Things That Reassure You of Your Chinese Americanness

…Despite Feeling Most Days Like Any Other Tired Mama-Writer-Filmmaker Trying to Make Her Mark

Part in the Third

  • shawn wong included this detail in his novel AMERICAN KNEES: there’s always a half-used bunch of green onions rotting in your crisper. so true!
  • when you are sixty, you’ll look a hot 39.
  • peking duck and choice of bun or pancake? (northerner/southerner) says a lot about you.
  • when you read about a chinese american authoress who brags about being descended from a “general in Chiang Kai-Shek’s army,” you snicker at how non-Chinese are supposed to be impressed by that. you don’t have to be a communist to think the KMT (Kuo Ming Tang) are disreputable and maybe even a wee bit thuggish.
  • because you know your extended family in china encompassed national liberationist/anti-imperial communists, KMT-sympathizers, the non-committal self-preservationists, banking and rail minor bourgeoisie, the scientific elite both needed and scorned during the Cultural Revolution, as well as teachers/social workers/accountants (your particular modest little branch of the tree), you have a more complicated idea of class and political identity than one would otherwise if class position and political orientation were based on purely the individual alone.
  • it’s tiresome when chinese people hate on each other, but totally understandable given vast differences in dialect, clan/regional loyalties, and just a huge streak of pettiness in the culture itself.
  • it’s HUGELY tiresome when chinese people feel they must re-create china in excruciating, slavish detail here in america…all the while denying that they’ve changed and are no longer so “purely” chinese as they were before.
  • it’s tremendously sad accompanying those who were born in china and came here to make lives on their return trips to china, where they find nothing the same.
  • taiwan…i don’t get it. japanese occupation of taiwan during WWII was okay, but both communist china and the KMT who fled them (occupying taiwan after WWII) are not? what’s up with that? you’re not actually buying that “sick man of asia, japan has come to rescue you” shit are you?
  • racism from american rednecks is bad, but racism from recent chinese immgrants (or chinese people in china) who kiss white ass is WAY worse. because they will kiss white ass and ignore chinese americans.
  • parenting: never a word of praise to your face, but lots of boasting to others…in fact, lots of one-upmanship around the peers.
  • mah jong was created for chinese parents to gossip about their kids.
  • sushi will never satisfy, not because of anti-japanese sentiment, but because really really good sushi offends the value-to-dollar ratio. my friends, that’s a cardinal sin.
  • tibet. tibet. tibet. sigh.
  • do uptight chinese people need born-again christianity to make them even more uptight? i think not.
  • kuan yin, the goddess of mercy, started life as a hermaphrodite. (rather, she started as a man and evolved to a higher state: womanhood.) i say, all right! fly your freak flag high! now there’s a religious icon worth venerating.
  • (my dissertation in a nutshell:) it makes sense that a complex system to describe extended families (further complicated by polygamy in the upper classes) evolved a specific and ordinal way of naming the many aunts, uncles, and other kin on maternal and paternal sides of the family. and that this large social system has impact on the person who grows up within the system, affecting how the self, gender, and sexual identity forms in relation to the social group of kith and kin. for example, homosexuality is not at all incompatible with the confucian imperative to biologically reproduce so the ancestors have the satisfaction of descendants who’ll continue to worship them: at one historical juncture, and perhaps even now, it’s possible to do your duty to your ancestors/family and get married to a woman, father a child (preferably male), and have your male lover(s) on the side. (ang lee’s THE WEDDING BANQUET, anyone?) the woman bears and raises the child and takes care of the aging parents, and a man does what he needs to do, whether it’s acquire male lovers or conventional mistresses/additional wives. this is why i believe gender and sexuality is a whole different ball game than it is in a western/individualized sense. it’s only now that the collision of this confucian-derived system (the social self, the extended family, the subordination/modulation of the social self’s fate to the larger social system) with western modernity (the atomized invidividual, the nuclear family, judeo-christian influences emphasizing the fate of the individual’s soul separate from that of his/her family) has taken on a new cast. what am i saying? among other things i’m arguing that maybe we should consider homophobia (or the contemporary euro-american manifestation of it) an import to china from the west. this is counter to the mainland chinese claim that homsexuality is an import from the west; in order to get there, mainland china has to suppress a “bourgeouis” master narrative that’s no less authentically a chinese historical formation of self and family.
  • since 1949, we’ve been coping with the sudden implementation of new master narratives of chineseness (originating from the PRC) which conflict with bourgeois formations that adhere to previous family formations in the chinese diaspora. i’m talking about polygamy being alive and well today in taiwan, singapore, hong kong, and maybe even in america. anecdotally, how many of us can name a “geographic divorce” whereby one spouse is squirrelled away in a house in the diaspora while hubby has several other wives/families elsewhere? and no divorce ever took place? if anything, it’s a fascinating marriage of patriarchy with capital that enables these alternate family formations (alternate to the nuclear family, that is). looking at it this way, there’s a thin line between serial monogamy and polygamy. a distinction without a difference? possibly.
  • conclusion: HBO’s Big Love, about a polygamous mormon marriage set in contemporary utah, might as well be a feudal 1920′s era chinese family with wives number one, two, and three and their children.

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0 thoughts on “Things That Reassure You of Your Chinese Americanness

  1. Pingback: Things That Reassure You of Your Chinese Americanness « P i l l o w b o o k

  2. Pingback: I Promised You Bastards, Polygamy, and Deadly Queen Bees « P i l l o w b o o k

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