Chinese American Experience, 1850-1942
The first phase (roughly 1850-1942) of the Chinese American experience is recorded primarily in three types of literature. The first type is the largely negative, or at least stereotypical, representation of the Chinese in European American writings. In popular literature, caricatures, stereotypes, and racist portrayals of the Chinese abounded. Examples include Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu and Earl Derr Biggers’ Charlie Chan. A variety of objectionable Chinese characters also populate Jack London’s stories. Mark Twain, Bret Harte, and Ambrose Bierce, despite their sympathies for the Chinese, largely failed to recognize and assert their humanity.
The second type provides counterpoints to the stereotypes. This type of literature is the work of Chinese diplomats, travelers, and immigrants. Such writing is crucial to the formation of the identity of the Chinese American. A notable example is Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940 (1980), which contains a collection of Chinese poems found inscribed on the barrack walls of the Angel Island Detention Center. The common fate of a displaced people in distress looms large in the collective voice of these poems. Another collection, Songs of Gold Mountain: Cantonese Rhymes from San Francisco Chinatown (1987), also provides glimpses into the psyches of Chinese immigrants in the early 1900’s. Sui Sin Far’s (pseudonym of Edith Eaton) representation of the...
(The entire section is 488 words.)