The Triumph of the Prefeminist Chinese Woman?
“Have you read this new novel Lucknow Nights Without Joy in Chinatown?”
Raymond had tried but could not get past the first chapter. Red continued without waiting for an answer. “Man, what a tearjerker when Mei-mei and her mother triumph over the vicious cycle of Chinese misogyny and despair.”
(Shawn Wong, American Knees)
SHAWN WONG'S BRIEF PORTRAYAL parodies The Joy Luck Club's feminist plot structure and the triumphalism and sentimentality that drive it. While his male protagonist would reject such a narrative as exalting Chinese American women at the expense of Chinese culture, ironically, Wong's own story of the originary moments of Asian American literature is both sentimental and ultimately triumphant. A young college student desirous of being a writer in the late 1960s, he could find no ethnic role models and sets out to recover Asian American male writers forced into obscurity by the vicious cycle of American racism and indifference: “I asked myself at the age of 19, ‘Why am I the only Chinese American writer I know?’” Trying to find an answer to the question connects him with a number of his contemporaries, and together they begin a quest to recover, in flesh and in print, a previous generation of Asian American writers and writing. As Wong explains in hip staccato, the search for these writers was at times embarrassingly easy: “They were not hiding. They were not gone. Some were not even out of print. They had not stopped writing” (Shawn Wong 1993, 125). The quest required few feats of heroism; as he tells it, bringing a generation of writers to light at one point simply meant looking up Toshio Mori's name in the phone book.
There is, perhaps, an unintended irony to this story of literary excavation: it bears striking resemblance to what feminist critics were doing at the same time revealing, perhaps, that cultural nationalism has its sentimental side. It is the truncated, Asian, male version of Alice Walker's