Frank Chin 1940-
（Full name Frank Chew Chin Jr.） American playwright, novelist, short story writer, television writer, and editor.
The following entry provides an overview of Chin's career through 1998.
Chin has played an important role in the development of Asian-American literature. His works seek to promote the unique identity of Asian Americans, acknowledge Chinese history and culture, and to subvert the stereotypical representations imposed upon Asian Americans by white society. Chin has pursued this goal through his involvement in critical inquiry and through his plays, novels, and short stories.
Chin was born on February 25, 1940 in Berkeley, California, and was raised in the Chinatowns of Oakland and San Francisco. He spent the first six years of his life living with an older white couple on an abandoned gold-mining site. His father was hiding Chin from his maternal grandmother, who disapproved of her fifteen-year-old daughter's involvement with the older man. At the age of six Chin moved to Oakland's Chinatown district to live with his parents, and throughout his literary career he has explored his feelings toward Chinatown and its inhabitants in his work. He attended the University of California at Berkeley and won a fellowship to the Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa before receiving his bachelor's degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1965. After graduation, he took a job with the Southern Pacific Railroad, becoming the first Chinese American brakeman in the company's history. Chin left the railroad in 1966 and began writing and producing documentaries for KING-TV in Seattle, Washington. Chin began his dramatic career in the early 1970s, staging The Chickencoop Chinaman in 1972 and The Year of the Dragon two years later. Both plays were produced off-Broadway by the American Place Theatre, making Chin the first Asian American to have work presented on a mainstream New York stage. In 1973 Chin formed the Asian American Theatre Workshop in San Francisco, and he remained its director until 1977. His first novel, A Chinese Lady Dies, won the Joseph Henry Jackson Award but was never published. His second novel, Charlie Chan on Maui, was rejected by publishers when the owners of the Charlie Chan copyright threatened legal action. Told by publishers that his work was not commercially viable, Chin did not publish his first novel, Donald Duk （1991）, until after the success of his short-story collection, The Chinaman Pacific and Frisco R. R. Co. （1988）. Since the 1980s Chin has had little involvement with theater, preferring to write fiction and essays on Chinese and Japanese history, culture, and literature. He has taught courses on Asian American subjects at San Francisco State University, the University of California at Berkeley, Davis, and Santa Barbara, and at the University of Oklahoma at Norman. He has also received a number of awards and fellowships throughout his career.
Chin's works grapple with questions of Asian-American identity, history, and culture. Many of Chin's fictional tales are coming-of-age stories that reflect the author's own experiences and questions of cultural and ethnic identity. In Chickencoop Chinaman, Tampax Lum searches for a new identity outside the narrow confines of the Chinatown in which he was raised. The play proposes that Chinese Americans cannot find their culture by imitating anyone else; they should not be forced to choose between being Chinese and being American; and they should not allow themselves to be used as a model upon which all other minority groups are judged. The play also deals with the question of Chinese-American manhood but gives no answers as to how the Chinese-American male may find his identity and sense of his own manhood. Several characters in the short stories collected in The Chinaman Pacific & Frisco R. R. Co. struggle with feelings of angst, helplessness, and confusion as they realize that part of their culture and history is dying as the Chinese-American community changes. In the short story “Yes, Young Daddy,” the protagonist, Freddy, temporarily takes on the role of father to his young cousin, Lena, as both characters share feelings of alienation from Chinatown. The role is short-lived, however, as Freddy is uncomfortable during his visits to Lena in Chinatown, and realizes that he cannot assume the role of father and role model for the youngsters in his old neighborhood. In “Goong Hai Fot Choy,” from the same collection, the main character, Dirigible, watches and waits as his mother dies. Her impending death becomes a metaphor for the decline of Chinatown itself. Dirigible gradually realizes that neither her death, nor the death of Chinatown, will be mourned, since both have become masks of their original selves. In the novel Donald Duk, Chin tells the story of the title character who is ashamed of his Chinese-American heritage after being told in history class that the Chinese who came to this country in the nineteenth century were “passive and nonassertive.” He begins to have dreams about working on the Central Pacific Railroad in 1869 and sees incredible feats performed by his ancestors. Armed with newfound pride and this “documentary” evidence, Donald goes back to his history class to set the record straight.
Chin is recognized as an important voice in Asian-American drama, even though he has withdrawn from active participation in the theater. His withdrawal has caused some reviewers to be put off by the bitterness of his outlook, and to characterize his plays as strident. Other commentators interpret Chin's ambivalence as reflective of his own internal conflicts, and believe that the opposing character viewpoints in his plays represent Chin's own warring Chinese and American identities. Many feel the humor in Chin's fiction to be unrelenting; others, however, have difficulty locating any humor in Chin's work at all. Elaine H. Kim asserts, “One is never quite sure whether or not to laugh at Chin's ‘comic manifestations of Asian-American manhood’” and she is bothered by the jarring metaphors, devastating stereotypes, and feelings of distress within his work. Even critics who praise Chin's biting humor and his skill as a storyteller often are confused by passages in his work that seem forced or meanspirited. Much of the critical discussion of Chin's work revolves around his desire to maintain the purity of well-known Chinese stories. Several scholars point out the rift between Chin and Maxine Hong Kingston regarding their use of these Chinese “myths”; Chin has expressed a desire to retain all the original elements of these stories, and he accuses Kingston of liberally adapting them to collude with white racist stereotypes and to invent a “fake” Chinese-American culture that is more palatable to the mainstream. Feminist critics take exception to Chin's desire to return to a heroic tradition, which they believe glorifies male aggression. In general, critics praise Chin's ability to bring characters and their predicaments alive, and laud the author's ability to paint vivid portrayals and infuse his polemic and parodic works with a great amount of humor. Frank Abe contends that Chin has succeeded in “developing a stream-of-consciousness language crammed with goofy wordplay, unexpected imagery, and exhilarating, liberating hyperbole,” all elements which make his work worth reading.