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date: 04 December 2020

Global China in 21st-Century Asian American Literaturelocked

  • Sunny XiangSunny XiangDepartment of English, Yale University

Summary

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.

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