China Men Essay - Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series China Men Analysis

Maxine Hong Kingston

Masterpieces of Women's Literature China Men Analysis

A significant concern in China Men is the place of Chinese Americans in the Chinese diaspora. Although each of the book’s sections and chapters can stand alone individually, they share an attempt to reach back to some sort of beginning from China that would validate Chinese Americans’ presence in America. In “On Discovery,” where Kingston retells the tale of Tang Ao’s being turned into a woman, the “Women’s Land” is identified as in North America and thought to be discovered in either the seventh or the fifth century—a fanciful but critical revision of the myths of Christopher Columbus and the Pilgrims. Similarly, in “The Li Sao: An Elegy,” where Kingston alludes to the poet Ch’ü Yüan (best known for his poem “Li Sao,” which can mean “The Sorrow of Departure”), it is hinted that the Chinese diaspora, part of which resides in America, can be traced back to the exile of the “incorruptible” poet. These two allusions allegorize the misplacement and displacement, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, of the China men who traveled overseas not only to make a fortune but also to escape cataclysms and natural disasters in China. The author’s frequent references to political situations in modern China, especially the suffering of relatives under the Communist regime, suggest that Chinese Americans continue to be burdened by the question of the Chinese diaspora despite—and because of—their having settled in America. As the cases of Mad Sao and Uncle Bun illustrate, such a burden can be so heavy that it leads to derangement whether the place of origin is embraced or displaced.

The “place” of Chinese Americans in America is another major concern of the book. Whether as voluntary or involuntary immigrants, the lives of the China men are beset by nostalgia and poignancy, which in turn is compounded by real hardships and suffering in their day-to-day life in Hawaii and America, foreign lands that they have inadvertently helped to develop and therefore have a right to claim for themselves. Their struggles begin modestly as personal revolts; as the personal revolts of many China men become connected and their destinies intersect, however, they expand into a collective struggle. This...

(The entire section is 923 words.)