[An article written by Frank Chin in response to Maxine Hong Kingston's version of Mulan]
by Frank Chin
THE MOST POPULAR book in China is the autobiography of a white woman born and raised in a French hand laundry in south China. The meek, sycophantic nature of the French of her childhood clashed with the aggressive, individualistic nature of the un-revolulionized Chinese, who embraced her as one of themselves.
A female and raised a French Catholic, she is, by the terms of her thousand-year-old religion, the meekest of the meek, the mildest of the mild, basking in the grace of God. She is forbidden by French culture to speak of herself except in the third person, and must limit her use of the first-person pronoun "I" to quoting the exact words spoken by card-carrying Judeo-Christian white men.
She cunningly transcends the religious ban on female first-person expression by writing of herself in metaphor. "Once upon a time, in a onceupon-a-time China, there lived a once-upon-a-time little French girl in a little French hand laundry, in the little Frenchtown on the edge of the mighty port city of Canton," the book opens. Very quickly this unusual autobiography of a Christian convert in China becomes a poetic evocation of a heroine of French feminism. She wrote a book about her imagined French ancestor Joan of Arc.
The old people of Frenchtown on the edge of Canton didn't like the book. They didn't have Smith Meijing's grasp of the Chinese language, the Chinese who loved her book said. The people of old Frenchtown said her book falsified history. They are conservative and old fashioned and don't appreciate good writing, the Chinese who loved the book said.
The picture of Joan of Arc as a man forced to dress and act like a girl and castrated after ceremonial incestuous relations with his father to satisfy the perverse sexual lusts of her parents was not historically accurate and was so inaccurate as to demonstrate that the woman had gone mad, the French people of Frenchtown on the edge of the port city said. The French girl is writing not history, but art, the Chinese who loved the book said, and continued: She is writing a work of imagination authenticated by her personal experience.
The French people of Frenchtown said, her own experience is an insane, paranoid distortion of basic knowledge common to all French. She mangles what no sane Frenchman could get wrong without going mad: Joan of Arc! the people oi Frenchtown protested.
And the Chinese who loved the book said, her personal experience was authentically French and her unique understanding of both the French and Chinese views of life brings the Chinese the closest, most human understanding of the French ever produced in the Chinese language. Her book gives the Chinese insights into the French mind and the French character, not French books, the Chinese who loved the book said, and declared Smith Mei-jing the hope of French literature written in Chinese.
She violates French history, culture and language, heaps contempt on her ancestry, and depends on the ignorance of her Chinese readers for her Chinese literary success, the old people of Frenchtown said, and waved old books over their heads.
Sour grapes, the Chinese who loved the book said. She's not writing history or about history, therefore the accuracy of any of her history is irrelevant to the question of her artistry, authenticity and psychological reality, her Chinese admirers said.
The French autobiographer's name is Smith Mei-jing, her autobiography, The Unmanly Warrior. The Chinese Children's Digest version of the book has been translated into English with the hope it will be adopted as an aid in teaching American fourth and fifth graders a little about France, French culture and the relevance of Joan of Arc in the world of personal experience.
UNMANLY WARRIOR by Smith Mei-jing
Once upon a time, in a once-upon-a-time China, there lived a once-upona-timc little French girl in a little French hand laundry, in the little French-town on the edge of the mighty port city of Canton. A lone white girl in the splendor and civilization of China. Am I so alien to my vague Europe? My far France? The French are a distant people. She dreams about my French self. How strange it is to be French in China. Surely the grandest place in the world to be born. In France they burned women. They held a lottery, and each year more and more women were burned.
Joan of Arc was the last woman to be burned by my ancestors. Surely Joan imagined herself Chinese, in China where ancient woman warriors abound in the heroic tradition from ancient times. And she thought herself born again someday in me. Poor Joan of Arc. Born a son to a family that craved a daughter. They dressed their boy as a girl. They forced him into homosexual relationships with the surrounding court society, while young and naked virgins pranced through the deer park singing Vivaldi with ribald discretion.
Joan of Arc grew up a strong and muscular boy. Yet his parents dressed him in gowns and wigs and powdered him and admonished him to seduce princelings and influential priests at the crown balls. Joan took to bright lipstick and shiny satin masks and riding rescue, snatching women from the flames of the lottery.
Soon Joan mounted an army of masked women fed up with the silliness of court life that threatened to topple France, determined to make it a nation ruled by women rescued from the flames of French male bigotry.
The Church would not be denied its divine right to burn women, and mounted a Catholic army of the church militant and all male aristocracy to destroy Joan's army, capture the female general, and burn her in a public place at rush hour.
Men who formed around Joan called themselves the Nazi party and named Joan their leader. No one knew Joan of Arc was actually a six-foot four, 225-pound man. At the head of his army, Joan was free of the homosexual affairs forced on him by his social-climbing parents. The inevitable happened. Fighting side by side with the sexiest and fiercest women of France, in battle after battle from Hastings to Waterloo, Joan fell in love with one of them. She fell in love with a militant lesbian of an aberrant Christian sect. The young girl warrior was at first seduced by the lovely Joan she had admired and defended and come to love, fighting side by side in the clang and gallop of battle as women.
The first kiss that night they kissed made them sigh. Their tongues touched and they shivered. The night the young lesbian militant grabbed Joan's naked male member vibrating at full tumescence, her mind snapped. A yelp squirted out of her throat. Her hand clenched in a deathgrip around Joan's throbbing hardon. She chanted Hail Marys and tried to face west, but had lost all sense of direction. Joan's member shrank out of the grasp of the only girl Joan of Arc ever loved. If Joan had only known the Chinese were using compasses at this time, she might have turned her dead comrade-in-arms' and lover's face to the west. Joan became the elected ruler of the new Franco-Germany created by a Nazi referendum, and became the first leader of a European democracy. She pitted her army of freed women, excommunicated nuns, and fed-up ladies of the court against the armies of the Roman Church.
Joan's parents betrayed her just as she was making advances on the body of a young lapsed nun who had confessed to years of desiring intimate contact with a male organ at full tumescence. The Christian concept of original sin made no sense to Joan of Arc. She would not accept its intimidating, bullying claim to prior ownership of himself. Yet the odd notion had a strange grip on the bodily functions and thought processes, and perversions about the mother we Europeans who have been more or less Christian since possibly the death of Jesus Christ all share. Christ lived about the time the Han was peaking. Five generations later, the Three Kingdoms period came on China and the mandate of heaven was renewed almost daily, for a hundred and fifty years. By then Christianity was in its first Dark Age.
Women in the Nazi Party wanting more power in the structure betrayed Joan to his parents, who betrayed him to the church militant of Rome. They captured him, castrated him in public, in the middle of Paris, then dressed him in underwear from Frederick's of Hollywood, and high fashion from Oscar de la Renta, Gucci shoes and coochie-coos. Priests of the Pope painted his face. They put false eyelashes on his eyelids, wigged him, pierced his ears, gave him a nose job, and cut half-moons under his breasts and slipped in bags of silicone to give him the breasts of a woman. They painted his nails, stockinged his legs. He bled from the nose job. He bled out of his nose and mouth. He bled from the half-moons cut under his breasts. He bled from the groin where he had been castrated. The faithful of the church chanted and rocked their censers and crucifixes, back and forth, back and forth. The army of women had abandoned Joan when there was no doubt about Joan of Arc being a man. The women set the torch to the faggots surrounding Joan's body, and they burned him.
I identify with me, Joan of Arc tells me. He might have been a great great-grandfather. How could he stand to read the scrawly, wormy, patsy writing of the French? Their first-person pronoun looks like a child's earring. Where are the solid weapons of the Chinese "I" 1 wonder, and pity the people confined to communicate with each other with an unarmed, uninhabited, passive first-person pronoun to assert themselves with, Joan would think if he were in China now.
Joan suffered for lack of a proud "I." Humiliated, he defended the honor and equality of French women, and they betrayed him. His parents betrayed him to better their positions in court society. The rituals and traditions of the Roman Church demanded he be burned as a woman. After they realized that they had burned a man—no matter that they had burned him as a woman, they had burned a man—they ended the burning of women. Thus Joan of Arc lived and died the daughter her parents had always wanted.
How lucky I am to be in China where civilization is whole and healthy. If only my own parents had been more adaptable and not brought all this misery to me. They make me feel so foreign. Their superstitions for every occasion have me dizzy. I like to think Joan of Arc would not have put up with this fanatical fear of life outside the small precinct of the white ghetto. Luckily the Chinese comfort and understand me. They treat me as a human being. The French do not. I come home at night and avoid my parents hunched over their Webster's Dictionary playing Scrabble again, and climb into bed and say, as I say every night, good night to my ancestor. "You're a good man, Joan of Arc."
NONE OF THE historical facts and legendary heroes and touchstones violated beyond recognition by Maxine Hong Kingston and David Henry Hwang for white approval and entertainment are anywhere near as obscure and esoteric to the Chinese as Joan of Arc is to the French.
The violation of history and of fact and of Joan of Arc makes no difference to the pleasure and stimulation the Chinese get from Unmanly Warrior, so why should the falsification of history, the white racist stereotypes and slurs in Kingston's prose and Hwang's theater mean anything to the pleasure whites derive from reading and seeing their work? They don't, of course. People who know nothing about China, about Chinese-Americans, the railroad, the opera and who don't want to know more than they know—know Kingston and Hwang, and that's all they care to know. How Kingston and Hwang make them feel about Chinese and Chinese-Americans.
Well, folks, it's that same old feeling. Fu Manchu, Charlie Chan, Pearl Buck, Shangri-la of the Thirties has become Maxine Hong Kingston and David Henry Hwang in the Eighties, providing whites with an escape from the immediate and pressing terror of hard times, of empty gas tanks and payments to make. Whites have been using the Chinese as the metaphorical out for all their perversions and debilitating insecurities since the thirteenth century. The popular stereotype of the Chinese in white publishing, white religion, Hollywood and TV is a sickening pastiche of white perversions and socially unacceptable fantasies made speakable by calling them Chinese. Kingston and Hwang confirm the white fantasy that everything sick and sickening about the white self-image is really Chinese. That is their service to white ego. Reviewers and critics ripe for the cycle of Christian Chinese-American autobiography and Charlie Chan become accomplices to making the fake China and Chinese America of Kingston and Hwang real with the force of history. The source of their vision of Chinese- American art and history is white fantasy, not Chinese-American history. They're more Charlie Chan than Chang Apana.
Charlie Chan was short and fat and walked with the light, dainty steps of a woman, in white fantasy. Chang Apana was tall and wiry, and he walked through sun and shadow with a bullwhip over his shoulder, in Chinese-American myth and history.
[Chin, Frank. 1984. "The Most Popular Book in China." Quilt 4: 6—12. Reprinted as "Afterword" in Chinaman Pacific and Frisco R.R. Co.:" Eight Short Stories by Frank Chin. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 1988. I—IV.]