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Diaspora 2:1 1992 "The Invisible World the Emigrants Built": Cultural Self-Inscription and the Antiromantic Plots off The Woman Warrior Patricia Chu Cornell University Chinese-Americans, when you try to understand what things in you are Chinese, how do you separate what is peculiar to childhood, to poverty, insanities, one family, your mother who marked your growing with stories, from what is Chinese? Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior 1. Many Cultures, One Self: Kingston's Invisible World Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior: Memoirs ofa Girlhood Among Ghosts both depicts and creates for its readers such an experience of strangeness that many non-Chinese-American readers view it as "exotic" and Chinese, some Chinese Americans dismiss it as a misrepresentation ofChinese-American experience, and most Chinese view it as American.1 As Kingston herself has noted, many of the book's early reviewers praised the book, yet inappropriately tried to draw general conclusions from it about Chinese Americans, or even Chinese (Kingston, "Cultural Mis-readings"). Chinese readers are likely to share the initial responses ofZhang Ya-jie, a scholar from the People's Republic ofChina (P.R.C.) who felt that Kingston's treatment of certain stories, especially the woman warrior story, was "somewhat twisted, Chinese perhaps in origin but not really Chinese any more, full ofAmerican imagination," and was put offby the book's expressions of bitterness toward Kingston's mother and its generalizations about Chinese people (103). Perhaps in response, much Asian-American discussion has focused on the book's ethnic authenticity, rather than its poetic rendering of Kingston's experience , as a quick survey of four Asian-American critical approaches may suggest. Vivian Hsu, for one, uses the book as ethnographic documentation for a historically informed analysis of Chinese-American traits. A second response is typified by Jeffrey Paul Chan and Frank Chin, who fault Kingston for willfully distorting both Chinese and Chinese -American culture, and for permitting her book, obviously an imaginative work, to be published as nonfiction (Wong 3). Chin, in 95 Diaspora 2:1 1992 both parody and direct critique, charges that Kingston willfully misrepresents her Chinese and Chinese-American sources in order to pander to white stereotypes ofChinese and Chinese Americans ("Afterword " and "Come All"). Third, Elaine Kim places Asian-American literary texts such as Kingston's in the context of Asian-American history, sociology, and literary history; her approach usefully addresses the problem of ignorance about Asian Americans, but risks subordinating literary to sociological analysis. Finally, critics such as Sau-ling Wong and King-Kok Cheung defend Kingston as a creative artist whose individual vision is informed by awareness ofher political position as an "ethnic" American writer, but who consciously departs from her diasporan culture's folklore and fact for valid artistic reasons.2 My study will emphasize Kingston's integrity and achievement as a creative artist; in The Woman Warrior, I see Kingston, as protagonist and artist, confronting political and artistic issues she faces in common with others, but finding a response which is personal, poetic, and by no means predetermined by those issues. It is true that the social context of Kingston's own childhood and youth is a significant reason for the book's apparent cultural anomalousness . The memoir3 depicts her struggle to interpret her early life in a working-class immigrant community in postwar, cold war America, a country largely hostile to its Chinese immigrants, their offspring, and the culture they construct in America.4 But the limited number and range of specifically Chinese-American or AsianAmerican literary models available to Kingston at the time is also important5: in order to construct a narrative of selfhood and articulate her own relation to her community, Kingston had first to portray that community in a way that would be accessible to whites, yet would challenge white stereotypes of Chinese and Chinese Americans . At the same time, Kingston sought to go beyond the role of cultural tour guide and to probe the roots of her own childhood difficulties by making visible the pressures placed on her and her family by their marginal status in the United States. Much ofKingston 's difficulty as author arises from conflicts between the...


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pp. 95-115
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