Monday, October 30, 2006
Lt Watada’s constitutional action against the Army’s orders is in the spirit of the Nikkei free men of Hawaii who answered the call to volunteer for the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The men of Hawaii were not under the compulsion of imprisonment with everyone of their race, like the Japanese Americans of the mainland. They weren’t stained with suspicion. They were free men and as free men took their participation in the military as a measure of personal honor.
Lt. Watada’s stand on his honor splitting the military from the law over Iraq is one man’s considered opinion. Informing his opinion is sixty years of Japanese Hawaii’s history of keeping the Hawaiian integrity of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, Hawaiian, (as opposed to the 442nd being a creation of the JACL’s Mike Masaoka and the ten prison camps for mainland Japanese Americans) spits and seethes and flares in Japanese America to this day. The mainland Nisei are known as obedient. They went to camp. No questions asked.
The Japanese Hawaiians are stubbon individualists and hostile to the whiff of groupthink.
Ehren Watada, having achieved the commissioned rank of First Lieutenant (silver bar), knows the consequences of refusing to obey a lawful military order. He’s playing chicken with his life. Death in Iraq or death in a Federal Pen. Agree with him or not, he's a brave man. And a damn brave First Lieutenant ending his career before achieving magic Major before thirty.
The difference between a Japanese from Hawaii and one from the mainland among Japanese Americans is worth a look at, an examination by the mind of Japanese America at work at in the novels of conscience, and being argued in Asian American magazines, by Asian American critics. Whoops! There are no AA critics, and not one AA magazine. There are no AA publishing companies. The writers that exist are known because of white sponsorship. That's the real world where the AA writer shops himself. All the buyers of yellow writers, actors, and yellow work are white. The yellows are the only American people that don’t buy yellow writers, actors, art, politics or work. That means that every other people: Blacks, Whites (of course), and Browns have critics, magazines, and publishing companies. Only the yellows don’t.
Yellow (as used here to mean American-born, English-speaking) newspapers aren’t real newspapers. Why are “Almanac’s” published by newspaper publishers? Every fact of every name, be it a huge nation or a tiny man that appeared in (or should have) in last year’s news is in the Almanac. The people that perform Asian American studies should look over the yellow papers of the last seventy years and record and preserve the degeneration of Asian American newspapers from 1920’s to the desperate cries for help becoming fewer and fewer today.
Kai-yu Hsu’s ASIAN-AMERICAN AUTHORS was the first acknowledgement that American born and raised Chinese, had asserted themselves in writing worth reading in the opinion of Dr. Kai yu Hsu (from China) and a scholar in Comp Lit at San Francisco State. He gave Chinese America it’s first fart of existence in the world beyond ourselves. And the response of the yellows polled by the white press is "Why create a prejudice against the immigrants?" They were the life of the fact that China-born were different from American-born. The facts have grown up. But hark the same yellows as wrote sixty years ago still seem to be writing (with the aid of a western education) the same old Chinese novel for the same old New York publisher. It’s the publisher that buys the novel. And the publisher buys from his almanac.
Is that why American born yellows took off to publishing themselves? When the Aiiieeeee! Boys formed CARP PRESS to publish John Okada’s NO-NO BOY distribute the printing of 2,000 through the mail and ads in the spindly Asian American press. I think we went through two or three printings, before giving it to the UW Press as a gift for the U of Washington hiring Shawn Wong to the English Department faculty. Asian American lit- studies should look at privately funded, or the "vanity press" as a force in AA writing. Ed Miyakawa's (?) novel TULE LAKE, and Milton Murayama’s ALL I ASKING FOR IS MY BODY, and Bill Hohri's book on the resistance and a novel set in camp all being privately or self-published. Are they good books? Do sales and longevity count? Have they influenced specific language, literature, opinion among AA's? If the AA’s had a magazine that was a weekly or a quarterly survey of what’s what among Japanese and Chinese American reader’s..... There is no way of gauging the effect of any book over it’s lifetime in Asian America. Don’t AA’s want to be aware of what they read? All the books are by authors who saw the publication of their work so urgent that they used their own money and self-published.
They’ve bagged Abu Moussad al-Zarqawie, and Ehren Watada is off the news. This happens as Sen. Akaka pleads for the recognition of the Hawaiian culture being separate from loyalty to American laws and legal system derived from the U.S. Constitution. The Bill fails.
If there were an AA magazine the coincidence of Ehren Watada, Japanese America, Hawaii, 442nd history, the war in Iraq and personal integrity and Akaka’s bill granting Hawaiian recognition of their culture as different from U.S. politics would be the subject of an article, an opinion, criticism, a cartoon, a novel, a play. White business took over the Hawaiian gov illegally and the US accepted the gift. The whites have their white racist reasons for subjugating the differently colored.
The interest Asian-Americans have for their own kind should be reflected in their magazines. The absence of magazines and the dismissal of history from Asian American literary history seems to indicate the lack of Asian American interest in the thinking of their own kind. They are the servant people. Pleasing master counts as their reason for being. Have the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the refinement of the rhetoric turned all of Chinese and Japanese America into white man’s servants? The people that can’t sustain a cultural identity strong enough to stimulate a magazine, don’t take themselves seriously. There is no way to measure the effect of art produced by these people on the people. Or there is no effect. If there is no effect, there are no people.
AA art should not be separate from AA activism. They're inseparable among every other culture that claims to be a people. Hemingway is inseparable from the Commie arguments of the Spanish Civil War he parodies in FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. Those that live in glass houses, should not throw stones. Artists throw stones at themselves. The Gary Cooper like teacher that become a revolutionary explosives expert in Spain in the book, and played by Gary Cooper in the movie with Ingrid Bergman, and Hemingway were friends. Hemingway and Cooper are photographed hunting and shooting and popping by for a visit again and again. The potboiler disguised as a Hemingway novel becomes the Hemingway novel. Art and activism. Da Vinci was a believer. Michaelangelo was a believer. Goya’s belief’s raged directly off his brush and splattered just the way he saw things.
The AA separation of art from activism is a bid for white acceptance through self-disintegration.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
EHII – You’ve been an outspoken champion of Japanese American civil rights, and a fierce critic of the internment camps and your documentary book “Born in America” is a rigorous and very scholarly excavation of the official justifications that lead to the resettlement camps as well as the fights by the No-No Boys and others to stand up for Japanese American dignity, you are also the originator of the idea which is now an annual feature of Japanese American cultural life, “The Day of Remembrance,” yet you are vilified by some critics within the Japanese American community, why is that?
CHIN – [laughing] Well, I’m vilified by the JACL. The JACL is the Japanese American Citizens League, they were given unofficial charge of the Japanese American’s in the camps during the war. And the Japanese American Citizens League was a traitorous organization. They posed as a civil rights organization. And if you went to them and you said, ‘I want to defend my civil rights,’ what the JACL was not telling you was that they were also – an official title – ‘confidential informants’ to the FBI. And so when you went and said, ‘I want to sue the government for my civil rights,’ they’d say, ‘We’ll help you,’ and then they’d go to the FBI and say, ‘So-and-so is a traitor.’ They convinced Japanese America that it was in their best interest to give up their civil rights. A civil rights organization telling you to give up your civil rights. And so they came out in April of ’41, with that statement that they are opposed to all suits against the government, or [all efforts] to determine whether the military orders are constitutional or not. They just waived that. Which was the position they should be taking – they just waived that. And naturally, I found out all this stuff and I talk about it in the book. I published their statement. Their statements don’t need me to improve upon them..
EHII – But the detective work you did to uncover that, it reads like a crime novel. And it really is crime being perpetrated, but it’s so grippingly documented and paced. Did you have a sensibility that you were actually constructing a narrative that served all of the functions of narrative fiction, although it is nonfiction – were you trying to do that?
CHIN – Yes.
EHII – Tell us about that.
CHIN – Well, I modeled the book on the USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos. And in that book he tries to write a novel of modern times and he saw that in his lifetime, the telegraph had come in and it had become the radio, that newspapers proliferated, that communications by wire had proliferated, that transportation by rail and air had happened. Life seemed to be improving, becoming more complicated, becoming louder, becoming more musical. More people, and all of this was centered on the
EHII – Tell me about your use of stereotypes in your literature, not only in your plays but in your essays – and your essays also have the poetics of fiction, you seem to be shooting for a higher mark that is occurring at that particular moment. Much has been said about your use of motifs like the railroads, and Charlie Chan and Gunga Din, but you also use the flamenco guitar, and cowboy motifs and Indian motifs. If we isolate the stereotypes that you use of the railroad, and Charlie Chan and Gunga Din, you seem to be ‘a Chinese American writer,’ but if you look at the whole body of things that you lampoon and have fun with, and the whole sweep of the fun that you are having you can’t be anything other than an American writer -- an all-American writer. How are you using the stereotype; what are the advantages; are there any limitations; are there any dangers?
CHIN – I see the stereotype as an invitation to either prove it or disprove it. And if you study it, I’ve been lucky enough to find that the stereotype is mostly disproved. For instance, we were not slaves building the railroad. There has been a campaign to pity the poor workers on the railroad. The only thing that we should be pitied for was that when we struck we didn’t ask for more pay at that time. But we did go on strike. We did strike for back pay, we did strike for food allowance, we did strike for Chinese foremen. None of that is in the railroad history. We say that we work on the railroad, yet at the Golden Spike ceremony, that famous photograph of the two engines meeting cowcatcher to cowcatcher, and the men leaning across with bottles of champagne toasting each other, there was not one Chinese in that photo. And yet we are mentioned in the caption that Chinese were there, or that we had finished building the railroad just that day, but no Chinese in the photo. And what really pissed me off was, that not one Chinese had noticed.
EHII – Not one Chinese historian or scholar, you are saying?
CHIN – Right. And we don’t write about the railroad. We seem to be ashamed of the railroad. And I was always taught to be proud of the railroad because we built it. That the Irish were always leaving the railroad to get drunk and they refused to work with nitroglycerin, which was just invented. [laughs] And the Chinese said, ‘Oh, any explosive, we’re not afraid of.’ And the Chinese weren’t afraid, and they’d go out and they mastered it. But the Irish? – no. There were accomplishments to be proud of: we won the track-laying contest, et cetera, etc. But no one had really gone and looked. The Chinese seemed just to accept what Whites said about us and not look for themselves. I mean, we were at such a point in ’69-’70 when I was teaching the first Asian American studies class, this head of the program for old folks in Chinatown we went out to lunch and were walking through Chinatown, we went out to lunch and he was complaining about how the Chinese were so passive, and I just laid into him. I said, What do you mean ‘passive’? You’ve been to the opera, and you know that the audiences in the opera never shut up. They are always arguing and always fighting with the opera stars. And he said, ‘Yeah, I wondered about that. Why don’t they quiet down?’ And I said, You can say that and yet you say that the Chinese are passive? What’s wrong with you? And he was confused. [laughs]
EHII – It’s like the character from
CHIN – [laughing] Yes.
EHII – So, why did you move to
CHIN – Well, I was thinking that I would work with the East-West Players. I came around 1980-81. Unfortunately at that time the East-West Players was in the process of ousting Mako from the directorship. I had come to work with Mako. And the East-West Players without Mako was not East-West Players anymore, and I was stuck here.
EHII – So have you given up writing plays?
CHIN – Pretty much.
EHII – Why is that?
CHIN – Because there was no real Asian American theater, there was no real Asian American acting. What passes for acting is pretty faces wanting to be on television or the movies. There isn’t the same care for acting that you find in White acting. White actors wanting to do Shakespeare will take courses in how to read verse. Mako has said to me that my language is just too hard. The first speech in the opening to “Chickencoop…” there were very few actors – in fact, none – that could handle all the language in that first speech.
EHII – There are so many textural changes, and changes in the pace and the music of that speech, that the timing alone is probably enough for an actor to settle on, but you are also dealing with shifts race identity, you move from seriousness to comedy, there are so many currents of theatrical authority that come together in that voice – how was that to write that?
CHIN – Fun. I loved that.
EHII – Because you had never seen anything like that on the page, I imagine.
CHIN – No.
EHII – Did you believe it would be fun or difficult to do?
CHIN – At that time, a new production of Charlie Chan was …David W. Tebet, vice president of NBC was advertised in the Honolulu Star Bulletin that he was on a tour looking for a Chinese actor who spoke English well enough to be understood by American audiences. [laughs] And I said, ‘wow.’ So he was going around looking for this actor to play Charlie Chan and that enraged me. And so I said, ‘Well, what about a role that will prove that we can act?’ And anyone that can do Tam Lum’s speech would have to be an actor. And I had visions, well, East-West Players had all these actors and they are just waiting for my play. Well, they weren’t waiting for my play. Mako recognized something in my play. But he also recognized that none of his actors had the talent for the language.
EHII – What did you think about the PBS adaptation of “Chickencoop Chinaman” for the small screen?
CHIN – I have mixed feelings about it. I was glad to see it on TV. George Takei, there are times I see it when I see it and I say, Gee, George is pretty good. Other times I see it and I say, Gee George is terrible. But every time I see it… I was there when George auditioned for the part, and he gave a brilliant audition. But once he had the part, the part began to leave him.
EHII – Why did you turn down Wayne Wang’s offer to re-make the play as a film?
CHIN – Because he wanted to re-write the play.
EHII – He wanted to adapt it – without you?
CHIN – Well, with me. And I felt the play had been written; it had been written about a specific time and a specific place and I saw no reason to re-write it. And what he had done to Eat A Bowl of Tea… I loved that book, Louis Chu’s book. We published it ourselves [in “Aiiieeeee!” --1975] and he just ignored the book. And it was all him and this feminist writer who just missed the point of the book entirely. And he just did another story. And I didn’t want that to happen to me.
EHII – Are there any screenplays in your future?
CHIN – No. There may be one, but that’s just in the back of my mind. The Japanese American resisters. The real stories of Japanese America during World War II have been ignored. And the behavior of the Chinese to the Japanese, I mean, we were neighbors. And so when the Japanese were taken, they were taken out of the house next door, and we remained silent. We knew that the Japanese Americans weren’t Japanese; just as we knew that we Chinese Americans weren’t Chinese. And so it made no sense to take the Japanese away and give us buttons.
EHII – Buttons that said…?
CHIN – 'I am a Loyal Chinese'. Yeah. Now you can tell us apart. We haven’t dealt with that. And the texture of life of the resisters – how you went from being a successful groceryman to being a leader of the resistance. In camp this was a very natural process as I try to show in the book. It was a natural logical process. And yet it was only possible under the artificial terms of camp. And I think there’s a movie there.
EHII – You suffered a debilitating stroke in 1999, do you remember any of the interior journey that you might have taken – people talk about ‘going toward the light in the tunnel and all of that’ – and have you begun to contemplate your legacy?
CHIN – I remember the stroke, or my walking up to it. I was in
EHII – Since then have you contemplated your legacy or immortality or any of that?
CHIN – No. After my stroke, I decided to get to work on “Born in the USA,” since I had done all of the research and I had gathered all of the materials and I though this would be an easy book for me to write, it’s just a matter for me to edit the transcripts that I’ve done. It’s not a lot of original writing, since I intend to do a lot of [unintelligible] anyway. And so I went though all of the stuff. And I said, Well, since I had planned on modeling it on the “USA Trilogy,” so I planned on three volumes, but when I got through the first volume and was working on the second, I said, ‘Wow, no one will read this. It’s so depressing.’ And it doesn’t begin to get better until the end of the second volume. And I said, ‘Gee, no one will read this. I have to get it down into one volume.’ And then the work became hard. Because there were a lot of other people that I wanted to include. I had to confine it to the Japanese Americans and what they knew.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
EHII – Were you going to say more about CARP? You formed other institutions didn’t you?
CHIN – Well, the stuff that we did for CARP, and the stuff we learned, we developed that into the two “Aiiieeeee!”s.
EHII – Important anthologies, and the first anthologies of Asian American writing anywhere.
CHIN – Yes, the first histories and anthologies. There were several little anthologies beforehand. The first one was Asian American writers by Kai-yu Hsu.
EHII – Are you in that anthology?
CHIN – I think so. But Kai-yu and I, we talked when he was thinking of giving up the contract because he said, “There is no Asian American writing.” The only Asian American writing that exists are autobiographies. And all the autobiographies are Chrisitan. And the autobiographies, he told me, is not an Asian form. It’s not a Chinese form. And so he just wanted to dump the anthology. And I said, ‘No no no no no. If all we are writing is autobiographies, then that’s our form – unfortunately.’ And we’re Christian, unfortunately. And that stuff should be published and criticized. And he said, ‘The quality of the writing is so bad and it was a shame to want to dignify these past works,’ and so, in talking, I think I convinced him that if Asian American writing is all bad, then it’s all bad. But publish it. And he did. And the all-bad writing unfortunately inspired several people to do more bad writing.
EHII – You are talking about his anthology, you are not talking about “Aiiieeeee!”
CHIN – No, no.
EHII – When did his anthology come out.
CHIN – It came out in ’71, something like that. And it was a textbook for junior high school students. Kai-yu was from China. I learned a lot from him. I’m put down for saying…I mean, people will say, why do I ban the autobiography from Chinese literature? I say, I’m not banning it. I just looked at Chinese literature and I just saw that there are not autobiographies. And so obviously autobiography is not a Chinese form. And they say, ‘You can’t say that.’ And I say, ‘I do say that.’ I mean, in Chinese literature you will not find an autobiography. Not one! And occasionally an autobiography, a first autobiography, they are specialized, they are oddballs. The first autobiography was a book of pornography, by a man who loved fucking his wife. And he wanted to write about it [laughs]. The first official biography published anywhere by a Chinese was ‘My Life in China and America,’ by Yung Wing – a Chinese mission-school boy. The first boy to graduate from Yale. The first Chinese traitor. Of course, he thought he was doing good. And is celebrated, not as a traitor, but as someone who was fooled, or cheated by arms merchants. But he was a traitor. And it’s the Christians that heroize him. And his book was published in 1910. And so, obviously the autobiographical form is not Chinese. And none of the scholars ask – none of them – not from here to Brandies Univ. on the East Coast – none of them ask, ‘How do Chinese write autobiography, then? Is there a form?’ Yes there is a form. If you ask, you shall be told; but if you don’t ask, I’m not gonna tell ya.
EHII – So what is the form?
CHIN – Sun Tzu. You will find, every now and again, a general, a writer, a dictator will have a conversation with Sun Tzu. He will recite Sun Tzu’s verses and then he will free associate with them. So and so comments on Sun Tzu. Or, as with General Tao Hanzhang’s “interpretation” of SUN TSU’S ART OF WAR. (Sterling-N.Y.1987)
EHII – Kind of like you did in your book “Bulletproof Buddhists.”
CHIN – Yes, yes. That was the form that Mao Tse-Tung used in “The Little Red Book,” but he just removed the verses of Sun Tzu. And any Chinese reading that would instantly recognize, ‘Oh, this is kind of like a children’s form. A dialogue with a book.’ But the book has been removed and the conclusions that Mao has have remained. And that’s a literary observation, and it just goes to show you that in 30 or 40 years of study, that Asian American Studies has not been studying Asian America.
EHII – You’ve taught on the university level before; but was this recent effort at UCLA you opening salvo to reverse this trend?
CHIN – Yes, yes it was.
EHII – How do you think you did?
CHIN – Terrible.
EHII – Why was that?
CHIN – Because the teacher I was teaching with was a know-nothing and was a committed feminist. She contradicted everything I said, with no proof. And tried to turn the class into a free discussion. But I said, ‘The students don’t know anything, so what can they discuss?’ This is the beginning, if we are studying Asian American lit, Asian American and every nation’s lit begins with a children’s story. Never. And so you have no basis. Out of the children’s story comes the concept of the individual, comes the concept of the family, comes the concept of the country, comes the concept of the nation, comes the concept of law for that culture – and you have never studied it. And so we are going to study, we’re going to study the beginnings of literature. Asian American studies seems uninterested in the Asian beginnings of Asian American literature.
EHII – Now I sat in on a session in that class, and your exchanges with your colleague, [Prof. King-Kok Cheung] who is a scholar of Asian American literature, and a PhD…
CHIN – Yes…
EHII -- …they were extremely intense and very combative. Now, you have said that life is war, and that all behavior is tactics and strategy. Was the way you conducted the class a demonstration of your life philosophy?
CHIN – Umm.
EHII – It didn’t seem like an amicable situation.
CHIN – No, it wasn’t. My contempt for her grew.
EHII – Do you think that that exchange, that dialectic, had any benefit for the students that were there?
CHIN – I hope so. We were both performing for the students. She was appealing to their baser instincts, I guess. But I was always saying, ‘This is a class. You have to use your head. You have to read. And you have to read the works of the heroic tradition.’ And that ‘life is war; and all behavior is tactics and strategy,’ she contradicted that. And yet, that’s the content of the heroic tradition. Life is war.
EHII – Now I’ve read a statement from Professor Cheung in which she speaks of coming from China and reading Maxine Hong Kingston initially, and dismissing it as begin ‘fake’ basically. But over time, she began to understand, she said, that this was a legitimate approach to literature that, that the main character is a know-nothing, and that in fact, the central form of the novel is an expression of the main character’s inability to understand her own identity as a Chinese American woman. Do you buy any of that?
CHIN – No.
EHII – You are aware of her statement of this?
CHIN – I am aware of King-Kok’s statement of it. But Kingston’s own book and her own response to the criticism belies King-Kok’s conclusions. In the book [The Woman Warrior], nowhere in the book does Kingston, the author of the book confess that Kingston the know-nothing character, knows nothing and reveal the truth of Mulan, or otherwise resolve her falsehoods. No. She opens as a poetic know-nothing, and she closes as a poetic know-nothing.
EHII – Kind of like the people that the Monkey encountered.
CHIN – Yes. And in the subsequent books, she adds to the falsehoods. In “Tripmaster Monkey”…
EHII – Which some people say is about you, do you believe that?
CHIN – Well, I…I… I’m not going to deal with that. It is or it isn’t about me, I don’t care. What people say is their business. But I’m not going to say that character is me and take credit for it.
Her last book, “Fifth Chinese Book of Peace,” in the class I said, you don’t measure a person by their first work. You measure them by the total. All their work. And what they are saying will either become clearer, or not. And with “Fifth Chinese Book of Peace,” Kingston is obviously faking everything. There is no Fifth Chinese Book of Peace. She says, ‘Yes, there has to be; because it was a Chinese tradition for the emperor to burn all the books.’ No, it wasn’t. Only the first emperor of the first empire, Ch’in His Huang tai . He burned the books. But the futility of burning the books is proven by the fact that we know Confucius, we know Mencius, we know Sun Tzu. And these were men who all lived before the first empire, and still their books are known. The Chinese learned very early on that the emperor wanted to control reading. And so individual families wouldn’t let it be known that anybody could read in their family. And they memorized books.that had meaning for them.
EHII – Did you have a concluding remark on that?
CHIN – King-Kok says, categorically, that life is not war. And yet all the books of the heroic tradition are about war, are set in war. They begin in war, they end in war. “The Three Kingdoms” “Water Margin” “Far Mulan” the ballad of Far Mulan itself, the story of Yu Fei, all are about war. All are about tactics and strategy. So what is she saying? What is Asian American studies saying? Not teaching the heroic tradition. Teaching these falsehoods about Chinese literature and teaching a false vision of Chinese culture. I don’t know.
EHII – Early on your work has attracted a small, but very important audience of African American scholars and writers; and you’ve also been criticized by someone who is kind of pretending to be a militant writer in the mold of an African American writer [CHIN LAUGHS]. Why do you think that your work has such resonance with such writers as poet David Henderson, novelist-publisher Ishmael Reed, and Howard Univ. Press, which published “Aiiieeeee!”? What do they see in you?
CHIN – I don’t know. What do I see in them? I mean, we are attracted to each other, definitely, as writers at first. And as we became acquainted with each other, we’re more attracted. Yeah. I don’t think that any of us are… we might be masters of ‘bad-mouth,’ we might be outspoken about what we’re angry at, but we’re not leaders. I mean, you don’t see Ishmael or David Henderson running for office. And neither do I. You don’t see us gathering our followers behind us and going from town to town. We are writers. And writers lead a lonely life, writing and we are satisfied with that. We don’t – well, I don’t – want followers.
EHII – You don’t want followers?
CHIN – I don’t want followers.
EHII – But you’ve got nothing but followers. Your followers are militantly passionate about your work and your influence and your importance to American letters. They refuse to allow anyone – even you – to pigeonhole you into some kind of little niche because you’ve hit them right between the eyes with such liberating moral, and literary and aesthetic authority, that you have nothing but followers. I think that’s only going to grow. I might be wrong, but I can’t see how you cannot, once the dust clears, be recognized as one of the most important language, or any racial or cultural group, as an authentically American-ass-kicking writer.
CHIN – Well thank you.
EHII – Well, what do you think of that? I’m sure you’ve had them come up to you, amid all the people who are trying to go for your throat and have you publicly pilloried and all of that, there is an equally vocal group that wants you canonized.
CHIN – To tell you the truth, I haven’t really seen them, if they’re out there.
EHII – Some of them are featured in Curtis Choy’s remarkable film documentary on you What’s Wrong With Frank Chin? What about those people?
CHIN – Some of those people were former students, and some of them were friends of mine.
EHII – Look, we all have the ability to hate our former teachers, and people that we were once allied with, it’s another thing to, 40 years down the line, to still be preaching, with stars in your eyes, the gospel of the influence of this particular author on your life, which is what they are doing. Are you not distant enough from the material of your own life to observe that?
CHIN – I guess not. Or, I don’t seek it. I don’t see these people every day, or even once a month, or twice a year. I pretty much hole up, and read, and take a walk, and write. I’m not surrounded by people every day or every week or every month. .
EHII – Yet, sometimes when any individual in America sits down and they are trying to apply for a new job and they sit down and they write a resume, their own resume, and of course we all want to make our own resume look wonderful, but when you sit down and re-read your resume you have to go look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Damn, I didn’t know I was that cool.’ Each one of us. Well, you must have the same revelation, when you see a film like Curtis Choy’s film, or even review some of the criticism. I mean, right now you are being debated in some of our finest universities. Frank Chin is a proper subject for critical analysis and study. There is a fine scholarly work on you by Prof. John Goshert, from Purdue Univ., entitled “Frank Chin Is Not a Part of This Class! – Thinking at the Limits of Asian American Literature,” and there are others. I guess it’s a good thing that you don’t seem to understand. I mean, your work is collected and archived at UCSB, you are the first Asian American playwright produced in New York City, you are the founder of the first Asian American theater in the United States…
CHIN – That’s not true. The first Asian American theater, that goes to The East-West Players, of L.A. They were in existence since ’59.
EHII – Well, your [Asian American Theater Workshop] was the second.
CHIN – And me and Mako [former artistic director of the East-West Players], we became close. And I’ve learned a lot from Mako, and I hope he’s learned something from me, over the years.
EHII – Well, let me ask you this: in Jan. 2001, there was a revival of your second play, “Year of the Dragon,” by your friend Mako, yet you didn’t attend. You refused to set foot into the theater. Why was that?
CHIN – Because the theater was named the David Henry Hwang Theater.
EHII – You have a problem with that?
CHIN – Yes. David Henry Hwang, he doesn’t stand for Asian America. He doesn’t stand for Chinese America. He has declared himself against me.
EHII – He’s stated that? I thought he was still one of the writers who admires you, even though he’s aware that you have savaged him. What are the negative things he has said about you?
CHIN – He mis-characterizes me in response to my saying I’m not going into his theater. He says that reminds him of the Christian behavior, and he tries to take credit for being against the Christians. And in his plays, Family Devotions, F.O.B., he’s very clearly a Christian. And very clearly, in F.O.B., his first play, that got the Obie, by the way, he very clearly states that he got Gwan Gung from me, and Fa Mu Lan, from Maxine Hong Kingston, and that he doesn’t care about the real. I mean, what would you say about a writer in America who’s writing about his French background and saying that his Joan of Arc was a tribute to his great teacher Heinrich Himmler and he was getting his understanding of De Gaulle from a German writer he admires. I mean, it doesn’t go to the source. It doesn’t go to the childhood literature that every Chinese child has read. And he dares take this position in public in his introduction to his published plays: that he doesn’t care about the real, Gwan Gung or the real Far Mulan, he meant his use of them as a tribute to these lesser authors. And these lesser authors just happened to be the only authors that are known in America. And so they don’t notice that he has just named the two most popular stories in the Chinese lexicon of stories. And he’s that stupid. And America is that stupid.
[cont'd part 3]
Monday, October 23, 2006
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]