The Chickencoop Chinaman, Frank Chin’s first play, won the East-West Players’ playwriting contest in 1971. When first produced in 1972, it created an enormous stir for its controversial subject matter and unusual structure. The Year of the Dragon (pr. 1974), though more traditionally structured than The Chickencoop Chinaman, continued to develop Chin’s major concern: the honest portrayal of the culture and psychological conflicts of the Asian American. The main subject of The Year of the Dragon is the disintegration of the Chinese American family, but within the play Fred Eng, the oldest son, struggles much as Tam Lum to achieve his own sense of American individualism and independence. In both plays, Chin’s subject is Chinese America—not the stereotypical view of Chinatown or of the Chinese, but the drama of real people living in a physical and psychological ghetto. At the heart of his plays and essays, Chin is addressing fundamental questions about Chinese American identity, manhood, and culture.
The disintegration of both family and self that is seen in The Chickencoop Chinaman increases in Chin’s other plays, “Gee, Pop . . . A Real Cartoon” (unpublished) and The Year of the Dragon. With the publication of The Chickencoop Chinaman and The Year of the Dragon in 1981, Chin’s plays could be read, debated, and enjoyed by a new and larger audience.
Chin’s work has had a profound influence on a generation of young Asian American writers. His plays constitute a declaration of intellectual and linguistic independence from mainstream American language and culture and an assertion of Asian American manhood. At the vanguard of a literary movement of the 1970’s and 1980’s that produced many award-winning works by Americans of Asian descent, Chin has directed an uncompromising attack against the suppression of Asian American culture in its native country.