Upon receiving the news that Aiiieeeee! will be reissued, Professor Justin Tse wrote the following email to Frank Chin:
November 30, 2018
Thank you so much for this email. As you know, I am one of the young professors who is not as old as the book but assigns it in far too many of the Asian American studies courses I teach here at Northwestern. In the Chinese American studies course I recently finished teaching, I assigned parts of it, as well as The Big Aiiieeeeee, for the students to adjudicate the fight you had with Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan. We worked down from what seemed to be contention about feminism and misogyny and down to the problem of Christianity in relation to the martial tradition. Next quarter, I will reprise my courses on Asian American religions, as well as Asian American social movements, and of course Aiiieeeee is an important text to consider in both.
In other words, I have taught it so many times that I have been unofficially known as the ‘Frank Chin’ guy. I don’t know how I feel about that because you always ask us to be critical, even of you, because what you wish for is criticism, not a kind of weasely sucking up to you. What’s more, as you know, I’m still a Christian.
I’m looking forward to all of this, and if there’s a chance I can come by and see you when it is republished, I’ll look forward to it.
Justin K.H. Tse 謝堅恆, PhD
Visiting Assistant Professor, Asian American Studies Program
Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences
Frank to Justin:
My beef with Mad Maxine Hong Kingston is she fakes her Chinese facts - Far Mulan of the BALLAD OF MULAN is not tattooed. Yue Fei, a man, born centuries and a dynasty after Mulan's publication, is known for his mother tattooing his back, to defy The Sun of Heaven's claim to exclusive rights to this life. His life is the Country's not the Commandant - take a walk along the the long corridor at the Ming Summer Palace outside of Peking - there's a panel of Mother Yue tattooing Yue Fei's back, and Yue's wife holding a candle to light mom's work.
Mad Max Hong Kingston's pitiful Chinese victim of woman-hating culture is not one of the Four Beauties, four concubines famous for Chinese kings using to seduce and dethrone enemy kings.
If anyone is a misogynist it's Max and her crybaby supporters, all White and all Christians. Max obviously hates women generals who modeled themselves on Mulan, Liang Hongyu, Mu Guiying, and Chen Liangyu
Prove your gripe is Chinese, you Christian you!
Keep your Christianity sheathed.
You draw your soul.
I draw out mine. Kingdoms rise and fall/ Nations cone go/ Its a good day to die. Let the good times roll /
You keep it sheathed.
I keep it sheathed.
In a word: Read!
If a new AA lit mag is the goal of the reprinting- start with Asian morals and ethics as Asian Americans read what is written. - Yellow Pre-history thru Yellow children's stories - For the AA Mag, get Gary Locke's official American word on the subject of Maxine Hong Kingston and the tattoos of Far Mulan and American-Chinese literature.
No fudging allowed
Justin to Frank:
December 1, 2018
Like Sun Wukong, my provocations have achieved their desired effects. I cannot leave your five-finger mountain, try as I might to fly to the ends of the earth on my big stick. I must reply before you trap me for five hundred years.
I always recount the conclusion of our meeting at the Panama to my classes. Those exposed to your work in my courses, especially in ‘Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake,’ are often scared off by it, thinking you to be someone who requires them to toe the party line. I sometimes tell them that Frank knows that I am a Christian. They wonder how it is possible that we can even manage to have a conversation. It is then that I tell them what we discussed. What you desire is not agreement or compliance; in fact, it goes against all of those stories of righteousness that you tell – Ngawk Fei, the 108 outlaws on Leungshan, the sworn brothers Low Bay, Guan Yu, and Cheung Fei. What you want is a fight over the text. Criticism, you complain in the 1991 Aiiieeeee preface, is sorely lacking for much of Asian American literature. We are afraid to fight. Your words are thus like fire in my ears: sheathe the identity, draw your soul, read the text.
In this, I reflect on the question of party lines in Asian America. To speak in terms of ideology and partisanship seems to me to be the work of the jook sing, those who do not know and therefore must make stuff up. The mistake is to position your work, and the work in Aiiieeeee!, as an ideological faction in Asian America. Ideology, it seems to me, is the fantasy of the missionary. The martial forest, however, is not an ideological geography. It is the practice of righteousness and revenge.
Recently, Jin Yong died. He was a novelist based in Hong Kong much beloved by Chinese people around the world. He wrote stories of martial heroism, and his trilogy on the Condor Heroes is an extended meditation on Ngawk Fei, his ethic of righteousness, and his contempt for corruption. I grew up with these stories, along with the tales that my grandfather told me from the Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West. I had thought about your statement in ‘Come All Ye’ about these stories circulating throughout Chinatown, and I just wanted to say that even for a suburban Christian kid like me, television, Chinese school, and grandparents mean that I too have no excuse. In my childhood, I understood Christianity to teach the same things as the Ngawk Fei kind of righteousness that you mention. It was not until junior high that I encountered a much more colonizing form of white evangelicalism that introduced me to the idea that I should pick between the two. In many ways, reading your work and having spoken with you rescued me from being a jook sing. You helped me to remember my childhood, and I must admit that I have spent more time than I care to admit recently re-watching the stories that I saw on television now on YouTube. My Cantonese is not as bad as I thought, and the more I watched, the deeper into the world I got. In fact, I found myself speaking more in Cantonese as a result recently.
My one regret in our correspondence is that I am so bad at writing back when you reply so quickly. It is so ‘mm ho yee see,’ which does not simply mean ‘sorry,’ but really refers to a ‘bad meaning/insight.’ Seeing the speed of your reply, I will try not to be so ‘mo yee hay,’ lacking in righteousness, in the future.