Contemporary English-language prose and poetry writers, primarily of Chinese descent, are employing a range of stylistic strategies and exploring increasingly diverse themes in their representations of China and Chineseness. Through these representations, these contemporary writers build on, adapt, and contest a historically complex relation between “global” and “China” within an American imaginary. Twenty-first-century literary novelists and poets raise many questions about this relationship. These literatures of and about “Global China” both extend from and depart from, a “Chinese American” literary tradition. For instance, writers such as Jenny Zhang, Sharlene Teo, and Wang Weike are reworking long-standing narrative tropes such as intergenerational strife and transforming conventionally ethnic genres such as the autobiography. Contemporary literary works also take more heterogeneous approaches to referencing the United States and even “the West” more generally. And, unlike a prior tradition of Chinese American literature, these works open us to consider multiple kinds of China that far exceed the putative origin point of Mainland China (the most famous instance is Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, which features Singaporeans of Chinese descent). On the flip side, representations of “Global China” may lack representations of identifiably “Chinese” characters (for instance, Rachel Khong’s Goodbye Vitamin). In other cases, Chinese characters may be relegated to a role, or Chineseness may be insignificant to a story’s plot. New themes and topics are emerging, most notably adoption, biraciality, mental health, and return-to-Asian journeys. Finally, the literatures of Global China include robust outgrowths of genre literature, ranging from speculative fiction to detective fiction. Writers of genre fiction include Ovidia Yu and Ted Chiang.
Asian American detective fiction is an eclectic body of literature that encompasses works from a variety of 20th- and 21st-century Asian American authors. Prior to the emergence of these writers in the late 1990s and early 2000s, depictions of Asians and Asian Americans in the mystery genre were primarily the domain of white authors like Earl Derr Biggers and John P. Marquand. During the pre-World War II era, “Oriental detectives” like Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto enjoyed varying degrees of popularity in literature and film before gradually fading into obscurity. Meanwhile, the few U.S. writers of Asian descent working in the detective genre often refrained from portraying Asian American characters in their works, focusing instead on stories involving white protagonists. However, a sea change occurred when a wave of Asian American authors arrived on the crime fiction scene: Henry Chang, Leonard Chang, Dale Furutani, Naomi Hirahara, and Ed Lin are representative examples. Differentiating themselves from their Asian American predecessors, these writers focused their mysteries not only on detectives of Asian descent but on the specific ethnic communities in which they were born. Using the detective genre’s focus on “Whodunit” as a literary imperative, these works explore contemporary anxieties about Asian American identity in relation to issues of race, gender, sexuality, and national belonging. As a result, many Asian American writers of detective fiction have chosen to reframe Asian American identity through the use of the detective genre, a vehicle through which the racist stereotypes of the past are addressed, combatted, and symbolically defeated. Whether a genre, subgenre, or school of literature, Asian American detective fiction is a rich and ever-evolving form of literary expression that continues to both expand upon and complicate earlier discourses on race, gender, and sexuality within the realms of U.S. crime fiction and contemporary Asian American literature.
Early Chinese and Japanese American male writers between 1887 and 1938 such as Yan Phou Lee, Yung Wing, Sadakichi Hartmann, Yone Noguchi, and H. T. Tsiang accessed dominant US publishing markets and readerships by presenting themselves and their works as cultural hybrids that strategically blended enticing Eastern content and forms with familiar Western language and structures. Yan Phou Lee perpetrated cross-cultural comparisons that showed that Chinese were not unlike Europeans and Americans. Yung Wing appropriated and then transformed dominant American autobiographical narratives to recuperate Chinese character. Sadakichi Hartmann and Yone Noguchi combined poetic traditions from Japan, Europe, and America in order to define a modernism that included cosmopolitans such as themselves. And H. T. Tsiang promoted Marxist world revolution by experimenting with fusions of Eastern and Western elements with leftist ideology. Although these writers have been discounted by some critics as overly compromising in their attempts to reach Western readers, they accomplished laudable cultural work in their particular historical circumstances and provide insights into the varied and complicated negotiations of Asian American identity during the exclusion era.