Maxine Hong Kingston Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In her writings Maxine Hong Kingston speaks not only for herself and Chinese immigrants but for all marginal groups struggling to find their own voices in an oppressive foreign culture. Born of Chinese immigrant parents, she was a part of two worlds, the Chinese culture of her parents and the American one of her birth. Kingston attempts to reconcile the two heritages and out of them forge her own identity. Her father, Tom Hong, had in China been chosen by his family to be a scholar instead of a laborer. Frustrated with teaching school in his village, he had departed for the United States in 1924, leaving his wife and two infant children to follow at some unspecified time in the future. In New York he operated a laundry. After the death of her two young children, Kingston’s mother, Ying Lan Chew, still in China, acquired a medical education. She prospered, but in 1940 she gave up her respected position and left her homeland to join her husband in New York. When Tom Hong soon after lost his laundry, the family moved to California, where Kingston was born. The family endured a period of hard work and poverty during which time Kingston’s parents worked as servants and fruit pickers; eventually they established another laundry.{$S[A]Hong Kingston, Maxine;Kingston, Maxine Hong}

Kingston’s Chinese upbringing was ambivalent. Her mother encouraged her to remain Chinese and to accept the subordinate female role in the traditional Chinese family. At the same time, however, her mother related the legend of Fa Mu Lan, which depicts a woman warrior. Kingston also had to contend with American culture. Daily in school and outside the Chinese community, she was confronted with American customs and expected to speak English, a language not spoken at home. Her response was silence. When speech was required, she spoke in a squeaky, timid, or, as she writes, “pressed duck” voice. Yet she did well in school; unable to win battles as the legendary woman warrior did, Kingston achieved victories with her grades. In 1962, the year she married Earll Kingston, she received her B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, where she returned in 1964 to earn a teaching certificate. She then taught mathematics and English in California. In 1967 she and her husband and their son moved to Hawaii, where she taught English, first in high schools and then in 1977 as a visiting associate professor of English at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. In 1980 Kingston was named “Living Treasure of Hawaii.”

Kingston’s first book, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for general nonfiction. In the book, which blends autobiography, history, and myth, Kingston describes her struggle to create her own identity out of the conflicting American and Chinese cultures. The work is without a plot in the conventional sense, and it presents portraits of Chinese women, real and mythic, as they react to their culture; the real women generally respond in silence or are silenced, but in the mythic figures they find a voice that speaks for them as well as for the others who are mute.

The first section, “No Name Woman,” relates the tale of Kingston’s aunt, her father’s sister, who disgraced the family by having an illegitimate child. On the night of the child’s birth, after the villagers destroyed the family compound, she committed suicide and infanticide by flinging herself and her baby into a well. Kingston...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Maxine Hong Kingston, an American writer born of unassimilated immigrant parents, vividly captures with irony and wit conflicts that simultaneously draw on her Chinese and her American heritages. She envisions a lively amalgam that rejects the negatives from both ancestral and personal cultures and chooses the best from both. Kingston’s canon clearly shows this cultural mix as a vital part of the American way.

Kingston’s paternal grandfather had visited California three times from China and established the family’s claim to U.S. citizenship. Her father, Tom Hong, a scholar, poet, and village teacher in China before he emigrated to the United States, opened a laundry business in New York City with three other Chinese men. Its success enabled him to bring his wife, Yi Lan Hong (Brave Orchid), to join him. While waiting, she had completed medical school in Canton and established a practice there, but their two young children had died, so she willingly gave up her career and joined him in the United States, where she performed drudge work in the laundry. After her father’s partners cheated him out of his share of the laundry, Kingston’s parents moved to Stockton, California, where her father managed a gambling house in Chinatown that the police eventually shut down.

Kingston, born in 1940, was given the Chinese name Ting-Ting and the American name Maxine, after a frequent and lucky gambler from her father’s establishment. Kingston spoke the Say Yup Cantonese dialect at home and at first attended American and Chinese schools simultaneously, but Chinese interfered with her first-grade performance and she soon gave it up for English. As an adult, she admits that she now knows only a few words in Chinese. This linguistic dilemma, however, made Kingston aware of cultural conflicts early in her life. The cultural and generational confrontations depicted in “No Name Woman,” from The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976), reflect the realities of growing up in one culture and being judged at home by the standards of another culture.

Kingston received an A.B. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1962, the same year that she married Earll Kingston, an actor, soul mate, and charming raconteur. She earned a teaching certificate in 1965 and taught English and mathematics for the next two years in...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Again and again in her works, Maxine Hong Kingston confirms that, for all the modern focus on ethnic writing, she sees herself as an American writer dealing with American issues: the nature of government, its relationship to its citizens, the interaction of citizens from very different cultures, the contributions that immigrants make to the American whole, the value of democratic principles, the importance of the individual but also the value of community, the destructiveness of war, the need as a nation for peace and for not only tolerating but also learning from difference. Her works are unconventional genre mixes because she agrees with Walt Whitman that, in a new land, people can re-create themselves, turn their lives into fiction and fiction into fact.

Kingston is not an exclusionist, nor does she value cultural heritage over her commitment to democratic principles and an American community. She is an educator, teaching readers about difference, but that does not mean that she tolerates the subjugation of women or the use of child slaves in China. Criticizing both her Chinese and her American heritage is her right and her duty as a citizen of a multicultural society, she asserts. By exposing the bigotry, intolerance, stoicism, and suffering of past generations, she hopes to change the future. Called agent provocateur by a number of her critics, Kingston is happiest when she thinks that her writing challenges preconceptions, shakes complacency, and re-creates her readers’ visions of themselves.


(Short Stories for Students)

Born on October 27,1940, in Stockton, California, Maxine Hong Kingston is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. One of six children, Kingston...

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(Novels for Students)

Maxine Hong Kingston Published by Gale Cengage

Maxine "Ting Ting" Hong Kingston grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Stockton, California. Born in 1940 to Tom Hong and Brave Orchid,...

(The entire section is 484 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

As a child, Maxine Hong Kingston worked in her parents’ laundry and went to an American school by day and a Chinese school by night. She is best known for The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (1976), in which she combines legend, autobiography, and the biographies of female relatives to explore both the despair and the triumphs of women’s lives. Kingston speaks of creating a mythology that will live from one generation to the next, featuring archetypal personalities and heroines. A graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, she has taught literature at high schools in California and Hawaii.