Watching TV with the Red Chinese (Magill Book Reviews)
In WATCHING TV WITH THE RED CHINESE, Luke Whisnant looks at everyday life in America through the eyes of three Chinese graduate students and their American friend, Dexter Mitchell. Attending school in Cleveland, the three Chinese students spend considerable time in their sparsely furnished apartment watching television, especially the new programs and commercials that reveal so much about the American social landscape. Their eccentricities fascinate fellow graduate student Billy Owens, who makes a documentary of their time in the United States. Their naive response to the country also intrigues their neighbor Dexter Mitchell, a struggling theater worker through whom most of the story is told. Mitchell is happy to help his new friends come to some understanding of the customs of the country — until he learns that one of the Chinese has taken his place in the life of Mitchell’s sometime girlfriend, Suzanne Betts.
The violence that lurks in the background of the lives of most Americans comes to haunt the Chinese, too. One of them, Chen Li-Zhong, learns firsthand about racism when he is mugged by two young blacks. In the climactic final scene of the novel, Chen is killed in a scuffle with another of Suzanne’s boyfriends who has been stalking him for weeks.
Whisnant manages to weave a fascinating mosaic of American life by combining Mitchell’s first-person narrative with the commentary provided by the Chinese themselves as they perform for...
(The entire section is 379 words.)
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Watching TV with the Red Chinese (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
The first thing likely to strike readers of Watching TV with the Red Chinese is how entertaining it is. The story certainly has strong comic overtones. Three Chinese communists arrive in Cleveland, Ohio, to attend graduate school. They take up residence in an apartment building, where they make friends with Dexter Mitchell, a down-and-out theater worker. They continually pump him for information about such diverse topics as the etiquette of shopping and the art of dealing with American women. They are entertained by various other members of the university community, for whom they are curiosities. From the black family in their building, they learn some of the intricacies of American football. The youngest member of the trio, Chen, tries hard to adopt American ways, going so far as to steal Mitchell’s girlfriend. Throughout, the Chinese are perplexed, sometimes angered, and often mystified by the complexities of American society; their verbal and behavioral faux pas offer more than a few laughs for readers who are fully conversant in American metaphors and customs.
What the Chinese do most often, however, is watch television. Hour after hour, they sit in front of the television in their sparsely furnished apartment, mesmerized by whatever crosses the screen: old films, talk shows, situation comedies, and sports. More than any books or lectures, more than conversations with their American friends, the images on television provide these...
(The entire section is 1775 words.)