And China Has Hands

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In And China Has Hands H. T. Tsiang follows the history of Wong Wan-Lee, whose Chinese name ironically translates into “ten thousand fortunes.” In the way of many picaresque novels, Wan-Lee goes from one misadventure to another, beginning with an expensive difficulty with American immigration, and ending with considerably more trouble.

Read strictly as a novel, And China Has Hands may disappoint readers because it has only two main characters, Wan-Lee himself, and mixed-race Pearl Chang, whose characterization is more broad than deep. But read in the spirit one approaches a Theodore Dreiser or an Upton Sinclair novel, And China Has Hands is a partially journalistic, highly satisfying, and unusually intimate look at the life of a Chinese immigrant, circa 1930, as he tries to assimilate into a totally alien culture, find romance in a place where Chinese men outnumber Chinese women ten-to-one, and survive financially during the Great Depression.

As an everyman, whose experiences inevitably teach him race and class consciousness, Wan-Lee, the waiter, busboy, laundryman, is emblematic of the struggles so many Chinese men endured, who came to America looking for a promised land, only to labor, love, and pine away for their homeland in obscurity. As grim as all this may sound on the surface, Wan-Lee’s good nature always shines through, and H. T. Tsiang’s dry sense of humor is evident on every page.