Asian American Literature: Discourses & Pedagogies, Vol 3 (2012)

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Disturbing Stereotypes: Fu Man/Chan and Dragon Lady Blossoms

Audrey Wu Clark

Abstract


Article Submission (Accepted with Revisions): “Disturbing Stereotypes: Fu Man/Chan and Dragon Lady Blossoms”

 

Article Abstract: In documenting anti-miscegenation laws in the United States, critic Sally L. Kitch argues that they were not only directed against mixed heritage African Americans but also against Asians after the Civil War. Kitch writes, “Fourteen states, including many that entered the Union after the war, adopted or revised anti-miscegenation statutes to apply to ‘Mongolians,’ or ‘Malays’ in general or to the Chinese in particular. Gender was also paramount to western lawmakers as they determined that the ‘blacks’ white women were most likely to marry were Chinese men.”[1] Other anti-miscegenation statutes were directed specifically against Asian women. Assuming all Chinese women to be prostitutes, the 1875 Page Law drastically diminished the immigration of Chinese women to the United States.[2] Anti-Asian sentiment and the fears of Asian-white miscegenation have also historically been represented in film and literature through the stereotypical figurations of Asians as alien outsiders. Critic Karen Shimakawa cites these stereotypes:

Writing about filmic representations of Asian women in her essay “Lotus Blossom Don’t Bleed,” Renée Tajima notes that “there are two basic types: the Lotus Blossom Baby (a.k.a. China Doll, Geisha Girl, shy Polynesian Beauty), and the Dragon Lady (Fu Manchu’s various female relations, prostitutes, devious madams)” (309). As for Asian men, Tajima notes, “quite often they are cast as rapists or love-struck losers” (312).[3]   

All of these stereotypes are manifestations of the longstanding binary image of Asians as the yellow peril and the model minority which continually functions to exclude Asians from white American society.[4] What happens when Asian Americans, specifically mixed heritage Asian Americans, are aware of and perform these stereotypes? By examining the characters of “Doc” Franklin Hata, his adopted biracial daughter Sunny Hata, Jerry Battle, and his biracial daughter Theresa Battle in Chang-rae Lee’s A Gesture Life (1999) and Aloft (2004), respectively, I argue that Lee’s characters performatively complicate and destabilize the gendered binaries of the Lotus Blossom/Dragon Lady and Charlie Chan (“love-struck loser”)/Fu Manchu (“rapist”) stereotypes.

            Single heritage, male figures such as Doc Hata and Jerry Battle also perform and complicate Asian American stereotypes by demonstrating the slippage between the binary of the asexual, submissive Charlie Chan and the lascivious, insidious Fu Manchu figurations. Their imperfect performances of each side of the stereotypical “coin,” as it were, attempt to resolve the problematic racializations of Asian Americans through the figurative and literal containment of the racial “contagion”—that is, themselves and their mixed heritage families. Defying patriarchal containment, the mixed heritage women of both novels performatively spread the yellow peril of their Lotus Blossom/Dragon Lady mélange by complexifying the stereotypes and reproducing mixed heritage children. In addition to deconstructing the discursive opposition between the Lotus Blossom and Dragon Lady through their sexualities and maternities, they both layer added binaries to each figuration. Theresa clearly exhibits the ways in which the model minority performance of the Lotus Blossom leads easily to that of the cosmopolitan savior. Sunny’s feminized yellow peril performance of the Dragon Lady alternates with her role as the victimized tragic half-breed. While the single race characters, Doc Hata and Jerry, likewise disturb the binary stereotypes of Asian men, their menacing mimicry of white culture reinscribes other binaries by relying on the further abjection of their mixed race daughters. Their first-person, “knowledge-producing” narrations are symptomatic of their discursive power over their daughters.[5] On the other hand, the mixed race female characters—Theresa and Sunny—not only destabilize gendered model minority/yellow peril stereotypes but also demonstrate that their identities are multiple, uncontainable, and not necessarily dependent on the reinscribed binaries of white/Asian and male/female.  

 

 


[1] Kitch, 143-144.

[2] Kitch, 196-197.

[3] Karen Shimakawa, National Abjection: The Asian American Body Onstage (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2002) 16.

[4] Shimakawa states, “The destabilizing threat posed by this contradiction, in turn, produces spectacularly divergent results—images and representations, as well as legal rulings and governmental policies, that vacillate wildly between positioning Asian Americans as foreigners/outsiders/deviants/criminals or as domesticated/invisible/exemplary/honorary whites. Radically unresolvable, the tension generated in that social/historical contradiction results in the production of racial stereotypes of Asian Americans in representation” (15).

[5] In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), Michel Foucault famously writes, “We should admit rather that power produces knowledge (and not simply by encouraging it because it serves power or by applying it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations” (27-28).


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