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XIAO-HUANG YIN Between the East and West: Sui Sin Far—the First Chinese-American Woman Writer I give my right hand to the Occidentals and my left to the Orientals, hoping that between them they will not utterly destroy the insignificant "connection link." ("Leaves" 132) Thus sui sin far (Edith Maud Eaton, 1865-1914),1 the fitst Chinese-American woman writei, expressed het feelings as a Eutasian . Among the eatly Chinese immigrant authots, she was virtually the only one who engaged in wtiting imaginative literature rathet than social-anthropological works. Owing to het talents in writing and deep insight into the themes she presents, she achieved great success. At a time when there was strong bias against writers of Chinese ancestty in mainstream Ametican literature, her works were carried by major literary journals and newspapers throughout America, including The Century , The Independent, New Enghnd, The Overhnd Monthly, and The New York Evening Post. Thirty-seven of het previously published stoties—"my deat children" as she modestly called them—latet were collected in a volume entitled Mrs. Spring Fragrance, which won critical and populat acclaim.2 "Quaint, lovable characters are the Chinese," said the publishers advettisement in the New York Times, "who appeal in these unusual and exquisite stoties—stoties that will open an entirely new world to many readers."' The fact that her work is favorably reviewed in the newly-published Columbia Literary History of the United Arizona Quarterly Volume 47 Number 4, Winter 1991 Copyright © 1991 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 16 10 50Xiao-Huang Yin States, while the writing of most Chinese Americans of hei time has faded out, is a testament to the recognition and populatity she has gained (Elliott 517). Howevet, the significance ofSui's writing goes far beyond the literary success she has achieved. In addition to her artistic accomplishment, she is also remembered for her conscientious effort to create a more objective image of Chinese Ameticans. Unlike contempotaty Chinese immigrant authots who were mostly "China-oriented" and were mainly interested in playing the iole of "cultural ambassadors" (Kim 24), she was concerned with the life of Chinese Americans and focused her attention on "those who come to live in this land": In these days one reads and hears much about Chinese diplomats , Chinese persons of high rank, Chinese visitots of prominence, and others, who by reason of wealth and social standing ate interesting to the Ametican people. But of those Chinese who come to live in this land, to make their homes in America, if only for a while, we hear practically nothing at all. Yet these Chinese, Chinese Ameticans I call them, are not unworthy of a little notice. ("Chinese Workmen" 56) Probing deeply into Chinatown and the complex lives of its inhabitants , she exhibited to her audience a hidden world largely ignored or grossly distorted by Ametican writets. Her stoties, composed in an intimate , descriptive tone and based on what she learned in her life among Chinese immigrants, present a panoramic view and a realistic picture of the Chinese-American community at the turn of the centuty. Sui examines in depth the issue of Chinese-American identity, the contradictions between Americanized and tradition-otiented Chinese, the self-protective aspect of the Chinese community, the mental torment of Eurasians, and intermarriage and its consequences while responding to the imperatives of her conscience. In this sense, she seems peetless among her contemporaries and her writing represents an unusual petspective in Chinese-American literary history. BIOGRAPHIC BACKGROUND AND STYLE OF WRITING Sui's status among early Chinese-American authots is fathet special because she is Eurasian; yet her background also reflects some of the Sui Sin Far5 1 Edith Maud Eaton (Sui Sin Far) problems typically encountered by wtiteis of Chinese ancestry at that time. In het lengthy, vividly written autobiographic essay, "Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian,"4 one can see the uniqueness of hei expeiience as a half-Chinese as well as the expeiiences she shared with othet Chinese wtitets on the Ametican literary scene. Daughter of an English entrepreneur and a "very bright Westernized" Chinese woman, Sui was bom in England in 1865 ("Edith Eaton Dead" 52Xiao...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 49-84
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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