Welcome to the World Wide Web Home page of Road to East Asia
Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
Vol.2, no. 2, January-February, 1997
There are mixed feelings towards one's heritage, vividly expressed in literature by well established and emerging Chinese American writers. Amy Tan and Nellie Wong, for example, write in English for an international audience. Zhong Xiaoyang, who writes in Chinese, is popular among readers in Asia. These authors study various roles played by women--for example, wife, mother, girlfriend, sister, daughter, employee--in the traditional home and modern society.
Even in the 1990s, reports from China show that parents still prefer having male children to carry on the family name, and Beijing's one-child policy has reinforced this bias. While sons enjoy respectability, daughters are relegated to subservient roles. Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Clubportrays several women who are raised in this tradition. Lindo Jong, for one, takes pride in her individuality--her "buncake" (44) smell and complexion--but has to marry a bad husband against her will because that is the arrangement her parents made. Resourcefulness helps her to escape to America, only to be discriminated because of her race.
In America, one finds only bits and pieces of Chinese culture. It is these samples that prompt Nellie Wong to ask "How American is my Chinese love?" in her poetry (203). Her vision of China is not the land of moongates and gardens from which Lindo Jong escaped. Her "Chinese love" exists in children's laughter, permeating "our inherited earth" (203).
Wong's poetry often conveys similar ambiguous sentiments toward her Chinese American identity. "Where is my country?" she asks in the poem of the same name (210-11). Strangers tend to mistake her for someone she isn't. At work, she is asked to interpret Korean, in Mexico a policeman speaks to her in Spanish, and a Chinese grocer asks if she is Filipino. They are insensitive to her individuality, and do not realize that it is almost impossible to confine anyone exclusively to a single group. Is there a difference between a Chinese immigrant like Lindo Jong who came to America at a young age and an American- born Chinese like Nellie Wong?
Zhong Xiaoyang exercises her creative freedom quite differently in "The Wedding Night." This short story presents a young couple's natural anxiety about the future. On the wedding night, the traditional veil becomes a barrier, making what was once known and sure "into something sinister and macabre" (217). It does not matter that the bride and the groom had a long courtship, or that they kissed passionately earlier in the evening. When she wears the red veil, it separates her from the groom and from the "world without boundaries" (217).
In modern times, a Chinese American bride no longer wears a veil with her red bridal gown. She refuses to be barred from "the world beyond the boundaries," which previously was occupied by men only. Despite the evident pessimism, Zhong's story ends on a positive note. The bride feels empowered, ready to take on the future, just as Chinese American women writers have, in a world dominated by men.
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club.New York: Ballantine Books, 1989.
Wong, Nellie. "My Chinese Love," "So Near, So Far," and "Where Is My Country?" Ed. L. Ling-chi Wang and Henry Yiheng Zhao. Chinese American Poetry: An Anthology. Santa Barbara: Asian American Voices Press, 1991, 202-3, 210-11.
Zhong, Xiaoyang. "The Wedding Night." Ed. Hsin-sheng C. Kao. Nativism Overseas: Contemporary Chinese Women Writers. New York: State University of New York Press, 1993, 207-20.
Illustration by Megan Donnelly