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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 416

David Henry Hwang’s grandmother told stories about her life in China to her young grandson, who precociously recorded them in a novel at the age of ten. In 1996, Hwang’s juvenile novel was finally realized as a stage drama in Golden Child, a play narrated by a ten-year-old ghost. Focusing on the chasm between Eastern and Western religious and political practices, the play features Eng Tieng-Bin, a husband torn between his Chinese devotion to his three wives and his desire to embrace American Christianity, which mandates that he divorce two of them.

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The curtain rises on a contemporary urban American scene, but soon the audience realizes that events will be anything but typical. A nervous Andrew Kwong, a young Chinese American, contemplates his imminent fatherhood from the backseat of a taxicab, when the ghost of his grandmother, Eng Ahn, materializes. As he envisions the next generation, as represented by his much anticipated child, she asks him to contemplate those generations of the past to which he is linked by blood. Ahn admonishes her amazed grandson to honor his ancestors and to revere his heritage. Quickly, time reverses itself and place shifts, taking the audience back to 1918 China. Andrew Kwong reappears as his grandfather, Eng Tieng Bin, and the ghost of Eng Ahn transforms into his living daughter, the golden child. The setting for the action of the play is now a humble Chinese village.

Eng Tieng Bin returns from a trip abroad, bringing to the isolated village new ideas about religion, education, and government. His chosen rebirth through baptism in the Christian faith is not mere spiritual transformation but an embrace of the modern. He believes Christianity to be a more enlightened faith than Confucianism, one that will allow the Chinese a foothold in the rapidly changing world of the twentieth century. As his wives struggle to understand their transformed husband and their altered situation—two of them must go—he must decide what to do with his favorite daughter, Eng Ahn. Will her tightly swaddled feet be unbound, or will she remain bound in the traditions of the past?

Golden Child brings closure to Hwang’s trilogy of domestic dramas, which include Family Devotions and Rich Relations, by placing his characters back in China to revisit events that transpired prior to the family’s immigration. The complex questions of which traditions to honor, which to revise, and which to abandon are never fully answered in Golden Child; they remain fertile ground for future explorations.

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