(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“On Discovery,” the first story in Maxine Hong Kingston’s collection entitled China Men (1980), is a fairy tale that begins as most fairy tales do with “Once upon a time.” Tang Ao, a warrior who is looking for the Gold Mountain, the traditional Chinese name for America, crosses an ocean and happens on a kind of utopia called the Land of Women, in which there are neither taxes nor wars. Consistent with the fairy-tale atmosphere is the narrator’s comment that scholars cannot agree on the exact time and place for the narrative. Some argue that the Tang Ao incident took place during the reign of Empress Wu, beginning in 694 c.e.; others argue that it was in 441 c.e. Another theory is that the fantasy land existed not in China but in North America.

The action begins when Tang Ao, who cannot imagine a woman with a warlike spirit, is easily captured by the women. Even under guard, he assumes that he has been singled out for some special feminine favor. What follows is not the night of love that Tang Ao might have expected, but many months of physical pain, humiliation, and ultimately emasculation as the women prepare him to serve at the queen’s court.

First, they usher him into a woman’s ornate room, take off his armor and boots, and shackle his wrists and ankles. Next, they pull his earlobes taut and jab needles through each lobe. The most painful of the...

(The entire section is 506 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

"On Discovery" begins with the words of a fairy tale: "once upon a time." The story opens with a Chinese explorer named Tang Ao, crossing an...

(The entire section is 646 words.)