Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry
by Amy Ling
212 pages (hardcover)
I have to return this to the library tomorrow, and unfortunately I'm only on Chapter 3 of 5. But I'll try my best to review it fairly, because it's definitely worthwhile reading for educating oneself on both racism and sexism. A Chinese woman suffered from two major oppressions: by the males of her own race, and by white people regardless of gender. The writing style is academic but accessible.
1. Writing As Rebellion, Historical and Contextual Backgrounds
An introduction of sorts, covering background information. Oriental stereotypes in the West, sexism in China, and the few Chinese-American women writers are all discussed. Very useful overview.
2. Pioneers and Paradigms: The Eaton Sisters
An entire chapter is devoted to analyzing the Eurasian sisters Edith and Winnifred Eaton, also known by the pen names Sui Sin Far and Onoto Watanna, respectively. Ling discusses at length the reasoning, implications, and consequences of the sisters' differing choices--Edith intentionally chose a Chinese-sounding name and aimed to become a martyr for the Chinese cause in America, while Winnifred chose to take on a Japanese identity and thus made a living off writing romance novels. The sisters, born of an American father and Chinese mother, also each wrote an autobiography (but again differing greatly) which sheds some light upon their choices.
In particular, the discussion of Chinese people being seen as heathens "in desperate need of Christian salvation" (48) disturbed me, not least because I don't believe that religion is necessary to be civilized and moral. And miscegnation, that term so debated in recent times, is also mentioned in telling how the interracial romances in Onoto Watanna's novels were acceptable "as long as the couple was white male/Japanese female" (51). In other words, as long as the white male was shown in a position of power and the Asian female as a stereotype.
3. Focus on China: Stances Patriotic, Critical, and Nostalgic
I am only on page 63, a little into this chapter, but it looks to be about exaclty what the title indicates. Detailed discussion of several Chinese-American writers and relevant themes in their writings.
4. Focus on America: Seeking a Self and a Place
From skimming, there is one section that I want to paraphrase. In discussing the autobiography Echo of a Cry
by Mai-mai Sze, Ling quotes Sze after she purposefully sits next to a black woman in the cafeteria at college: "['Colored people'] still implies inferiority of a kind, doesn't it, as if 'colored people' were not up to others? When you think of it, we're all colored except the pure white man. And is there such a thing?" (107-8) That made me think of the widely used term POC (people of color), which suffers from the same negative connotation--but there isn't really a term to replace it yet, so we keep using it. (Although yhlee
's "chromatic" shows promise.)
5. Righting Wrongs by Writing Wrongs
A difficult chapter to describe, but I will say that the conclusion on pages 177-9 speaks eloquently about the "between-world condition" of Chinese women in America.
The annotated bibliography on pages 191-9 is far too long to reproduce here, but I'll list authors cited under the cut so that the interested may seek out their work (though if you're that interested, I highly recommend reading this book first, at least the annotations).
And I'll note that my own family name appears above. But more importantly--what does it say, that all the known female Chinese-American writers can be named in a manageable list?