This is an interview conducted by Emory Holmes II, a black free lance writer. I didn't know I still had this file, having lost it while clearing my computer after a not being able to find a script I wanted to work on.
Apologies to Emory.
1- Interview June 8, 2005
EHII – DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF AN AMERICAN WRITER?
CHIN – Yes. Yeah, I’m an American. I was born here. Everything I learned I learned here.
EHII – WITH NO ‘HYPHENATION’?
CHIN – I’m afraid that in present day America, I am hyphenated. I consider myself ‘the Universal Man,’ but I am aware that whites, they don’t consider me the Universal Man. The consider their whiteness universal, they consider their Christianity universal, they consider the social contract universal and so we’re different.
EHII – I’VE READ THAT YOU SEE YOURSELF AS A ‘TRANSCENDENT, CHINAMAN, PAGAN, HEATHEN, BARBARIAN…
CHIN – Yes.
EHII – WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THIS, AND WHY ARE YOU SO PROUD OF THIS DESIGNATION?
CHIN – [laughing] Well, I’m a Chinaman – I’m not a white man. I’m a pagan – I’m not a Christian. I’m the other good things that you named.
EHII – ONE OF THE CENTRAL THEMES IN YOUR WORK FOR THE PAST 40 YEARS HAS BEEN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘THE REAL’ AND ‘THE FAKE.’ WHEN DID THIS IDEA COME TO YOU, WHERE DID IT COME FROM, AND WHY IS IT OF SUCH CRITICAL IMPORTANCE TO YOU?
CHIN -- It was Maxine Hong Kingston, she with “The Woman Warrior” became the first Chinese, or Chinese-American writer to name a Chinese heroine or hero, and falsify her life. .
EHII – She was the first?
CHIN – She was the first. Yes. And in all the Asian American studies courses they don’t acknowledge that. They don’t celebrate the fact that Maxine Hong Kingston is the first Chinese-American to associate Mulan with the taattoos off of Ngawk Fei’s or Yue Fei’s in Mandarin, back. In 1975 with her WOMAN WARRIOR, But they will insist that Maxine Hong Kingston was the first writer. They are saying that all Chinese American writing did not exist before. And nothing existed before Maxine Hong Kingston, and the sign that Maxine Hong Kingston was the first writer is that she exposed the reality of Mulan – this heroine from 550 A.D. And in this exposure she falsified all the facts of Mulan. She tattooed her, which was the the ‘mark of a criminal.’ And then later [Maxine Hong Kingston] confessed, after she had collected her four honorary degrees; had collected a medal from President Clinton in humanities. Then she admitted, she announced the victory for ‘feminism’ (why this is a victory I don’t know) but she announced a victory for feminism that she had fooled the American public and convinced them that Mulan was tattooed. But Mulan was not tattooed, she admitted. She had got these tattoos from the back of Yue Fei, a hero about 300 years later.
EHII – A male hero?
CHIN – A male hero – yes. And they were both fighting the same enemy. And so it just makes no sense to the Chinese, but to a know-nothing white, and the know-nothing whites that read Kingston and knew nothing else of China, they were convinced. But then they had been convinced by a century of Christian empire in China that the Chinese were a race of misogynists, and the culture deserved to be ground asunder. And Kingston was just proof of that. That, ‘Yes, here is this poor Chinese woman who just now comes forward to show the reality of this condemnable culture.’ And now she is saying, ‘I fooled you! I fooled you!’ And still, every Asian American studies department in the country, teaches Maxine Hong Kingston and does not teach Far Mulan, the real story, the original ballad from 550 A.D., that is still current, and that ballad is a children’s story. There is not a Chinese American writer, not one, who will defend the Chinese children story. Isn’t that amazing? And yet there are whites that will defend “Jack and the Beanstalk,” there are whites that will defend “The Ugly Duckling,” there are whites that will defend “Cinderella,” there are whites that will defend, even a savage like “Charlemagne.” But not one, how many out of all the plethora of all the Chinese writers, of all the Chinese novels, of all the Chinese history, how many have mentioned the Chinese children’s story? Not one.
EHII – But you have. You have just completed a class at UCLA with the Asian-American scholar King-Kok Cheung on “The Asian Heroic Tradition in China, Japan, Korea and Viet Nam,” in which you introduced these children’s stories. Why do you think these children’s rhymes and fairytales have such resonance, particularly to modern audiences?
CHIN – The children’s stories disprove the stereotypes that the whites have of us. The children’s stories are very individualistic, they are not as conformist as Aesop’s fables…
EHII – Conformist? What do you mean?
CHIN – That they tell the child, ‘You are a subject of society.’ You have no independence. ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’ is design to tame the boy’s urge to just express himself and say, ‘Wolf, wolf, wolf.’ And he’s told, ‘If you do that, no one will listen to you after a while because your cries of alarm of ‘wolf’ are false. And in the Chinese children’s stories, a child is born, has a supernatural birth, and he comes to tell the parents if what they are doing is right or wrong. And he forces the parents to accept him as a stranger. And in taking in an orphan, they have to make the ‘orphan’s a promise’: we promise to raise you as our own. In the Chinese story Nah Jah, the parents don’t keep their promise and Nah Jah, when he goes out and solves the problems of the world, he doesn’t go home again. And we find him at [Kwan-yin’s– the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy’s -- left foot. So, once he finishes his mission he goes to Kwan-yin and becomes her guardian.
In the Japenese version, Momotaro (Peach Boy), the parents, they relent and they help Momotaro, and so because they kept their promise, after Momotaro goes off and kills the bad guys he goes home again. It’s very simple. The Chinese stories are part of the heroic tradition. The heroic tradition emphasizes the individual; emphasizes the hero.
EHII – Can you cite the three great masterworks of the heroic tradition in Chinese literature?
CHIN – There is “The Three Kingdoms,” [by Lou Guanzhong] translated by Moss Roberts, that’s the best translation out. And there is “The Water Margin” [by Shi Nai’an and Luo Guanzhong], translated by Sidney Shapiro as “Outlaws of the Marsh” and it is an excellent translation. There is “Journey to the West,” and the translation I use is by [W.J.F.] Jenner.
EHII – You have pointed out that in this heroic tradition, the individual is extolled, and yet the individual seems to be in service of the people, of the community. Is that what is happening, or is that a mis-reading of the tradition?
CHIN – That’s in question. The heroes, it turns out, can serve the people, but as time goes on the question becomes more complex. So if you serve the people ‘of your area’ but you don’t serve the people of the surrounding areas, are you really a hero? This is the argument that develops from “The Three Kingdoms,” it develops in “The Water Margin,” and it reaches its finest point in Yue Fei. This novel, “Yue Fei” was written in Ch’ing dynasty [1644-1911], which follows the Ming [1368-1643]. And so, in the Ming was written “The Three Kingdoms,” “The Water Margin” and in the Ch’ing was written “Yue Fei,” in between there was “Monkey.”
And “Monkey” was a brilliant development, that took the novel into the realm of satire. Monkey isn’t a man; that’s why he’s monkey. And he’s lower than a man. And yet he has all these qualities. Everyone else, all of the men, they all have previous lives. Under Buddhism, they are all reincarnations. Monkey is the only pure life. He came out of a rock. So he came out of an unliving thing. And so he is innocent; he has to learn everything. But he can learn. And he learns everything men know, he learns everything the Taoists know, he learns everything the Buddhists know. And an American, like me, reading it cold, I say, “Well, he learns everything that the Buddha knows, too.” He’s learnt all this stuff. The Buddha tries to control him. But it’s too late, Monkey has learned more than Buddah, and he’s out there just learning away. And that’s an example to men that, if a monkey can learn…[he laughs] Why can’t men learn?
EHII – Why did Mao Tse-Tung, who was so steeped in the traditions and the literature of China, and as I understand was once nominated for a Nobel Prize for his poetry – why did he suppress these great masterworks?
CHIN – He didn’t.
EHII – He didn’t?
CHIN – The woman who wrote “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” Eurasian woman -- Han Suyin -- she did a couple of books with Mao Tse-Tung, and Mao told her that his favorite books were “Three Kingdoms,” “Water Margin” and “Monkey.”
EHII – I thought I read in one of your essays that he had suppressed those three works.
CHIN – They became suppressed during “The Cultural Revolution.” And he was very old
then; and his [fourth] wife [Jiang Qing], one of the Gang of Four, was called ‘White- Bone Demon.’ And The White-Bone Demon was a character from Monkey. And when the White-Bone Demon reveals herself not to be the tong priest mother, or something, a very close character that lures the tong priest to be captured, and once he is captured she reveals herself. She is not the character that she presented herself as. And she says, “You know, you must learn the difference between the real and the fake.’ And Monkey has been saying this all along to the tong priest. And the tong priest has always been saying is, ‘Well all I can say is, ‘you shouldn’t kill anybody.” And Monkey says, “Those weren’t people. Those were evil spirits.” And the tong priest [says], “Well, even if they were evil spirits, you should have talked them out of it rather than killed them.” And Monkey just throws his hands up in frustration. So the tong priest, he goes through all of the adventures of Monkey, without changing. He is a solid priest, period. Sandy is a strong character; Pigsy is just a glutton. Everybody stays the same. Even the Buddha stays the same. Quan Yen stays the same, but Monkey is the only one that changes. But the hero in “Yu Fei,” I was just reading…I just got a new translation of “Yu Fei” and I’m at a point now, around chapter 30, where they are defining…it’s the first time that a hero, or the representative of the hero debates another hero as to ‘what a hero is.’ And it’s a flawed definition. Yes, unfortunately, the heroes are the subjects of their masters, but at this time, China’s masters are traitors, and the masters that Yu Fei is fighting for, and serving, he doesn’t trust them himself. And so he’s arguing, ‘Yes a hero serves his master, but we have no masters now.” [laughs] “And on my back, my mother has tattooed that I am serving the country, not a master. But he is a good debater and it’s just on form that he manages to convince this outlaw to become a ‘hero’ – unquote:
I perceive that you are truly a man. With your ambitions and ability you do not want to be a pillar of the nation but willingly become a robber in the forest. This is disloyalty. You cannot spread your fame and bring glory to your family, instead you sully their innocence. This is un-filial. You bring suffering to all living creatures and now treat good people – this is un-kind. You only know about the heroes in the hills of the [Yung ker Kong –sp?]. Do you not realize that in this world there are others stronger than you? Once you are defeated you will bring infamy and downfall upon yourself. This is un-wise. Your ability is but emptiness. One of the four qualities of loyalty, filial piety, benevolence and wisdom – you do not possess even one. You are but a mediocre character. And you tell me I do not know the Divine Will?
And in that he seems to have put down the outlaw. But he has condemned himself. Because he has tied himself to… He has said he will never accept the…If the people come to him and say, ‘Hey, Yu Fei, become emperor. Declare yourself emperor.’ By being a hero, by declaring himself a Confucian man – a hero – that he does not want power. And so even in the Chi’ing, which was the last dynasty, the Chinese have no way of taking the power among the people.
There was no Magna Carta, there was no legislative process. The emperor is still the law.
EHII – What is the Combined Asian American Resources Project [CARP] and why did you feel the need to form it?
CHIN – The Combined Asian American Resources Project was me, Jeff Chan, Shawn Shawn Wong and Lawson Inada.
EHII – What was the time period?
CHIN – We are talking the end of the 60s, beginning of the 70s; and it lasted until around ’76.
EHII – What was the cultural picture in terms of Asian American literature at that point?
CHIN – We were looking for it. We said ‘Here it is 1969 and we’ve been her for 100 years. Why don’t we know about the Chinese writers previous to us. And we’re not the bravest, nor the brightest, nor necessarily the most ambitious. And there have to have been writers as personally ambitious-out-for-glory like us. And why don’t we know them. And so se went out looking for them.
EHII – This was in the Bay Area?
CHIN – Yes.
EHII – And were you at [Univ. of] Berkley then?
CHIN – Yes. I was living in Berkeley. I was gone from Berkeley the stately University.
EHII – Were they all at Berkeley, or were they scattered around?
CHIN – They were kind of scattered around. Jeff Chan was at San Francisco State, Shawn was a student at Berkeley, and Lawson was teaching at Southern Oregon College. That was also the beginning of our oral history project. Several of us went up to Seattle, which, compared to San Francisco, they had a very small Chinatown. And so we went up there with the intention of interviewing everybody in Seattle’s Chinatown.
EHII – Gee. How did you fund that?
CHIN – We didn’t. We just did it on our own. We couldn’t get any funding. And we didn’t try. We’d get these ideas, and we’d talk to each other and we’d just go do it. So we blitzed Seattle. Jeff, he did the blitz on Marysville. We blitzed Hollywood. We got every Hollywood Asian star that we could find, and we branched out from there looking at the scripts that they were in and finally the writers and directors of the movies. We got several of them.
EHII – Priceless.
CHIN – Yes, and it just branched out from there.
EHII – Is this part of the archive that is now at UCSB?
CHIN – Yes.
EHII – So it is available to scholars now.
CHIN – Yes.
[cont'd part 2]