Show Summary Details

Page of

 PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, LITERATURE ( (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

Subscriber: null; date: 11 December 2018

The Chinese in West Indian Fiction

Summary and Keywords

Asians in the West Indies are primarily migrants and their descendants from either South Asia or China. The representation of the Chinese in West Indian fiction is integrally connected to the specific development of the region. Indeed, to consider the role that the Chinese play in West Indian fiction is to engage, more generally, in the act of imaginatively locating the West Indies. Despite the fact that numerically, they have always held a marginal status in the region, the Chinese are very much present in West Indian literary landscapes. The recurring representations of the Chinese and Chineseness in such fiction are intimately tied to locating the metaphorical and discursive contours of the West Indies and of West Indians. In this context, depictions of the Chinese in West Indian literary texts tend to follow three lines of representation: (1) defining the region as an exotic “other place”; (2) negotiating the boundaries of West Indian belonging; and (3) complicating settled narratives of West Indian identity.

Keywords: Anglo-Caribbean literature, Asians in the Caribbean, Asians in the West Indies, Caribbean fiction, Chinese Caribbeans, Chinese West Indians, Chinese in the Caribbean, Chinese in the West Indies

Locating an Other Place

For non-West Indian authors, the depiction of the Chinese in the region is often connected to claiming the “otherness” of the space in which their fiction is set. Such is the case in the novel that features the earliest representation of a fictional Chinese character in a literary work set in the West Indies, Edward Jenkins’ Lutchmee and Dilloo (1877).1 The novel details and critiques the reality of estate life for indentured laborers being brought into West Indian colonies during this period. As the Chinese were part of this labor migration, their presence in the novel gestures to the accuracy of the world represented by the author. Additionally, the representation of the main Chinese character, Chin-a-foo, and the other Chinese estate workers maps the West Indies discursively by speaking to the needs and anxieties of the colonial power, the audience to whom the novel is directed. Specifically, the novel critiques indentured labor on moral grounds and challenges its British readers to reject indentured labor as a threat to their moral authority and responsibilities on a global scale. The negative representation of the Chinese in this context helps define West Indian space as both a mélange of racial and ethnic groups brought together for colonial enterprise as well as a space that the colonial masters have a responsibility to protect from moral, economic, and social threats, such as those embodied in Chin-a-foo.

The danger that the Chinese present to the West Indies in Lutchmee and Dilloo is heightened by the novel’s use of Yellow Peril stereotypes of Asians in the Americas that were popular during this period. A similar use of Asian stereotypes is employed to construct the West Indies as a sinister environment rather than as a paradise playground in the James Bond novel Dr. No (1958). Like his literary antecedent Dr. Fu-Manchu, Dr. No, a Chinese-German evil genius, attempts to subvert the world order by supporting Russian efforts to sabotage the American missile program.2 The derivative quality of Dr. No’s representation allows for the reader to quickly locate the West Indies as an exotic, but also dangerous environment—qualities that make the region well-suited for a James Bond adventure. At the same time, the novel’s recurring reference to the Chinese community in Jamaica helps to define the space as particularly West Indian through the presence of its highly multiracial and mixed-race population.

Like Dr. No, Mr. On Loong (1947) is based on the premise that the West Indies is a very different place from the rest of the world because of the variety of racial and ethnic groups, including mixed-race individuals, that comprise its population. Indeed, the novel defines the West Indies in these terms specifically because its purpose is to explore questions of bloodlines and race and their supposed impact on an individual’s character. The novel insists that blood is tied directly to the behavior of its cast of characters, a set of West Indian types including black Creoles, white Creoles, mixed-race Creoles, white Europeans, and one Chinese man, the titular character. All of the characters enact their predetermined roles as prescribed by the racial characteristics deemed to be embedded in their bloodlines, thus underpinning the novel’s central assertion that race underlies behavior. In this regard, Mr. On Loong is the most important test case in the novel. Isolated from any Chinese community and raised by a French man, his reversion to type—to exemplifying qualities deemed peculiarly Chinese—does much to ground the novel’s claim that an individual’s character is determined by nature, not nurture. Further, locating this racial test in the West Indies, albeit on a fictional West Indian island, reemphasizes the idea that the presence of a highly mixed and multiracial population is the defining characteristic of the region and a key component of its exotic quality.

Defining Who We Are

While outsiders to the region seek to define the West Indies as an exotic place of otherness through their inclusion and representation of the Chinese presence, 20th-century West Indian fiction locates the Chinese and Chineseness alongside “the emergence of movements that claimed a multiracial and multiclass purview and placed a priority on the formation of national literature.”3 Indeed, 20th-century West Indian fiction has been understood to be primarily concerned with mapping cultural identity within concepts of West Indian nationhood, even to the extent that it has been argued that “the discourse of nationalism, [is] the primary mode in which the West Indies has thought about itself since the early decades of the twentieth century.”4 In such fiction, racial formations, and their impact on a plethora of social, economic, and political situations, are some of many dynamics of the colonial legacy that must be negotiated and understood as a way of better defining the nation. West Indian authors have taken a variety of approaches to exploring Chineseness as part of defining “who we are,” ranging from George Lamming’s inclusion of a Chinese character in the community trying to navigate a postcolonial future in Of Age and Innocence (1958), to Wilson Harris simply incorporating Chinese characters into the mythic landscapes of the Guyana Quartet in a process that he would define as “cross-cultural,” to Samuel Selvon’s attention to the history of Chinese indenture in Turn Again Tiger (1958). Quite often, the representation of the Chinese in early to mid-20th-century fiction is grounded in the “doctrine of creolization,” a popular 20th-century discourse that emphasized cultural synthesis in the making of new cultural identities for West Indian nations.5

One of the earliest novels to include the Chinese in this task of creole self-discovery is Edgar Mittelholzer’s A Morning in the Office (1950). The novel depicts a multiracial office staff as a microcosm of the greater West Indian community in which the novel is set. The interactions of the various members of the staff throughout the day, including Chinese Olga, reveal the racial stratification of the society as well as the limitations and possibilities available to the characters within the racialized hierarchy of the office. In this way, Mittelholzer’s novel bears some similarity to V. S Naipaul’s short story, “The Baker’s Story” (1967), in which the popular understanding of West Indian cultural identity as a creole culture that is racially open and flexible is undermined by the necessity of the Chinese character to accept the specific role afforded to the Chinese in his community—as a baker—in order for him to find a place in the community. Alfred H. Mendes’ short story, “Not a Love Story,” also explores the limitations of creole flexibility by demonstrating how the anxiety over losing racialized privileges that is embedded in the colonial social structure counteracts creolizing impulses; the character Grace Lee Hong finds that she is literally locked out of acceptance into the upper echelons of Trinidadian society because of her race, despite the fact that, or perhaps because, she is engaged to a white doctor.6 Despite their awareness of the limitations of creole inclusivity, both Mendes and Mittelholzer use their Chinese characters to suggest the possibility of race being subsumed under a shared creole colonial subject identity. Grace Lee Hong is described as thoroughly “westernized” and Olga has an “outlook of British West Indians.”7 In this way, while warning of the dangers of romanticized assertions of creole nationhood, such fiction continues to suggest the existence of a nascent West Indian creole identity that has space for the Chinese.

While Mittelholzer’s novel and Mendes’ short story feature female Chinese characters, more typically, 20th-century West Indian fiction depicts the Chinese as male shopkeepers, a profession that reflects the migratory trajectory of the Chinese in the region.8 Claiming a creole West Indian identity is often represented through the integration of the Chinese shopkeeper into the greater West Indian community, as is the case in Samuel Selvon’s A Brighter Sun (1952). Michael Anthony’s short story, “Many Things” (1973), provides a similar depiction of the emergence of an inclusive creole identity in the change of attitude that a local boy has toward the Chinese shopkeeper and his wife, and the cultural exchanges that ultimately occur between the three. In such fiction, the Chinese become significant markers of both the creole process and of a creole West Indian identity. Ironically, however, running alongside depictions that incorporate the Chinese into the creole nation is a very different trope pertaining to the Chinese shopkeeper—one that positions the Chinese shopkeeper as the foil against whom West Indian national identity is constructed. These images are in line with a national rhetoric that emerged concurrently with the doctrine of creolization; a rhetoric that sought to iconize the black peasant “in terms of the culture and face” of the nation.9 In such texts, Chinese shopkeepers are represented as outsiders to the definitive experiences of West Indian nationhood, particularly the poverty and financial hardships faced by the masses, and as financial parasites whose economic interests oppress and oppose those who are deemed to have legitimate claims to the nation.

Writing in the early 20th century, Mendes often perpetrates stereotypes of the Chinese shopkeeper as a dangerous and inassimilable element in novels like Pitch Lake (1934) and Black Fauns (1935), as well as short stories like “Her Chinaman’s Way.” In such fiction, the negative and, at times, hostile depiction of the Chinese shopkeeper serves to bring into sharp relief the working class—that sector of the West Indian population within which Mendes locates the emerging nation. Ralph de Boissière’s Crown Jewel (1981), a novel that explicitly sets out to detail the rise of Trinidad as an independent nation, utilizes the presence of the Chinese in a similar fashion: its Chinese shopkeepers are either overtly against the greater community or simply removed, disinterested, and unaffected by the challenges that face the majority of West Indians. This use of the Chinese shopkeeper as an anti-West Indian type also appears in fiction set in the second half of the 20th century, particularly during the sociopolitical and economic tumult that impacted many West Indian nations between the 1960s and 1980s. The short story “Platform Shoes” (1992), for example, depicts a Chinese shopkeeper who directly impedes the protagonist’s attempts to improve his life, while in “Dog Food” (1990), the Chinese shopkeeper’s attitude to the rioters who are desperate for food is cold and distanced. V. S. Naipaul’s novel Guerillas (1975) also relies on the perceived distance of the Chinese shopkeeper from the national community to indicate the hollowness of revolutionary spirit and the commitment to real change in the West Indies. In this novel, the leader of the so-called revolution is a son of a Chinese shopkeeper, a position that is understood to be inherently at odds with the concerns and interests of the nation.

The “heterosexual and male-centered nationalist narratives” of much early West Indian fiction is also reflected in the roles afforded to the Chinese in these literary landscapes.10 Early West Indian fiction is heavily invested in tropes of manhood and masculinity that are themselves employed in the making of masculine Caribbean nations. Unlike other locations in the West, Chinese shopkeepers were not excluded from the tropes of western masculinity in West Indian fiction. Instead, they are often represented as posing direct economic and sexual threats to West Indian manhood as masculine others to West Indians. In doing so, these images helped to define the West Indian as black, heterosexual, and primarily male. It is within this dynamic that the representation of Chinese shopkeepers fathering children with local women is often presented negatively, and the assertion that local women are only with Chinese shopkeepers for their money is repeated. In such fiction, the Chinese shopkeeper is an outsider and foil to the national community in the sense that he usurps the rightful place of the West Indian male with West Indian females, as in the case of V. S. Naipaul’s Miguel Street (1959), often with the additional facet of sexual oppression of the West Indian female, as in Sylvia Winter’s The Hills of Hebron (1962).

The patriarchal and masculinist narratives of early West Indian fiction, along with a migration pattern in which more male Chinese migrated to the West Indies than females, contributed to relatively few depictions of Chinese females in early 20th-century West Indian fiction. When Chinese women do appear, they often do so as vague background figures working in the shop or taking care of large broods of Chinese children. Nevertheless, many of the representations of Chinese women in the early 20th century also help to solidify images of the Chinese as Other to the nation. Chinese women are often excluded from the experiences that face other West Indian women, particularly in terms of the financial stability that their shopkeeper husbands are deemed to provide, as occurs in Miguel Street. Additionally, Chinese women are often represented as being inaccessible to West Indian men and nonsexualized. Even where Chinese women are depicted as sexual beings, such representation is often ambivalent. Such is the case in The Hills of Hebron where the half-Chinese Gloria remains sexually unavailable to the locals, although she is raped by a foreign missionary, or in Mendes’ “The Man Who Ran Away,” where Juan rejects the possibility of taking Mrs. Kai Chin’s attractive mixed-race daughter as a mistress even though her social position as an economically vulnerable “barrack-yard woman” with limited financial resources and opportunities would make such an arrangement quite normal. Similarly, in Mendes’ “Three Rebels,” Helen Lee Choy is as distanced from conventional Trinidadian society as are the gay lovers with whom she lives. In this way, the representation of the Chinese woman as an outsider to West Indian experience parallels the common function that the Chinese shopkeeper holds in West Indian fiction—the marker of the boundary between us and them.

Mapping How We Got Here

While early West Indian fiction sought to assert and define “who we are,” 21st-century West Indian authors increasingly seek to answer the question, “How did we get here?” The “here” in this question refers less to physical territory than it does to the long-term sociopolitical and economic difficulties that have faced postindependence West Indian nations, as well as to the often oppressive and constraining discourses within which West Indian identity has been articulated and performed. To paraphrase literary critic Alison Donnell, 21st-century West Indian writing has called “into question the dominant matrix of race, ethnicity, gender, class and nation through which Caribbean literary forms and [Chinese West Indian] cultural identities have been discussed.”11 In this regard, contemporary representations of the Chinese in the West Indies intervene in and complicate earlier narratives of West Indianness and Chineseness, reimagining histories, contemplating unspoken dynamics of the region, and creating complex subject identities.

Janice Lowe Shinebourne’s early novels herald the type of questions that have become central in 21st-century representations of the Chinese in the West Indies. Both Timepiece (1986) and The Last English Plantation (1988) answer the question, “How did we get here?” by exploring how differences in economic interests would be politically manipulated to set Guyana on a course to explode in racialized violence in the mid to latter part of the 20th century. While her focus in both novels is not on the Chinese community per se, Lowe Shinebourne’s Chinese characters challenge simplistic images of the Chinese as distanced and disinterested in their surrounding communities. Instead, for Lowe Shinebourne’s characters, Chineseness as a cultural identity is submerged into broader identifications that are situated in shared histories and economic and political concerns. In both Timepiece and The Last English Plantation, for example, the protagonists’ primary identification is as rural Guyanese rather than as ethnically Chinese. More specifically, their sense of cultural identity, their political positions, and their economic concerns reflect those of the predominantly Indo-Guyanese estate worker communities within which they live. These shared experiences and investments in the West Indies make the Chinese in her fiction just as legitimate as any other West Indian to ask the question: “How did we get to this point of violence in our community?”

The violence that haunts Lowe Shinebourne in these two novels is echoed in Margaret Cezair-Thompson’s The True History of Paradise (2009). As indicated in its title, the novel uncovers an alternate history of Jamaica by tracing how violence has been embedded in the Jamaican experience from the period of slavery up to contemporary time, revealing a nightmarish contrast to the images of Jamaica as a tropical paradise employed by the tourist industry. Cezair-Thompson peels away layers of history by using a series of ancestral voices whose stories intertwine with that of the main character as she relates her own story of her decision to flee the island. As the tale unfolds, it is apparent that no one individual or racial group can escape the violence of Jamaica’s history or its legacy. The far-reaching nature of this violence is indicated by including the story of the main character’s Chinese grandfather as one of the ancestral voices who contributes to the protagonist’s tale. While the inclusion of his story amplifies the extent of the true history of violence of the island, it also serves to unsettle and complicate narratives of distance and endemic hostility between the Chinese and other Jamaicans by showing more nuanced interactions between the two groups and highlighting their shared suffering. Indeed, the Chinese grandfather directly challenges antagonistic depictions of the relationship between the Chinese and other Jamaicans when he states: “Dem say Black people turn against Chinee shopkeeper. So dem say, dem history book an’ history teacher. But is not true.”12 A similar use of the presence of the Chinese to indicate the far-reaching impact of the colonial violence in which the region was founded occurs in Elizabeth Nunez’s Bruised Hibiscus (2003). Bruised Hibiscus features two Chinese characters: one, the Chinaman, who is, as with the mass of male characters in the novel, implicated in the exploitative will to power and the desire to debase that exemplifies the spirit of colonialism; and Tong Lee, whose pointed rejection of the violence that male privilege allows him in the patriarchal sociopolitical environment of the island is used to suggest ways in which this history might be overcome.

In the hypermasculine society that is depicted in Elizabeth Nunez’s Bruised Hibiscus, the character Tong Lee can be read as effeminate, albeit not in the sense that he is excluded from a masculinity that defines the nation.13 Instead, he is represented as embodying the missing matriarchal qualities that have left his community unbalanced and prone to violence against women. Indeed, both Bruised Hibiscus and The True History of Paradise reveal the gendered nature of much of the violence throughout the West Indies. An awareness of the inherent violence of colonial culture, particularly as it relates to gender, is also central to the development of the plot in Patricia Powell’s The Pagoda (1998). The Pagoda is a seminal text in the representation of the Chinese in the West Indies in that it is the first West Indian novel to have a Chinese immigrant as a protagonist (Lowe Shinebourne’s earlier novels featured Chinese West Indians who were mixed-race natives to Guyana). Set in 19th-century Jamaica, the novel follows the life of Lowe whose decision to disguise her female body as male to facilitate her migration from China sets off a series of events that force the reader to explore the “nuanced genealogy of Chinese-Jamaican belonging” and, more generally speaking, the construction and navigation of subject identities within a colonial context.14 Constrained under what Lowe deems as a fabulous masquerade of identities—daughter, woman, wife, son, man, Chinese, husband, shopkeeper, father, mother—each imposed by a particular, but very real threat of violence, Lowe is unable to make meaningful connections to her body, her family, her community, or her history. While Lowe’s situation is not unique—all the members of her community find themselves navigating the subject identities created for them by the colonial power structure—Lowe’s situation as an isolated Chinese female immigrant brings a heightened awareness to the power dynamics at play in the performance of identity and the violence used to impose various subject identities within the West Indian context.

Over a decade after the publication of The Pagoda, Kerry Young’s Pao (2011) became the second novel to feature a Chinese immigrant to Jamaica as its protagonist. While The Pagoda is set a few years after emancipation, Pao takes place mid-20th century and features a titular character who matures alongside a nation moving toward independence. Pao, who also appears in Young’s subsequent novel, Gloria (2013), is strikingly different from the typical 20th-century representation of the Chinese in the region. Pao is not a shopkeeper, nor is his life confined to working behind a counter. Instead, he navigates a complicated world peopled by a cross section of the community, including police officers, businessmen, prostitutes, and underworld thugs. In the process, Pao reveals a much more multifaceted experience of the Chinese in Jamaica. In Pao’s world, the Chinese are not a monolithic community; individual members are embedded in hierarchies and histories specific to the Chinese community and display a wide variety of characteristics. The interactions between Pao and other Chinese individuals and Jamaicans cannot be contained within simplistic or reductive narratives. Indeed, Pao is often positioned as a caretaker for other Jamaicans as opposed to being their enemy. Furthermore, although the novel begins with Pao’s arrival as an immigrant, it concludes with the recognition that Pao is a valid and contributing member of the new Jamaica that emerges at independence. To paraphrase Jamaica’s national motto, Pao has become one of the many that have, despite their diversity, become one.

Young’s depiction of a heterogenous Chinese West Indian community in Jamaica, so at odds with the stereotype of the generic Chinese shopkeeper who has populated so much West Indian fiction, is part of a larger trend of Chinese West Indian authors developing more intricate and detailed depictions of Chinese experiences in the West Indies. For example, Victor Chang and Easton Lee’s short stories metaphorically take readers behind the Chinese shop counters to reveal the private traumas, dreams, and ambitions “hidden behind the shopkeeper’s ‘apparent’ public privilege,” a task that Meiling Jin takes on from a female perspective in the short story “Victoria” (1996), as does Victor Chang in “A Summer’s Tale” (2010).15 Their work also points to the multiplicity of identifications within and outside the Chinese West Indian community, including divisions among the Chinese based on class or birthplace, as well as to differences in interactions and community-building in relationships with local West Indians in rural and urban settings. Lowe Shinebourne’s fiction has also long insisted on nuanced and complicated readings of Chineseness as a performance in the West Indies with characters who navigate questions of assimilation, creolization, and cultural retention. In both “The Berbice Marriage Match” (2004) and The Last Ship (2015), for example, Lowe Shinebourne reveals the instability of Chineseness by creating Chinese characters with flexible ethnic identities. In doing so, Lowe Shinebourne asks her readers to consider: “Since when was it so important to be Chinese, or possible to be Chinese here in British Guiana?”16 In other words, Lowe Shinebourne challenges us to consider the salience of Chineseness as an identity in the West Indies in the past, present, and in the future.

Where Are We Going?

It has been argued that 21st-century West Indian fiction has entered a diasporic phase. Not only are a large portion of West Indian texts being produced by members of the West Indian diaspora, such work often focuses on issues of “Caribbeanness” on a global rather than national scale.17 As members of the West Indian diaspora, Chinese West Indian authors have already begun to consider the implications of a global West Indianness. Meiling Jin’s “Short Fuse” (1996), for example, depicts a Chinese West Indian whose identity becomes generically West Indian upon migrating to England, while Lowe Shinebourne traces the diasporic configurations of Chineseness through the global migration of food in “London and New York” (2004). In work set in the West Indies, Lowe Shinebourne, Lee, and Chang have also explored the tensions and connections between China-born Chinese in the West Indies and their West Indian-born counterparts. Moving beyond fiction, Lee’s poetry often navigates a diasporic Hakka Chinese identity while Hannah Lowe’s poetry and memoir (Chick [2013], Long Time No See [2015], and Chan [2016]) and Paula Williams Madison’s research into her Chinese Jamaican mother’s history (Finding Samuel Lowe [2015]) add a generational lens to questions of diasporic identity. The increasing body of memoirs by Chinese West Indians throughout the diaspora, including Sherwin Chong’s Son of Two Mothers (2014) and Carol Williams-Wong’s Letters to My Grandchildren (2014), trace multiple strands of identification that weave across the globe. Such works extend dialogues and debates on the nature and “whereness” of West Indianness and open the door to exploring the place of Chinese West Indians in the greater Chinese diaspora, not just in the West Indies. In this regard, Chinese West Indian fiction and the representation of Chinese West Indians more generally remains invested in engaging with questions of home, identity, and belonging within the West Indies and beyond.

Discussion of the Literature

While literary representations of the Chinese in the West Indies have existed since the 19th century, critical work examining such representations emerges largely in the 21st century. An earlier study, Joyce Johnson’s “Representations of the Chinese in Anglophone Caribbean Fiction” (1997), explored the representation of Chinese literary characters in terms of both the racial dynamics established through colonialism and emerging social attitudes toward the Chinese as immigrants in the West Indies. Johnson’s article situates the analysis of Chinese depictions within national contexts, a focus explored more explicitly in scholarly works like Anne-Marie Lee-Loy’s Searching for Mr. Chin. Constructions of Nation and the Chinese in West Indian Literature (2010), Donette Francis’s Fictions of Feminine Citizenship. Sexuality and the Nation in Contemporary Caribbean Literature (2010), or Dennis Hogan’s “‘And that is not how Jamaica is’: Cultural Creolization, Optimism, and National Identity in Kerry Young’s Pao” (2015). Shelli Homer’s “Replacing the Mother, Reclaiming the Daughter: Silence and Othermothers in Elizabeth Nunez’s Bruised Hibiscus and Patricia Powell’s The Pagoda” (2015) uses the trope of motherhood and motherlands to interrogate questions of cultural citizenship and homeland.

Sean Metzger’s article, “Incorporating: Chineseness in Chen’s Trinidad” (2012), challenges critical discussions of literary representations of the Chinese to move beyond that of nation when considering sites of belonging for the Chinese. Scholars exploring Chinese West Indians within the wider framework of a global diaspora, such as Judith Mishrahi-Barak’s “Looking In, Looking Out: The Chinese Caribbean Diaspora Through Literature—Meiling Jin, Patricia Powell, Jan Lowe Shinebourne” (2012), Shin Yamoto’s “Swaying in Time and Space: The Chinese Diaspora in the Caribbean and Its Literary Perspectives” (2008), or Jason Frydman’s “Jamaican Nationalism, Queer Intimacies, and the Disjunctures of the Chinese Diaspora: Patricia Powell's The Pagoda” (2011) take up this challenge. Lisa Li-Shen Yun coins the term “contrarian diasporic identity” to explore the hybridity and heterogeneity of the Chinese West Indian diasporic subject in her article, “An Afro-Chinese Caribbean: Cultural Cartographies of Contrariness in the Work of Antonio Chuffat Latour, Margaret Cezair-Thompson, and Patricia Powell” (2004), while Tao Leigh Goffe’s “007 versus the Darker Races: The Black and Yellow Peril in Dr. No” (2015) also addresses questions of Chinese West Indian hybridity albeit against the backdrop of British decolonization.18 The small but growing number of memoirs and works by West Indian authors of Chinese descent throughout the West Indian diaspora bodes well for ongoing self-reflection in this area. Such work suggests a developing line of critical inquiry that places the representation of Chineseness in the West Indies in direct dialogue with the production of Chineseness throughout Chinese and West Indian diasporas.

A great deal of the critical work on Chinese West Indian literary representation reflects a broader engagement with questions pertaining to the performance, negotiation, and intersections of subject identities that has been the focus of much of 21st-century West Indian literature (see “Mapping How We Got Here”). Significant critical analysis centers around Powell’s groundbreaking novel, The Pagoda, and includes such articles as Sheri-Marie Harrison’s “‘Yes, Ma’am, Mr. Lowe’: Lau A-Yin and the Politics of Gender and Sexuality in Patricia Powell’s The Pagoda” (2010), Timothy Chin’s “The Novels of Patricia Powell: Negotiating Gender and Sexuality across the Disjunctures of the Caribbean Diaspora” (2007), Tzarina Prater’s “Transgender, Memory, and Colonial History in Patricia Powell's The Pagoda” (2012), and Edward Chamberlaine’s “Revealing the Family's Strife: Maternal Absence and Social Struggle in the Writings of Staceyann Chin and Patricia Powell” (2016). There is every indication that West Indian literature will continue to grapple with such questions in the near future and that depictions of the Chinese in the context of the West Indies and the West Indian diaspora will continue to contribute to these ongoing debates as they develop.

Further Reading

Bucknor, Michael A., and Alison Donnell, eds. The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature, 2011. Reprint, London: Routledge, 2013.Find this resource:

    Chamberlain, Edward. “Revealing the Family's Strife: Maternal Absence and Social Struggle in the Writings of Staceyann Chin and Patricia Powell.” CEA Critic: An Official Journal of the College English Association 78, no. 1 (2016): 59–77, 140.Find this resource:

      Chin, Timothy. “The Novels of Patricia Powell: Negotiating Gender and Sexuality across the Disjunctures of the Caribbean Diaspora.” Callaloo 30, no. 2 (2007): 533–545.Find this resource:

        Donnell, Alison. Twentieth-Century Caribbean Literature. Critical Moments in Anglophone Literary History. New York: Routledge, 2006.Find this resource:

          Edmonson, Belinda. Making Men. Gender, Literary Authority and Women’s Writing in Caribbean Narrative. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

            Forbes, Curdella. From Nation to Diaspora. Jamaica: University of West Indies Press, 2005.Find this resource:

              Francis, Donnette. Fictions of Feminine Citizenship. Sexuality and the Nation in Contemporary Caribbean Literature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.Find this resource:

                Frydman, Jason. “Jamaican Nationalism, Queer Intimacies, and the Disjunctures of the Chinese Diaspora: Patricia Powell's The Pagoda.” Small Axe 15, no. 1 (2011): 95–109.Find this resource:

                  Goffe, Tao Leigh. “007 versus the Darker Races: The Black and Yellow Peril in Dr. No.” Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal 12, no. 1 (2015): article 5.Find this resource:

                    Harrison, Sheri-Marie. “‘Yes, ma’am, Mr. Lowe’: Lau A-Yin and the Politics of Gender and Sexuality in Patricia Powell’s The Pagoda.” Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal 7, no. 1 (2010): article 7.Find this resource:

                      Harrison, Sheri-Marie. Jamaica’s Difficult Subject: Negotiating Sovereignty in Anglophone Caribbean Literature and Criticism. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2014.Find this resource:

                        Hogan, Dennis M. “‘And that is not how Jamaica is’”: Cultural Creolization, Optimism, and National Identity in Kerry Young’s Pao.” Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal 12, no. 1 (2015): article 7.Find this resource:

                          Homer, Shelli. “Replacing the Mother, Reclaiming the Daughter: Silence and Othermothers in Elizabeth Nunez’s Bruised Hibiscus and Patricia Powell’s The Pagoda.” Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal 12, no. 1 (2015): article 9.Find this resource:

                            Houlden, Kate. Sexuality, Gender and Nationalism in Caribbean Literature. New York: Routledge, 2017.Find this resource:

                              Johnson, Joyce. “Representations of the Chinese in Anglophone Caribbean Fiction.” Immigrants and Minorities 16, no. 3 (1997): 36–54.Find this resource:

                                Josephs, Kelly Baker. “Dissonant Desires: Staceyann Chin and the Queer Politics of a Jamaican Accent.” Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 42, no. 2 (2009): 153–170.Find this resource:

                                  Lee-Loy, Anne-Marie. Searching for Mr. Chin. Constructions of Nation and the Chinese in West Indian Literature. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

                                    Metzger, Sean. “Incorporating: Chineseness in Chen's Trinidad.” The Global South 6, no. 1 (2012): 93–111.Find this resource:

                                      Misrahi-Barak, Judith. “Looking In, Looking Out: The Chinese-Caribbean Diaspora through Literature–Meiling Jin, Patricia Powell, Jan Lowe Shinebourne.” Journal of Transnational American Studies 4, no. 1 (2012): [np].Find this resource:

                                        Morrissy, Julie. “‘Talking Back’ in Post-Colonial Discourse in Staceyann Chin’s The Other Side of Paradise.” Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal 12, no. 1 (2015): article 10.Find this resource:

                                          Prater, Tzarina. “Transgender, Memory, and Colonial History in Patricia Powell’s The Pagoda.” Small Axe 16.1, no. 37 (2012): 20–35.Find this resource:

                                            Prater, Tzarina T. “‘We are Jamaicans. We are Brothers’: History, Brotherhood, and Independence in Kerry Young’s Pao.” Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal 11, no. 2 (2014): article 5.Find this resource:

                                              Rosenberg, Leah Reade. Nationalism and the Formation of Caribbean Literature. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.Find this resource:

                                                Yamamoto, Shin. “Swaying in Time and Space: The Chinese Diaspora in the Caribbean and Its Literary Perspectives.” Asian Ethnicity 9, no. 3 (2008): 171–177.Find this resource:

                                                  Yun, Lisa Li-Shen. “An Afro-Chinese Caribbean: Cultural Cartographies of Contrariness in the Work of Antonio Chuffat Latour, Margaret Cezair-Thompson and Patricia Powell.” Caribbean Quarterly 50, no. 2 (2004): 26–43.Find this resource:


                                                    (1.) In this article, the term “West Indies” refers to the former West Indian colonies in the Anglo-Caribbean.

                                                    (2.) Dr. Fu Manchu is the Chinese supervillain in a series of novels by Sax Rohmer. See also Christopher Frayling, The Yellow Peril: Dr. Fu Manchu & the Rise of Chinaphobia (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2014).

                                                    (3.) Leah Reade Rosenberg, Nationalism and the Formation of Caribbean Literature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 2.

                                                    (4.) Curdella Forbes, From Nation to Diaspora (Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2005), 1.

                                                    (5.) Forbes, From Nation to Diaspora, 6.

                                                    (6.) While it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint their exact dates of publication, the scholar Michèle Levy identifies the 1930s and 1940s as particularly prolific periods of publication for Mendes’ short stories. See the Levy edited collections Selected Writings of Alfred H. Mendes (Jamaica: University of West Indies Press, 2013) and The Man Who Ran Away and Other Stories of Trinidad in the 1920s and 1930s (Jamaica: University of West Indies Press, 2006).

                                                    (7.) Edgar Mittelholzer, A Morning in the Office (London: Heinemann, Caribbean Writers Series, 1974), 208.

                                                    (8.) Resources on the migration of the Chinese to the West Indies include: Helen Atteck and Philip Atteck, Stress of Weather. A Collection of Original Source Documents Relating to a Voyage from China to Trinidad, West Indies in 1862 in Conjunction with a Family Chronicle (self-pub., 1999), Wanata Enterprises; Patrick Bryan, “The Creolization of the Chinese Community in Jamaica,” in Ethnic Minorities in Caribbean Societies, ed. Rhoda E. Reddock (St. Augustine, FL: University of West Indies Press, 1996), 173–271; Cecil Clementi, The Chinese in British Guiana (British Guiana: Argosy, 1915); Marlene Kwok Crawford, Scenes from the History of the Chinese in Guyana (self-pub., 1989), Marlene Kwok Crawford; Tom Yin Lee, The Chinese in Jamaica (self-pub., 1957), Lee Tom Yin; Andrew Lind, “Adjustment Patterns Among the Jamaican Chinese,” Social and Economic Studies 7, no. 2 (1958): 144–164; Walton Look Lai, “The Caribbean,” in Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, ed. Lynn Pan (Surrey, UK: Curzon Press, 1998), 248–253; Walton Look Lai, The Chinese in the West Indies, 1806–1995: A Documentary History (Jamaica: University of West Indies Press, 1998); H. Lynch-Campbell, Chinese in Jamaica (Kingston: City Printery, 1957); Trevor M. Millett, The Chinese in Trinidad (Port of Spain: Imprint Caribbean, 1993); Trev Sue-A-Quan, Cane Reapers: Chinese Indentured Immigrants in Guyana (Vancouver: Riftswood, 1999); and Andrew Wilson, ed., The Chinese in the Caribbean (Princeton, NJ: Markus Weiner, 2004).

                                                    (9.) Forbes, From Nation to Diaspora, 7.

                                                    (10.) Reade Rosenberg, Nationalism and the Formation of Caribbean Literature, 4.

                                                    (11.) Alison Donnell, Twentieth-Century Caribbean Literature: Critical Moments in Anglophone Literary History (New York: Routledge, 2006), 181.

                                                    (12.) Margaret Cezair-Thompson, The True History of Paradise (New York: Random House, 1999), 80.

                                                    (13.) For more on the representation of Chinese men in American fiction, see Floyd Cheung, “Anxious and Ambivalent Representations: Nineteenth-Century Images of Chinese American Men,” Journal of American Culture 30, no. 3 (2007): 293–309; King-Kok Cheung, “The Woman Warrior versus the Chinaman Pacific: Must a Chinese American Critic Choose Between Feminism and Heroism?” in Asian American Studies: A Reader, ed. Jean Yu-Wen Shen Wu and Min Song (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2007): 307–321; Daniel Y. Kim, Writing Manhood in Black and Yellow: Ralph Ellison, Frank Chin, and the Literary Politics of Identity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005); and Robert Lee, Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999).

                                                    (14.) Donnette Francis, Fictions of Feminine Citizenship: Sexuality and the Nation in Contemporary Caribbean Literature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 30.

                                                    (15.) Francis, Fictions of Feminine Citizenship, 31.

                                                    (16.) Jan Lowe Shinebourne, “The Berbice Marriage Match,” in The Godmother and Other Stories (Leeds, UK: Peepal Tree Press, 2004), 107.

                                                    (17.) See, for example, Forbes, From Nation to Diaspora, 21.

                                                    (18.) Lisa Li-Shen Yun, “An Afro-Chinese Caribbean: Cultural Cartographies of Contrariness in the Work of Antonio Chuffat Latour, Margaret Cezair-Thompson and Patricia Powell,” Caribbean Quarterly 50, no. 2 (2004): 26–43, 27.