Maxine Hong Kingston’s memoirs and often semi-autobiographical novels reflect her experiences as a first-generation Chinese-American – specifically, the struggle of the individual to discover and assert her identity as an American while maintaining a connection to her Chinese roots. The central figures of her books all go through journeys to discover their individual identities, a task made difficult by the sense of duty they feel toward their families, whether they are financially supporting them in China, or bearing the pressure of their expectations in America. In her memoir Woman Warrior, Hong Kingston illustrates her own struggle as a Chinese-American girl to find a stable identity in the midst of Chinese and American cultures. Similarly, the protagonist Wittman Ah Sing of Tripmaster Monkey also experiences a tough time finding his position in American society, though his worries stem from outsiders’ labels of him as solely “Chinese” even though Ah Sing considers himself an “American.” Examples of Hong Kingston’s girlhood and Ah Sing’s experiences represent the complex challenge of finding an identity in American society.
Whereas Hong Kingston celebrated the immigrant experience and described the search for a new Chinese-American identity in the United States, Mao Zedong emphasized an opposite idea in the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Mao encouraged a feeling of enmity towards everything that related to foreign countries. The Cultural Revolution was a cultural disaster promoted by Mao Zedong in 1966 and it lasted to his death in 1976. As a time of domestic turmoil and one of the most wrenching revolutions in modern China, the Cultural Revolution caused dreadful struggles among social classes. Education and intellectual works were devalued, powerful landlords lost their superior positions, books from foreign countries were prohibited, innocent people were executed, and many felt fear and anxiety. Only members of the Red Guard felt excitement. China experienced a tough period under Mao’s Cultural Revolution which caused the death of thirty million people and left a legacy of continuous fear. Although the Cultural Revolution ended, its poignant results still remained in Chinese memories.
Major Work Consulted:
Ebrey, Patricia Buckley. Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook. New York: The Free Press, 1993.
Hong Kingston, Maxine. Digital image. UCLA International Institute. Web. 20 Mar. 2013. http://www.international.ucla.edu/media/images/mhk.JPG-fc-yl2.jpg
Hong Kingston, Maxine. Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book. New York: Random, 1989.
--.Woman Warrior: Memoir of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. New York: Random, 1976.
Pantsov, Alexander and Steven Levine. Mao: The Real Story. New York: Simon&Schuster, 2012.