Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)
For many generations, Chinese Americans have been stereotyped in the majority culture as weak, submissive, passive, and effeminate alien sojourners incapable of American heroism. Frank Chin’s Donald Duk is among a limited number of literary works that seriously attempt to challenge such a caricature and to restore this group’s true cultural heritage. By showing his protagonist learn the authentic history of Chinese Americans, Chin intends to claim that Chinese Americans are as courageous, assertive, and competitive as any other groups of immigrants, that Chinese American history is a legitimate, valiant part of the history of the American West. These claims can be provocative and disconcerting to those who consciously or unconsciously view Chinese Americans not as Americans but as foreigners and associate Chinese American culture not with American culture but with an alien culture in Asia.
When compared with Chin’s earlier works, Donald Duk indicates a change in his view concerning the future of Chinese Americans and their cultural heritage. In an essay entitled “Yellow Seattle” (1976), Chin expressed his conviction that Chinese America is historically doomed to extinction. This gloomy view can be easily discerned in some of Chin’s plays of that time, such as The Chickencoop Chinaman (1972) and The Year of the Dragon (1974). These works are permeated with a sense of decay and doom, with young people renouncing their own racial identity and families falling apart. Such a feeling is nowhere to be found in Donald Duk; on the contrary, the novel has an atmosphere of renewal and jubilant celebration, with a whole family and a whole community proudly and successfully passing on their heritage from one generation to the next.