Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Wynn Handman, Asian America, and the American Place Theatre

"He's a master. Master of his craft. He'll help you get your craft, and it's up to you to make it art."

- Frank Chin on Wynn Handman
from It Takes a Lunatic

Wynn Handman
(May 19, 1922 – April 11, 2020)

Frank Chin's plays (Chickencoop Chinaman and Year of the Dragon) had their openings at Handman's American Place Theatre in New York.  His theatre was responsible for having the first Asian American play (Chickencoop Chinaman) done off-Broadway.  Condolences to his family and friends. 

Catch Netflix's documentary on Handman's life and career in "It Takes a Lunatic"

Wynn Handman and Frank Chin

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Most Popular Book in China

[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.]

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Happy birthday, Frank

Another great site on Frank Chin:

The Frank Chin Archive: 

This facebook site is maintained by Calvin McMillin.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Goong Hay Fot Choy 2020

One of the best books to read about how Chinese America celebrate Chinese New Year right over here.

Also, more on the 3rd edition of Aiiieeeee!:

Tara Fickle's foreword can be read here:

I initially encountered Aiiieeeee! in the winter of 2003, during my first Asian American literature course at Wesleyan University. My professor deftly outlined the major critiques that had been leveled against the anthology over the years—the narrowness of its definition of Asian America, its overtly masculine tone and underrepresentation of women, its American-born, monolingual perspective—and with each contention, I grew more indignant. The magnitude of my indignation was perhaps out of proportion with the size of its source, based as it was on my thin reading of a thin selection: no more than the twelve pages that made up the original 1974 preface. We did not read the introduction that followed, nor the selections that constituted the bulk of the anthology (although we did read two of the excerpted novels, America Is in the Heart and No-No Boy, in their entirety). I am ashamed to admit that not until recently did I actually read the entire anthology, cover to cover. Yet I would venture that this oversight is not uncommon among Asian Americanists of my generation. Indeed, if what defined Asian Americans for the editors of Aiiieeeee! was that they “got their China and Japan off the radio, off the silver screen, from television, out of comic books,” then for years perhaps what defined me as an Asian Americanist was where I didn’t get my Asian America: which is to say, from Aiiieeeee!


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The New Yorker on the Aiiieeeee! Authors: The Asian-American Canon Breakers

(Photograph by Ken Gaetjen)
(From Left-to-Right: Jeffery Paul Chan, Frank Chin, Lawson Fusao Inada, Shawn Wong, and Chan’s daughter Jennifer)

For your interest, please checkout Hua Hsu's New Yorker article (the views expressed are Hsu's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Frank Chin's):

Proudly embracing their role as outsiders, a group of writer-activists set out to create a cultural identity—and a literature—of their own.

In August of 1972, the Times reporter Ralph Blumenthal was working on an article about theatre in New York’s Chinatown. He was focussing on the challenges faced by performers who had recently emigrated from Hong Kong and Taiwan. They were shut out of mainstream productions, and the grassroots theatre scene was still maturing. Blumenthal’s editor asked a colleague named Frank Ching, who presumably knew a bit more about that part of town, to look the piece over. Ching felt that Blumenthal cast the broader Chinese-American population as foreign. He recommended some more interesting artists to Blumenthal, who ended up including a parenthetical mention of an up-and-coming playwright named Frank Chin. Ching likely believed that he was doing a favor for Chin, whose “Chickencoop Chinaman” had opened at the American Place Theatre months earlier. At the very least, Ching must have felt that he had helped sneak an edgier name into an otherwise drab roundup. But Chin was furious to be included at all. [Continue reading here]

You'll get an interesting history on how the Aiiieeeee! book got published.  Speaking of which, the 3rd edition of Aiiieeeee! just came out:

Don't forget to purchase your copy (more information here).

Monday, November 18, 2019

Aiiieeeee! 3rd Edition Now Available!

An Anthology of Asian American Writers



A look inside:


"A manifesto for an Asian-American renaissance."
- Ismael Reed, Partisan Review

"That 'whole voice' which speaks out so eloquently in Aiiieeeee! is an amazing versatile voice. It is a voice that makes one believe in writing again.... It has none of the accents, none of the echoes, of white academic writing, and I herald it with rejoicing."
- Kay Boyle, Rolling Stone

"The book brings to life a marvelous array of Asian-American characters who break away from the stereotype of silent impassivity to which they had been assigned for so many generations. It demolishes those comfortable cliches."
- Jan Carew, New York Times Book Review


From University of Washington
From Amazon, Barnes and Noble


360 pp., 5.5 × 8.5 in.
hardcover, 9780295746760
paperback, 9780295746487

Monday, October 21, 2019

Frank Chin vs John Korty

In a previous post, Frank Chin said, "I hate myself in Farewell to Manzanar." In light of that, I thought this letter from Frank Chin to filmmaker John Korty (director of the TV-Film Farewell to Manzanar) is worth reading:

To John Korty:

Your Farewell to Manzanar is the most despicable, self-righteous, white racist vision of Japanese America in American film. It’s less honest about white racism and the Japanese American lockup in concentration camps than The Purple Heart (1945), Escape from Manzanar (1945), Go for Broke! (1951), Hell to Eternity (1960), If Tomorrow Comes (1971) and Guilty by Reason of Race (1972). Your characterization of Japanese Americans being either Japanese foreigners or American-born yellow white supremacists sucks off the same white fantasies about Japanese America that justified putting them in the camps in the first place. Ku Klux Klan is gonna see that you get the Emmy for proving they were right, John.

You have lovingly removed white racism from the issue of the concentration camps and the everyday minds of Japanese American. A remarkable feat. You save whites from feeling guilty by characterizing Japanese Americans as cheerfully unaware of the pervasive white racism and as lovably stupid and subhuman as Snow White’s seven dwarfs.

The removal of white racism from the issue of the Japanese American concentration camps is as racist as removing anti-Semitism from the issue of the Jewish concentration camps run by Nazis. Nazis gonna have you do a film on the Jews not being bitter about their camps to make the Nazis look good, John. You have a real future making the Walt Disney True Life Adventure Series of endangered non-white human species.

I first throught your adaptation of Ernest J. Ganes’ The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman was a crime against literature by a filmmaker known for making movies about trivial nothings. The magnitude of your racist accomplishment, of turning a great book into a trivial nothing, memorable only for a makeup job, escaped me until I saw Farewell to Manzanar.


"Your Farewell to Manzanar is the most despicable, self-righteous, white racist vision of Japanese America in American film. "


I saw the film Edison Uno says “speaks for itself,” and finally saw your crime is against humanity of non-whites. Farewell to Manzanar might be the perfect racist crime. Only a white racist could have removed white racism from the issue of the camps and adored to justify the racist logic that made the camps happen. General De Witt will rise from the grave to hand you your Emmy, John. You’ve redeemed him.

Worse than legitimizing white racism is your willful destruction of Japanese American history and culture. Harry Ueno, Togo Tanaka, Joe Kurihara, Fred Tayama and other Japanese Americans who were moved to heroic acts of will and greatness to maintain Japanese American integrity are real people.

These great Japanese Americans of Manzanar are still living, what they said and did at Manzanar are matters of public record and more, they are the substance of Japanese American courage in the most trying time in Japanese American history. You change their names to fakes, some kind of Dopey-san and Sleepy-san in your racist fairy tale. You cut the knowledge of white racism from their minds and mouths and amazingly cut the awareness of white people out of the minds of all Japanese Americans, making yellows look really dumb. They don’t notice a yellow man messing around with the only white woman in the movie, and nothing is made of the yellow woman married to the white man that opens and closes the film.

That’s a white supremacist fantasy of Shangri-la, not reality. Even “Japs” weren’t and aren’t that blind. They saw. They talked about what they saw. You make the men who stand up and fight for what they believe in sissies and crybabies who can’t stand up without falling apart and can’t talk straight talk only self-pity and white worship.

Farewell to Manzanar is a cry of FORGET MANZANAR! It’s a piece of white racist propaganda. I apologize to Japanese American for having been an accomplice to this crime against their history, their language, their names, their soul. I’m asking you to strike my name from the credits.

If Japanese America doesn’t step up to you outraged and angry after Farewell to Manzanar airs, then we will both know the camps were successful in destroying Japanese America. You will have gotten away with murder. You’ll collect your Emmy for your version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfts, and I will mourn the loss of a great people from the face of the earth.


May, 1976
Mother Jones Magazine