the
astronaut parents and their children. In her critique of the flexible citizenship of
Chinese in diaspora, Aihwa Ong illustrates how Chinese businessmen, in striving to
maximize profits by bypassing the regulations of the nation-state, would have their
wives and children live in certain Western countries in order to gain the privileges of
residency and citizenship; while they, like astronauts, would remain constantly in
orbit, caught between the desire to establish family residency abroad and to make money
in Asia. Ong problematizes the astronaut metaphor not only in its connection to
transnational capital but also to the way it has been conceptualized as a Chinese trope of
postmodern displacement.34 In relying on this trope to depict her own state of diasporic
deterritorialization, Lim ironically and unwittingly aligns herself with these Chinese
astronaut families in that they enjoy the luxury of being able to choose where they want
to live, or to choose a life of transnational mobility by shuttling from one point of the
globe to another.
Class position, which plays a crucial role in affording her this transnational
mobility, also helps to map out, to a degree, Lims career trajectory. Her first job was at
a community college in South Bronx, where she successfully worked with the black and
Latino students. But her failure to fit into the Puerto Rican neighborhood where she and
Charles live leads her to despair at. .. [her] middle-class hypocrisy and fears (269).
Though laudable her self-critique, she finally does quit her job because The City

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University of New York was threatening to close it down during yet another budget
crisis (278). She then moves to a suburban community college made up of
predominantly white middle-class students. Though comfortable teaching there, Lim
fails to obtain the administrations support for her research and publication and, most of
all, for her bid to be promoted. Finally, a tenure-track position opens up for Lim at the
University of California in Santa Barbara. After agonizing briefly over the hierarchical
structure of the U.S. university system, she eventually accepts the position. The
progression from the Bronx to Santa Barbara is an evolutionary one, where our heroine
after much trial and tribulation overcomes the obstacles in her path and makes it to the
pinnacle of her profession. But what is suggestive in this success story, when the
reader is led to cheer Lim on, is the belief in the eventuality of that success, modulated
by the disappearance of class distinctions and hindrancesthe notion that one will
definitely succeed as long as one puts ones heart and soul to the task.
The reasons that Lim provides for her decision to accept the UC Santa Barbara
position are interesting in that they work towards the major theme in the conclusion to
her memoirthe notion of coming home. The marginalization Lim experiences at the
suburban community college affirms in her the need to find another, more welcoming
America in which poetiy, Asia, and woman could be accepted in the same body (338).
Furthermore, to grow as an Asian-American scholar, Lim reasons, I needed a society
of scholars, an abundance of talk, an antagonism of ideas, bracing hostile seriousness,
and above all a community of women (341). Flence, California is perhaps the closest
thing possible to moving home for Asian Americans ... (342). The reasons for Lims
westward move are legitimate and logical. But unfortunately, with these reasons, Lim

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also has conveniently sidestepped the problematic and pressing issues of institutional and
intellectual elitism that remain unaddressed, apart from a token acknowledgment of their
existence.
Coming to California completes for Lim the circle that is her life story. It is a
moment of cultural, psychological, and social reterritorialization, a moment where the
contradictions of being a perpetual renegade, a fugitive presence, are finally to be
resolved:
How do I reconcile these two different yet simultaneous imagesthe
ropes that my mother and father have cunningly woven, invisible like
spirits and ghosts, that tie me to the ancestral altar table which presides in
every Confucian home; and the crashing surf that knocks me off my feet
and throws me onto a beach, which is never the same from moment to
moment?
The dominant imprint I have carried with me since birth was a
Malaysian homeland. It has been an imperative for me to make sense of
these birthmarks; they compose the hieroglyphs of my bodys senses. We
tell stories to bind us to a spot, and often the stories that make us cry knot
the thickest ropes.... Parents do not die; they merely take on the form of
ancestral spirits, tenacious in their power, keeping you a child forever in
your first imagination. With such ghosts, it has taken me a longer time to
leave home than most immigrants.
To give up the struggle for a memorialized homeland may be the
most forgiving act I can do. Everywhere I have lived in the United States
... I felt an absence of place, myself absent in America. Absence was the
story my mother taught me, that being the story of her migrant people, the
Malacca peranakans. But perhaps she was also teaching me that home is
the place where our stories are told. Had I more time to talk to Mother,
perhaps I could have learned to forgive, listening to her stories. In
California, I am beginning to write stories about America, as well as
Malaysia. Listening, and telling my own stories, I am moving home.
(347-48)
The emotional power this passage wields as it concludes Lims memoir is undeniable. It
seeks to reaffirm our belief in literature and it ability to change lives. As moving as this
idealized formulation may be, Lims theories on absence and storytelling are troubling
and deserve closer examination.

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Absence as the ontological state of diasporic consciousness produced by
hybridity is problematic in that it directs attention to the oppression of cultural
displacement and violation while denying the very rootedness and materiality that mark
the reality of everyday life, immigrant or otherwise. In other words, the abstraction of
absence, like the abstract theorization of hybridity and diaspora, masks the political and
power hierarchies that enable the sort of mobility that Lim has in translating herself from
Malacca, to New York, and finally to Santa Barbara.
As for the notion of storytelling, Lim obviously sees it as a way of rooting herself
culturally, the idea of finally coming home, through an aestheticization of the politics
of cultural identity, postcoloniality, and diaspora. This is an instance of what Arif Dirlik
has observed to be the tendency of so much postcolonial criticism to start off with a
sociology of power relationships only to take refuge in aesthetic phraseology.35 The
problem with Lims theory of storytelling is not so much in ones doubting literatures
efficacy in promoting social, cultural, or political intervention and change; but rather, the
telling of stories appears to be too convenient a way of resolving the cultural tensions and
contradictions of imperialism, racial politics, class differences, and gender inequalities,
especially as they intersect hybridity and diaspora in Lims memoir.
If Among the White Moonfaces is any indication of Lims notion of storytelling
par excellence (and Lim is indeed a brilliant poet and fiction writer), then the telling of
her life story has in some ways failed to live up to the works initial tone of political
critique. Lims token self-critique has been neutralized when the political and
institutional power grids that have situated her where she is now remain unexamined. As
for the mainstream American reader, Lims turn to storytelling signals a non-threatening

129
strategy, which in spite of its engagement in the liberal critique of racism, patriarchy, and
imperialism, ultimately comforts the reader in its reification of the myth of the American
Dream and the surety of immigrant success.
Notes
1 Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Among the White Moonfaces: Memoirs of a Nyonya Feminist
(Singapore: Times Books International, 1996), 255.
2 A good introduction to Lims fictional work between 1967 and 1990 is the collection of
short stories entitled, Life's Mysteries: The Best of Shirley Lim (Singapore: Times Books
International, 1995).
3 Shirley Geok-lin Lim, ed., Approaches to Teaching Kingston's The Woman Warrior
(New York: MLA, 1991); Shirley Geok-lin Lim and Amy Ling, eds., Reading the
Literatures of Asian America (Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1992). Other significant essays
include: Reconstructing Asian American Poetry: A Case for Ethnopoetics, MELUS 14,
no.2 (1987): 51-63; Assaying the Gold: Or, Contesting the Ground of Asian American
Literature, New Literary History 24 (1993): 147-69; Immigration and Diaspora, An
Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature, Ed. King-kok Cheung (New York:
Cambridge UP, 1997): 289-311.
4 Shirley Geok-lin Lim, Mayumi Tsutakawa, and Margarita Donnelly, eds., The
Forbidden Stitch: An Asian American Womens Anthology (Corvallis, OR: Calyx, 1989).
See also the following essays by Lim: Japanese American Womens Life Stories:
Matemality in Monica Sones Nisei Daughter and Joy Kogawas Obasanf Feminist
Studies 16 (1990): 288-313; Semiotics, Experience, and the Material Self: An Inquiry
into the Subject of the Contemporary Asian Woman Writer, Women's Studies 18, no.2-3
(1990): 153-76; Asian American Daughters Rewriting Asian Maternal Texts, Asian
Americans: Comparative and Global Perspectives, Eds. Shirley Hume, Hyung-chan Kim,
Stephen S. Fugita, and Amy Ling (Pullman: Washington State UP, 1991): 239-48; The
Tradition of Chinese American Womens Life Stories: Thematics of Race and Gender in
Jade Snow Wongs Fifth Chinese Daughter and Maxine Hong Kingstons The Woman
Warrior, American Womens Autobiography: Fea(s)ts of Memory, Ed. Margo Culley
(Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1992): 252-67; Feminist and Ethnic Literary Theories in
Asian American Literature, Feminist Studies 19 (1993): 571-96; Hegemony and
Anglo-American Feminism: Living in the Funny House, Tulsa Studies in Women
Literature 12 (1993): 279-88; Up Against the National Canon: Womens War Memoirs
from Malaysia and Singapore, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 28, no. 1
(1993): 47-64; The Center Can(not) Hold: U.S. Womens Studies and Global
Feminism, Women's Studies Quarterly 26, no.3-4 (1998): 30-39.

130
5 Zhou Xiaojing, introduction to Among the White Moonfaces: Memoirs of a Nyonya
Feminist, by Shirley Geok-lin Lim (Singapore: Times Books International, 1996), 9.
6 Teochew is one of the many dialect groups that constitute the Chinese race.
7 Lisa Lowe, Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Asian American Differences,
Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics (Durham: Duke UP, 1996), 67.
8 Ibid., 75.
9 For a critique of transnational capitals co-optation of multiculturalism to serve its
purposes, see David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the
Origins of Cultural Change (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990); Lisa Lowe, Imagining
Los Angeles in the Production of Multiculturalism, Immigrant Acts, 84-96; Masao
Miyoshi, A Borderless World? From Colonialism to Transnationalism and the Decline
of the Nation State, Critical Inquiry 19 (1993): 726-51; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak,
Teaching for the Times, Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial
Perspectives, Eds. Anne McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat (Minneapolis: U of
Minnesota P, 1997), 468-90. An intriguing case study is available in Katharyne Mitchell,
In Whose Interest? Transnational Capital and the Production of Multiculturalism in
Canada, Global/Local: Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary, Eds. Rob
Wilson and Wismal Dissanayake (Durham: Duke UP, 1996), 219-51.
10 Aijaz Ahmad, In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (London: Verso, 1992), 127.
11 Quoted in Ahmad, In Theory, 127.
12 Ahmad, In Theory, 127.
13 Ibid., 130.
14 Quoted in Ahmad, In Theory, 130.
13 Aijaz Ahmad, The Politics of Literary Postcoloniality, Race & Class 36, no.3 (1995):
13.
16 Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 4.
17 Ibid., 9. For further notes on the unhomely, turn to Bhabha, The World and the
Home, Dangerous Liaisons: Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, Eds. Anne
McClintock, Aamir Mufti, and Ella Shohat (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997), 445-
55.
18
Caren Kaplan, Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Durham-
Duke UP, 1996).

131
19 Bhabha, Location of Culture, 38-39.
20 Ella Shohat, Notes on the Post-Colonial, Social Text 31/32 (1992): 109.
21 Ahmad, Politics of Literary Postcoloniality, 12.
22 Arif Dirlik, The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global
Capitalism, Critical Inquiry 20 (1994): 342.
23 Ahmad, Politics of Literary Postcoloniality, 17.
24 Shohat, Notes on the Post-Colonial, 110.
25 Lim, Among the White Moonfaces, 319. Subsequent references to this text will be
parenthetically documented.
26 Lims book is one of the many academic memoirs written by women, a genre that
has proliferated during the 1990s. See Nancy K. Miller, Public Statements, Private
Lives: Academic Memoirs for the Nineties, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and
Society 22(1997): 981-1015.
27 The subtitle Memoirs of a Nyonya Feminist is used in the Singapore/Malaysia
edition published by Times International, while the U.S. edition is entitled Among the
White Moon Faces: An Asian-American Memoir of Homelands (New York: Feminist P at
CUNY, 1996). For the purposes of appealing to a local readership, the term Nyonya
obviously has more resonance for Singaporeans and Malaysians, especially when the
former are predominantly Chinese, many of whom are of Nyonya descent.
A brief but lucid account of the Peranakans is available in Hybrids, chapter eight of
Lynn Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor: The Story of the Overseas Chinese (London:
Seeker & Warburg, 1990). For a more handsomely illustrated depiction of Nyonya
culture, see Joo Ee Khoo, The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History (Amsterdam: Pepin P,
1996).
29
Like Teochew, Hokkien is another major dialect group among the Chinese in Malaysia
and Singapore.
30 A more literal translation would be an Indian-child devil, though Lim is probably
referring to the derogatory expressions usage by the Chinese to denote, in a more
broadly encompassing way, those who are racially or culturally tainted.
31 The relations between Chinese and Malays have been tense, to say the least, during
much of the colonial and postcolonial history of Malaysia and Singapore. Racial riots
between the two groups erupted during the 1960s in both countries. The Malaysian

132
government has been guilty of instituting an unfair affirmative action-type policy on
behalf of the Malay majority, also known as the Bumiputra (roughly translated as the
Princes of the Land). This policy discriminates against the Chinese and Indian
minorities, especially in terms of government employment, university education,
financial aid, and political appointments. But to solely excoriate Malay racism and
discrimination against the Chinese would be an injustice, as the rich Chinese elite also
have a part to play in manipulating and exploiting the economy to their advantage (not
unlike the Indonesian Chinese), hence drawing the ire and resentment of the Malay
majority.
To be more accurate, my subsequent discussion of determinism in Lims work is not to
suggest that there is a total absence of choice but that Lims choices are determined by
the cultural and social spaces she occupies.
33 Some of these themes and Lims critique of them are also evident in her short stories.
See especially The Farmers Wife, A Pot of Rice, All My Uncles, and Keng
Hua, all available in Life's Mysteries.
34 Aihwa Ong, On the Edge of Empires: Flexible Citizenship among Chinese in
Diaspora, positions 1 (1993): 761. See page 762 for a comic illustration taken from the
South China Morning Post, 20 March 1989, depicting a Chinese astronaut having
lifelines that connect him to Hong Kong, Canada, and Australia.
35 Dirlik, Postcolonial Aura, 343. See footnote 20.

CHAPTER 5
POLITICAL INERTIA AND THE SINGAPOREAN IN DIASPORA:
REFLECTIONS ON THE MICHAEL FAY DEBACLE AND
FIONA CHEONGS POETICS OF INNOCENCE
Reading the Singaporean in Diaspora
The recent appearance of autobiographical literary criticism in literary and
critical scholarship has served to destabilize the formal and traditional boundaries of
criticism as a genre by examining the significance and impact of personal experience on
the reading of texts, as well as the formative influence of textuality on shaping personal
experiences. The premise of this mode of criticism lies in the idea that writers [of
criticism] know the literature through themselves and know themselves through the
literature.1 What I find intriguing about this dialectic approach is that it displaces the
impersonal detachment of criticism and, in so doing, allows the critic to interrogate more
openly his or her own motivations in choosing to engage particular texts and to write
about them from certain political perspectives. Conversely, the writing of criticism itself
has transformational effects in that such a personal critical space enables one to explore
the questions of identity construction and to negotiate shifting political, cultural, and
national positioning and alliances, negotiations that will eventually affect the material and
everyday existence of the one who occupies this critical space.
Though the writing in my dissertation cannot be construed as autobiographical
literary criticism per se, the impulse is deeply personal, especially as I examine in
133

134
retrospect the critical maneuvers I have engaged so far and as I anticipate reading and
writing myself (a Singaporean in diaspora) into this concluding chapter on the
Singaporean American experience. This entire project on the cultural politics of
peripheral Chinese Americans has allowed me to wrestle with some of the cultural
contradictions that constitute my own diasporic experience as an alien resident in the
United States. Although I tackle different issues by tracking the historical and cultural
specificities of various peripheral Chinese American subgroups, their concerns and
problems frequently parallel my own. Therefore, theoretically working through some of
these concerns has been productive for me in my own struggle to come to terms with a
diasporic identity that is ideologically marked in often conflicting ways by a British neo
colonial education, a Chinese upbringing, a Singaporean nationalism, and ten years of an
American tertiary education.
By choosing to focus on the politicaland I am not just referring to the questions
of race, gender, and class, but also more specifically to my critique of transnational
capitalism, authoritarian regimes, and the violation of human rightsI am drawing from
a deep well of political suppression and inhibition that characterizes the Singaporean
national psyche. The people of the island nation that sits one degree of latitude above the
equator have survived and even prospered under the semi-authoritarian government
dominated by a single political party for the past thirty-four years since independence.
But the miracle of Singapores economic success, which has elevated it from its humble
Third World beginnings to become one of Asias four economic dragons, and the
relatively high standard of living that it brings often camouflage the suppression of
political dissidence and the violation of political rights and freedoms. This state of

135
political inhibition has been so naturalized as part of the sociopolitical pragmatism of
many Singaporeans that it has translated itself into a social myth of cultural wisdom.
Political passivity and complacency are transcribed as positive national values to be
handed down from one generation to another.2 As my parents and grandparents, like
many other older Singaporeans, used to say, Politics is something that one should avoid
talking about, especially in public. As long as our rice bowl is intact, the government is
doing its job. Such platitudes of wisdom serve to inculcate the fear of the political in
the citizen by invoking the greater fear, be it imaginary or real, of being watched.
Singapore, hence, has become what Foucault would term a panoptic machine of
political and ideological surveillance.
In my minds eye, Singapore is visualized as a pristine, politically sanitized, and
ideologically controlled urban zone, geopolitically demarcated by its national boundaries.
The crossing of these boundaries, especially for many Singaporean diasporics, signifies
also a crossing into zones of un-policed political free speech. It is this diasporic
imaginary of release and freedom that I have in mind when I think of my own
motivations for choosing to relocate to the United States. What America stands for for
many immigrants is the idealization of democracy, individual rights, and political
freedoms, all of which are contested categories that constantly require rethinking and
sometimes even critique. My point here is that the diasporic narrative of release needs
to be critically reexamined, not so much because there is an absence of truth in it, but that
it presents a moment of political and cultural contradiction that needs to be carefully
negotiated by the Singaporean American. I find in the notion of release both pleasure
and uneasiness; for just as it offers a critique of the Singapore governments ideological

136
strategies to remain in power, it also supports the narrative of political progression that
situates the West at the forefront of the evolutionary scale.
The ambivalence I have articulated towards this notion of release is reflective of
what Salman Rushdie calls a stereoscopic vision, where the migrant is subjected to
having a kind of double perspective by being both insiders and outsiders.4 Instead of
trying to privilege this double vision of the migrant as the ideal cultural perspective (a
position I have critiqued in Chapter Four), I see it more as a troubling state of cultural
complexity and negotiation. For the politically radical Singaporean diasporic in America,
the stereoscopic vision encompasses a criticism of the political suppression in Singapore
that, at the same time, necessitates a questioning of the Orientalizing rhetoric of political
progression and evolution in the U.S. Singaporeans, like many who come from newly
decolonized nations, have been marked as lacking the political maturity and courage to
resist the comforting paternalism of strong-man regimes; and their release from the
clutches of their own government is construed as an initiation into an education in the
more progressive forms of American political and social values.
As a mean of fleshing out this stereoscopic vision, I would like to revisit my
reactions to Singapores 1994 international public relations fiasco surrounding the caning
of Michael Fay. This incident raises the issue of political (im)maturity, which Fiona
Cheong also problematizes in her novel The Scent of the Gods through the construction of
a poetics of innocence that challenges the Singapore governments rhetoric of trust. My
reading of Cheongs work will permit me to conclude this chapter by examining the
implications of her political aesthetics against the backdrop of a Singaporean culture of
political dependency and inertia.

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The Michael Fay Case: Nationalism, Crisis, and Human Rights
In the years I have spent in the United States prior to 1994,1 have resigned myself
to the task of explaining to many Americans I meet that Singapore is not a part of
mainland China. But the summer of 1994 provided a brief reprieve for me, though not in
the way that I had anticipated. Singapore had suddenly found a place in the geographical
vocabulary of the news-reading American public when its criminal justice system came
under scrutiny as a result of the Michael Fay case. Fay, an eighteen-year-old teenager
from Dayton, Ohio, was convicted of spray-painting and damaging cars in Singapore.
The courts there sentenced him to four months imprisonment, a fine of US$2233, and six
strokes of the cane (a sentence that was later reduced to four). The controversy of this
case lies in the brutality of caning and the fact that an American youth is involved. But
what it also does is that it redirects American attention to the issue of crime in U.S.
society and the measures that need to be taken to address it.
Although I was in the U.S. during that summer, I had the opportunity of talking to
many Singaporeans about the issue, those who are living in the U.S. as well as my friends
and family in Singapore. Although the opinions 1 received were varied, there was a
general consensus that I find disturbing and problematic. A certain triumphant
vehemence belies their pointing out that Fay needed to be firmly taught a lesson which
his family and the American justice system were unwilling to mete out. What I find
horrifying about this response is that many of them, being Singaporeans, are acutely
aware of the incredible violence caning inflicts on its victim. As a former director of
prisons in Singapore describes it, The officer uses the whole of his body weight and not
just the strength of his arm ... He pivots on his feet to deliver the stroke ... After three

138
strokes, the buttocks will be covered in blood.5 Or, as an editorial in the New York
Times puts it, and with no exaggeration I might add, the cane delivers skin-splitting
whacks so excruciatingly painful that strong men pass out in a state of shock. If Michael
Fay ... does lose consciousness, standard practice would be to revive and re-tether him
to complete a flogging certain to leave permanent scars on body and spirit.6 Such
accounts of this cruel punishment are so well circulated within the Singapore body social
that they are mythologized into the popular folk imaginary and, hence, have become
implements of the disciplinary machine that keep Singaporeans politically subdued and
generally passive. Furthermore, caning is often reserved for hard-core offenders of
crimes such as rape, drug trafficking, and manslaughter. Since Singaporeans are aware
that caning is an unusually cruel punishment and that, in Fays case, the severity of the
punishment does not fit the petty nature of the crime, why do so many of them approve of
the Singapore judicial systems decision in this particular case? I would like to consider
a number of possible reasons for this reaction.
For Singaporeans who buy into the governments arguments, Michael Fay
functions as a convenient and non-threatening target for which to direct anti-West
sentiments and rhetoric.7 Since Singapore has the legal right to punish Fay the way it
sees fit, this case becomes an opportunity for a tiny nation-state to thumb its nose at the
remaining superpower in the world without incurring economic and military
repercussions. By using the Fay case to invoke nationalist fervor against an imperialist
power, the government has succeeded in manufacturing a crisis situation8 that would
bind the people together in support of its Eastern values versus Western degeneracy
argument. As Hill and Lian note, the security and identity of citizens [in Singapore]

139
have to be reinforced by the creation of recurrent crises which draw attention to the
states key arbitrating role.9 Part of that role is to identify threatfs] from without in
the form of cultural crisis that is often represented as the intensified danger of
contamination by the West... .10 For instance, a statement from Singapores Ministry
of Home Affairs is quick to question the moral authority of the U.S. in preaching its
standards of criminal justice and its position on human rights by noting that Singapore
has its own standards of social order and that it does not have a situation where acts of
vandalism are commonplace, as in cities like New York, where even police cars are not
spared the acts of vandals.11 One reporter from the Far Eastern Economic Review sees
the Fay incident as a collision of values and quotes Singapores Senior Minister and
former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as saying that, The fundamental difference
between Western concepts of society and government and East Asian concepts is that
Eastern societies believe that the individual exists in the context of his family. He is not
pristine and separate. The family is part of the extended family, and then friends and the
wider society.12
The American response, on the other hand, took two forms.13 The more liberal
argument, with the New York Times leading the charge, basically condemns the caning
sentence as medieval torture14 and calls on prominent Americans such as George Bush,
who was visiting Singapore at the time, and business leaders stationed in Singapore to
register their protest.15 In fact, the paper drew special attention to the idea that Fay was
subjected to police brutality while in custody and that a confession was coerced out of
him.16 More conservative responses vary from that of total support for Fays caning
Ohio Representative Tony Halls office received mail that demands not clemency but

140
the lash17to a questioning of the brutality of the punishment that is augmented by an
acknowledgment that America is in need of a similar but less extreme version of corporal
punishment to deter crime.18 George Bushs response typifies this position. He argues
that though most Americans want stronger jaws, the punishment should fit the
crimecaning is brutal. On the other hand, he praises Singapores achievements:
When I think of Singapore, I think of prosperity, I think of democracy, I think of safe
streets.19
My response during the time can be described as a complex shuttling between
critiques that seem to contradict one another and that ultimately mark me as both insider
and outsider in the eyes of both Singaporeans and Americans. The confrontation I had
with my fellow Singaporeans was based on my deconstruction of the Eastern versus
Western values dualism and my dismantling of the notion that Asian sociality and
individual rights are mutually exclusive (two major critiques that I have engaged in
throughout this dissertation). What I also tried to appeal to was a sense of justice and
fairness, which the Fay sentencing betrayed. Despite the fact that I acknowledge my
empathy with their nationalist feelings against U.S. imperialism, the Singaporeans I
talked to have already in their minds labeled me as one corrupted by Western notions
of human rights and political freedom.
Broaching the issue with Americans was a different ball game altogether. Apart
from having to acquaint them with the terror and brutality of this form of punishment,
which resembles too closely the childhood spankings or fraternity hazings that many
Americans remember with something bordering on nostalgia,20 and hence demystify
their longing for a quick and easy remedy to an entrenched problem of urban crime, 1 had

141
to also carefully negotiate my way around the Orientalizing tendencies of the U.S.
21
medias depiction of cruel punishments in connection with traditional Asian culture.
I was seeking to avoid the kind of primitivism that would consequently be linked to
Singaporeans, Asians, and ultimately Asian Americans in general, a goal that made my
attempt to describe the caning process an especially difficult task, in light of the fact that
I wished to emphasize the savagery and brutality of the process.
One way of summarizing my response to the Fay incident is through the notion of
political (im)maturity. On the one hand, I argue that Singaporeans need to realize that
human rights and political freedom are essential components of democratic participation.
Only in their willingness to actively take risks in speaking their minds and taking
positions that may oppose the status quo will they be able to transcend their political
complacency and inertia and deepen their understanding and praxis of participatory
government. This argument I make rather uneasily, as it can fit into the thesis that
Singaporeans are a politically immature lot, a notion that fails to take into consideration
the everyday reality of living in a politically oppressive climate. This idea also situates
Singapore as the political Other of the United States, which makes the latter appear more
politically evolved, a thesis that needs to be critiqued, especially in that it enables those in
America to talk down to others who do not subscribe to American political ideals and
forms of government. I believe it is this uneasiness that Singaporean American writers
such as Fiona Cheong need to contend with when they choose to depict their homeland.
In the following section, I will offer a reading of Cheongs first novel The Scent of the
Gods in order to examine her poetics of innocence, which is an attempt to wrestle with

142
this political (im)maturity problematic and its intersection with the ideology of
trust/oppression.
Trust/Oppression: Fiona Cheongs Poetics of Innocence
The Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 came as a shock to the Chinese people,
not just in the horrifying brutality of the governments actions, but also in the peoples
exposure to the contradictions within Chinese authoritarianism, embedded in the ideology
of what Rey Chow calls goveming-by-trust. In her book Writing Diaspora, Chow
observes that the most common response among the Chinese to their governments act of
violence is one of disbelief: We cant believe that the party would do such a thing!
This disbelief ruptures the ideology of trust as the principle of Chinese rule, a trust the
Chinese government insists its people should have in their leaders, a trust which was
eventually betrayed in the governments attempt to resolve the Tiananmen crisis. The
Chinese word for trust, xin, is made up ofhuman being on one side [of the
ideogram] and word/speech on the other.24 Chows reading of this word, hence,
leads her to argue that the cult of the strong man23 forms an integral part of the Chinese
political psyche. Trusting the strong leader, as the analysis of the ideogram further
suggests, also means taking him at his word.26 What I find remarkable about Chows
critique is that it reveals how trust and oppression frequently form rhetorical and
ironic flip sides of the ideology of Chinese rule. In the same way, the cult of the strong
man, being a crucial part of this ideological apparatus, can also be re-mapped, using the
trust/oppression paradigm, into that of the wise and caring Father/patriarchal oppressor.
By invoking Chows theoretical interventions on the Chinese political scene as a
starting point to read Fiona Cheongs The Scent of the Gods, which is set in the early

143
post-independence period in Singapores nationalist history, I am not in any way
suggesting that Singapore, at any point of its postcolonial history, endorses Chinese
Communism or engages in the same kind of terrorism and violence on its citizenry as
China did; for even the most critical political observers in the West would consider the
Singapore government to be only semi-authoritarian in its rule, deploying what one could
term a gentle authoritarianism, or what Li Shin, one of the characters in Cheongs novel,
rather interestingly calls a guided democracy.27 The point of comparison instead lies in
the way the two countries use the political ideology of trust in the interpellation of its
citizens into the ruling partys ideological fold. It is this logic of trust that characterizes
the political milieu of Cheongs novel.
The basic argument that the Chinese government made in defense of its actions at
Tiananmen and, similarly, in its response to the Hong Kong peoples demands for
democracy and the protection of their civil rights is mainland Chinas need to privilege
political stability and economic growth over individual rights. China, in vigorously
pursuing a new economic policy in recent days (which is basically capitalism under the
guise of Communist reform), believes in the importance of political stability and unity to
foster economic growth and to attract international investors; the ideology of trust,
thereby, comes in handy as the non-violent alternative of muting political opposition and
in conditioning the people to surrender their political rights for the sake of the State.
In the initial years after independence, the Singapore government led by the
Peoples Action Party (PAP) has been advocating the need for unity and stability in order
for the country to grow economically. Leading a fledgling nation just released from the
Federation of Malaya, the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who embodied (and still

144
embodies) the cult of the strong man,28 emphasized the need for strong government,
political order, and national unity (over personal politics and political dissent) in order
that Singapore might become a modem nation-state. One can argue and debate the merits
of this position, especially when there is so much at stake in terms of the survival of an
island-nation without a hinterland, without natural resources, and especially with the
threat of racial tensions between the Malays and Chinese looming ahead. The subsequent
survival and success of Singapore thus have often been attributed to this position adopted
by the ruling party. However, what is problematic about this argument is that a sustained
focus on the need for national stability through political unity hinders the productive
interplay of heterogeneous and diverse political voices, and in ways creates in the people
a political inertia through a climate of complacency and, sometimes, fear.
To understand the workings of the ideology of trust, one needs to examine its
place within the parent/child hierarchy. Where the Father/Govemment leads, the
child/citizen must follow. What is thus expected of the child/citizen is a child-like
innocence and faith in the good will and wisdom of an all-knowing Father. It is within
this notion of innocence and faith that I would like to situate The Scent of the Gods. The
first-person narrative that Fiona Cheong constructs is filtered through the consciousness
of Su Yen, the eleven-year-old protagonist and narrator. Her narrative reflects a certain
child-like innocence and sensibility through which the reader experiences, what Su Yen
does, the familial trials and political intrigues of a newly independent Singapore.
However, the narratives silences, denials, and mystifications, instead of obscuring truth,
create an ironic clarity that ultimately unmasks the ideology of trust.

145
The world that Su Yen inhabits is a world where children are supposedly
protected and shielded from the trials and tribulations of the adult world. The sphere of
the child, therefore, is arbitrarily demarcated by a discursive cordon sanitaire, where
certain knowledges are deemed inappropriate for a childs ear. This matter is not for
children (174), Su Yens Grandma authoritatively and definitively states, even when the
other adults in the family debate the need for the children to know about Aunt Daisys
pregnancy. In order to enforce this maternal edict, certain social and discursive
mechanisms have been set in place to reify these separate spheres. Adult conversation is
often conducted in low, serious voices (173) or in hushed tones behind closed doors
(76), talking which stops when the childrens presence is felt. When information
inevitably reaches the children, explanation is frequently and intentionally over
simplified, postponed, circumvented or, worst of all, short-circuited with an authoritative
statement of fact that is either incomprehensible or logically contradictory, and that
demands the childrens acceptance under the imprimatur of adult authority. The
childrens grandma also resorts to mythopoeic devices such as the traditional Chinese
talk-story, which most of us have encountered in Maxine Hong Kingstons The Woman
Warrior. As Su Yen recollects, Grandma had fringed our lives with her stories of wars
and ghosts, and when we were younger we would believe what she said, and do only
what she said (225). These stories serve not just to instruct but also, in some situations,
to obfuscate and to avoid explanation. Hence, it is through these social and discursive
devices that the adults wield the power to control what the children can or cannot know,
thereby shaping the childrens world view. Implicit in this control is the assumption of
trust: children are to trust that the adults know what is best for them; by obeying

146
commands and submitting to often mystifying and even illogical explanations of the
world around them, the children are apparently relieved of the ethical, philosophical, and
political responsibilities that rest on the capable shoulders of the adults. In a sense, this
system of trust also functions as a microcosmic view of the larger political world of the
novels 1960s Singapore. The political child/citizen can safely trust in the capable
leadership of the adult/govemment. The child/citizen, hence, is immobilized in a space
of political ignorance, producing what one could call a culture of dependency and
passivity.
By creating a narrative of child-like innocence, Cheong allows her reader to
directly access the experiences of the children as they undergo anticipation and
frustration in having to trust the adults in spite of the contradictions and mystifications.
Cheong, through the narrator Su Yen, skillfully teases the reader by revealing enough to
push the plot along and yet withholding most of the information that the adult characters
are privy to, to frustrate reader expectation. This anxious need to know enables the
reader to empathize with the children who, with the exception of Su Yens cousin Li
Shin, are continually kept in the dark.
In order to accomplish this, Cheong deploys a number of narrative strategies: Su
Yen overhears bits and pieces of the adults conversations which require reconstruction
and filling in the gaps; description of everyday sounds permeate the narrative, something
that one would often take for granted; visual imagery includes scenes and objects that
reflect the observations of a child who has been excluded from adult interaction and
hence, has the luxury of time to scrutinize the physical details of the world around her.
Su Yens ability to infuse her narrative with such intricate details of sound and sight is a

147
result of her participation in the disciplinary processes that keep children within their
sphere through silence and submission: No one expected me to say anything. Chinese
children were not expected to say much, girls even less so than boys. My duty was to
watch and listen. So I watched (11).
This particular passage deserves some attention in that it reveals the obvious
ironic intent of my use of the term narrative of innocence, for clearly subversive
strategies are at work in the narrators recounting of what she has seen and heard as a
child. The fragmented bits of adult conversation, Su Yens imposed silence, Grandmas
mystifying talk-stories and explanation, or her complete avoidance or postponement of
such explanations contribute to the overall subversive quality of Su Yens narrative.
The art of silence, according to King-kok Cheung in her book Articulate Silences,
covers various strategies of reticence... -irony, hedging, coded language, muted
plotsused by women to tell the forbidden and name the unspeakable.29 The contesting
and revelatory power of silences, cover-ups, and evasions lies not so much in what they
tell, but rather in what they do not reveal. The sounds of army trucks rumbling past their
house taking recruits to the barracks late at night, Uncle Tien disappearing one day
after an earlier visit by government men, and Li Shins death at the hands of some
mysterious figures in the dark of the night are instances where silences suggestively
outline the political intrigues of the adult world. By fulfilling her duty to watch and
listen, Su Yen provides readers a glimpse into her world and, hence, encourages them to
fill in what she does not see and hear.
When she does engage in conversation either with her cousins or with the adults,
Su Yen, like most children, asks questions which reflect a childs innocent curiosity and a

148
line of reasoning that is brutally honest and clear. At many points in the narrative, these
questions form deconstructive moments which fracture the political logic of trust and
expose its contradictions. The following passage, where Su Yen seeks Li Shins
assistance in helping her disentangle the intricacies of Singapore politics, particularly
exemplifies how a child-like perspective can rather subtly subvert politically hegemonic
rhetoric:
In Great-Grandfathers house the grown-ups argued over the Internal
Security Act. Uncle Tien kept insisting that it was undemocratic. I asked
Li Shin, what was the Internal Security Act? He said, Arrest and
detention without trial. I asked him, what did that mean? He said it
meant that the government did not need solid proof that someone was a
Communist, that person could be arrested and sent to jail. I asked him,
why would the government do that? He said the government wouldnt
arrest someone without having a good reason. (49-50)
Li Shins answer to Su Yens last question is indicative of his own interpellation by the
governments ideology of trust, where such circular reasoning becomes acceptable, all on
the basis that the government knows best. As children of the State, they must not worry
about such so-called adult issues and concerns. It is significant at this juncture to point
out that this interpellation by the ideology of trust through the adult/child paradigm is not
simply effected through the direct relationship between the State and its citizens, but that
it also operates through the family, which Louis Althusser has identified as one of the
many Ideological State Apparatuses.30 The familial and social tradition where children
are taught not to question but to simply trust, in this sense, lays the groundwork and
prepares them to accept the governments ideology of trust. Su Yen, in having this
notion drilled into her consciousness, echoes its lessons in her restatement of what
Grandma has often said to her: One day when I was older,... I would understand what
she meant, and I would be grateful that... (9). And one can fill in the blank.

149
Another passage I would like to cite, though similar to the one earlier, does
provide further insight into the means with which Su Yen often comes to terms with or
resolves the contradictions she encounters, albeit in an understandably child-like
manner:
What is a guided democracy? I asked.
He [Li Shin] said this meant we were guided by the Prime
Minister, who was head of PAP. We were not like America. America
was a free democracy, he said, because American people did not like
being guided.
How come we dont want a free democracy? I asked.
Because were Asians, he said. We dont always believe the
same things as Americans.
Do the Communists want a free democracy? I asked.
No, he said, Communists did not believe in democracy at all.
Communists believed that any kind of democracy was actually
imperialism.
I was getting confused because I did not understand how a free
democracy could be imperialist. But America was not my country. I was
worried about my country. My country was the one the Communists
wanted. And if they succeeded in brainwashing our citizens against the
PAP, what would happen? ...
Then we would have a new government, a Communist
government. We would have a leader like Chairman Mao. Chairman Mao
sent teachers and doctors into rice fields and made them work as farmers,
and now China had become backward. The same thing would happen to
us. We would become uneducated. Westerners would not be allowed to
enter Singapore. We would lose touch with the modem world, and all our
citizens would be wearing old-fashioned dark blue Chinese shirts and
trousers, and riding on bicycles. (50-51)
As she tussles with the political rhetoric Li Shin feeds her, Su Yen innocently asks
questions that a child would. The deeper her questions lead her into the political
labyrinth the more confused she gets by the discontinuities of logic and the surfacing of
contradictions. Through this perspective of child-like innocence, Su Yens narrative
engages the forbidden; and by laying bare the typical political arguments, of which Li

150
Shins answers are representative, the narrative cries out to its readers to critique the
rhetoric presented.
Another significant point about this passage is the way Su Yen in a superficial
sense resolves the contradictions she sees. She allows herself to succumb to the fear of a
Communist takeover of the country, though she is reacting not entirely to the supposed
horrors of Communist austerity and indoctrination, but rather to the thought of losing the
material comforts that a capitalist modernity apparently brings. As her narration
immediately following this passage illustrates, she recoils in typical teenage horror at the
prospect of having to dress in old-fashioned dark blue Chinese shirts and trousers and
having to bind her feet, a practice that Chinese girls of the upper class were unfortunately
and cruelly subjected to during the Ching dynasty. She, like her adult relatives,
however, fails to see the fallacious reasoning behind her conflation of Chinese traditional
practices and Communist politics, and the false dilemma of having to choose between a
guided democracy and Communism. But what is even more telling in her response is
the fact that she reacts like any child would. Her immediate material concerns and
desires take precedence over her initial curiosity about things political, as one would
expect of most eleven-year-olds. Her tendency to shift attention quickly away from the
unresolved political contradictions that have momentarily perplexed her underscores her
immaturity. My argument, hence, is that Su Yens political immaturity, apart from her
childlike faith, forms an integral part of the ideology of trust and is what this ideology
demands and enforces. (The Singapore government, therefore, is as capable as the West
of producing Orientalist images of the people under its rule for the purposes of sustaining
its own political hegemony.) Su Yens concern about the ugly Communist dress code is

151
also symbolic of what C. J. W.-L. Wee observes to be the newly independent Singapores
creation of an indigenous, countrywide consumer culture as a mark of success.^1 To
produce this consumer culture, as the governments argument goes, requires Singapore to
transform itself into an industrialized modem nation-state. Racial, political, and national
unities are imperative, and trust in the government facilitates the formation of such
unities. Hence, the need to encourage the citizenry towards independent political
thinking and choice must take a back seat to the more urgent task at hand. The
assumption is that as long as the peoples material needs and desires are met, through a
consumer culture, and if a strong and politically entrenched government can do the job of
moving the nation into an economically and technologically competitive state, why
complicate the peoples lives with the problems of political difference and, more
significantly, political choice? If the peoples standard of living has been elevated, why
stir political waters, which will only disrupt the comfortable lifestyle the government has
provided? Such an argument also belies a gentle threat, premised on a slippery slope
argument and on another false dilemma: your comfortable and peaceful way of life can
only be maintained through unity and a strong one-party government; the alternative is
the disruption of that lifestyle and the nations collapse into political chaos and economic
uncertainty.
The Singapore governments desire to freeze its citizens in a state of political
childhood by maintaining their attachment to a consumer culture has come into conflict
with its project of nation-building and patriotism. This is evident in Thomas Bellows
observation that Singaporeans ... are permeated with strong doses of self-centeredness,
materialism, and self-gratification. On the other hand, the government has repeatedly

152
called for the maintenance of a rugged society whose members are to be courteous,
industrious, family-oriented, and patriotic.32 This inconsistency in the governments
rhetoric has become even more conspicuous in Singapore today, where the drive towards
creativity (for the purposes of capitalist innovation and expansion) that the government
has encouraged in its citizens also produces as an inevitable and much feared by-product
of individualized expressions of political thought, analysis, and critique. The ideology of
trust and its culture of political inertia and dependency, hence, are untenable in that they
assume Singaporeans are not ready and mature enough to think for themselves or to deal
with competing and dissenting political voices.
In giving her readers a glimpse into the politically stifling world of 1960s
Singapore through a poetics of innocence, Cheong seeks not to valorize this political state
of immaturity and inertia, which is tropologically represented by the child-like
perspective of the narrator. Instead the aporetic moments of silence and obfuscation
ironically subvert this perspective by demonstrating how limited it is. I believe also that
Cheongs text is a subtle but urgent call for Singaporeans to question the politics of trust
and inertia and to move beyond the complacency and dependency that have characterized
the political consciousness of the populace for more than three decades. It is also an
affirmation of the Singaporeans ability to deal with the complexities and difficulties that
political choice and freedom present.33
Notes
1 Diane P. Freedman, Olivia Frey, and Frances Murphy Zauhar, introduction to The
Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism, Eds. Diane P. Freedman, Olivia
Frey, and Frances Murphy Zauhar (Durham: Duke UP, 1993), 8.

153
2 It would be unfair of me to say that political opposition and dissent are completely
absent in Singapore. Apart from the presence of a small number of political opposition
parties and their leadership, a younger generation of Singaporeans, though still in the
minority, is more willing to air its dissatisfaction with the ruling Peoples Action Party
and its policies. For an interesting but slightly dated account of this growing resistance,
see V. G. Kulkami and Rodney Tasker, Dont Talk Down to Us, Far Eastern
Economic Review, 11 July 1985, 34-37.
3 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Trans. Alan Sheridan
(New York: Vintage, 1977), 201-2.
4 Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991 (London:
Granta Books, 1991), 19.
? Quoted in Michael Elliot, Crime and Punishment, Newsweek, 18 April 1994, 18.
6 A Flogging in Singapore, The New York Times, 2 April 1994, 18.
The Clinton Administration responded by asking Singapore President Ong Teng
Cheong to pardon Fay and show clemency.
Q >
Note the tone of crisis in Straits Times columnist Chua Huck Chengs warnings in
response to a series of editorials from the New York Times condemning Singapores
actions: Such an act by the countrys most important newspaper [the New York Times]
can have the unintended consequence of unleashing irrational passions when the caning is
carried out, assuming no clemency is granted.... If harm comes to Singaporeans on
American streets or Chinese-looking people in general on account of a stupid episode
over a miscreant, would The New York Times search its soul? Quoted in Times Is
Criticized Over Editorials, The New York Times, 17 April 1994, 10.
9 Michael Hill and Lian Kwen Fee, The Politics of Nation Building and Citizenship in
Singapore (London: Routledge, 1995), 23.
10 Geraldine Heng and Janadas Devan, State Fatherhood: The Politics of Nationalism,
Sexuality, and Race in Singapore, Nationalisms and Sexualities, Eds. Andrew Parker et
al. (New York: Routledge, 1992), 351.
11 Quoted in Philip Shenon, Singapore, the Tiger Whose Teeth Are Not Universally
Scorned, The New York Times, 10 April 1994, E5.
12 Frank Ching, Fay Case: Collision of Values, Far Eastern Economic Review, 5 May
1994, 38.
13 In a Newsweek poll, 38% approve of the caning while 52% disapprove. Elliot, Crime
and Punishment, 19. The Singapore embassy capitalized on the support for the caning

154
reflected in this poll by stating that the phone calls it received from Americans were 60 to
40 in favor of the sentence. Susumu Awanohara, Whipping Boy: Americans Get
Worked Up About Michael Fays Caning, Far Eastern Economic Review, 28 April
1994, 25. Frank Ching of the Far Eastern Economic Review argues that the unexpected
support for punishment pronounced extreme by Clinton is less a reflection of American
approval for Singapore than dissatisfaction with their own society. The public is fed up
with the crime and violence that characterise life in U.S. cities. Ching, Fay Case, 38.
14 Condemn Singapores Brutality, The New York Times, 10 April 1994, 18.
15 Time to Assert American Values, The New York Times, 13 April 1994, A20.
16 Philip Shenon, Overlooked Question in Singapore Caning Debate: Is the Teen-Ager
Guilty? The New York Times, 17 April 1994, 10.
17 No Mercy: Singapore Justice and American Reaction, The Nation, 25 April 1994,
543.
18 See for instance, William J. Bennett, Raising Cain on Values, Newsweek, 18 April
1994, 23.
19 Quoted in Bush Criticizes Caning but Likes Singapore, The New York Times, 16
April 1994,4. Bushs praise of Singapore is troubling in that it is an implicit sanction of
the Singapore governments argument that economic and social stability should transcend
individual and political freedom. Bushs position is reminiscent of the support that the
Reagan administration gave to numerous authoritarian governments around the world in
order to contain Communism and to ensure the success of U.S. big business ventures in
the Third World.
20 Condemn Singapores Brutality, 18.
21*
Elliots essay Crime and Punisment in Newsweek is an instance of the way the media
has constructed a narrative of political progressionthe Oriental cultures still resort to
brutal and cruel modes of punishment, while the West has evolved in their approach to a
more civilized penal code. The article even features a timeline that situates the various
stages of the American penal system.
22
Rey Chow, Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural
Studies (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993), 86.
23 Ibid., 83.
24 Ibid., 84.
25
Ibid., 85.

155
26 Ibid., 84.
27 Fiona Cheong, The Scent of the Gods (New York: Norton, 1991), 50. Subsequent
references to this work will be parenthetically documented.
28 Conservative William Safire, the perennial nemesis of Lee Kuan Yew, calls him, in a
quasi-sarcastic fashion, the worlds most intelligent, and to some most likable, despot.
In an interview with Lee, Safire questions him on a number of sensitive issues (which
remain off limits in Singapores government-controlled Straits Times)-, the neutralization
of political dissident Chee Soon Juan, the absence of free labor unions, the nepotism that
appears in Lee Hsien Loongs (one of Lees sons) rapid rise to power, and allusions to the
law suits and caning practices that form the legal modus operandi of controlling dissent.
William Safire, The Dictator Speaks: A Chat with Lee Kuan Yew, The Gainesville Sun,
16 February 1999.
29 King-kok Cheung, Articulate Silences: Hisaye Yamamoto, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy
Kogawa (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993), 4.
30 Louis Althusser, Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an
Investigation), Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, Trans. Ben Brewster (New
York: Monthly Review P, 1971), 143.
31 C. J. W.-L. Wee, Contending with Primordialism: The Modern Construction of
Postcolonial Singapore, positions 1 (1993): 724.
32 Thomas J. Bellows, Bridging Tradition and Modernization: The Singapore
Bureaucracy, Confucianism and Economic Development: An Oriental Alternative? Ed.
Hung-chao Tai (Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute P, 1989), 214.
331 am looking forward to Cheongs future work and how she will depict, if she so
chooses to, the Singaporean American experience in the U.S. The problematic of
political inertia has a special resonance for the Singaporean diasporic and it would be
intriguing to examine a literary text that engages this issue in the context of American
political ideals.

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