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  • Pluralist Universalism: An Asian Americanist Critique of U.S. and Chinese Multiculturalism by Wen Jin
  • Maimuna Islam
Wen Jin. Pluralist Universalism: An Asian Americanist Critique of U.S. and Chinese Multiculturalism. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2012. ix + 224 pp.

In Pluralist Universalism, Wen Jin offers an intricate comparative transnational study of the historical and political trajectories in multiculturalism policies in China and the US predominantly through representations of ethnic minorities in fiction from both nations and from hyphenated authors who straddle multiple cultures and countries. Along the way, Jin also traverses academic boundaries—with the intention of initiating cross-disciplinary conversations—of traditionally demarcated area studies such as Asian studies, Asian American studies, Chinese studies, and American multicultural and immigrant studies. Professor Jin's extremely well-researched, clearly articulated, and thoughtfully cohered study weaves together not only how Chinese [End Page 212] and US policies toward their ethnic minorities are inspired by their similar nationalistic ideologies, but also how through literature these countries have reinforced and subverted and reinvented ethnic identities within larger unifying national discourses.

Through her analysis of American, Chinese, and Chinese-American literatures, Jin shows that US and Chinese politics of ethnic identity reflect similar anxieties and celebrations, even though these similarities are often unacknowledged because of tensions in China-US geopolitical relations. Jin argues that both China's policies toward its ethnic minorities, institutionalized in the early 1950s, and the US's multiculturalism, starting with the rise of minority movements in the 1960s, share similar "conciliatory" (37) gestures. Both countries simultaneously recognize and renounce racial tensions, and both endeavor to promote in their racial minorities a larger sense of unified national identity all as a method toward nation-building and national cohesion. In their perceptions of each other and in their politicized rhetoric, however, both the US and China view the treatment of the other's minorities with suspicion and criticism, and between the two nations "Mutual accusations of minority rights violations . . . have remained a constant theme" (xii), with each country engaging in an "unproductive and often unconscious pattern of comparison that reduces the other country to a foil onto which one's own can project the evil of ethno-racial prejudice" (xiii). Jin counters this historical adversarial stance taken between China and the US, and her approach is refreshing in her positive regard for and even-handed analysis of multiculturalism in both countries. Jin finds value in both countries' multiculturalism, and although both nations' policies are fraught with limitations and historical problems, Jin finds that both China and the US are also great examples of viable modern-day multiethnic nation-states.

Jin's purpose in the book is to position China and the US as compatriots rather than as adversaries, and she extends this mediating approach to her method of study. She subverts balkanized spaces of area studies and offers her method of inquiry as "a challenge to the traditional disciplinary divides that separate Asian American studies, and American studies in general, from East Asian studies" (18) because "Asian American studies should be conceived, on an intellectual level, as a multiply located field . . . [accessing] the various histories and literary and political discourses from both American and East Asian studies" (19) "To pave the way for projects in transnational ethnic studies (21).

Jin's intentions are ambitious, and she far exceeds her goals. Her book is broad in scope while also in depth, offering groundbreaking insight into the socio-cultural and historical contexts of a diverse [End Page 213] range of minorities, such as the Han Chinese in Inner Mongolia, Hui Muslims in China, Arab Muslims and other Muslim Americans, Native Americans, and immigrant and transnational Chinese authors, including Chinese-language writers living in the States. In addition to the ethnic diversity, Jin's choice of texts cover a significant diversity of political movements within and between China and the US, such as The Cold War, American military presence in Asia post-World War II, the Yellow Peril stereotypes, US imperial ambitions pre- and post-9/11, Chinese political maneuvers in Asia, Tiananmen Square, and the War on Terror. Jin also includes a wide range of genres within fiction, adding layers to her argument...


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