Monday, December 17, 2007

A review of "What's Wrong With Frank Chin?"



Film praises trailblazer without ignoring faults

"What's Wrong with Frank Chin?"


4 stars

Review by Nadine Kam

With a title like "What's Wrong with Frank Chin?," Curtis Choy's "novel documentary" may win over an audience of more than just a handful of literary and activist types.

The work turns out to be a respectful homage to Asian-American literature's original angry young man. While striving for balance, Choy makes a case for what's right with Frank Chin, even while detailing his run-ins with actors, producers, publishers and fellow writers throughout a career in which he's never achieved the mainstream renown of those he despises.

As a young writer at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I had my own encounter with Chin, the author of such works as "Bulletproof Buddhists and Other Essays," "Donald Duk," "Gunga Din Highway," "The Chinaman Pacific & Frisco R.R. Co." and "Born in the USA: A Story of Japanese
America, 1889-1947," when he visited our campus in the early 1980s. I was too naive to tremble with fear at the thought of interviewing the Chinese-American bad boy with the Fu Manchu mustache.

I listened to him spit out his desk-pounding tirades about Asian-American stereotypes and Hollywood's emasculation of Asian men. What I remember most was the conviction and vitriol of a man certain of his rightness, establishment's wrongness and frustration with others' blindness or indifference to his truth.

I reported the message but didn't embrace it, attributing our differences to geography and gender. Maybe things were different for him in San Francisco, but I had grown up in Hawaii as part of an Asian-American majority. What did I know of discrimination? I was an Asian-American female, a double model minority in an era of equal opportunity.

I look back and wonder why he didn't reach across the table and shake me awake. It must have been hard for him to be perceived as forever railing at invisible demons. But my reaction was typical and I imagine many of my generation are just beginning to realize Chin is getting the
last laugh.

As he says in the documentary, on teaching a course in Asian-American Studies in the late 1960s: "I wasn't prepared for Asian-American Studies. Students were taking it as a Mickey Mouse course, easy grades. They had no idea of where they were in Asian-America, except they were above it. They were, each and every one of them -- this was common -- the first Asian of their kind to be accepted as white among whites. They call this assimilation."

When students asked, "What's wrong with acceptance?," Chin's response was "On whose terms?"

At the time, no books dealt with Asian-American history or culture, so Chin started oral-history projects, speaking to old actors and immigrants about their experiences. With writer Shawn Wong and San Francisco State College Asian-American Studies chairman Jeffery Chan, Chin searched for earlier Asian-American writing and what they found became the basis for the seminal anthology "Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers" and its successor "The Big Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature."

Choy's documentary follows Chin's experiences as the founder of San Francisco's Asian-American Theatre Workshop, an experiment that did not end well when the group's aims diverged from his vision.

One of the most entertaining segments involves a long-running feud between Chin and Maxine Hong Kingston, author of "The Woman Warrior," whom Chin describes, along with Amy Tan, as being "Pocahontas yellows" delivering a "mixed-up East-West soul struggle" in works that "falsify Chinese culture." Never mind that little thing called literary license.

When Choy poses the question of whether such writers are sell-outs, Chin initially sounds as if he is trying to be diplomatic, before reverting to his belligerent tone. "I don't think writers are selling out," he says. "All writers really believe what they're doing is right. It's just that they're stupid."

"That's Frank," explained Frank Abe, one of the original members of Chin's Asian American Theatre Workshop. "He draws clean lines. It's black and white, yes or no."

Another interesting aspect to Chin's work is his little-known role in recognizing the "Day of Remembrance" for Pearl Harbor and his pursuit of redress for Japanese-Americans who lost civil liberties and property during World War II. Chin organized one of the first rallies for the
cause in Seattle, explaining to Abe in urging him to go north: "The Japanese-Americans are making their move. They're going for redress but they don't know how to do it. If you lose redress you lose your history; if you lose your history you can kiss Japanese-American art

If the status of Asian-Americans has improved over the past 30 years, we have Chin to thank for some of the initial volleys. Through his theatrical and printed works, he opened himself up to society's slings and arrows, while opening eyes to continuing inequities.

Consider Choy's work a belated thank-you.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Searching for Frank Chin

[The following article comes from A. Magazine's March 1995 edition]

Searching for Frank Chin

"[Maxine Hong] Kingston, [David Henry] Hwang, and [Amy] Tan are the first writers of any race, and certainly the first writers of Asian Ancestry, to so boldly fake the best-known works from the most universally known body of Asian literature and lore in history. And, to legitimize their faking, they have to fake all of Asian American history and literature, and argue that the immigrants who settled and established Chinese America lost touch with Chinese culture, and that faulty memory combined with new experience produced new versions of these traditional stories. This version of history is their contribution to the stereotype." -- Frank Chin

By Terry Hong
A. Magazine
March 1995

Last summer, I spent what seemed like an inordinate amount of time and effort searching for Frank Chin. Frank Chin, the controversial literary figure, the co-editor of the seminal Asian American texts, Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers and The Big Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature -- the self-appointed leader in the Asian American literary war between what he calls "the fake" and "the real."

I had been assigned a freelance project -- a short biographical profile for a research publication -- and I had hoped to interview him. Getting his phone number was no little feat -- I had to swear and hope to be burned alive before my ultimate source begrudgingly revealed it to me. I spent about a week calling at random times trying to catch him in (no machine). When I finally got in touch with him, he politely refused to give me an interview, but agreed to send a biographical statement he had written to use as background for my profile.

The promised materials arrived promptly. I wrote the profile and sent a copy to Frank Abe, a close friend of Chin's who had been one of the original members of Chin's Asian American Theatre Workshop in San Francisco. Abe, who is currently director of communications for the Office of the King County Executive in Seattle, Washington, was extremely helpful. He made a few corrections, and I sent the piece on to the publisher. I thought that was it for my little experience with the enigmatic Frank Chin.

Then I get a call from my editor, who wants me to interview Chin. I think long and hard before I agree to give it another try. At least this time, I already have the number. I call Abe for advice and he gives me a whole spiel to give Chin, of which I take careful notes: "Tell Frank that I said that the readers of A. Magazine represent the constituency he wants to reach, regardless of his opinion of the magazine. These readers are the as-yet-unformed consciences he wants to reach," Abe coaches me. He even gives me a rundown of Chin's daily schedule so I'll know the best times to reach him.

I'm armed and ready. I dial the phone. Chin picks it up on the second ring. I have the notes in front of me and Chin listens patiently before he again politely refuses. "No, I'm not doing interviews. No interviews at all," he says evenly.

"But Frank Abe says that the reason you refuse to give interviews is because you think most reporters haven't done their homework. And Frank Abe says to tell you that I've definitely done my homework. And Frank Abe says..." I stammer. But he interrupts me with an astounding offer.

"Okay, I'll do your interview if you'll complete an assignment I give you," he counters. Silently I listen. "I want you to determine the existence of the story of Fu Mu Lan, the woman warrior whose body is supposedly mutilated with words engraved on her back. I want you to determine the existence of a fairy tale about the kitchen god's wife, or the kitchen queen as she is sometimes referred to, who was abused by her husband. I want you to determine the existence of a fairy tale that measures the worth of a woman by her husband's belch. I want you to find out for yourself that there are no versions of such myths, I want you to prove for yourself the nonexistence of these stories. Then I'll give you your interview.

"This is my gripe with Christians like Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan and David Henry Hwang," he continues before I can agree. "What they' re doing is faking text. They claim insights into the Chinese culture, but it's all a fake. If the original works don't exist, then they don't exist. If they do exist, then I'm all wet. It's a black and white issue of text, not of opinion. Anyone can determine the existence of these myths without the involvement of my rotten personality or the scintillating personality of others not like me. That's what you have to do for yourself. Find their nonexistence. Then I'll talk to you."

When I hang up, I'm frantic. I take down all my Chinese literature in translation books from classes I took at Yale. I look at bibliographies. I take notes. I call a friend who puts me in touch with a Chinese literature professor at the University of Texas at Austin who provides more names and titles I can look up. I try the libraries in Dallas, have no luck and go down to Austin and spend a day at the university. I come back with a pile of Xeroxes with which I can report back to Chin.

"I've done my homework," I announce when I call him again a week later.

"And what did you find out?" he says with encouragement. And I'm thinking to myself how surprised I am that this is Frank Chin most often described as "acerbic" that I'm talking to.

"I have a translation of the Ballad of Mu Lan that is different from the version in your essay in The Big Aiiieeeee! In it, there is no mention of the engraving of Mu Lan's back. But I did find out about Yue Fei, a Sung Dynasty military hero whose back was tattooed with battle messages," I report. "I could not find anything about a woman' s worth being measured by the loudness of her husband's belch. I asked a Chinese literature professor at U.T. Austin who also checked with some of her associates and no one had heard of any tales like that."

"Because it doesn't exist, of course," he adds.

"I found out the the myth of the kitchen god comes in many versions, that he is a minor god," I continue. "The basic story is about a man who is so poor he must give up his wife. The wife, newly married, tries to help her ex-husband by baking gold pieces into cakes which she gives to him. The poor man does not eat the cakes but sells them hoping to make a little money, thus losing the gift his ex-wife prepared for him. He eventually becomes convinced that there is no point to his existence and kills himself. The gods take pity on him and make him a small deity. I also found some engraved images of the kitchen god, pictured with the wife," I tell Chin.

"So you found out that he is a local, regional hero. That means he has no influence on the Chinese culture, because no one version dominates. The story itself is a series of fairy tales that are not influential. He's like Santa Claus, a figure manufactured as an excuse to give kids candy at the end of the year. And you found out the kitchen god' s image is always depicted as part of a double poster with the wife, that both the husband and wife are honored, and therefore the wife is not denigrated," he says. "In Tan's book, she asks why the kitchen queen is not honored. But she is. That means the whole premise of Tan's book is wrong.

"That's my gripe," Chin says, and I realize that my interview is beginning. "All those works are based on fabrication, on false text. If this were a white issue, say a book that asked why George Washington was never elected president, if there was a whole novel based on that, it would never be accepted. That crime is equal only to plagiarism. These false books are great literary flaws that only work in the western language, that only appeal to those who believe in the western stereotype of the Chinese. It's white racist text. I mean it. There is no justification for falsifying text.

"Their defenders are trying to drum up justifications to save their reputations. But there are no such justifications. It's racist work. And to enjoy it, you have to be a white racist, someone who believes that the white race's culture and literature are the only morally acceptable, universal literature and that everything else is evil and doesn't deserve to survive. Their version of Chinese America wants to be white, to think white, to marry whites, and therefore become culturally and racially extinct," Chin warns.

With all this talk of "the fake," I ask Chin about how, in his opinion, writers and readers can be "real." What does this whole question of "realness" and "fakeness" mean, anyway?

"The only way," Chin replies, "is to read. The empirical method. Call your local Asian language and literature departments. Take courses. Go by the library, check out Edward Werner's Dictionary of Chinese Mythology or read reliable sources like Anthony Christie. You could almost pick up any non-fiction book and start working from the bibliography. You could even go to the Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology and check the bibliography in back. Some of the information you'll find will be wrong, but that will lead you to other sources, the contradictions will lead to other knowledge and you go on until the confusion gets cleared up. You can talk to people who know about the subject, then check their sources out. Do as I had you do. You'll find the information you're looking for. This stuff {Chinese literature} is not that inaccessible. It exists in good translations," Chin encourages.

When I ask him specifically about Asian American literature, he advises, "Start with The Big Aiiieeeee! It has the Asian American history and literature, it has comparative literature, it has the history of where the stereotypes come from, it has the comparisons of Asian and Western philosophies. The philosophies are the core. Asian philosophy is much more individualistic. Western philosophy is founded on religion as a system of social conformity to create the perpetual state. Asian philosophy is founded on struggle for perfection of personal individuality; there's no concept of original sin, no dialectic thinking, no social contracts. In Asian philosophy, you would never give up the individual to the state; that's sissy philosophy. Western philosophy says we' re all losers and sinners and victims. In Chinese philosophy, we're all soldiers; if we're not fighting for personal integrity, then we deserve to be victims, we deserve to die.

"What's happened is that Asian Americans don't know how to fight. If they did, they would be fighting, not whimpering. They would not be asserting the Chinese as victims. They would not be asserting phony literature as being literature that perpetuates the victimization of women. There were more women heroes in Chinese history and literature than in the West!"

There is a noticeable silence and I wait for Chin to continue. But when he doesn't, I take the hint and realize that my time is probably up. I look at my watch and am surprised to find that my 15 minutes have become 40.

"Is it okay with you to publish parts of this interview?" I finally ask.

Another pause, before Chin answers, "Yes. Yes, you can publish it."

Monday, October 22, 2007

More Asian Than Thou?

Frank Chin responds when challenged about his right to call himself "Asian" (forgive the video/audio quality):

Friday, August 10, 2007


I am a Chinese Orphan. We are all Chinese orphans. I happen to come from California. I have children’s stories my people from Kwangtung have been telling since 1849, the year we left a corrupt and corrupted corruption of China to search for a place to live as Chinese. Every language in the world was a dialect of Cantonese.

The Manchu Qing Dynasty and the Brits gave the Opium War to the Chinese in 1840. By 1842 the brag was that 27% of Chinese manhood annually was being consumed by the cultivation, processing and consumption of opium. Consumption goes around and consumers comes around, in a perpetual motion of Chinese making white money. Business was so good that the Church took it over. In 1849 there was a lull in the Opium War.

Who knew when the Brits would fall on the Cantonese again? Like and unlike the people that abandon centuries of crops and home to follow Lowe Bay, a ruler they liked, but he was running out of the country in search of another, before the cruel genius Cho Cho rode into town and took it over. The people of the town chose to trust their fate to the unknown future of Lowe Bay. He represents Heaven. He is served by Kwan Kung who represents men, and Chiang Fei, a rich farmer who represents the earth. The Three Stars, the triad of Earth, Man and Heaven. Our first ancestor set off for new lands or failure.

Kwangtung province, the port of Canton, and boats were the only way out. Chinese didn’t need China to be Chinese. They had the stories. The stories led to money from the Chinese to the family waiting in China. Each Chinese sooner of later chose a place to settle, and sent for family. Sons, daughter, wives, parents. One by one, member by member from baby to grandma and grandpa the families reassembled as their first ancestor saved the money to buy the papers legal and otherwise and paid the fare their passage, one by one, to the Gold Rush in California, to the Gold Rush in New Zealand, to someplace new.

Dinky Chinese restaurants became family empires of restaurants, dentists offices and car dealerships. They were Chinese because of the stories they told. If you know the Chinese stories, you are Chinese. If you were told the Chinese stories, you are Chinese. If you tell the stories you are Chinese.

Among the stories still told in languages all over the world, is the Fox and the Tiger.

And now, I’m going to tell it to you.


YOU ALL KNOW what a fox is. Looks a little like a large house cat. Looks a little like a medium sized dog. Sharp-nosed. Sharp-eared. Bright-eyed. Bushytailed. It is a nice day. Fresh. The little fox is out for a little walk, through the woods, minding his own business.
Out of the shadows jumps the tiger. "All right, little fox, say Goodbye! to the world, for I'm going to eat'ya!"

"Now, hold on there, Tiger!" the little fox says. "You just can't jump out of the shadows with bad manners and threats and interrupt my pleasant nice little walk around my woods!"

"Your woods?"

"You don’t know that I am the King of the Woods?

"You! The King of the Woods?" The tiger laughs, "You? You? Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha. You can't be King of the Woods! You have a teeny kitty cat body, and I have this beautiful, (Ooh, I love it so much) magnificently sculpted musculature! You have these little itty bitty kitty cat paws. Me, I have these magnificent ripping, terrifying claws. You have little toy teeth that can't get around one of my toes. And I have a mouth full of these pointed big teeth to puncture hide and muscles, break bone, and bite meat. Teeth that break! Teeth that gnash! Teeth….! How can you be King of the Woods?"

"Tsk.Tsk. Tsk.," the Fox shakes his head, "Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.. I don't want to hurt you, Tiger."

"Hurt me?"

"I know you are just a big dumb guy. But I am willing to give you a chance to see for yourself."


"I am going to walk down this road here.”

“You’re going to walk?”

“We are going to walk down this road here. And we’ll see how the first three animals we meet along the way treat me with courtesy and respect.”


”If just one of these three animals talks bad manners all over me, or spits on me, or makes threats… I’ll let you eat me."

"Hmmm,” the tiger thought a moment, “You’re going to walk down this road?”

“Um hmm.”

“The first three animals we meet…”

“Un hmmm.”

“And if just one of them treats you with bad manners, spits, or makes threats, you let me eat you?”

“I’ll let you eat me.”

"Hmmm," the tiger thought a moment and said, “How do I know you won't just run away, Little Fox?"

"To make sure I don't run away, Tiger, why don't you just follow me as close as you can?"

"Hmmm," the tiger says, and thinks, "Hmmm.” And thinks some more, and says. “To make sure you don't just run away, I get to follow behind you as close as I want?"

"That's right."

"Sounds good to me, let's go."
The little fox rattles along on his little feet. And the tiger follows close behind with his big shoulders rising and falling and his big pads silently separating the grass and settling into the earth.

"A little fox!" A buffalo comes snorting and charging out of the grass, “Stomp! Stomp! Stompity! Stomp! Gonna stomp on a Little Fox!” The buffalo screeches to a stop. “Oh ho, Little Fox!” he shakes his huge head chews his cud. “How are you today Little Fox?”

“Fine Buffalo. How are you?”

“Fine! Fine! I was stomping along and saw you, and just had to stop and say it’s such a beautiful day, isn’t a beautiful day?”

"Yes, it is Buffalo."

"The birds are singing." The buffalo blinks and shudders a bird off his flanks. “And the bees are buzzing.”

“Yes, they are Buffalo.”

“Well, it’s such a nice day, I’ll just be stomping along. If that’s okay with you.”

"Nice seeing you, Buffalo," the little fox says, and walks on.

The tiger follows, and says to himself, "Hmmmm. Interesting."

They walk on, come to a river and walk by the river awhile.. Suddenly an alligator comes leaping out of the water and snapping its jaws toward the fox. "My, my, my …!" the alligator sees the tiger, "Ooops! …friend! My pal. Ahhh." The alligator smiles, "Beautiful day. My good friend, Little Fox.”

“Hello Alligator.”

“Have you noticed the sun is shining, the grass is so green.”

“Yes, I have noticed that.”

“The water sparkles.”

"Yes, it does."

"Yes, it does. I just had to say it to somebody.."

"Why, thank you, Alligator. That’s very kind."

"Yes, it is, isn’t it. Well, see you later."

"See you later, alligator," the little fox says and the alligator slinks back into the water. And the little fox walks on.

The tiger follows, saying to himself, "Hmm. Interesting."

Next a huge snake, a python comes dangling out of a tree and sticks its thin black forked tongue out and in, fast several times without licking its lips. "Haaaa, Little Fox say..." and the snake sees the tiger, "Hi-i-i-i! Say, Hiiiiiii there!"

"Hello, snake, how are you?"

"Oh? Oh, I'm just fi-i-i-ine, just fine thank you," the snake says. “Well…I mustn’t keep you. I’d hate to do thaaat.”

“Well, I should be going.”

“Yesss. Welll…” and the snake slips around a tree trunk and disappears.

The little fox walks on a few steps, then stops and turns to the tiger. He dusts his fur and asks, "Well, tiger, do you feel like eating me now?"

The tiger shies back and gulps and looks down at the little fox with awe, "Err. Oh, Little Fox. I lost my head. I obviously did not know what I was doing. You are, indeed the King of the Woods. With your permission, I'll withdraw now, and leave you to enjoy your walk alone."

The tiger back steps away, turns and disappears into the shadows, and the little fox walks on.


WHAT KEPT THE TIGER from eating the Little Fox?

THE REAL NAME OF THE STORY is: THE FOX AND THE TIGER STRATEGY. Do you understand strategy? Or tactics? The difference between the tactical and the strategic will come clear to you in the next story, if not immediately, remember it for later, Confucius says, it clear up like the sniffles when you’re older.

STUPID THE SCHOLAR & THE WOLF, also known as THE NORTH COUNTRY WOLF, or THE WOLF OF SERNGDOONG or THE WOLF OF SHANDONG. Do you know where Serngdoong (Shandong) is?

( Draw a map of China on blackboard. Begin with the chalk in the upper right, and draw the part of the body that dangles, that’s Korea, come around to draw the inland sea to China, come around the camel’s head of Shandong, around the belly of China, past the island of Taiwan, to the underside past Hong Kong, the entry to the Pearl River to the port of Canton, past Macau, past Hainan Island to drawing the armpit of the Bay of Tonkin and on down the long armlike coast of Vietnam.) Shandong is the camel head pointing its nose at Korea.


A SCHOLAR HAS failed the Imperial examinations, "Oh me, I failed the exams. I'm stupid, stupid, stupid!" The failed scholar mopes along on the road of life with his bag of books over his shoulder. "How can I go home? Hi folks, I failed the Imperial exams?" He groans. "I'm just another failed scholar on the road of life.” He kicks himself. “Oh, me. Oh, my. I failed.” He slaps himself on the forehead. “I'm stupid. I don't know nothing."

A wolf dashes out of the woods and falls down at the failed scholar's feet, and looks up into his eyes.

"Please! Save my life! Save my life! Save my life!"

"Who? What? I don't know nothing!"

"I'll give you silver," the wolf says. "Silver!"

"Ooh, silver?"

“I'll give you Gold!"


"Just hide me, and save my life! And I'll give you silver and gold," the wolf says.

"Err, uhh, how? Where?"

"What do ya have in the bag, man?"

"Books!" the scholar said.

"Books! You don't need books! No one’ll give you silver and gold for carrying books in a bag! Dump the books!"

"Right," the scholar says and dumps the books. The wolf climbs into the bag. His body is tight fit. His neck sticks out. Off in the distance barking dogs are heard. The wolf is frantic. "Come on, man, stuff my head down in this bag. Come on!"

The scholar shoves and pushes, and pushes, "Come on, get me in the bag!" The scholar shoves the wolf's head down into the bag.

"Now tie the bag up! Hurry, man!"

The scholar ties the bag up.

"Now pick the bag up and start walking, come on, hurry!"

The scholar heaves the bag full of wolf onto his back and staggers into a walk.

Hunters on horseback break out of the woods and rein up by the scholar. "You there! Have you seen a wolf come by this way?" the leader of the hunting party asks.

"Wolf? No...."

"You're sure you haven't seen a wolf come by this way or cross this road?" the hunters ask.

"A wolf?"

“The dogs sniff the wolf on your trail, and then nothing, no wolf spoor.”

“Well, I haven’t seen a wolf. If one were around, I certainly would have noticed.”

“Would you?” one hunter asks and laughs.

“You seem a stupid, for a scholar,” the other says. The hunters back their horses and the scholar finally looks up and sees they wear imperial colors. They are the emperor's hunters. They ride off the road where the dogs are sniffing for a trail.

The scholar walks on carrying the wolf in his book bag for one mile, two miles, six miles till the wolf cries out, "Hey, lemme out here! I can't breathe! Put me down. Let me out of here!"
The scholar stops and sets the bag down, unties it and helps the wolf slip out.

"You know, while I was in your bag," the wolf says, "I got awful hungry. I'm so hungry from being in your bag, I am going to eat you up. Don’t look at me like that, it is your fault I'm hungry."

"Now, wait a minute, Wolf. That's not fair. You promised me silver…”

“Yes, I know. And I promised you gold.”

“And you promised me gold if I hid you in my bag and saved your life," the scholar says.

“If you saved my life, yes. That’s what I said.”

"I kept my part of the bargain, and now instead of silver and gold you tell me, I owe you a meal, and I'm it? That is not fair!"

"Sure, that's fair. Anybody will tell you that's fair," the wolf says. "What’s unfair about it?"

"Come on, nobody will say that's fair! I'm not that stupid."

"Ask anybody. Anybody!. And they'll tell you, I'm being fair."


"Ask anybody. Ask any three living things, and I bet, they'll tell you it’s fair to eat you for saving my life."

"That’s crazy!”

"Yes. Ask three old things and if one, just of them says it's not fair of me eat to eat you…I won't eat you," the wolf says.

He chuckles. "Stupid!"

They walk a bit and come to an old withered apricot tree. "Talk to the tree," the wolf says.

"Talk to the tree?" the failed scholar whines.

"Talk to the tree," the wolf says.

The scholar stops by the old apricot tree, and bows. "Old Apricot Tree," the failed scholar says, "I beg your pardon, I'm nobody, I don't mean anything, but I would like the benefit of your instruction in a personal matter."

The rickety Old Apricot Tree rattles and sighs, "Hummmm."

"Old Apricot Tree, I was minding my own business moping along the road of life after I flunked the big exams and this wolf runs out of the woods begs me to save his life. He makes me dump my books, and promises me silver and gold to hide him in my bag and carry him, and I do, and the Imperial hunters ride up, and ask me if saw a wolf, and I tell them I didn't see any wolf, and then when the wolf gets out of the bag, he tells me he got hungry inside my bag, and it's my fault he's hungry and he's going to eat me," the scholar says on a long breath. "Is that fair, Old Apricot Tree?"

And the Old Apricot Tree sighs and rattles his rickety twigs and says, "I was born and the rain watered me. And the sun shone on me. And you protected me from the birds and made sure I got water and sun, and I grew and grew. And then I sprouted fruit and you humans picked my fruit and ate it and threw away the seeds. And you carved your initials in my bark and you let your kids climb into my branches and break them. Then you cut off my branches and you burned them for firewood. And, yeah, it's fair for the wolf to eat you!"

Oh, oh, the scholar thinks. This isn't good, and thanks the Old Apricot Tree and walks on.
They come to a field and in the field is an old horse. "Talk to the horse," the wolf says. And the scholar approaches the old horse, bows and says, "Old Horse, I'm nobody and don't mean anything but beg the benefit of your instruction in a personal matter."

"Oh, boy, here we go again," the Old Horse says.

"Old Horse, I was minding my own business just walking along the road of life after I flunked the big exams and this wolf runs out of the woods and begs me, to save his life. He falls on his knees at my feet, and begs me to save his life. He promises to give me silver and gold if I'll hide him in my bag and carry him, and I do, and the Imperial hunters ride up and I tell them I didn't see any wolf. And then when the wolf gets out of the bag, he tells me it's my fault he's hungry and he's going to eat me," the scholar says on a long breath. "Is that fair, Horse?"

And the Old Horse says, "I was born. I suckled on my mother's milk and ran and played after her. And you humans gave me good grass and good grain to eat and lots of water to drink and lots of room to run. I was out when the sun shone and sheltered from the rain. Then you let your kids ride on me, and whip me, and you tie me up to things. You made me pull for you round and round or back and forth back and forth. And then you whipped me to make me pull harder when your plow hit hard ground. And the work and the harness left sores on my body. And biting flies buzzed and birds came to eat off my open sores and I got a little older and you stopped feeding me. You only whipped me and then when my back gave out, you turned me out without food. You no longer let me in out of the rain after all the work I've done for you and, yeah, it's fair for the wolf to eat you."

"Whoops," the scholar says to himself, "I'm in trouble."

Next the scholar sees an old teacher asleep on the road. "Old Teacher. Wake up. You’re sleeping on the road.”

“What?” the Old Teacher says waking up. “What ma I doing on the road? I was asleep here? Who are you? Did you rob me?”

“Ask the Old Teacher,” the wolf says low so the old teacher won’t hear.


“Ask him,” the wolf says with threatening show of teeth.

The scholar bursts into tears, falls on his face in front of the old man and whimpers, "Old Teacher, I wasn't hurting anybody I was just walking along the road of life after I flunked the big exams, minding my own business. And this wolf runs out of the woods and begs me to dump my books and promises me silver and gold to hide him in my bag and carry him, and I do, and the Imperial hunters ride up and I tell them I didn't see any wolf. Then when the wolf gets out, he tells me he got hungry inside my bag, and it's my fault he's hungry and he's going to eat me!" the scholar whines. "And he says that's fair! Is that fair, Old Teacher?"

"There are many sides to every question,” the Older Teacher says. “I want to understand this before I decide. Is this what happened, Wolf?"

"Yes, I thought he told it very well," the wolf says.

"Hmmm. There's something I still don't understand," the Old Teacher says. "Where did you say this happened?"

"Oh, back this way along the road about, maybe six miles," the scholar says.

"Can we go back there and let me have a look at where this all happened?"

"Sure, we can. Let's get this over with fast," the wolf says and leads the way.

They reach the spot where the scholar and wolf met and the Old Teacher paces around this way and that with his stick and shakes his head. "No, there's still something I don't quite understand," he says, "You say you dumped your books and this wolf here climbed into that little bag?"

"Oh, I understand your problem," the wolf says, "You don't believe a big magnificent wolf like me can fit into that little bag! Here we'll show you!" The wolf turns to the scholar and snaps, "Come on, stupid, help me get in the bag!"

The wolf and scholar huff and puff and grunt and groan stuffing the wolf into the bag. And the Old Teacher laughs. "I can still see your head, Wolf. What kind of hiding is that?"

"Well, I had Stupid shove and push on my head till it was stuffed in the bag too."

"Well?" the old Teacher shrugs.

"Come on, man," the wolf says, "Stuff my head down into the bag!"

And the scholar uses all his strength and shoves the wolf's head into the bag, and stops to catch his breath.

"Then what did you do?" the Old Teacher asks.

"I tied up the bag."

"Aha!" the Old Teacher says.

"Tie up the bag!" the wolf says from inside the bag.

The scholar blushes, "Oh, how stupid of me!" and ties up the bag. "Now what?" he asks.

"Walk on," the Old Teacher says.

“Walk on?” the scholar asks.

“Walk on?” the wolf asks inside the bag.


What is the Strategic problem in the STUPID THE SCHOLAR & THE WOLF? Stay alive, Stupid. That is the only problem in this story, whether Stupid knows it or not. Luckily the Teacher knows what the problem is. He uses the tiger’s own strategy for trapping the scholar against him.

The tiger is so busy outsmarting Stupid he forgets to eat him. The teacher’s talk and walking the wolf back step by step into the bag is a distraction and a tactic that works.

Talk about STUPID THE SCHOLAR & THE WOLF with the Chinese storyteller in your family.

Ask why THE STUPID SCHOLAR & THE WOLF was told as if the wolf being tied up in a bag was nothing? Why are the children listening to the story relieved that the teacher did not tell the scholar to bag the wolf, tie up the bag and toss it in the water?

The stoyteller will say some children’s stories are told with the age of the listener, in mind, and some are written for the ages.

Listen to THE STUPID SCHOLAR & THE WOLF or THE NORTH COUNTRY WOLF, or THE WOLF OF SHANDONG. You know though it is never said, that for as long as this story, you are safe from killers, killing and kill.

When the listener has knowledge of killing the Confucian brain kicks in, and the older listener will see that killers, killing and kill are in the story.

The children’s stories are distillation of a people’s dreams. Dreams that teach how to hold yourself together and live a in raw, bloody, and very scary world. Stories boiled out of a life that was war, where families were the only reality and didn’t legally exist. Family members were property of the king pretending to be an emperor, and the family had to pay taxes to the corrupt emperor, and tribute to the gangs, tribute to the horsemen every fall as sure as crows, in order to stay on their land, that no matter who ruled, who trampled on it, it was their family’s land. Only the rule of a monster, could drive the family to give up the land they’ve held for generations. Only the promise of a land ruled by a king of their dreams, would lead them to follow the good, kindly ruler to a land he would rule. That’s a story only told once, in Lo Kuanchung’s THE THREE KINGDOMS and, unfortunately, not here. The landbound Chinese trying to farm vs the horsemen who follow the seasons and live off the land come every year like crows at harvest time. Might the Chinese have been nomads themselves, before taking up agriculture? Clues are in the children’s stories. Our’s and their’s. Why don’t we know their’s? Might the nomad’s family keep what came from the family inside the family? I don’t know. The answer is in the stories.

The reduction that occurred in the stories makes the link between the children’s stories and the psychological images of self-inspiration that writers these days try to convince the reader are real experiences.

In modern times the children’s stories have been scrubbed of all and anything that might disturb a nation’s particular definition of “socialization” and “assimilation” leaving bland and incomprehensible, cute and utterly meaningless shells of stories that were once Chinese.

The people cared so much about the survival of the family, the body of knowledge and ethics the family treasured, and members valued above themselves, that they warned their children to defend themselves against adults of their family who sold children for the good life. The children responded by keeping certain stories close to their original forms. I’m going to tell you a Chinese story and a Japanese story where kids are the teachers of adults.


DO YOU THINK YOUR PARENTS love you? Would they sell you to me, for food? For $100. American? For $5000. American? How about you? I will pay $ 1 million American to your parents for you! Not enough? I will pay your parents $5 million for each of you. Oh, they’ll miss you. But 5 million buys a lot of grief. They won’t take my 5 million dollars? They’ll take my $ 10 MILLION. OK, a few of you have the kind of parents that won’t sell you at any price. But most of you go home with me.

And five, maybe six, maybe ten years later I come back with another big hunger and a lot of money to buy all the children of Auckland, New Zealand.. And ten years later I come back again….

What would happen to Auckland?

To stop grownups from selling their children to monsters, for the good life, the Chinese have a story about a child like you, who comes to a family in a boat, in this case a lotus bud, and the Japanese told a story about a boy born out a peach, to teach the adults to look on their children as their future.


WE ARE IN CHINA, in a beautiful green place where a great mountain pass opens and a significant river runs from the heart of China out to the sea. Chentang Pass. A beautiful place, with a beautiful fortress city, under the command of handsome Commandant Li.

People here live a good life. No famine. No flood. No drought. No disease. Nobody starves. Nobody gets sick. Nobody works hard. Nobody goes without. Everyone has more than enough. This place is protected by the Green Dragon King of the Eastern Sea.

And all the Green Dragon King of the Eastern Sea asks in return for the good life, is children, to eat as party food. There a recipes for chicken in THE JOY OF COOKING he uses on children.

Commandant Li's wife is pregnant with their third child She goes into labor. She stays in labor for three years. The commandant is losing his patience. At last she gives birth. But it’s not a child.

Who is going to tell the commandant he is father of a flower bud. A closed lotus!

A cute smiling servant carries the Third Prince in the palm of his hand. He rolls it off his hand onto a stone tabletop, and backs away.

“The Third Prince is a flower?” The Commandant is not happy with what he sees.. He draws his sword and slices the lotus bud open. Golden light brights out and blinds everyone in the room. Right in the center of the light is a tiny little naked boy no larger than a thumb.

The women attending the birth go, "Ooooh!"

The Commandant takes the little boy in his hand, and examines him closely. "Ahhh. He's a cute little fella, isn't he!" he says. "But he's so small!"

The Taoist teacher flies down from the mountaintop on the back of a crane, dismounts, covers his right hand with his left and. congratulates the Commandant on the birth of a son.

The tiny little boy jumps into the teacher's hand and the teacher asks, "Allow me to name your son, and I will restore him to full size."

"Please, teacher," the Commandant says covering his right hand with his left, “Name my son. And please restore him to full size.”

The teacher names the little boy "Nah Jah."

"Nah Jah," the Commandant says. “My son.”

The teacher takes a lotus seed from his gourd, puts it into Nah Jah's mouth. The little boy swallows it, and grows to a full sized boy before everyone’s eyes. The teacher says, "Nah Jah will continue to grow as a normal boy," and, "I give Nah Jah his magic weapons. Hoops of heaven and earth. And a red ribbon." Then the teacher sits cross legged on the back of the crane and the crane spreads its wings and silently flies the teacher back to the mountaintop.

Nah Jah grows very fast. He plays on the beach with his friend the magic deer and children.
There is a reason the heros of the Asian children’s stories are orphans. Orphans force the people who decide to become their parents, by word, or deed, to promise to raise the child stranger as their own.


We are in Japan. The story is MOMOTARO. An old samurai and his wife have packed up the sword, and picked up the plow here in a beautiful mountain region that slopes down to the sea. They are old and childless. They grow rice.

One day he's out cutting firewood and the old woman goes down to the river to beat dirty clothes on wet rocks.

The old woman looks up from beating clothes to see a huge peach, larger than a beach ball, bobbing down the river.

"Oooh," the old woman says, "This is going to be good to eat tonight after the same old rice."

After dinner the old man picks up his knife and slice! "Whoops, what's this little naked baby boy doing standing up in the middle there? This peach has no seed, only a little boy! He's perfect. He's the child we have always wanted."

Peach is Momo, and Taro is boy in Japanese. Life is good where Momotaro, the Peach boy, lives by the sea. The weather is always perfect and the crops always full. And there no pirates no marauders. That’s because this part of Japan is protected by the Oni. The people have a deal for the Oni’s protection, all they want are a few children.

The oni are demons with horns growing out of their heads, and monsters who eat children.

Momotaro does not think giving up children to the oni is such a good idea. His parents tell him, “It’s politics, son. You’re too young to understand politics.”

Momotaro insists. “I’m going off to fight the oni.” His parents relent and make him kibidango rice cakes to eat along his way to war. They give him armor, a long sword for fighting, and short sword, the unmentionable, an iron fan for gesturing. They give him a flag with the peach crest on it and the slogan "Nippon Ichi" "Japan First!"

On his walk to the sea, Momotaro sits on the ground to eat a kibidango. A big chested dog with a curly tail woof woofs for attention in the woods and asks for a kibidango, to eat. “I can help you. I have a huge bite and sharp teeth and strong jaws. I can bite through trees and fell them.”
“I won’t give you a whole kibidango, but I’lll share one with you.”

On their walk to the sea, the dog senses a monkey, up in a tree. The monkey yip yips and laughs at Momotaro and the dog. “Momotaro. Momotaro! Take me with you. I can climb. Just give me a kibidango.”

“I won’t give you a whole kibidango, but I’lll share one with you.”

““Momotaro. Momotaro! Up in the sky” Momotaro looked up and saw a green headed ring necked pheasant, winging circles in the air. “I can fly high and scout from the sky. How about a kibidango?

“I won’t give you a whole kibidango, but I’lll share one with you.”

Momotaro, the dog, the monkey and the pheasant, build a boat, cross the sea. They surprise the oni. They tear off the oni’s horns. They kill the oni. They massacre the oni. Oni tear their own horns off and surrender.

Momotaro and his friends free the children, and return home with the treasure.

Momotaro goes home because the old man and old woman kept their word. They did not sell Momotaro to monsters for the good life. And everyone who'd had it so easy for so long, had to work for a living again. They had to raise their children instead of selling them to monsters for the good life.

DOWN IN THE UNDERSEA KINGDOM, in the crystal palace of the Green Eastern Sea, the Dragon King wakes up from a long sleep and licks his chops. "It feels like party time," he says.

He sends a Sea Devil on the back of a sea turtle to the surface of the sea after children A few children happen to be playing on the beach with Nah Jah and his friend, the deer. Nah Jah whips his red ribbon and drives the devil back empty handed.

"What? No children?" Dragon King says. The Sea Devil slimes into a toad in a puddle of itself at the Dragon King's feet. The Dragon King is angry. Instead of children his Sea Devil shows up empty handed and an expression of sorry trembling on his face. The Dragon King is disgraced. His guests are hungry for children. The undersea tea and wine, all the sauces, bits and tidbits in dishes on the palace table have been shaken into the laps of his guests the Dragon Kings. It’s that boy Nah Jah, the son of the Commandant who should be keeping his deal and feeding the choicest children to the Dragon King.

He sends his own son, the Dragon Prince armed with two round hammers, up to the surface to pound Nah Jah into mush and grab children to fry, to boil, to steam, to smoke and eat!
The Dragon Prince breaks the surface of the sea and shouts, "Who dares rough up my father's palace guard and stir up the sea?"

"I do,” Nah Jah answers.

The Dragon Prince clangs his round hammers together and attacks.

Nah Jah kills the dragon prince with his hoops of heaven and earth, then reaches his hand down inside the dragon's mouth, grabs his gut, and pulls the dragon inside out. He throws the limp gutted, body, into the sea. He keeps the dragon prince's gut. "A nice present for my father," Nah Jah says.

The body of the Dragon Prince settles to the bottom of the Eastern Sea at the feet of the Dragon King. The Dragon King of the Eastern Sea is angry.

The Dragon King walks into the Commandant's castle, with his sword drawn, and yells, "Your son! Your son killed my son. We had a deal. I gave you good weather. I gave your people the good life. Your people were supposed to give me children. My son comes to collect a few children, and your son kills my son? You take care of your son, or no rain. No green growth. No good life."

“This is news to me,” the Commandant says. He's at loss for words. Nah Jah walks in with the little dragon's gut. “A present for you, father.” The Green Dragon King seeing his son’s insides, lunges at the impudent boy with his naked sword. Nah Jah laughs, slips and dodges the Dragon King's strikes and slashes. The Dragon King swings down to split Nah Jah, and breaks his sword on a large incense burner and Nah Jah smiles.

“You broke my promise to the Dragon King made before the Jade Emperor in heaven!”

He takes away Nah Jah's magic weapons. He ties his son to a pillar.

"Give me your Third Prince!" the Dragon King screams.

The Commandant draws his sword and approaches Nah Jah. He raises his sword to strike Nah Jah down.

Nah Jah snaps the ropes that hold him, snatches the sword out of his father's hands, says, "I give you back your flesh and blood," and the boy slits his own throat and dies. Dies.

Nah Jah’s father does not keep his promise to the boy born from lotus. Does the Commandant give the Dragon Kings children to banquet on?

Nah Jah's friend, the deer comes to Nah Jah's side with his magic weapons, and lays them by the dead boy's side and licks his hand. Nah Jah and his weapons turn into a glowing lotus seed.

The crane flies down from the mountaintop, picks up the seed and flies back up the mountain. The teacher takes the seed, tosses it into the pond. After awhile a new lotus blossoms, and inside the new lotus is a new Nah Jah.

"Thank you, teacher," Nah Jah says, covers his fighting hand in salute, and drops to his knees.

The teacher helps Nah Jah to his feet, “I didn’t bring you back for nothing. You want to fight the Dragon Kings? You will fight dragon kings. All four dragon kings.”

To celebrate the victory over the Third Prince, the Green Dragon King of the Eastern Sea has collected all the children of the Commandant’s Chentang Pass and plans to serve them prepared four ways at a great banquet for the three other dragon kings.

The teacher restores the hoops of heaven and earth and the red ribbon to Nah Jah.

Again Nah Jah drops to one knee, bows his head, covers his fighting hand and says, “Thank you, Teacher.”

“Here I give you a duster that turns into a spear with a shake, Also I give you wind and fire wheels to place under your feet and fly through the sky. And here also I give you the power to sprout two extra heads and two extra sets of arms. With three heads and six arms you can fight in all directions at once.”

Nah Jah drops to one knee, bows his head, covers his fighting hand a third time, and says, “Thank you, Teacher.” Then flies off on his fire wheels. He crashes the Green Dragon King's party before before the cooking for the banquet has started. The outraged dragon kings rise to fight the smart aleck boy.

The red dragon tries burning him. The white dragon tries freezing him in outer space. They fight Nah Jah every way they know how and nothing they do stops the three headed boy with six arms. Nah Jah throws his spear. It skewers the Green Dragon King and grows into a pillar planted in the earth and fixed in the sky, with the dragon pinned at the top, high and dry as far from the sea as Nah Jah can keep him.

Nah Jah frees the children and sends them home to Chentang Pass. The children wave and the people cheer the sight of him flashing in the sun as rides a deer across the sky. There is no more selling of children to monsters for the good life, people have to work for a living again.
But because the Commandant broke his promise to care for Nah Jah as his own, Nah Jah never goes home again.

There are more adventures of Nah Jah in the folk novel THE CREATION OF THE GODS. But I direct your attention to the statues of Kwan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of mercy, you will find for sale in curio shops in Chinatowns and around the world, or displayed in Kwan Yin temples and shrines.

Look at Kwan Yin's feet. In some of the larger statues, a child by each foot can be seen. A little girl by the right foot. And by her left foot, a little boy with a red ribbon and hoops of heaven and earth, standing on a lotus.

The children’s stories define China by acclamation and authority of five thousand years Chinese storytelling. They define of the Chinese people as Joan of Arc and Degas and the Eiffel Tower define the French people, as Greek myths define the Greeks, being Chinese by definition means you know the stories I ‘ve just told and up to a hundred Chinese stories more.

Chinese that haven’t enjoyed the fruits of a Chinese childhood, have no reason to pass their ignorance on to their children and guarantee they “suffer” the same “lack of identity” and the silliness of the “identity crisis,” that afflicted their parent acting like Hans Christian Andersen’s THE UGLY DUCKLING. The Ugly Duckling parent can give their children the Chinese childhood they never had, simply by reading a book of stories and telling the ones they like to their kids, while they’re still kids, if you please.


I need three brave volunteers to help me tell a scary story of my own. Hands go up. (I hope) I choose three. They give me their names. In the meantime, I’ll use the names of children I know.

And nowwwoo…

time forrr…


ONCE UPON A TIME, there were three little children. One was named Benin (my granddaughter). And two was named Garrick (my son’s friend). And the third was named Sam (my son).

Late one day, their mother called them into the bedroom, where she was brushing her hair. She said, "Sam, Garrick, Benin. Your daddy and mommy are going out dancing tonight. But before we go, would like you to go down to the grocery store and buy us some peanuts.

"And make sure you get home before it gets dark outside, because tonight is the night, the Big Chicken comes out!

"And whatever you do, do not take the shortcut home, through the graveyard, because that is where the Big Chicken lives."

Benin, Garrick, and Sam went down to the grocery store, found the aisle with the peanuts and got into a big argument. Mommy did not say what kind of peanuts to buy. And there were peanuts in bags, peanuts in sacks cans, peanuts in jars. Salted peanuts. Unsalted peanuts. Peanuts in the shell and peanuts out of the shell. There were roasted peanuts, salt roasted peanuts, honey roasted peanuts, and boiled peanuts. There were even raw peanuts.

There were Texas peanuts, and California peanuts. There were Georgia peanuts and Carolina peanuts and Florida peanuts. Peanuts from Mexico even peanuts from Africa. Fancy peanuts and cocktail peanuts and peanuts mixed with peanuts from other places and other kinds of nuts.

Finally they decided to buy a can of salted cocktail peanuts. And when they got outside the store, it was dark!

"Let's take the shortcut home through the graveyard," said Sam.

"But the big chicken lives there," said Benin.

"Ay yay yay yah," said Garrick.

"Don't be scared. There's no big chicken," said Sam.

So, Benin, and Garrick and Sam went walking in the graveyard. The moon was up, and they could see their shadows stretch from their feet and slip over the grass and the headstones and the graves in front of them, as they walked down one hill and up another.

Then they saw this big shadow come up behind them and cover their shadows. And they heard, "Buck-Buck! Buck-Buck!"

"What'd you say, Sam?" Benin asked.

"I didn't say anything. It must have been Garrick," Sam said.
"I…I…I didn't hear anything," Garrick said.

And Sam, Garrick, and Benin looked in front of them and still couldn't see their shadows. And they heard, a little louder, "BUCK-BUCK! BUCK-BUCK!"

"Did you hear that, Garrick?" Sam said.

"I…I…I" Garrick said chattering his teeth.

"Turn around and see what it is," Benin said.

"I'm not turning around!" Garrick said.

"Sam? Would…would you turn around? And see if there's anything behind us?"

And Sam slowly turned around and took a look over his shoulder. And he saw the BIG CHICKEN! It had toes as big as Cadillac's. It's legs were as large as telephone poles! Its body was as big as a McDonald's. It's head was as large as a UPS truck. And it had an EYE as big around as a manhole cover! And Sam said, "Run!"

And they ran. Ran up the hills and down the hills. Ran out of the graveyard and into the street. Ran down the street and into their house. They put the cocktail peanuts in the kitchen and ran up the stairs, into the bedroom. They hid under Benin's bed. And waited. And listened.

They heard the Big Chicken walk into the house. "BUCK-BUCK!"

They heard the Big Chicken walk into the kitchen. "BUCK-BUCK!"

The Big Chicken ate the peanuts. "Buck-buck."

The Big Chicken ate everything in the refrigerator. Then the Big Chicken ate the refrigerator! The Big Chicken ate the cupboards, the stove, the sink. "Buck-Buck!"

The Big Chicken ate up all the furniture in the living room.

They heard the Big Chicken climbing the stairs. "Buck-buck!"

They heard the Big Chicken walk into Mom and Dad’s room. It ate up Dad’s golf clubs. “Buck-Buck.” It ate all Mom’s shoes. “Buck-Buck.” It ate their big bed! “Buck-Buck.”

They heard the Big Chicken walk into the bathroom. "Buck-Buck!"

It ate up the toilet! "Buck-Buck!" It ate up the shower, and the tub, and the sink. "Buck-Buck!" It ate up the medicine chest. "Buck-Buck!"

Then they heard the Big Chicken walk the into Benins' room. "Buck-Buck!" It looked at the Benin's dolls. "Buck-Buck!" And ate them up. It looked at the Benins' chest of drawers. "Buck-Buck!" And ate that. "Buck-Buck!"

The Big Chicken saw Benin's bed! "Buck-Buck!" It came closer, and looked.
"Uhhhh!" Benin said.

"Shhh!" the boy's said.

The Big Chicken ate the quilt covering the bed. "Buck-Buck!"

The Big Chicken ate the blankets. "Buck-Buck!"

The Big Chicken ate the sheets. "Buck-Buck!"

The Big Chicken ate the mattress! "Buck-buck! Buck-Buck!"

The Big Chicken ate the box springs! "Buck-buck." There were the kids under the bed. "Buck-buck!" The Big Chicken looked at Sam! "Buck-Buck!" The Big Chicken looked at Garrick! "Buck-Buck!" The Big Chicken…Boo!


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Chin to China, part 5

[cont'd from part 4]



By Kenny Murase

Scanning the nisei literary horizon, we see a galaxy of literary lights-- … a hitch-hike trip up North have etched impressions sharply into our mind. With some of these writers it was just a "Hello" and a "Glad to have met you." But with most of them we've come to know as real friends--the kind of friends what would augment your dreams and your hopes of a brighter tomorrow--the kind of friends that gives you a bit of confidence, a dash of optimism, and something of a reassurance that perhaps humanity is good, and that life might not be so bad after all.

What followed was Murase’s short description of the writing the person and personality of several JA writers in several places on his way northward. All very interesting. Murase the traveling appreciator. He appreciates the writers worth appreciating and visits them. He’s not a writer himself. No urge to write the great Japanese American Novel, but he drools at the thought of reading it. And he speculates on who might write it. A man of taste. Could Omura have been grooming him for CURRENT LIFE’s book critic?


Shawn Wong, the poet, novelist, teacher, as a co-editor set the spelling of Aiiieeeee! with the words “Three ‘eyes’ and five ‘eehs’ if you please.” He lived in a large gingerbread house owned, at the time, by Kay Boyle. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio Kay Boyle, a Cinderella born of a literary and social activist mother and a lawyer father, and a publisher grandfather. She was an American writer in Paris of the ‘20s and deflating ‘30s. She knew James Joyce, drank with Hemingway, Harry Crosby’s Black Sun Press published her first book, SHORT STORIES. She was a Foreign Correspondent for the New Yorker magazine when McCarthy sweat and slobbered his anti-Communism intimidating everyone. The New Yorker fired her. American magazines blacklisted her. Kay Boyle didn’t like my writing. I admired that she mentioned “not caring for leisurely writing” to my face, in passing onto my activism, that she did like. My activism? She thinks I say things for the first time in AIIIEEEEE! I thought that was our writing the American-born into the realm of literary criticism. She smiled. She didn’t smile with her mouth and cheeks. Though she did rouge her cheeks, and wear powder. She didn’t smile with her mouth and cheeks. The face had no muscles left. A sound like a fingernail scrape on slate came from her throat. Her skin glowed younger a moment. I liked her writing. Life had worn her face close to the bone like a newborn bird and left her white haired at 75. She seemed to encourage the likening of her head to newborn bird’s by wearing earrings made of chicken neck bones.

She described two rich and educated people who lived with each other after a horse ride and a roll in the grass lying next to each other “like a corpse next to a corpse” in the THE CRAZY HUNTER. I said, Tasty! I can’t describe the story but certain lines jumped and kept me reading. She tastefully orchestrated the jumps of a reader more experienced and better off than me. I’m uncomfortable among the rich and people raised to the style of the rich. I don’t want to aspire to have a front room that would comfortably hold my whole house. Though I could get used to shelf of books that is actually a bar. I’ve worn the white jacket and served too many rich as a kid. Jeff had been student of Kay Boyle. He called her Kay. She married the Baron Joseph von Frankenstein and had a castle, and began teaching at San Francisco State when he died, in 1962. She held court with the writers, the activists Joan Baez, Mike Seeger Pete’s fiddling little brother. Peggy Seeger and her husband Ewan McColl the Irish singer of folksongs. Names and famous names in her front room toasting their lit by the fire. She refused Norman Mailer an invitation to her house. And among the spacious halls and rooms of a tribute to Frankenstein’s castle in a wood Victorian trimmed in dental work, lived Shawn Wong! Was he the cat or mouse of the house? Was a cad like Dirk Bogard? An innocent paying guest of the elderly and elegant Cinderella living a fantasy? She was still writing, still teaching, and still a political activist. Shawn tells the story of her blocking the stairs with the English Faculty. The cops come. “Lady, you should be ashamed of yourself!” And Kay answered, “Young man, I’m old enough to be your grandmother. And you should be ashamed of yourself.” And men were still falling in love with her. She asked me through Shawn to go on a talk radio ambush with her. In “Literary San Francisco” that has never acknowledged our existence as writers or editors or as the American born of Chinatown the high top of the liberal is Kay Boyle’s house. The less formal but politically the same liberal to radical are the Beatniks become Hippies become white men in beards and jeans who gather at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore. He has nothing against her. He’s bewildered by her hated of him. I don’t know why and don’t ask. Their world wasn’t my world.

I gave her a Kwan Kung small enough to close her fist around. He was the number two of the three brothers of the Oath in the Peach Garden. He was redfaced, eight feet tall, wore green and wanted for murder. He makes the oath of blood brotherhood with Brother No. One, a white faced man, a pretender to the throne of the Han, second and most beloved Dynasty in history and myth, and Brother No. Three, the splotchy skinned a spiky bearded, wealthy farmer footing the bill for our coming together to define China and save it as one. More poetry than substance. The different faces were real. Different colors mean different races.

A wavy haired well dressed man stopped us at the door to the room with the gleaming microphones and told us what to say. He would strike the themes of the united front.

“Who are you?”

He was Edison Uno the saint of the JACL. He personally suffered the punishment due the JACL for betraying the Nisei. In the name of the JACL he lay the JACL’s guilt at the feet of white writers and white newscasters. (But wasn’t he supposed to be nobly suffering the JACL’s punishment, not palming it off?) The programs he appeared on knew the JACL myth that the Japanese Americans entered and endured camp without protest or resistance, volunteered to fight to prove their loyalty and their battlefield performance freed their race from the camps. They knowingly surrendered their rights to white racists and joined them in their white racism in a strategy designed to destroy the sense of being born to the Japanese pride and avoid the law. There had to be protest and resistance before camp and in camp. But not from him. He stayed inside the JACL, because it was the only JA org. His strategy was to change it from within. He was ridiculed in the inside pages of the JACL paper, the PACIFIC CITIZEN. I found his strategy really distasteful. He had as much chance of changing the JACL as he had of changing the Nazi Party, or the Ku Klux Klan. If JA wanted a changed JACL they would change their name. Obviously they liked their white racist record, they liked their rep for dishonesty, they liked intimidating the JA’s into silence about camp. And like the JACL he rebelled against, he wouldn’t tolerate talk of resisters. He didn’t want to cloud the issue of white guilt with JACL being a fake civil rights org trapping unwitting JA’s for the FBI and the resistance against the JACL and camps.

His people, the Nisei were the second generation from Japan, and the first born in America. In the 1930’s, a generation of Nisei in their twenties, burst out newspapers in English all over the western United States. The Japanese print shops were sensing a change in the job print world. More of the jobs from Japanese names were jobs to print in English. Both the Issei wanting jobs, and the Nisei wanting to show even show-off how American they were the all American newspaper from Japanese America. It was inevitable that out of all this journalistic jockeying and jostling, something of quality would emerge. CURRENT LIFE was the only Asian-American attempt at a real magazine, owned published and edited by James Matsumoto Omura. Omura’s wife Fumi Akuma was the business manager and a writer. The War and the JACL put the mag out of business. They voluntarily evacuated out of Zone 1 of the Evacuation Orders, while they could. Omura was suddenly the editor of the Denver Rocky Shimpo. It was the only Japanese American newspaper in or out of camp that was free of JACL control. Subscriptions from concentration camps in California, Idaho and Wyoming noticeably increased. The patriotic JACL double talk no longer attempted to make sense. They didn’t have to with only one paper out of the JACL grasp. That one JA newspaper was the Denver Rocky Shimpo, the editor was James Omura and Nisei journalism became sublime and courageous till the JACL shut him down. The JACL drove him out of journalism into the anonymity of a gardener. The JACL shutoff the JA instinct for mags.


I came within a name and address to handling a manuscript by a Japanese-American fictioneer, a George FurIya given a moment of JACL fame in the pages of the JACL paper the PACIFIC CITIZEN by the paper’s wartime editor, Larry Tajiri after the war. Not only was Tajiri the editor of the JACL weekly THE PACIFIC CITIZEN, he was a JACL confidential informant to the FBI code named “T-1” during camp. He was the spokesman for Mike Masaoka’s JACL policies. I thought his writing of the unpublished, unknown George Furiya was praise for a pro-JACL wordsmith, in the Jan. 17, 1948 issue of the PACIFIC CITIZEN:

"An Unpublished Novelist."

"There are uncomplete novels in his trunk and one of these days George will be back to finish them. Maybe one of them will be published and he will be famous. You might remember the name. George Furiya."

This distinctly friendly and distinctly anti-JACL pre-war letter to Larry Tajiri and his wife, raises questions about Tajiri and Furiya and the JACL.

Dearest Larry and Guyo,

Anyway, how are you? And you, Guyo. The bugs are well under control, so don't worry. The old saying about children would describe my bugs well if it had been written by Milton: The bugs are not seen, neither are they heard. Or something. Anyway, I'm fine. I notice those bastards in the JACL turned quisling when the invasion ran over 'em. What the hell's the matter with you guys out there on coast. The fact that had to evacuate you can't deny, of course: and it would have been sheer folly not to cooperate with the fascist military boys to make the evacuation as nice as possible. But the JACL boys didn't just cooperate; they actually went and kissed the army's ass. Not even a single protest, be it to the nisei's everlasting shame. By the fact of not protesting (not that it would have done ay go, of course) you actually gave recognition to necessity for evacuation when you knew damn well that no such necessity existed. What the JACL should have done was this: We recognize no necessity for evacuation, and we say to plainly †hat we are all following your orders under duress (whatever duress means). Then the JACL should have gotten busy to try to get that phony military order revoked. Because as long as that military order hangs over the heads of the dumb nisei, it's going to mean that the nisei have been guilty of what the military boys said they were guilty of. Worse the order is going to hang like sword Damocles over the heads of the nisei, poised to come down this time like a ghetto-system, this time like the hostages for the white-American prisoners o the Japs, ad infinitum. I know that safety from West Coast mob-rule was one of the arguments used in favor of evacuation by the JACL quislings-in-effect, but moving inland from the West Coast hasn't safety; they've just hung that sword of Damocles over their heads. Anything can happen as long as sword hangs there. Hell, the JACL didn't cooperate with the army. In France, they call that kind of thing collaboration. The invasion has come and gone, but what the hell is everybody doing? I think what the Pacific Citizen should start campaigning to get that military order revoked.---And for Christ's sake, tell the boys to cut out some of that flag-waving, will? It's really disgusting. Carl Craw came back and told Shiro: "That Mike Masaoka is sure some flag-waver, isn't he?"

South America? Wonderful, from this distance. The most charming people in Argentina were French. (God, how I love the French! One thing this war proved: I'm a damn good Frenchman and damn good Russian.) Padilla's Free Man of America really exists in Latin America--at least, so far as I'm concerned. I had only to mention that was North American. From then on, I was never a Japanese to these refugee Europeans and the Latin Americans. I was a North American. Not even an eyebrow raised. For the first time in my life, I was an American--with nobody to question or doubt that fact. I tell it was terrific. Can you wonder that I consider North Americans the worst kind dopes? These refugee Europeans and Latin Americans never spoke to me as Japanese. They always spoke to me as an American. They never doubted my loyalty to the United States. (Dangerous word, that loyalty. But not now. I mean I won't go into why that word's a dangerous one. What I mean is all this hullabaloo about loyalty this-and-that, disloyalty this-and-that in the evacuation business, no one from DeWitt and Roosevelt down to the least of the JACL quisling's (sic) quislings exactly described what they meant by loyalty disloyalty. What I mean is I am definitely against turning the Japanese people over to Wall Street and the No-dogs-And-Chinese-Allowed boys? Is that disloyalty I traveled eight thousand miles submarine infested waters to come back to the United States from a more or less good life-time job in B.A. with the Asahi. Does that constitute loyalty?- --Anyway, to Latin Americans, Padilla, and the whole French people, my love. Sao Paulo is still a wonderful city to me. Did tell you about my Turkish girl, 22-years, educated in France, widow of a French infantry lieutenant, with whom I was on tu -terms, Spanish and halting French? Lovely. I should have fallen in love with her. And so forth. Sighted two submarines, dodged two torpedoes the night, didn't even so much as get excited, and the navy gunnery crew was given orders by the ensign in command to shoot me on sight if they caught me signaling to any ship, the damn fool (the kind of thing that me despair for America.)

A long letter, but a well-meant one. I love you both, and thanks for letter. It was most touching. Now guess what I'm doing now. I'm on Long Island, stuffing dirt into pots at the Japan Nurseries, Inc., $50 a month with room and fish-diet, 11 hours a day. You should see me. Positively boorish. A muzhik, a muzhak--the Russian for peasant. Am getting my unemployment insurance soon, however. Then to work.


George Furiya

Why did Tajiri wait until he was about to leave the PACIFIC CITIZEN for the DENVER POST, before writing of Furiya? Was it because Furiya was dead? Where was Furiya’s trunk full of unfinished novels? Around 1990 I tracked Tajiri’s mention of him to the letter to Tajiri, to a Nisei who wouldn’t admit knowing him, but gave me a name of someone who wouldn’t admit or deny to having a George Furiya manuscript, but teased me with own distinguished career as an ophthalmologist. A resumé perhaps written by George Furiya? No. And he wouldn’t show the manuscript, he wouldn’t copy it and send me a copy. And so ends the trail of George Furiya, and out of Japanese American memory he goes, unread an unknown, unlooked for.

Wouldn’t you think that in sixty years, someone would have noticed, 1936 to 1946--the All-American generation of Asians—was missing from AALit, and gone looking? No. Why? No magazines. No critics. Meantime, I’ve gone from fifty nine to sixty six and have been away from my own writing for too long.


From WWII through the rest of the 20th century on to the present Japanese Americans have gone from 120, 313 let out of camp to today’s 9600 nationwide in 2006. A yellow woman on the arm of a white man is an image of normalcy in the commercials building worlds in the interruption, interrupted by this other image. Japanese men with white women on their arms is an image that many yellow athletes in the movies wish for, so they can be seen as men. It’s embarrassing to see a muscleman with ultra coiffed hair whining about his dick getting no respect from the white producers of his movies because he’s yellow.

An AA mag would ask the writers and makers of the films why they won’t let a “yang” yellow musclemen have a “yin” white woman? A yellow critic, pitching to a yellow audience, would save the boys the embarrassment of representing all of Asian manhood, as in the recent propaganda boo hoo, THE SLANTED SCREEN putting a lineup of Hollywood yellow movie macho men on camera to plead for their dicks getting white women’s attention. There are ways of saying what THE SLANTED SCREEN says without making so many males embarrass themselves.

Actors act, we shouldn’t put them in the position of asking the questions of the audience that the critics should ask. But we have no critics. We’re reluctant to criticize. There is no Asian American lit without a literary argument. I see NO-NO BOY dying because Asian America wouldn’t talk about it. How do the revealed truth about the JACL betrayal of Japanese America and they invented the term “No-No boy” as a mistaken synonym for “criminal” they’re taking over the history and the publicity for their people.

The Saint was for working inside the all-powerful JACL. He couldn’t buck the spirit of Mike Masaoka while he lived. If he was a Saint, Masaoka was God.

The wavy haired Saint preached: Walking the JACL path of white righteousness against Japs and for the Japanese Americans, the American-born that so desperately wish they were as white on the outside, as they were on the inside. And to the whites of white news writing and news casting and Network newscasters, the JapAmface and voice of the news, in the realm of news stars in a sky of entertainment. He had become I learned later, the Networks’ expert’s last word on Japanese-American camps.

“I don’t know you. And I don’t like you,” I said. He lowered his eyes to mine. He was a tall dead man. And showed me his dead man’s eyes as if to intimidate me. “You’re a dead man!” I said, “Die!” and pushed past him.

In 1978 I was researching the WWII camps for Japanese Americans to bring me up to date as to why they were going to congress or court looking for “Redress,” I learned that the chickenshit dying man whose eyes I looked into had inspired the boys and girls that grew up to be the men and women who brought the redress movement to life.

The flat fizz when our eyes met. And the disgusting deadeyes that cringed from me, are all that I remember. Nothing of what was said by whom on the air. Kay Boyle and me are in the taxi taking us away from the forgotten broadcast studio. Kay Boyle thanks me for giving her a small redfaced Kwan Kung and telling her the story of who he was. Our cab pulls up to a black who recognized Kay Boyle in the cab had his cab call us so he could thank her for kind words he gave his first book. He gives Kay Boyle a copy of his new book of poetry. Lawson knew the poet. “Politician,” he said. Politics in poetry? “You don’t want to hear about it.” I don’t want to hear about it. It was because she loved Shawn Wong that she took the time to read the essay we were writing to introduce AIIIEEEEE! She knew James Joyce in Paris. She scolded Joyce secretary Samuel Beckett the author of WAITING FOR GODOT. They zinged postcards to each other with such fury, their writing was couldn’t be read as anything but speed. In reviewing AIIIEEEEE! in ROLLING STONE she did us a great favor. I hope the Stone paid her.

From China a message: They had checked the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, The Cambridge, The Webster’s, The American Heritage, the Columbia Dictionary of the English Language for “Aiiieeeee!” China-she or China-he had checked all the dictionaries and came up blank. Might “Aiiieeeee” be a word from another language? AIIIEEEEE! and THE BIG AIIIEEEEE! were anthologies of writing by American-born Chinese and Japanese with two exceptions that proved the rule; Taro Yashima and Mitsu were two artists and political activists who fled Japan for America after the disappearance of fellow artist-activists. They came with a vision of Japanese-American art forms, they actualized in artwork for the Office of War Information, and several children’s books that were still selling in 1969, among them UMBRELLA, MOMO’S KITTEN, and CROW BOY.

Their Japanese American children, Mako and Momo are likewise accomplished in the arts and extend their parent’s vision, as they build their own. Louis Chu was born in China, came to America at 14 and his only novel, EAT A BOWL OF TEA, was cannily written across both Chinese and American cultures, in English wrenched into the grammar of spoken Cantonese. Something that only someone with a taste for Cantonese and English smack their lips over.

The reasons why, these two we discussed in the essays of smartass literary history I wrote to introduce the continuity we found in generation after generation of the born-in-the-America Asian-way of looking at things published in America, since 1880. The real reason was there instances when I could read Louis Chu and get one impression of the people in English but in the Chinese that he’d worked in, in puns and jokes he hums and grunts another impression that jars with the English. The book closes with Ben Loy not able to stiffen his rod. He describes Ben Loy’s wife Mei Oi going down on him, as the literal flesh and blood woman (yin) and him going down on her as the literal yang (man) of the Tao , tonguing each other. It was perfectly obvious to me but too much for my co-editors, so I didn’t mention it in AIIIEEEEE!

We found San Francisco published the first Chinaman work A CHINESE-ENGLISH PHRASE BOOK, by Wong Sam & Associates in 1882 aimed 225 Chinatowns with Wells Fargo Express offices in the Western Territories, in a cardboard box, under a coffee table, in David Ishii’s used bookshop in Seattle’s Pioneer Square.

The Japanese American owner stood half in the dark wearing a canvas fishing hat with little ears over the vents, and round glasses with thick round frames. The light through the window and silvered up she shine of his teeth and turned his glasses into mirrors on dimpled his round face. He wore a short-sleeved white shirt, khaki pants and hiking boots.

“The Chinese stored and shipped their gold and portable wealth with Wells Fargo Express Co, where they had bulletproof safes, and valiant horses.” He turned a page in the book.


He pointed. “This publisher is a job printer.”

“Job printer?” He closed the book and handed it to me.

“They did this as a printing job for Wells Fargo.”

Wong Sam and Associates’ A CHINESE ENGLISH PHRASE BOOK is physical proof that we Chinese were in Washington, Oregon, California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico before they graduated from savages and gun law to civilized States one at a time, they drove the Old West west and out and were admitted as members of the United States of America with their own star on the flag. The dates of the western Territory’s Admission to Statehood are holidays, a birthdays across the map. We were here when the West was admitted into the Union. Five years after the publication of BIG AIIIEEEEE! with the excerpt from Wong Sam’s PHRASE-BOOK the PHRASE BOOK was mentioned as carrying a curiously revealing way of seeing America through the Chinese mind with phrases in Chinese and English about the arrest of a brother, testifying in court about being attacked with a gun, a knife, a knife and more than one gun, being pressed about Christianity, in an airlines magazine. The airlines mag didn’t have a word about Christianity but knowledgeably described an interesting point and identified Wong Sam as the source from 1872, San Francisco. How Chinaman is that? Proof! that once you’re a book, the book will live forever, and you won’t.

Why is it a throwaway airlines magazine readable Muzak, was out with thoughts on Wong Sam before an AA mag? There was and is no AA mag. We have never been able to achieve a real, respected, real magazine. The Japanese Americans had CURRENT LIFE the magazine for the American born Japanese, then the JACL shut James Omura down.


to be continued