Reading Chinese Fortune Cookie: The Making of Chinese American Rhetoric

Reading Chinese Fortune Cookie: The Making of Chinese American Rhetoric

Reading Chinese Fortune Cookie: The Making of Chinese American Rhetoric

Reading Chinese Fortune Cookie: The Making of Chinese American Rhetoric


LuMing Mao offers an important discussion of the rhetoric of Chinese American speakers, which has wide implications for the teaching of writing in English and for our understanding of cross-cultural influences in discourse.

Recent scholarship tends to explain such influences as contributing to language hybridity---an advance over the traditional "deficit model." But Mao suggests that the "hybridity" approach is perhaps too arid or sanitized, missing rich nuances of mutual exchange, resistance, or even subversion. Working from Ang's concept of "togetherness in difference," Mao suggests that speakers of hybrid discourse may not be attempting the standard (and failing), but instead may be deliberately importing cultural material to create a distance between themselves and the standard. This practice, over time, becomes a process that transforms English, enriching and enlarging it through the infusion of non-Western discourse features, subverting power structures, and even providing unique humorous touches.

Of interest to scholars in composition, cultural studies, and linguistics as well, Reading Chinese Fortune Cookie leads in an important new direction for both our understanding and our teaching of English.


Men of the world who value the Way all turn to boohs. But boohs are
nothing more than words. Words have value; what is of value in words
is meaning. Meaning has something it is pursuing, but the thing that
it is pursuing cannot be put into words and handed down.

(Zhuangzi 152)

Lately I have been increasingly drawn to a growing paradox—one that has produced a polarizing discourse pitting unreserved enthusiasm on one side against downright resistance on the other. On the one hand, we now live in this increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, brought about in part by rapid technological advances such as the Internet and the World Wide Web and by the spread of English as a language of commerce and science, as a lingua franca. These developments not only make it possible to collapse time and space in ways that have never been imagined before, but also seem to have rendered geographical distance and cultural differences less relevant, less material. Consequently, there is almost a rush, in our media as well as in our national discourse, to embrace such developments as validation that globalization has now entered into a brand-new phase and that boundaries, both physical and metaphorical, can indeed be blurred and even obliterated. Or as Carpenter and McLuhan predicted way back in 1960, our world would turn into a “global village” where “everything happens to everyone at the same time: everyone knows about, and therefore participates in, everything that is happening the minute it happens” (xi).

On the other hand, skepticism and resistance toward integration and uniformity abound. Different nations and communities are becoming more and more vocal and insistent on claiming their distinctive identities and on celebrating their cultural heritages. They are determined to reassert their rightful agency and to forge their own alliances and affiliations. These kinds of discursive performances serve to counter this seemingly unstoppable march toward what Barber calls “a McWorld” (53)—a world that has been made possible by technology, ecology . . .

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