Chinese Immigrant Literature and Film:
Asian American Studies M132B
Comparative Literature M171
Chinese M153

Winter 1998
Shu-mei Shih

Time: Tuesdays and Thursdays 2-3:15pm
Location: Bunche Hall 3211, UCLA
Office: Royce Hall 241B
Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 3:30-4:30pm and by appointment

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Course Objectives and Requirements
Required Texts Schedule of Readings/Discussion (Go To A Specific Week):











Useful Links

Course Description and Class Requirements:

This course offers an examination of Chinese immigrant literature and film--the literature written in English and Chinese (in English translation) and films (in English or Chinese with English subtitles) about Chinese immigrant experience. We will begin with Angel Island poems and Gold Mountain poems of early Chinese immigrants to reflections on issues of history, culture, gender, and race in diaspora in the increasingly globalized era of the 1990s. Larger issues to be discussed will include the following: What are the changing meanings of such tropes as "China," "Chinese-ness," "Chinese culture," "America," and "Chinese America" for the Chinese in diaspora? How are these categories imagined differently by different individuals and how are they reconfigured through time? What are the processes by which the immigrant Chinese reconstitute or imagine his/her identity and community in diaspora?

Course Requirements:

This course emphasizes discussion and writing. You need to participate in classroom discussions.

(1) One-page weekly reports responding to the readings of the week due every Thursday. You can use the study questions given in the syllabus as guides to your weekly reports, or formulate your own questions and issues. These must be typed. Handwritten reports not accepted. Together with classroom discussion, these constitute 30% of the overall grade.

(2) One-page film note, which again must be typed, for each of the films viewed in the media library. Each film note should locate and explicate a central theme or issue of the film; it should not be plot summary or generalization about what you felt about the film. 20% of the overall grade. Look at the schedule for due dates.

(3) Final paper: a paper of 7-10 pages on topics given out in the class. Due Thursday of week 9 (early papers are accepted but absolutely no extensions). 50% of the overall grade.

Required Texts:

Films reserved in the Media Lab, 270 Powell:

(screening hours and dates are given in the course schedule below. If you can't make it to the screening dates, view the film by yourself at your own time. It is best, however, to watch the films at the designated dates as the tape may not be always available when you want to watch it. The films are reserved under "AAS M132B").

Key Reference Texts:

Schedule of Lecture/DiscussionTopics and Readings:


Introduction and Angel Island Poems
Readings and Screenings:

Tu (1/13): Introduction to the class and screening of "Carved in Silence" by Felicia Lowe.
Th (1/15): "Introduction" and poems in Him Mark Lai, et. al., Island, Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940, pp. 8-81.

Weekly report #1 due.

Study Questions:
First get down the historical facts about Angel Island and then consider such issues as the methods/technologies of detention/interrogation/imprisonment/domination on the island, the ways in which Chinese immigrants detained there negotiated with their past (particularly with China that they had left behind) under the circumstances, and how coping strategies were imagined through writing poetry. Think about tropes used, allusions made, and metaphors frequently employed. Ultimately, think about how this chapter of Chinese immigrant history might have conditioned/defined Chinese American experience in general.


The Making of the Immigrant Subject
Readings and Screenings:

Tu (1/20): Island, Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, pp. 84-147.
Th (1/22): Songs of Gold Mountain: "Introduction," and poems under chapters "Lamentations of Estranged Wives," "Songs of Western Influence and the American born," "Songs of the Hundred Men's Wife"

6-8pm: Screening of Wayne Wang, "Eat a Bowl of Tea" at Room 1, Media Lab, Powell 270.

Weekly report #2 due 1/22.

Study questions:
With Island, consider the issues of identity-formation and the constitution of a Chinese immigrant subject: what kind of Chinese immigrant subject did the detention experience produce? What are the implications of such detention? Pay special attention to the last poem in the collection (p.138-141) which sums up some of the major issues. Also consider the issues of class (what kind of class-origin do these poems indicate of the immigrants?), gender (does one's gender affect the experience?), and sexuality (what kind of Chinese American sexuality does the detention center proscribe?).
With the songs from the gold mountain: Continue considering the question of gender (in light of men speaking in women's voices in some of these poems, of men working in the laundry and restaurant businesses, what traditionally deemed "feminine" or "domestic" chores, and the question of prostitution).
Also consider what may be the causes for the generational gap between first generation and second generation Chinese Americans as depicted in these poems and as you consider what possible cultural, racial reasons there might have been. Think about the way "Westernization" is viewed in light of what we today call "assimilation."


Writing Chinatown
Readings and Screenings:

Tu (1/27): Louis Chu, Eat a Bowl of Tea, 1-117; discussion of the film; Film note for "Eat a Bowl of Tea" due.
Th (1/29): Louis Chu, Eat a Bowl of Tea, 118-250,

Weekly Report #3 due, 1/29.

Study questions:
Set in the late 1940s, Louis Chu's novel raises difficult questions of a Chinatown in transition from a bachelor society gradually to a family-oriented one. What are the issues at stake for this transition to be possible, what are the obstacles to the transition? Thematically, consider the question of manhood (How is manhood constructed in Chinatown's "bachelor society" where there were very few women? What is the cultural significance of Ben Loy's impotence?), Chinatown patriarchy in relation to father-son relationship and the Tongs (Why does this patriarchy go unchallenged?), and race. How do these three issues--manhood, patriarchy, and race--intersect? In regards to the film, do you think Wayne Wang has captured the sentiments of the novel? What did he add or delete from the novel that made the film work better (or worse)? How does the film medium affect the representation of Chinese American experience?


History, Silence, Writing
Readings and Screenings:

Tu ((2/3): Sky Lee, Disappearing Moon Cafe, 1-120
Thu (2/5): Sky Lee, Disappearing Moon Cafe, 121-237

Weekly report #4 due 2/5.

Study questions:
How is Chinese American history differently imagined in this novel? Consider the reference to native Americans, for instance. Within all the complex trajectory of family histories and intrigues, what stands up as major issues to you? Think about the relationship between gender, silence, and writing: How does Kae lean to shake off silence and begin to articulate her family history as well as herself? And also continue to think about questions relating to Chinatown bachelor society, sexuality, and race. In each of the novels you read, you should be able to figure out a specific interrelationship among these what may be considered categories of analysis; gender, race, class, and sexuality.


Gender and Immigration in "Liuxuesheng" Literature

Readings and Screenings:

Tu (2/10): Pai Hsien-yung, "Li T'ung: A Chinese Girl in New York" and "A Day in Pleasantville" (to be distributed)
4-6pm, screening of "Farewell China," Room 1, Media Library, Powell 270
Th (2/12): Chen Ruoxi, "Green Card," and "Suyue's New Year's Eve" (to be distributed) and discussion of "Farewell China"

Film note for "Farewell China" due 2/12.

Weekly report #5 due 2/12.

Study questions:
What are the aspects of change or transformation confronting the immigrant subject after immigration? Consider the specific changes and adjustments the immigrants have to make in order to fit into the American scene. Begin to think about psychological effects of immigration in connection to the specific historical conditions in which these immigrants came to the United States. The crucial question here is the shifting of paradigms of life: from that of relatively self-sufficient national subjects of Taiwan to alienated immigrants. Why do you think immigration is predominantly troped as capitulation and alienation by these so-called "liuxuesheng" (overseas Chinese student) writers? What do you make of the fact that these stories were originally written in Chinese unlike our other readings so far?


Territorial and Psychological Fragmentation (1)
Readings and Screenings:

Tu (2/17): Hualing Nieh, Mulberry and Peach, prologue and Part I
4-6pm, screening of "Pushing Hands," Rm 1, Media Lab,Powell 270
Th (2/19): Hualing Nieh, Mulberry and Peach, Parts II and III

Weekly report #6 due 2/19.

Film note for "Pushing Hands" due 2/19.

Study questions:
More than any other text we are reading for this course, this novel takes us to the psychological depth of the lead character with dual personality (Mulberry/Peach). What are the differences between these two personalities of the same person? What do you think may be the causes for such a split? Think about how the protagonist's personal history is intertwined with various histories (war-time China, white-terror-era Taiwan, the Vietnam War), and how her personal history is evocative of the stories of other characters around her in America. Think also about the question of a woman's sexuality (Peach Woman, stories of female ghosts, Peach's excessive sexuality, etc.), national identity (what is the national identity of the protagonist?), and exile. Note that when border-crossing is explicitly defined as exile rather than immigration per se, there may be a host of important distinctions to be made. Finally, what do you think the profuse images of dismemberment in the novel suggest?


The Formation of a Minority Subject
Readings and Screenings:

Tu (3/3): Hualing Nieh, Mulberry and Peach, Part IV and epilogue
4-6pm, screening of "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman," Rm 1, Media Lab, Powell 270
Th (3/5): Anchee Min, Red Azalea (the entire book).

Film note for "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman" due 3/5.

Weekly report #7 due 3/5.

Study questions:
Compare and Contrast how Nieh and Min relate the immigration experience of their protagonists differently. What about the differences foreground where each writer stands as the point of articulation? What similar issues do they both deal with? What different kinds of minority subjects do they represent? With Nieh, continue to think about the questions from the previous week. With Min, think about how the book explicitly targets the mainstream American readership and what kind of minority subject position that formulates. What aspects of Chinese history are emphasized? Why?


The Formation of a Nationalist Subject
Readings and Screenings:

Tu (2/24): Glen Cao, Beijinger in New York, pp.1-126.
4-6pm, screening of "The Wedding Banquet," Rm 1, Media Lab,Powell 270
Th (2/26): Glen Cao, Beijinger in New York, pp.127-237.

Weekly report #8 due 2/26

Film note for "The Wedding Banquet" due 2/26

Study questions:
Glen Cao originally wrote this novel in Chinese and it became an instant best-seller in China and was made into a TV series. Why do you think the novel became so successful? What in the novel might have been appealing to the Chinese audience? To ask the question differently: if Cao wrote this novel explicitly for the Chinese audience, in what ways did he try to speak directly to their concerns? Can you identify them? Then also consider thematic issues such as the gendered nature of immigration experience (how men and women go through it differently), the Americanization of the younger generation (including gang activities), and the role of the Taiwanese American entrepreneur/seductress Ah Chun in the overall scheme of the narrative, etc.


Flexible Subjectivity
Readings and Screenings:

Tu (3/10): Reviews of Ang Lee's Films (to be distributed) and discussion of all three of Ang Lee's Films.
Th (3/12): Screening of "Kangaroo Man" by Emily Liu in class.

Final paper due 3/12 (absolutely no extensions).

Food for thought:
There is no reading to do this week , but you need to seriously consider questions of flexible subjectivity, minoritization, and globalization in Ang Lee's films, while writing the final papers. Think about how all three of Ang Lee's films tackle with gender representation: what may be the prevailing gender dynamics or politics in his films? How does such gender politics implicate Ang Lee's position as a Taiwanese and/or Taiwanese American in the increasingly globalized era? Also think about the role of patriarchy: why do you think these three films are called the "Father Knows Best" trilogy? What about all the great food in two of the three movies? We will end with a light-hearted comedy, "Kangaroo Man," which challenges the gendered division of labor in traditional family situations with a comical touch, and deals with the question of minoritization in an indirect way.


Conclusion and Review

Useful Links:
Under Construction

Copyright 1998.
This page last updated May 29, 1998: if you have comments, please contact