H.T. Tsiang’s And China Has Hands: Precursor to Literature of New Arrival?

While I have only read the first half of the H.T. Tsiang’s And China Has Hands (1937), I am already surprised by how much the novel seems to be ahead of its time. Namely, it reminds me of “Literature of New Arrival,” the genre that Bharati Mukherjee considers to be the current trend in immigrant writing. One trait of this genre, according to Mukherjee, is that its authors no longer work to ingratiate themselves with their American readership by presenting themselves in sympathetic terms; rather, they challenge Americans to work to understand them on their own terms. In brief, Literature of New Arrival “bites back” (Bharati 687).

Wong Wan-Lee is not a charmer of the contemporary American reader. Repeatedly referring to Americans as “savages,” he clearly feels antagonism toward his new community. Furthermore, while Exclusion-era Asian American works tended to paint appealing images of the contemporary “Old-World” homeland that would draw in American readers, Wong Wan-Lee makes no effort to romanticize his contemporary China (Miller 203-204). On the contrary, he reveals very little about the current state of the land from which he emigrated, except for that China exiled him. Rather, he seems to seek refuge in remembering the glory days of past Chinese empires and in his boasts of royal lineage. These memories and boasts, however, rather than capturing readers’ imagination and eliciting their empathy, arguably come across as rants that serve only to mock the protagonist as jaded and out-of-touch with the times. Wan-Lee also might unsettle American readers by challenging the stereotype of Chinese as a collectivist people: he is remarkably self-interested. When celebrating the Chinese New Year in Chinatown, for instance, he attempts to cheat another immigrant at the “finger game” (80-81). Even his Chinese names, Wan-Lee and I Pen, evoke curiously capitalist notions of seeming personal fortune and investment (11).

1 Comment

  1. Completely agree with all these ideas, Tim. It’s really interesting to see how much Wan Lee dreams of becoming successful and a part of American society, but also denounces its culture every chance that he gets. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism for deeper insecurities? Overall, really good post! Loved reading it.

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