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Global China in 21st-Century Asian American Literature  

Sunny Xiang

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.

Article

The Chinese in West Indian Fiction  

Anne-Marie Lee-Loy

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.

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The Chinese Exclusion Act and Early Asian American Literature  

Ben Railton

The 19th century featured two opposed yet interconnected historical trends: the growth of a multigenerational and deeply rooted Chinese American community; and the development of the cultural prejudices and fears comprised by the Yellow Peril narrative. Those xenophobic fears produced violence, social and political movements, and legal exclusions, culminating in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and its many follow-up laws and policies, all designed as much to destroy the existing Chinese American community as to restrict future immigration. But out of that period of exclusion and oppression came some of the first Chinese American literary and cultural works published in both Mandarin/Cantonese and English: the personal and collective poems carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station by detainees; auto-ethnographic memoirs of Chinese American life and community such as Yung Wing’s My Life in China and America (1909); and the journalistic, autobiographical, and fictional works of Edith Maude Eaton/Sui Sin Far, the first Chinese American professional creative writer. These works both reflect and transcend the realities of the Exclusion era, helping contemporary audiences understand those histories, connect them to later Chinese American writers, and analyze the exclusionary debates and proposals of the early 21st century.

Article

Asian American Detective Fiction  

Calvin McMillin

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.