(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

China Boy is the story of Kai Ting, the American-born son of a refugee Shanghainese family. Ending an odyssey across both friendly and unfriendly terrain, the Ting family finally settles in San Francisco.

China Boy opens with Kai’s retelling of how his family—including his mother, father, and three elder sisters—fled the civil war in China, and how they came to be situated in San Francisco, specifically in the Panhandle, a tough, largely poor neighborhood. It is in this “concrete crucible” that Kai does his growing up.

The almost six-year-old Kai is his mother’s favorite child and only son, and she pins large hopes upon him. Kai’s sisters are all considerably older than he is, and he assumes the natural position of coddled youngest child. His world revolves around his mother, whose passion, charisma, and overabiding sense of family weave for young Kai a protective cocoon. In fact, until he starts school, Kai has little sense of the world outside the Tings’ home. He has even less sense of other children his age and what it will take to cross the boundary between the protection of family and the dangers of a world populated with hostile strangers.

Tragically for Kai, his mother dies. While he could previously rush home from the schoolyard and the streets of the Panhandle to the security of home, Kai is now robbed of the balance from that reality. To compound matters, his father marries Edna McGurk, who steps into her new role of stepmother with reluctance but nevertheless with draconian ideas about how to rear suddenly inherited children. From an almost idyllic existence of Chinese food, ancestral stories, the Shanghainese dialect—or “Songhai”—and the loving, doting presence of Mah-mee, Kai is propelled, within the space of months, into a subsistence that is circumscribed by a relentlessly cruel...

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(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Kim, Elaine H. Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982. Kim’s work is a seminal one, the first scholarly, full-length study of Asian American literature. The approach is chronological, providing a much-needed context for the discussion. Includes an extensive bibliography referencing both Asian American literature and Anglo-American portrayals of Asians and Asian Americans.

Lee, Joann Faung Jean. Asian American Experiences in the United States: Oral Histories of First to Fourth Generation Americans from China, the Philippines, Japan, India, the Pacific Islands, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1991. Lee amasses oral histories of Asian Americans across class, age, and geographical lines. The accounts are lively and frank and together underscore the diverse nature of being Asian American. See especially “Growing Up in Mississippi,” Sam Sue’s account of growing up as a second-generation Chinese American marginalized by both whites and blacks.

Simpson, Janice C., and Pico Iyer. “Fresh Voices Above the Noisy Din.” Time 137 (June 3, 1991): 66-67. Analyzes China Boy in the context of other works by contemporary Chinese American novelists, including Amy Tan, David Wong Louie, and Gish Jen.


(The entire section is 431 words.)