InChina Men, Maxine Hong Kingston tells the stories of her male relatives who came to America. The opening chapter, “Our Fathers,” signals her intention to embrace the community of Chinese immigrants. She challenges readers to reconsider the Eurocentric version of American history by bringing to their attention the contributions of Chinese to the building of America.
Kingston weaves her narrative from a poetic association of folklore, fantasy, and fact. In “On Discovery,” she relates a Chinese legend: the arrival in North America of Tang Ao during the reign of the Empress Wu (694-705). Captured and forced to become a transvestite, feet bound, face powdered and rouged, ears studded with jade and gold, Tang Ao was forced to serve meals to the court. The bewildering experience of this precursor is a metaphor for the emasculation of Chinese men in America as racism disempowered them, forcing them to perform women’s tasks: laundering and cooking.
In America, Kingston’s forefathers find themselves off center as they are marginalized by U.S. laws. A chapter on laws, in the middle of China Men, documents the legislation and court decisions that, beginning in 1868, systematically excluded Chinese immigrants from normal treatment until 1958. Particularly dehumanizing was the law prohibiting the immigration of the wives and children of Chinese men working in America.
Through the portraits of her many forefathers,...
(The entire section is 468 words.)