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Writing Communist China and the Politics of Diasporic Identity: Ha Jin, Anchee Min, Lien Chao, and Lisa See

  • Walter S. H. Lim

Abstract

1989: The year of the publication of Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club and Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine was also the year when the Tiananmen Square Massacre took place. Witnessing the government crackdown of prodemocracy demonstrators while he was in the United States, Chinese author Ha Jin became convinced that China was no longer a country to which he could return and embraced the condition of self-imposed exile. Jin was not alone in discovering that he had to live outside the country of his birth. The dissident journalist Liu Binyan, who was also in the United States, suddenly found himself barred from returning to China after Tiananmen, forced into the condition of state-imposed exile. Whether exile is voluntary or involuntary, it leaves a critic of the state speaking in opposition to power outside of the social and political space where it most matters— the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Criticizing the government when in China can mean imprisonment. Criticizing the government when outside of China can mean that what one says remains unheard in China and is therefore inconsequential.

Keywords

Chinese Communist Party Literary Work Cultural Revolution Great Leap Chinese Author 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Lisa See, Dreams of Joy (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), 353.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ha Jin, Nanjing Requiem (New York: Pantheon, 2011), 301.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Ien Ang, On Not Speaking Chinese: Living between Asia and the West (New York: Routledge, 2001), 21.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Tim Stoddardq, “Award-Winning Novelist and Alum Ha Jin Returns to Bay State Road,” B. U. Bridge (September 13, 2002, vol. 6, no. 3), accessed January 28, 2008, http://www.bu.edu/bridge/archive/2002/09-13/hajin.htm.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Steven G. Yao, Foreign Accents: Chinese American Verse from Exclusion to Post-ethnicity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ha Jin, The Crazed (London: Vintage, 2002), 67. All subsequent references to the text are to this edition and will be cited as TC.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ha Jin, The Writer as Migrant (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 42, 44. All subsequent references to the text are to this edition and will be cited as WM.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Liu Binyan, A Higher Kind of Loyalty: A Memoir by China’s Foremost Journalist, trans. Zhu Hong (New York: Pantheon, 1990), 215.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ibid., 215–16. See also Peh Shing Huei, “Cultural Revolution memories under threat,” in Straits Times (December 12 2011), A12. On the subject of the Cultural Revolution, Peh Shing Huei draws our attention to Mount Ta in the Teochew port city of Shantou (Guangdong) on which is located China’s only Cultural Revolution museum. Supported mainly by private donations (including the contribution of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing), this museum is apparently struggling to survive in a desperate bid to preserve memories of the atrocities that took place during the Cultural Revolution. Wanting knowledge of the Cultural Revolution to disappear with time, the Chinese government has strategically chosen to ignore the museum, deciding “to ‘cold storage’ the topic because if people keep talking about how bad it was, it will affect how they view Mao and the party.”Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Anchee Min, Red Azalea (New York: Anchor Books, 2006), xiii. All subsequent references to the text are to this edition and will be cited as RA.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Ha Jin, Waiting (London: Vintage, 1999), 29.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Ha Jin, The Crazed (London: Vintage, 2002), 92. All subsequent references to the text are to this edition and will be cited as TC.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Jin, “The Censor in the Mirror,” The American Scholar (2008), accessed June 5, 2012, http://theamericanscholar.org/the-censor-in-the-mirror. The audience must always be taken into account when considering émigré writing that actively engages with the political culture of the home country. While an American readership might be the target audience of Ha Jin’s works written in English, it is not the case that a readership from the PRC is neglected. In “A Censor in the Mirror,” Jin gives an account of how it was made very clear to him in negotiating book contracts with a Shanghai publisher that it could not consider publishing two of his novels—The Crazed, which is about the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and War Trash, which deals with the Korean War. Ha Jin affirms that “censorship in China is a powerful field of force; it affects anyone who gets close to it.”Google Scholar
  14. 19.
    Guiyou Huang, The Columbia Guide to Asian American Literature since 1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 143.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Walter S. H. Lim 2013

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  • Walter S. H. Lim

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