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Chang and Eng Reconnected

The Original Siamese Twins in American Culture

Cynthia Wu

Publication Year: 2012

Conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker have fascinated the world since the nineteenth century. In her captivating book, Chang and Eng Reconnected, Cynthia Wu traces the “Original Siamese Twins” through the terrain of American culture, showing how their inseparability underscored tensions between individuality and collectivity in the American popular imagination. 

Using letters, medical documents and exhibits, literature, art, film, and family lore, Wu provides a trans-historical analysis that presents the Bunkers as both a material presence and as metaphor. She also shows how the twins figure in representations of race, disability, and science in fictional narratives about nation building.

As astute entrepreneurs, the twins managed their own lives; nonetheless, as Chang and Eng Reconnected shows, American culture has always viewed them through the multiple lenses of difference.

Published by: Temple University Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Quotes

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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Chang and Eng Reconnected began as a dissertation in the American Culture program at the University of Michigan. The attentive and sustained guidance provided by my committee members—Martin Pernick, Tobin Siebers, Sidonie Smith, and Patricia Yaeger—helped shape this project from its earliest stages. ...

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pp. 1-12

No one watching from the dock knew what Abel Coffin hid under the sheet that covered a shapeless but ambulatory form disembarking with him from the USS Sachem in Boston Harbor on August 16, 1829. Coffin, a mariner who specialized in overseas trade, led the rumpled mass down the gangplank and into an enclosed carriage, ...

Part I: Locating Material Traces in the Archives

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1. Labor and Ownership in the American South

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pp. 15-35

A complex history looms behind the exhibition of unusual bodies for monetary profit. Susan Schweik’s account of unsightly beggar ordinances in the United States, colloquially known as “ugly laws,” shows how disability and class disadvantage have repeatedly converged from the late nineteenth century onwards. ...

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2. The Mystery of Their Union

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pp. 36-57

Ruminating on the gazes at play in both the sideshow and medical laboratory, Susan Stewart observes that “it does not matter whether the freak is alive or dead.”1 Anomalous bodies in whatever state have long been prized by entertainment purveyors and scientists alike. ...

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3. Strange Incursions into Medical Science at the Mütter Museum

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pp. 58-78

When William Pancoast and Harrison Allen finished their postmortem examination of Chang and Eng Bunker, they made sure to record the body’s presence at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia before returning it to North Carolina for burial. The incisions from the autopsy were sutured, and the twins were suspended upright ...

Part II : Reading Literature and Visual Cultures

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4. Late-Nineteenth-Century Visions of Conflict and Consensus

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pp. 81-99

Chapters 2 and 3 cover how Chang and Eng Bunker’s corporeal body was interpreted by professionals and laypeople alike within medically oriented spaces. From Harrison Allen and William Pancoast’s report of their autopsy, to the experiences of visitors at the Mütter Museum, to the photography of Rosamond Purcell and William Wegman, ...

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5. Asian Americans Bare/Bear the Hyphen

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pp. 100-119

The nineteenth-century Anglo-American texts in Chapter 4 invoke Chang and Eng Bunker to reference a union of competing political contingents for an abstracted collectivist good. Whether it is to ease sectional strife after the Civil War or to resolve the tensions of class revolt, ...

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6. Disciplining and Normalizing the Woman Subject in Contemporary Literature and Film

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pp. 120-142

The sources I examine in Chapters 4 and 5 position racialized conjoinment as a recurrent metaphor in narratives about the composition of the nation and the state. These authors participate in compelling conversations about managing a polycultural public, either through negotiation or through coercion, in order to build an abstracted concept of “nation.” ...

Part III : Observing and Participating

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7. Our Esteemed Ancestors

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pp. 145-170

We have seen how the figure of the white woman functions in contemporary fictional narratives about the flexibility and malleability of kinship. These moments that unravel heteropatriarchal models of the family in late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century fiction and film show how conjoined men ...

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Epilogue: Alone or Together?

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pp. 171-174

In March 2011, the University of California, Berkeley, held a symposium in conjunction with the world premiere of playwright Philip Kan Gotanda’s I Dream of Chang and Eng. The play, a fictionalized account of the lives of the Bunkers with elements of magical realism, contained one hundred thirty costume changes for a cast of nineteen, ...


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pp. 175-196


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pp. 197-203

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9781439908709
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439908693

Page Count: 206
Illustrations: 18
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 809775330
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Chang and Eng Reconnected

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Conjoined twins in literature.
  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Bunker, Chang, 1811-1874 -- In literature.
  • Bunker, Eng, 1811-1874 -- In literature.
  • Literature and society -- United States.
  • Popular culture -- United States.
  • Asian Americans in literature.
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