China Men Study Guide

China Men

China Men by Maxine Hong Kingston

Kingston is interested in presenting Chinese American history from its own perspective, presenting us with the men's views of American culture—the strange language with its incomprehensible alphabet, the violence and rigidity of missionary Christianity—and of their new communities, often made up of a mixture of Chinese regional backgrounds that would never have happened in China but nevertheless immensely protective of each other andwilling to mix their different Chinese traditions together.

Kingston has stated that her characters are trying to "claim America", so that even though they are prevented by those in power from settling down in the States and starting families, they are nonetheless "marking the land", such as by laying down the railroads with their numbered sections and by planting fruit trees. As Kim points out, they may be victimized by racism, but they are described by the narrator "as semi-mythical heroes", in terms of both their physical appearance (muscular "young gods [...] long torsos with lean stomachs") and in their heroism ("revolutionaries, nonconformists, people with fabulous imaginations, people who invented the Gold Mountains"), and they stand up for themselves in the face of all sorts of physical and legal violence. Many of the men succeed in setting down roots in America; in fact, those who give up are forgotten, all but erased from the family history. At the same time, the American-born younger generations (such as her brother), are equally adept at claiming America for themselves, even in the face of a series of wars against Asian cultures.

Scholar Jinqi Ling has pointed out that in her attempts to reconnect with her male ancestors, Kingston (and her narrator) often fulfills the role of creator and poet that was forbidden her ancestors. Although he mentions Ling focuses on BaBa, her father, who is described as a natural poet-scholar but whose artistic gifts were left out of the imperial examination system in China, ignored by his students in Canton, and irrelevant in the United States, which he enters only through deception. Once in America, his circumstances fare even worse, as he loses both his jobs, friends and money in the States and his remaining land in China. Kingston desires not only to understand her father but to give voice to the experiences and sufferings he was never given the opportunity to express because of his circumstances.

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