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Great Fiction: Donald Duk by Frank Chin
Three scenes in Curtis Choy’s film What’s Wrong with Frank Chin? Surely, they will relax everyone. The first of these occurs as the camera pans through Chin’s boxes of files on the data he has collected about every Chinese-American actor who has ever starred in a Hollywood film. In the second part, the truth about Chin’s marriage of the 1970s to the writer and artist Kathleen Chang shows the couple, as well as the poet Lawson Inada (acting as a preacher, with a “$1 license to marry people”), dressed in traditional, traditional clothes. masks made by Chin himself, and show Chin reading a story about Chinese railroad workers in the Union-Pacific as part of the ceremony. (This is one of Chin’s series of titles—perhaps the best of all his writings and the American Book Award-winning essays titled Chinaman Pacific & Frisco RR Co). Third, Chin voiced his opposition to the Japanese American resettlement conference (Chin was responsible for the US government passing this resolution, and on a day that many Japanese Americans celebrate as Memorial Day). Whether one agrees with Chin or not — and it seems there are many Japanese-Americans who don’t — it’s hard not to be moved by his influence. The boy is on fire as he makes his points. And when he says that he went back and researched a speech given by an army officer in 1943 (this was all on the Internet!) controlled in a way that very few of us do. Apparently it’s the same kind of passion he shows when speaking to audiences and his constant writing about writers like Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston – what he calls “fake”. In his book Donald Duck The protagonist, twelve-year-old Donald, is an example of a young “fake” – he wants to abandon his Chinese heritage and fully assimilate. For Chin, adoption, or what he believes Americans see as adoption, is tantamount to crime. Donald Duck it repeats the themes expressed in the three visuals of the film seen above, and also shows a change in Chin’s tone from the trouble and hatred found in the storybook and drama that first found him. popularity in literature and culture. This book is very playful, childish, very inviting to the reader to think about the facts and ponder them unlike the original text that confuses the reader with his ignorance, bigotry, and stupidity.
It’s Chinatown in San Francisco, right now (1990 or so), and it’s the beginning of the Chinese New Year celebration. Donald is approaching his twelfth birthday, a moment because there are twelve years in the Asian lunar zodiac; thus completing its first life cycle. But Donald has a feeling that “Everything Chinese in his life looks bad.” He describes himself as American to anyone who asks, refusing to acknowledge the obvious fact that he is from China. The way he starts coming is through a dream that he has in the book – he dreams that he is a railway worker. When the Golden Spike ceremony was planned, when it was announced that not only the ambassador of California but artists from all over the world would be in attendance, one railroad boss responded with disgust:
“I promise you, Mr. Durant, there will not be a heathen to be seen at tomorrow’s ceremony… The Last Spike will be struck home, a telegram will be sent, our image is made to preserve the best time in our country’s history, without Chinese. Admire and respect them as I do them. I will show them who he built a railway.
Because of witnessing these events in his dreams Donald begins to change, becoming interested in accepting his heritage and his race. At the end of the book he has this conversation with his father:
“The Chinese. The Chinese who built the railroad. I dream of laying with them when I sleep, and no one knows what we did. No one, just me. And I don’t want to be the only one who knows. and it makes me angry that I’m the only one who knows, and everything I dream makes me angry and hate white people. They lie to us all the time.
“No, don’t hate all white people. Only liars,” Father says.
In the film, Chin speaks eloquently about the terrible way in which the Europeans made sure that no Chinese appeared in the railway pictures. And the historical stories confirm Chin, especially HW Brands in The Golden Age: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream and Stephen E. Ambrose in There’s No Earth Like It: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869. Ambrose actually studied Chinese-English vocabulary books from 1867. He says that the words “How are you?” and “Thank you” is not in any of them.
Basically the book has only one theme, overcoming the denial of one’s origin and race by being ‘American’, but as in all of Chin’s writings – this is especially true of a long book. Gunga Din Highway – it is undeniable that Chin himself is truly American, so deeply rooted in American culture, society and, especially, films, that one must wonder if he is not one of the brightest examples. true multiculturalism (he would sneer at the word) that we have.
So – if the book is limited in topics, what can readers do to learn and enjoy it? In short, fun! Donald’s journey from being a selfish person who accepts negative stereotypes about Chinese-Americans to a proud Chinese-American has led him to cross paths with a few interesting people along the way, not least of which is his family. His father, King Duk, owns the best restaurant in Chinatown. His uncle Donald is a Cantonese musician who has come to visit. Mother supports and often tries to be careful with Donald’s twin sisters, Venus and Penelope, who are professional writers, who often speak as commentators rather than students. (The sense of play and fun Chin has with this is understandable.) Crawdad Man and his son, Crawdad Jr., a Vietnam veteran named Victor Lee, a pair of old twins who haunt the streets of Chinatown at night, the Frog Twins, and a dance teacher who calls himself alone as the Chinese Fred Astaire around the players. Each is presented in a fictional way to inspire a great lesson for Donald in what is often a humorous moment. I think this is the mark of a truly developed intellect – using humor to make a serious point. And because Chin insists on confusing non-Chinese readers first by incorporating customs and traditions into the story without explanation, he engages the reader in seeing how white power has humiliated and humiliated his people since the days of the railroad. This kind of thing is always a fine line – I’m not sure that non-Chinese, non-Indian, non-American, can always feel sorry. Sympathize, yes, but compassion is difficult, as a man trying to understand how to be pregnant. Chin tries hard.
Finally, I would like to comment briefly on what I consider to be a strong and loyal purpose on Chin’s part. Sometimes I read that Chin attacks other writers out of malice, or jealousy. This is wrong. Certainly Chin’s books don’t sell in the numbers that Tan’s or Kingston’s do; however, we don’t even have to rationally argue this point to argue against it. All we need to know is that a big Hollywood director, Wayne Wang, asked Chin to film his drama. Year of the Dragon, and Chin rejected the idea because he didn’t want to confuse Hollywood with his story. Being rejected for millions of dollars isn’t about a man who doesn’t believe in himself – Chin practices what he preaches. So his integrity has not changed. So is his power. Earlier I mentioned Chin’s collection of Asian American theater files. The reason for this is that, surprisingly, no Asian-American actor has ever played Charlie Chan in the movies. A long book of Chin Gunga Din Highway it’s about how silly, confusing things are and, in it, his research on actors is put to full use. This research was indeed a major scholarly effort, as reading this book clearly shows. No one can say “fake” – again, Chin’s strength too. Whatever Chin’s merits or demerits, love him or hate him, he is that rare writer of fiction, one who leaves his mark on time.
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