Videos by Richard Fung and
Ming-Yuen S. Ma
State University of New York at Buffalo
Copyright © 2000 by Zhou Xiaojing, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. Copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that the editors are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.
In the current debate over the shift in Asian American studies from cultural nationalism to diasporic positionality, two apparently opposing views have emerged. One privileges an exilic identity as a more effective strategy for resisting assimilation by dominant Euro-American culture in the United States, and the other insists on the boundaries of the nation-state as a viable location to challenge racialized American identity and power structures. Both views raise questions about the relationship, among others, between identity construction and strategies for resistance and critical intervention. These questions are central to the agendas of cultural nationalism, and continue to be the nexus of current reconstruction and repositioning of Asian American identities with emphasis on diversity, transnational mobility, and postcolonial diaspora. By emphasizing the on-going concerns in Asian American cultural discourses, I hope to escape the framework of polarities which King-Kok Cheung has referred to as the "competing impulses of claiming America and maintaining ties with Asia," and as the apparently opposing discourses of "immigrant narrative" and "writing diaspora" (7, 8). The diversity, complexity, and specificity of Asian American experiences and cultural productions are reduced by dichotomizing an on-going process of negotiating multiple relationships.
- I would argue that it is more fruitful to examine the two seemingly polarized Asian American identity constructions in terms of two phases of a decolonizing process of Asian American cultural discourses. These two phases -- cultural nationalism and postcolonial discourses -- often overlap, rather than succeed, one another, but each is characterized by distinctive representational strategies and effects. The former articulates an Asian American identity in opposition to Orientalist stereotypes, but is confined by binarism implicated in its subject positioning and in the dominant ideologies it appropriates without questioning their theoretical ground or representational tactics. The latter confronts what the former overlooks in its critical examination of the historical conditions and representational strategies for the production of whiteness and its "Other." Hence, I use the term "postcolonial" for ideological and methodological decolonization that involves a radical challenge to some epistemological assumptions, including representational codes of Orientalism and Eurocentricism. These characteristics of Asian American postcolonial discourses reflect a significant development in Asian American cultural decolonization process since the emergence of Asian American cultural nationalism.
- Growing out of the Civil Rights Movement in the context of the Third World's decolonization struggles, Asian American cultural nationalism is part of the process of artistic and literary decolonization. The project of Asian American cultural nationalism as articulated by the editors of Aiiieeeee! (1974), seeks to challenge white supremacy, to resist Eurocentricism, and to redefine Asian American identity that counters Asian and Asian American stereotypes produced by mainstream America and by colonized "Christian" Asian American writers. Cultural nationalists' strategies for constructing a unique Asian American identity involve establishing an Asian American presence in American history and culture through a discreet cultural identity that is rooted in Asian American history in the United States, yet is empowered by its connections to East Asian cultures and classical literary traditions, especially the "heroic tradition" of martial warriors in Chinese and Japanese epics (Chin et al. xxxviii, Chin in Chan et al. 34).
- However, Aiiieeeee! editors' rhetoric of cultural nationalism is couched in the binarism of the dominant ideologies which they propose to undermine. For instance, the editors of Aiiieeeee!, Frank Chin and others, protest that Asian American history is marked by emasculation, and that the "effeminate" image of Asian men is a persistent attribute of their stereotype produced by white America (xxvii). They assert that "The morally and culturally reversed and opposite, aggressively passive, effeminate [. . .]" image of Asian men is "the image of failed white manhood gone moldy and repulsive" (Chin et al. xxvii). Again, in their Introduction to The Big Aiiieeeee! the editors protest that in the eyes of white liberal America, "Chinese men, at their best, are effeminate closet queens like Charlie Chan and, at their worst, are homosexual menaces like Fu Manchu" (Chan et al. xiii). Such phallocentric heterosexual rhetoric reproduces the binary framework that simultaneously constructs white supremacy as the norm and its Other. Not surprisingly, cultural nationalists' essentialist, masculine, and heterosexual identity politics has generated a number of in-depth critical examinations of gendered and raced power relations, including the negative implications and effects of cultural nationalist identity politics.
- Critics find the re-inscription of dominant ideologies in the cultural nationalist identity claims most problematic. Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, for instance, points out the exclusionist aspect of this nativist identity politics. She observes that Asian American cultural nationalist project "was characterized by a cluster of domestic emphases," which subscribe to "an indigenization model of Asian American experiences, whereby a person of Asian ancestry has to earn the designation of 'Asian American' by acquiring 'American' credentials on 'American' soil (e. g. railroad-building, writing in English), informs the cultural nationalist project even as it seeks to critique and resist the model's assimilationist teleology" (3-4). On a similar note, Shirley Geok-lin Lim contends that "In urging the formation of a strategic essentialist Asian American cultural nationalism unified under U.S. history, many Asian American critics ironically repeat the call of U.S. nationalists for a shared unified American identity in response to the threat of fragmentation posed by minority interest groups." As a result, Lim adds, "even as the oppositional concept of 'minority discourses' -- covering feminist, ethnic, and gay literature -- has begun to receive institutional support, the category of diaspora writing generally has been ignored" (291). Both Wong and Lim critique the construction of a singular, monolingual Asian American identity even though they seem to have taken apparently opposing positions in the debates on the paradigm shifts. As King-kok Cheung observes, while Wong insists on the "nation" as "the focal point for any political struggle," Lim proposes a diasporic identity as a strategy for resisting assimilation" ("Re-viewing Asian American Literary Studies" 9).
- Investigating another aspect of cultural nationalist re-production of dominant ideologies, King-kok Cheung points out that "[Frank] Chin's drive to counter orientalist constructions [. . .] generates an equally singular interpretation of Chinese culture. Despite his avowed intention to combat white supremacy, his selective and tendentious invocation of Chinese ethos echoes Euroamerican ideologies of masculinity, and his nationalist gesture is marred by an apparent counterinvestment in patriarchal prescriptions" ("Of Men and Men" 177). Cheung's remarks, like Wong and Lim's contentions, help reveal that the prominent problematic features of cultural nationalism lie in its uncritical appropriation of dominant ideologies and their binary framework in its rhetoric for redefining Asian American identity. Sheng-mei Ma further problematizes the Asian American cultural nationalist subject position and methodology of representation, noting that in reversing their roles from the object of Orientalist discourse to the subject of culture, Chinese Americans "aim to empower themselves as practitioners rather than recipients of these cultural assumptions. This transformation of the self is, however, an illusion; Chinese Americans are in fact enmeshed even more deeply in the network of power once they try to elevate themselves in this manner" (25).
- The work of contemporary Asian American independent video makers such as Richard Fung and Ming-Yuen S. Ma offers alternative strategies of representation, which open up a critical space for both the maker and viewer to question the materials and tools employed. The critical methodology and representational strategies of their work mark a significant departure from those that characterize cultural nationalist discourses. At the same time, the videos by Fung and Ma refuse to be contained within either the camp of "claiming America," or the camp of "writing diaspora." Indeed the respective videos by Fung and Ma re-examine and recontextualize the major concerns of cultural nationalism. Rather than claiming a cultural identity in opposition to the "mainstream," Fung and Ma insist on investigating the historical contexts and subverting the ideological grounds of hegemonic discourses that construct identities of race, gender, nationality, and sexuality, while exploring alternative modes for articulating Asian American subjectivity. Despite their departure from cultural nationalist concepts and methodologies, Fung and Ma's respective representational strategies resist what Rey Chow has called the "lures of diaspora" -- claims to an illusory alterity beyond the historical conditions of imperialism, colonialism, and global neocolonialism (Writing Diaspora 118-19).
- Both Fung and Ma re-articulate Asian American homosexuality in the contexts of immigration, colonial history, and Chinese diaspora. Investigating the mutually constituent categories of race, gender, nationality, and sexuality, they expose the simultaneous construction of "Otherness" and "whiteness" in a binary paradigm embedded in power relations. Their insistence on investigating race as an integral part of the discourse on and performance of homosexuality intervenes in what David Eng and Alice Hom have referred to as "the potential for mainstream queer politics to recycle unproblematically punitive narratives of race, nation, and colonization" in its privileging of the difference of sexuality over the difference of race and class (13). Thus, Fung and Ma's representation of homosexuality has the function of a critical difference, which Dana Y. Takagi contends, can be used to complicate the concept of Asian American identity, and to challenge the "essentialist currents in ethnic-based narratives and disciplines" (33). In this respect, the works by Fung and Ma bridge two disciplinary fields -- Asian American studies and queer studies -- which, as Eng has pointed out, "have remained traditionally unconnected"("Out Here" 33). At the same time, they urge us to consider the critical possibilities of queerness and diaspora, which Eng has framed in provocative questions such as: "How might we theorize queerness and diaspora against a historical legacy that has unrelentingly configured Asian Americans as exterior or eccentric to the U.S. nation-state? How might queerness and diaspora provide a critical methodology for a more adequate understanding of Asian American racial and sexual formation as shaped in the space between the domestic and the diasporic?" ("Out Here" 32).
- In articulating Asian American homosexuality, Fung and Ma undermine the raced and gendered national identity inscribed in phallocentric heterosexual rhetoric that constructs white men as the norm of "masculinity" and sexuality. Such identity constructs, Edward Said has argued in Orientalism, are overdetermined by power relations. Asian Americans' gendered identity and subordinate position are produced in the formation of American and Canadian national identities which are grounded in the ideologies of white supremacy and masculine domination. In 1899, Theodore Roosevelt justified U.S. imperialist interventions in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Cuba on the basis that European Americans were of a "stronger and more manful race" than the native poeple of these territories (13:328). For Roosevelt, manliness assumes the capacity for self-government and self-defense, which were "essential virtues" of European Americans (13:446). Naturalized as such, European American manhood became the norm, against which Chinese and Chinese Americans were marked as the opposite examples. Roosevelt claimed that the Chinese naturally lacked "manly and adventurous qualities" (13:322).
- Such "emasculation" of Chinese men is compounded by historical circumstances and racist immigration laws, which forbade Chinese laborers to bring their wives or to marry white women, and forbade Chinese immigrants to become naturalized citizens of the United States. The Naturalization Act of 1790 granted all "free white persons" the right to U.S. citizenship. In 1870, when men of African descent could become naturalized, Asian men were still barred from U.S. citizenship until the repeal acts of 1943-1952. As Lisa Lowe points out, "Racialization along the legal axis of definitions of citizenship has also ascribed 'gender' to the Asian American subject [. . .] . Whereas the 'masculinity' of the citizen was first inseparable from his 'whiteness,' as the state extended citizenship to nonwhite male persons, it formally designated these subjects as 'male,' as well" (11). Cheung also notes that in addition to political and economic disempowerment, unequal employment opportunities forced Chinese immigrants "to be cooks, waiters, laundry workers, and domestics -- jobs traditionally considered 'women's work'" ("Of Men and Men" 175). Such impositions on Chinese immigrants underlie the raced and gendered national identity of the United States and Canada. Frank Chin's The Chickencoop Chinaman (1981) and Maxine Hong Kingston's China Men (1980) are two examples of Asian Americans' protest against the "emasculation" of Asian American men. As Jinqi Ling says of Carlos Bulosan's novel, America Is In the Heart (1946), Chin and Kingston's works illustrate "not only the institutional need to 'emasculate' Asian males in the process of their incorporation into American society, but also the dependence of such 'emasculation' on the ideological norm of male dominance over women" (317). However, Chin and Kingston's representations of Asian American men's masculinity re-inscribe hegemonic ideologies of gender embedded in the heterosexual rhetoric of cultural nationalist discourses.
- Fung and Ma have departed from this mode of representation in their insistence on investigating the construct of whiteness and heterosexuality as the privileged norm in power relations. Their respective works complicate postcolonial studies, as well as queer studies, by revealing that in hegemonic cultural discourses power relations are not only encoded in racial hierarchy, but also articulated in terms of heterosexual and phallocentric rhetoric. Perhaps one of the most significant contributions which Fung and Ma have made to current investigations in subject and identity formations lies not simply in their illustration of the mutually constituent categories of a range of identities within power relations, but more importantly in their demonstration of the possibilities of subversion and intervention through alternative strategies of homoerotics and multimedia narratives that denaturalize identities of race, gender, and sexuality.
- In so doing their works add significantly to groundbreaking studies such as Edward Said's Orientalism and Judith Butler's Gender Trouble. While Said uses ample historical materials to show how race and gender are mutually constituent and reciprocally informing in the binary framework of Orientalist discourses, Butler furthers our understanding of how binarism in gendered power relations is in part a heterosexual formulation, in which the phallus is the privileged sign. In contesting that heterosexuality, like gender, is naturalized by the deployment of its expression as its "results" (33), Butler's study adds to Said's investigation of how power produces knowledge, particularly the knowledge of the "Other." Butler calls for a rethinking of "subversive possibilities for sexuality and identity" by exposing how gender and sexuality are constructed within power relations "where power is partially understood in terms of heterosexual and phallic cultural conventions" (30). Both Fung and Ma achieve the subversive possibilities Butler calls for through narrative and homoerotic strategies, while insisting on rendering race, which is repressed in Butler's discussion, a constituent category of identities of gender and sexuality. At the same time, they achieve much agency for those who have been denied a voice in the binary power structure -- a structure that Said's Orientalism exposes, yet re-inscribes. In the binary opposites of Orienatalist discourses, the objectified Other fixed in the subordinate position, is silenced and deprived of the agency of resistance and intervention. Fung and Ma seek new forms of representation in their respective videos to destabilize fixed subject positions and to give voice to muted subjects and marginalized issues such as homosexuality in constructing Asian American history and identity. Their works, then, not only subvert Asian Americans' gendered racial identity and racialized sexuality, but also disrupt the construction of identities within a heterosexual and phallocentric framework.
- Both Fung and Ma are immigrants of Chinese ancestry. Fung was born in Trinidad, and received his primary and secondary education in Trinidad and the Republic of Ireland, before settling in Toronto, Canada where he received his post-secondary education. Ma was born in the United States, raised in Hong Kong, and received his secondary education in the U.S. where he currently resides. While Fung is a path-breaker in exposing race as a central organizing principle in the performance of homosexuality in North American gay videos, and in calling critical attention to a range of related issues concerning Asian and Asian American homosexuality, Ma belongs to a younger generation of Asian American independent video makers, whose work at once continues and departs from Fung's. My discussion of their works, therefore, will begin with the challenges which Fung's works pose and the transformations they generate.
- In his recent work, Dirty Laundry (1997), Fung renders homosexuality visible in Asian American history and identity, while denaturalizing whiteness and heterosexuality as the norm, and unsettling binary categories of masculinity and femininity in his construction of nineteenth-century Chinese Canadian history and identity. Through re-articulation of Asian American homosexuality, Fung investigates the formations of race and the nation-state intersected with the formations of gender and sexuality. At the same time, he raises questions about methodologies for constructing history. The video begins by urging the viewer to consider these questions: "Which version of history has been suppressed, which has been allowed to speak, and which convention of writing history historians have chosen to think about the past." Fung's methodology breaks away from conventional historiography by combining historical documents with imaginative and performative enactment of the past, and by juxtaposing different and opposing points of view. As the title, Dirty Laundry, suggests, Fung's work not only critiques the construct of the nation-state on the basis of whiteness and heterosexuality, it also challenges cultural nationalist claims of Asian American identity in a heterosexual rhetoric, which erases the difference of sexuality and re-inscribes gender difference in binary terms.
- Fung tactfully uses the motif of travel through a Chinese Canadian young man who is riding on the train from Toronto to Vancouver in search of family history and Chinese Canadian history. Through the young man's encounters with others on the road, Fung reveals his homosexuality, and connects it to his great grandfather's possible gay relationship, which Fung situates in the intersections of race, gender, class, culture, sexuality, and national identity in Chinese Canadian history. While the young man's journey and his reading on the train of books about Chinese Canadian history serve to organize present and past narratives, Fung interweaves the past and the present throughout the video by constantly interrupting the narrative of the present with a variety of information about the past through different voices and perspectives. At the same time, he allows the same major actors to perform the roles of two contemporary Chinese Canadians and the roles of two nineteenth-century Chinese immigrants or indentured laborers. This deployment helps connect the young men to Chinese Canadian history, while opening up a critical space to investigate the social marking of homosexuality and its relation to race, gender, and class in the construction of both the Chinese immigrant identity and the Canadian nation-state. Departing from conventional modes of historiography, Fung employs imagined narrative, performance, and historical documents to articulate homosexuality and to transgress established gender boundaries.
- Fung foregrounds the presence of homosexuality by allowing the young man to meet a recent Chinese immigrant working as a conductor on the train, who is also gay. His portrayal of this recent Chinese immigrant is radically different from the dominant images of FOBs ("fresh-off-the-boat" immigrants) in cultural nationalist discourses in which ABCs (American-born Chinese) articulate their Asian American identity by distancing themselves from the FOBs whose difference marks them as alien and undesirable. In David Henry Hwang's 1979 play FOB, for instance, the FOBs are uncouth and repulsive:
Clumsy, ugly, greasy FOB. Loud, stupid, four-eyed FOB. Big feet. Horny [. . .]. High-water pants [. . .]. Someone you wouldn't want your sister to marry. If you are a sister, someone you wouldn't want to marry [. . .]. They are the sworn enemies of all ABC -- oh, that's "American Born Chinese" -- of all ABC girls. (6)
Maxine Hong Kingston paints a similar picture of FOBs through the eyes of her ABC protagonist, Whitman, in Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book:
Heading toward him from the other end came a Chinese dude from China, hands clasped behind, bow-legged, loose-seated, out on a stroll -- that walk they do in kung fu movies when they are full of contentment on a sunny day. [. . .] Following, straggling, came the poor guy's wife. She was coaxing their kid with sunflower seeds, which she cracked with her gold tooth and held out to him, "Ho sick, la. Ho sick," she said. "Good eating. Good eats." [. . .] Mom and shamble-legged kid were each stuffed inside of about ten homemade sweaters. [. . .] Next there came scrabbling an old lady with a cane. She also wore one of those do-it-yourself pantsuit outfits. [. . .] Immigrants. Fresh Off the Boats out in public. [. . .] F.O.B. fashions -- highwaters or puddlecuffs. Can't get it right. Uncool. Uncool. The tunnel smelled of mothballs -- F.O.B. perfume. (4-5)
- Such condescending portrayal of recent immigrants from China reveals Chinese Americans' internalized Orientalist gaze that cast the East and Asians as the inferior Other of the West. Sheng-mei Ma has pointed out that Kingston "actively Orientalizes Chinese to establish Chinese Americans as a people apart and distinct from the alien immigrants" (34). In so doing, Ma argues, even though Chinese Americans' "unique Americanness derives in large measure from a resistance to the Orientalist discourse, which in turn presupposes an acknowledgement [sic] and even an internalization of the vocabulary of Western constructions of themselves" (26). Fung's depiction of the recent Chinese immigrant, whose appearance and command of the English language do not show the slightest alien difference from those of the Chinese Canadian young man, disrupts the production of Orientalized images of recent Chinese immigrants in cultural nationalist discourses. Moreover, Fung's treatment of homosexuality rejects the prescribed binary model of polarized attributes in identity construct such as: masculine/heterosexual/ versus effeminate/homosexual. Rather than protest against Chinese men's racialized sexual identity by rehearsing it as Frank Chin does in Chickencoop Chinaman (first produced in 1972), Fung situates the construction of sexual identity in the historical context of social regulation and racial formation.
- In addition, the development of the homoerotic relationship between the recent Chinese immigrant and the Chinese Canadian young man in Fung's Dirty Laundry intertwines with the young man's reading of Chinese Canadian history, and his discovery of his great grandfather's possible homosexuality. Fung also gives space to gender issues and lesbianism in his work by making the most of the travel motif. On his journey, the Chinese Canadian met a Chinese Canadian young woman, whose appearance breaks down the codes of conventional gender difference. When the young woman first appears on the screen, Fung directs the viewer's gaze to gender-specific signs such as the woman's shoes, clothing, and hair, which refuse to conform to conventional gender codes. The presence of this young woman makes it possible for Fung to bring women's experience and lesbianism -- issues marginalized or absent in cultural nationalist construction of Asian American history -- into his version of Chinese Canadian history constructed with multiple, different, and competing points of view.
- Fung employs jump cuts and other techniques to bring multiple narratives and perspectives into an open dialogue that is provocative and challenging. For instance, following the subtitle, "History of Heroes," a group of Chinese young men carrying picks and, riding on a railroad cart, obviously posing as Chinese workers on the railroad in the nineteenth century, appeared on the screen briefly. But rather than starting the narrative of the "History of Heroes" from the building of the transcontinental railroad in the nineteenth century, Fung allows the historian Anthony Chan to trace Chinese Canadian history to Chinese sailors' arrival and settlement on Vancouver Island in the early eighteenth century, before turning to nineteenth-century Chinese Canadian experience. Chinese laborers' contribution to building the transcontinental railroad has been a prominent feature for reclaiming Chinese men's "manhood" and Chinese Americans' American credentials in cultural nationalist discourses.
- In his novel, Donald Duk, Frank Chin uses Chinese workers' impressive deeds such as laying "almost five miles of straight rail in one day" (28), and of "blasting through Summit Tunnel" (150) to boost the self-image of the boy protagonist Donald Duk, and to protest against the erasion of Chinese presence in American history, and against exploitation of Chinese labor. Donald Duk's teacher, Mr. Meanwright, constantly stereotypes Chinese and naturalizes their social status: "Their passive philosophy and noncompetitive nature rendered them ripe for exploitation and victimization. As the historian McLeod sasys, the Chinese failed in the gold fields and were driven by poverty and timidity to help build the Central Pacific leg of the transcontinent railroad" (149-150). After much struggle and education, Donald Duck is able to counter his teacher's remarks by stating that "You are . . . sir, Mr. Meanwright, not correct about us being passive, noncompetitive. We did the blasting through Summit Tunnel. We worked through two hard winters in the high Sierras. We went on strike for back pay and Chinese foremen for Chinese gangs, and won" (150). Even though such a protest resists European Americans' stereotyping of Chinese and their essentialist justification of the exploitation of Chinese labor, it does not challenge the ideological codes for defining "passivity" or subvert the ground for justifying exploitation. Hence cultural nationalist redefinition of Asian American identity and reconstruction of Asian American history are confined by the binary framework of the dominant European American discourses.
- Rather than emphasizing the heroism of Chinese workers in building the railroad, Fung foregrounds the harsh reality of the Chinese workers' broken dreams in America. In contrast to "History of Heroes" and the performance images, another subtitle, "The Dream," appears with Chinese music and a narrative voice that contextualizes the footage of Chinese workers carrying luggage on the back, walking along the railroad, while the voice-over tells the viewer that these Chinese people came from San Francisco after the Gold Rush, and that they were followed by more workers from Hong Kong, who worked on railroad, vineyard, and interior British Columbia. As the narrative voice continues, Fung uses scrolling text to provide more historical information: "15,000 Chinese laborers worked on the Canadian Pacific Railway, 600 died on the job." Then the camera cuts to words being typed on the laptop monitor by the Chinese Canadian young man, whose hands and typing motion are replaced by a hand carving a poem on the wall. As the camera reveals a group of young men carving poems on the wall, the narrative voice begins reading the poems aloud in English and Cantonese, which protest against their detention upon arriving at Vancouver Island -- an experience that resonates with Chinese Americans' experience on Angel Island. The presence of a large number of men in the scene enhances the absence of women, which evokes the term of "bachelor society" used for early Chinese immigrant communities in North America, as a result of discriminatory immigration laws based on race and nationality.
- Fung explores the historical conditions that gave rise to the phenomena of dominantly male Chinese immigrant communities, and their effects from different perspectives. First, Dona Nipp, a historian, lawyer, and activist appears on the screen and points out that the term of "bachelor society" for the early Chinese immigrant communities in Canada is misleading, for many of the Chinese men were married but did not have their wives and children with them for a number of different reasons. Adding to Nipp's explanation, Fung situates the phenomenon of the "bachelor society" in the formation of a white, Christian, heterosexual national identity in nineteenth-century Canada through multimedia and multiple voices, including scrolling text that says "In 1884 a Royal Commission is established to study objections to the influx of the Chinese people to Canada. This leads to a Head Tax in 1885, the year the Canadian Pacific Railway is completed and Chinese labour is no longer needed." He then juxtaposes this piece of documentary history with the image of a white miner, whose speech is documented in Report of the Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration, which the Chinese Canadian young man is reading on the train. The white miner claims to be a dutiful husband, father, citizen, and Christian -- all attributes that the Chinese laborers, in his view, negate.
- Through reference to racist immigration laws and the white miner's testimony which define and deplore the dominantly male Chinese immigrant community, Fung raises questions about the implications of the term "bachelor society" as an unproblematic trope for constructing Asian American/Canadian history. Jennifer Ting has noted that the term "bachelor society," based on conjugal heterosexuality, makes invisible other categories of sexuality, while maintaining an outdated mode of historiography. Ting argues that "the particular kind of heterosexuality constructed within the historiographic tradition of the bachelor society is working, at the level of representation, to develop, secure and reproduce certain cultural logics (such as those underpinning the racial and class meanings of Asians and Asian Americans or ideas of U.S. national identity)" (278). The intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and morality characterizes the ideologies of nationalism during nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Europe and North America. In his book Nationalism and Sexuality, George L. Mosse points out that in several European nations "Racism was a heightened nationalism: the differences between peoples were no longer perceived as chance variations, but as immutable, fixed in place. [. . .] As a form of heightened nationalism, racism supported bourgeois respectability. It emphasized the distinction between vice and virtue, the necessity of a clear line between the normal and abnormal according to the rules society laid down" (133). This nationalist virtue included "the ideal of manliness," conjugal heterosexuality, and Christian morals, against which Jews, homosexuals, and the "inferior races" posed a threat (130, 134-35). In nineteenth-century Canada and the U. S. white working class people assumed this European "bourgeois respectability," and Chinese workers had replaced the Jews as the "evil vice," threatening a white Christian national identity. Fung employs the white miner's remarks to show that the "normality" of identity is encoded in terms of conjugal heterosexuality and Christian beliefs embodied in the white male image, against which the identity of "China men" are defined in the formation of a North American nation-state.
- Fung further undermines the white miner's statements and their implications by investigating the impact of institutionalized racial discrimination and exploitation on Chinese immigrant communities. Subverting the white miner's suggestion of Chinese workers' abnormality, inscrutability, and indecency, Fung emphasizes, through Nipp's words, that the phenomena of dominantly male Chinese Canadian community is the result of "constructed discrimination in that if you bring your wife or family over, you would deter economically." To substantiate her remarks, Fung again uses scrolling text to show another aspect of racism that is intersected with classism: "By 1903 the Head Tax rises to $500. In 1923 an Exclusion Act stops all Chinese immigration. Merchants, students, diplomats, their families and servants are exempted." Rather than counter racial stereotyping by condemning effeminate and homosexual stereotypes of Chinese men as the Aiiieeeee! editors do, Fung demonstrates the complex ways in which racial discrimination and economic exploitation shaped the phenomena of the so-called "bachelor society."
- Fung goes further to explore the effects of racist laws on Chinese immigrants' lives, their families, and even possibly their sexuality. As is characteristic of his dialogic method of representation, he allows different perspectives to be articulated and to engage one another. While the image of a young man having his hair braided by his wife appears on the screen, a voice-over asks questions in Cantonese with English subtitles -- "Who will braid you hair? Who will cook your rice? Who will wash your clothes? Who will warm your bed?" -- questions that indicate the imminent departure of the young man for North America. This open-ended performance creates a space for addressing social issues, such as marriage and gender relationship. Nipp reappears on the screen to comment on the long-term separation between husbands and wives. She observes that for women who came from emigrant villages to marry a Gum San (Gold Mountain) husband was not unusual. These women, according to her, "are used to separation, waiting." Fung raises questions about Nipp's remarks about this unproblematic situation, by returning to the previous scene of the couple in which the woman is braiding her husband's hair, but the voice has become angry, and the questions are replaced by lines from an anonymous poem entitled "My Wife's Admonishment": "All things are broken, / Our house is falling apart! / Your gambling has driven us to poverty." Differing from cultural nationalist construction of male-centered Asian American history with a focus on Asian men's "emasculation" by state power and white domination, Fung depicts the breaking down of immigrants' family structure as another effect of racial discrimination from women's perspective.
- Moreover, Fung turns the process of constructing history into one of critical investigation of the construction of whiteness and its Other. In juxtaposition to the above historically specific perspectives on the dominantly male Chinese immigrant community, Fung presents racist points of view that essentialize both whiteness and the Chinese "difference," and counter-viewpoints that historicize the construct of whiteness. The white miner's observations about the "China man" naturalize the effects of racism into the cause for racial discrimination: "[The China man] has no wife and family [. . .], he inherited no taste for comfort or social enjoyment. Things that satisfy him, make him content would make my life not worth living." As the last line is spoken another voice appears and merges with the miner's, and another white man's image performing Senator Jones of Nevada, replaces that of the miner. The scrolling text tells the viewer that Senator Jones of Nevada addresses the Royal Commission, speaking in the voice of a miner, claiming that "China men came to take advantage of our skill, of our toil, and of our struggles, driving us from our fields of industry, which we have created, our race alone can create."
- In contrast to such unquestioned assumptions of white supremacy, Fung juxtaposes a historical perspective through the historian Nayan Shah, who notes that "Whiteness as a category is produced in the nineteenth century." This category has undergone changes, owing to historical circumstances. In the nineteenth century, certain European immigrant groups such as the Italians and the Irish were "not necessarily considered to be white." Whiteness was usually "a category reserved for Anglo and Germanic peoples." Shah points out that "It is during this terrible strife around the tension of race, whiteness began to collapse to mean all people from Europe." Fung contextualizes Shah's remarks by using the scrolling text to show two historical incidents: "Southern blacks flee to the west in the Exodus of 1879." "Indians and Metis rebel in the Canadian Northwest in 1885." By historicizing the construct of whiteness, Fung denaturalizes whiteness and essentialist racial and ethnic identities.
- At the same time, Fung calls into question the naturalization of heterosexuality as the norm, and situates Chinese immigrants' sexuality in a nineteenth-century historical context and discourse on race and sexuality. Following the Chinese Canadian young man's discovery of a photograph of his great grandfather as a young man with another Chinese young man, Dirty Laundry begins to focus on issues of sexuality. Fung explores the possibilities of homosexuality among Chinese immigrants in the specific social environment of nineteenth-century North American West through Shah's remarks. According to Shah, in the mining towns in the West, sexual, racial, and gender crossings took place in a multiracial society with very few women. However, Shah notes that there is considerable evidence which shows intimate relationships of affection and companionship between Chinese men that were not necessarily homosexual. Shah also adds that the kinds of sexual classification going on in the nineteenth century were quite different from those of today. Fung supplements Shah's comments with several images and voices of white men, including C. C. Cox, a detective, Thomas H. King, a merchant of San Francisco, and John T. Tobin, a resident in China for six years, who condemns homosexuality as "revolting crime," "degrading desires," and bestial behavior which they associated with Chinese men. After showing that these white men's condemnations of homosexuality are recorded in the Report which the Chinese Canadian young man has been reading, Fung subverts the white men's racialization of homosexuality by using scrolling texts to provide the viewer with historical information about homosexuality in an international context: "In 1885, the year Canada institutes the Head Tax, Britain criminalizes all sexual activities between men as 'gross indecency.'" "In Germany in 1892 the word homosexuality is first used in public. Heterosexuality is coined later." While showing these two categories of sexuality as social and historical constructs, Fung further situates nineteenth-century Chinese immigrants' homosexuality in its historical context by inserting between those two pieces of historical information the image of two Chinese men, one braiding the hair of the other, which replaces the earlier image of conjugal heterosexual relationship.
- Conceptually and methodologically different from the Aiiieeeee! editors' protest against Asian mem's racialized gender and sexuality as "white manhood gone moldy and repulsive," Fung's examination of Chinese male immigrants' homosexuality is not confined to Chinese immigrants' experience in North America. In fact, he reveals that male homosexuality exits in China where it has also been condemned socially. This reference to what might be regarded as the "dirty laundry" in Chinese culture is also significantly different from the glorification of Chinese warriors' male-bonding by the code of loyalty and honor in cultural nationalist discourse. In his discussion of Asian Americans' self-representation, Fung points out that "In our need to assert identity we eliminate complexity, homogenize and fall back on totalizing and essentialist visions of 'home.' Not that one should ignore history or acquiesce to the Eurocentrism of North American culture. But there are always dangers of romanticization in any recuperation of other times or places" ("Center" 66).
- In Dirty Laundry Fung refuses to idealize the ancestral home of Chinese immigrants. Using the capacity for multimedia montage -- simultaneous significations by images, sound, and written and spoken words -- Fung shows discrimination against male homosexuality in China. As a Chinese young man wearing Ching dynasty hair style and striped to the waist walks onto the screen and moves toward the foreground, accompanied by Chinese music, the Chinese characters for "male love" and for insulting homosexuality are shown on the screen with English translations such as "rabbit scoundrel (Beijing insult)," "husband hustler (Ching dynasty)," and "ass ghost (Cantonese insult)." But Fung does not universalize social prejudice against homosexuality by erasing the difference of social environment for the condemnation of homosexuality between China and Canada. He insists on situating the accusation of the "vices" of the Chinese communities in the historical and social contexts of Canada, through voice-over which reminds the viewers that initially Chinese labor was welcome on the railroad. Once labor was not needed, rumors of Chinese vices, prostitution, and all kinds of illnesses and evils began to circulate.
- Re-centering women's experience and departing further from the masculine version of Chinese American history in cultural nationalist discourses, Fung shows that Chinese men's oppression and exploitation of Chinese women are part of the "history of vices." A woman's narrative voice reveals that in the 1870s most Chinese women who came to Victoria would be prostitutes, who would define themselves as seamstresses. To maximize their exploitation in San Francisco, the Chinese men who had brought them over would force them to do hand-sewing work during the day, and serve as prostitutes at night. Fung shows the stigma attached to Chinese women's racially marked sexuality by presenting another perspective thorough Shah, who tells the viewer that Chinese women were simply considered as prostitutes if they were not married to a merchant. "Any women who appears to be independent of a man is considered to be a prostitute, as sexually available." In association to evidence of the selling of young women as prostitutes by Chinese men, and in juxtaposition to "Christian" Canadians' accusation of homosexual "crime" among Chinese immigrants, and to Dr. E. Stevenson's defense of the honor of the Chinese to the Royal Commission on August 16, 1884, Fung presents photos of Chinese women in a "rescue home" run by a Christian missionary society for prostitutes in the 1880s. These historical materials and multiple perspectives from different positions raise more questions than they offer answers. Shah's comments on history by the end of the video resonate with the opening remarks about the construction of history, thus foregrounding the impossibility of having access to complete historical materials. Shah points out that it is a contradiction in history that we do not get to "see it all," and that not everything is deemed as important. "What we have in the archive are controlled documents by people in power." Thus, Fung suggests that power, rather than facts, determine the construction of history or truth.
- Theoretically informed of the selective nature of historiography, Fung's Dirty Laundry assumes no authoritative version of Chinese Canadian history. Rather, it seeks to articulate muted aspects of that history, and to raise questions about identities of race, gender, sexuality, and nationality, while denaturalizing whiteness and heterosexuality as the norm. Fung's theoretical awareness of the limitations of historical narrative enables him to explore the possibilities of reconstructing a version of Chinese Canadian history and identity through creative associations of the past with the present by mixing fiction and performance with interviews and historical documents. Yet Fung's Dirty Laundry is not merely a textual play of postmodern indeterminacy; it is grounded in the material history. It subverts the dominant discourses on race, gender, nation, and sexuality through a historically and theoretically informed critique of their conceptions.
- Fung's dismantling of dominant European American ideologies in identity construction marks his departure from the thematic concerns and narrative strategies of cultural nationalist discourses. In Kingston's China Men, for instance, women's presence is marginalized in a male-centered history that mainly consists of masculine and heterosexual men's deeds such as mining, farming, and railroad building. Kingston structures her narratives in such a way that the Chinese American history shows a gradual process of Chinese Americans' assimilation into mainstream America, even though this process is not without racism against Chinese Americans. This construction of Chinese American history is typical of cultural nationalist identity politics, which, as Sau-ling Cynthia Wong points out, subscribes to "an indigenization model of Asian American experiences [. . .]." Although Fung's version of Chinese Canadian history also includes railroad-building, it is not the centerpiece of the history he constructs, which re-centers women, re-examines gendered exploitation, and re-articulates homosexuality that the Aiiieeeee! editors condemn as stereotypical -- the worst stereotype of Chinese men, according to the editors, are "homosexual menaces like Fu Manchu." Rather than protesting against Asian men's stereotypes and establishing the importance of Asian Americans' contributions to the nation-building of the U.S. or Canada in terms of the dominant ideological codes, Fung's postcolonial construction of Asian American history and image engages in a critical examination of the historical conditions for racial formation and identity construction. His rejection of the cultural nationalist "indigenization model" also makes it possible for him to include recent immigrants, as well as gays and lesbians, in his representation of Asian America.
- In his seminal essay, "Looking for My Penis: the Eroticized Asian in Gay Video Porn," Fung points out that performance of homosexuality often reflects and reinforces white supremacy. Privileging white men's image, desire, and pleasure in their representation of gay men, commercial gay videos in North America often portray Asian men as "mysterious" and "exotic," thus reinforcing the dominant ideologies of racial identity and phallocentrism. Fung argues that narratives organized on the primacy of phallic power and pleasure, tend to assign Asian men "the role of bottom"(152-53). Indeed, the persistent "house boy" role allowed Asian men, Fung contends, actually acts out "the mythologized geisha or 'the good wife'" phantasies of white men about Asian women (156). He notes that "Self-conscious 'Oriental' signifiers are part and parcel of a colonial fantasy [. . .] that empowers one kind of gay man over another" (157).
- In his own videos Fung exposes the naturalization of both Asian and white men's racial identity and gendered sexuality through a strategy which Gayarit Spivak has called "mak[ing] visible the assignment of subject-positions" (241). In so doing, he takes up "the real challenge in the new cultural politics of difference," which Kobena Moercer defines as making "'whiteness' visible for the first time, as a culturally constructed ethnic identity historically contingent upon the disavowal and violent denial of difference" (206). Fung's investigation of the representational tactics that racialize gender and sexuality helps transform the critical strategies in Asian American cultural nationalist discourse, which tend to be implicated in phallocentric master narratives organized on the principle of heterosexual rhetoric. Rather than celebrating an unproblematic Asian gay men's sexual identity, Fung seeks to reclaim their identities of race, culture, and sexuality, and decolonize their desire and subjectivity by critically examining the formations of Asian men's identities of race, culture, class, and sexuality constructed within power relations and racial ideology. As Stuart Hall contends, "Cultural identities" are not "an essence, but a positioning" (26). Noting that the semiotic codes in North American mainstream gay culture re-inscribes white supremacy, Fung exposes the ways in which racial ideology positions and constitutes sexual subjects. He points out that "images of white men and white male beauty" are "the standards against which we compare both ourselves and often our brothers --Asian, black, native, and Latino." He urges Asian gay men to "scrutinize our own desire and its relationship to the hegemonic image of the white man" ("Looking"149).
- Chinese Characters (1986) is one of Fung's early videos, which critiques Orientalization of Asian gay men and investigates Asian American men's desire and homosexuality in relation to white men's idealized image of beauty and power. Through strategies of parody, humor, juxtaposition, and intertextual revision, Fung repositions Asian men as sexual subjects while articulating their homoerotic desire. Using a Chinese legend about Waijin's search for the source of the Yellow River as the organizing narrative, Fung interweaves Waijin's voyage with his personal journey of coming to terms with his racial and sexual identities. In examining the impact of all-white images of gay men in popular gay magazines on Asian gay men's sexual desire, including his own, Fung raises questions about the politics of representation which excludes images of men of color and confers desirability only on white men. Even though there are occasional encounters between white and Asian men, Fung points out that Asian men are often othered and objectified by white men's fetishistic desire for things Oriental. Fung's video exposes the fact that Eurocentric representational tactics have the functions of essentializing identities, forming power relations, and regulating desires and behaviors in terms of racial hierarchy.
- But rather than simply critiquing racially biased mainstream representation of gay images, Fung's video critically examines Asian American gay men's sexual desire shaped by ideologies of white supremacy. He employs deconstructionist strategies to simultaneously subvert Orientalist representation and affirm his own racial and cultural identities in Chinese Characters, which is divided into four parts subtitled East, West, South, and North in Chinese characters with English translations. While the story of Waijin's search for the Yellow River source unifies the different strands of narrative, its motif of the journey allows Fung to move the narrative from one geographical location to another, thus locating his identity formation within the contexts of postcolonial Chinese diaspora. Parodying Orientalist representations, the video starts with close-up shots of flowers, trees, a flowing river, ducks on the water, a corner of a Japanese Garden, and ornate roof corners of Chinese architecture, which, accompanied by Chinese music, construct a typically "Oriental" aesthetic and world. Within this Oriental setting, the voice-over begins to tell the story of Waijin, while an Asian male character appears on the screen, trying out different outfits for the voyage. When the narrative reaches a turning point where Waijin finds the map useless as he "entered an uncharted territory," and had to rely on "the stars and the moon" for guidance, the Chinese music is replaced by Western music, and Fung appears on the screen to confess his personal experience of freeing himself of the guilt about his homosexuality, and to analyze his desire in relation to the hegemonic image, and of his coming to terms with his sexuality and ethnicity. His personal narrative helps denaturalize heterosexuality and whiteness.
- One of the possibilities of intervention which Fung explores is representing Asian gay men as desiring and desirable subjects, without re-inscribing gendered and racialized binary power relations in heterosexual rhetoric. Fung accomplishes this task in part by using the story of Waijin tactfully. With Waijin's entrance into the "unchartered territory," Chinese Characters moves to Part II, "West," where the Asian male character encounters a white man. Resonating the journey motif, the two men walked through some distance toward each other, obviously being drawn by mutual attraction. To foreground the importance of this interracial sexual encounter on equal terms between two gay men, Fung interrupts the story about Waijin so as to resume his autobiographical narrative which is accompanied by typical mainstream images of blond white gay men as a sexual spectacle and the norm of desirability. As the video moves into Part III, "South," Fung connects his feelings about racialized undesirability of people of color to his childhood experience in Trinidad where Chinese features, food, and language were the objects of ridicule, and where Chinese myths about magnificent palaces and heroes are a source of comfort for the child Fung.
- Then Fung continues with the story of Waijin to articulate his ethnic and sexual identities. When Waijin brings what he has found from his journey to the court and the court astronomer confirms that the source of the Yellow River is the stars on the other side of the Milky Way, the video enters Part IV, "North," where another voice-over narrates a homoerotic experience on a flight. At the same time, the narratives are accompanied by long shots of erotic scenes of gay men in the park, their racial identities are deliberately ambiguous, resisting codes of race, gender, age, and class which mark categories of power, desirability, or inferiority and undesirability. Fung's homoerotic strategy offers an alternative to the kind of representation of Asian American homosexuality that re-inscribes hegemonic ideological codes -- a representation which, as Sau-ling Wong points out, reinforces "precisely the discourse that it claims to contest" ("Subversive Desire" 68). In addition, Fung reveals at the end of Chinese Characters that the landscape scenes in the closing part are exactly the same close-up images shown at the beginning. But now framed differently in broader views, they lose their Oriental ambiance, becoming part of a city-scape with a Chinese pagoda built in the middle of a Western city. This revelation highlights not only the constructive, but also the naturalizing, tactics of representation, particularly Orientalist representation. Fung's deconstructionist strategies of parody and intertextual revision enable him to break away from the self-Orientalization of Asian Knight, directed by an Asian, but aims at pleasing a white audience. Fung's strategies also differ significantly from the idealization of a mythic Asian past in the rhetoric of the Aiiieeeee! editors, and from the ethnographic portrayals of Chinese culture in works such as Jade Snow Wong's Fifth Chinese Daughter and Amy Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses. Rather than attempting to exoticize or explain Chinese traditions, customs, and people in a fixed time-space, Fung explores the possibilities of asserting an ethnic identity without re-inscribing Chinese and Chinese culture as the "Other" of the West.
- Like Fung's treatment of the Chinese myth, Ming-Yuen S. Ma's use of Chinese and Japanese stories in his video Toc Storee (1992), reveals a process of culture being at once maintained and transformed through re-interpretation and re-representation in a new context and location. In contrast to the fixity of culture implied in discourses of Orientalism and cultural nationalism, culture in Ma's work, as in Fung's, is mobilized as a process, as a site of ideological contestation, and as a field of creative possibilities. One of the prominent features that mark his work's departure from the model of cultural nationalism is his challenge to the boundaries of the nation-state drawn on the basis of a unified history, culture, and language. Generated from the experiences of postcolonial diasporic communities, Ma's videos, like Fung's, are characteristic of what Homi Bhabha defines as the "performative" in his essay "DissemiNation: Time, Narrative, and the Margins of the Modern Nation":
The performative intervenes in the sovereignty of the nation's self-generation by casting a shadow between the people as 'image' and its signification as a differentiating sign of Self, distinct from the Other or the Outside. In place of the polarity of a prefigurative self-generating nation itself and extrinsic Other nations, the performative introduces a temporality of the 'in-between' through the 'gap' of 'emptiness' of the signifier that punctuates linguistic difference. The boundary that marks the nation's selfhood interrupts the self-generating time of national production with a space of representation that threatens binary division with its difference. (299)
It is precisely the binary constructions of a national identity and national culture that Ma's multilingual and intercultural performance narratives challenge.
- Although Ma, like Fung, is concerned with representing Asian and Asian American gay men as sexual subjects, he departs from Fung's focus on critiquing the privileging of white gay men's pleasure and desirability, to represent alternative models of homosexuality in Asian cultures and Asian American gay men's relationships through stories. In Toc Storee Ma explores the possibilities of story-telling in relation to diaspora, colonial history, and homosexuality. In fact, Toc Storee is at once a theorizing meditation on and a performance of modes of story-telling. Its epigraph, a citation from Trinh T. Minh-ha on the nature and functions of the story, in a female voice from Indian diaspora with an English accent as the screen shows footage of a gay pride parade, sets the complex theme of the video:
Every gesture, every word involves our past, present, and future. The body never stops accumulating, and years and years have gone by mine without my being able to stop them, stop it. My sympathies and grudges appear at the same time familiar and unfamiliar to me; I dwell in them, they dwell in me, and we dwell in each other, more as guest than as owner. My story, no doubt, is me, but it is also, no doubt, older than me. Younger than me, older than the humanized. Unmeasurable, uncontainable, so immense that it exceeds all attempts at humanizing. But humanizing we do, and also overdo [. . .]. (Trinh Woman, Native, Other 122-23)
While Trinh's locating of the story in the body and in both the self and the community resonates with the images of the gay pride parade, her emphasis on the fact that even when a personal story is about the self, it is more than the story of an individual, is a central theme of Ma's video about male homosexuality. This theme also determines his narrative strategies which shift between personal narratives by interviewees and retelling and performing stories from Chinese and Japanese cultures. Ma interweaves these narratives and performances with citations from others' writings on stories.
- Such non-linear narratives and multi-voiced intertextuality enable Ma to relate contemporary Asian and Asian American gay men's individual stories about their sexuality to the traditions of homosexuality in Asian cultures, while alluding to the history of British colonial rule in Hong Kong, and the resulting emergence of a hybrid cultural identity. Ma allows his interviewees to speak both Cantonese and English in part to illustrate one of the effects of British colonialism and to suggest the refusal of the people of Hong Kong to give up their ethnic cultural identity. It seems that by interlocking the interviewees' stories with those from Chinese and Japanese cultures, and juxtaposing them with scenes of homosexual activism in the West, Ma seeks to articulate a transnational homosexual identity that is empowered by both Eastern and Western models, but refuses to be identical with either. After three Chinese interviewees talked about themselves and their homosexuality respectively and briefly (the first speaking in Cantonese, the latter two in English), the video switches to the narrative of a classical Chinese story about male love, "Dividing the Peach," in Cantonese without English subtitles, while images of the footage of a parade for fighting against AIDS appeared on the screen. Then the second interviewee, wearing a "Queer Nation" T-shirt, continues his story in Cantonese with English subtitles about his discovery that he did not find girls attractive when he was at high school.
- At this point, Ma interrupts his narrative to tell an ancient Chinese story, "Cut Sleeve," about male homosexuality, which resonates with the interviewee's personal story. "Emperor Ai was the last emperor of Western Han Dynasty," a mail voice-over begins. "He did not care for women, but had a male favorite named Dong Xian. The story about the two men is the origination of the term 'cut sleeve,' which came to be used as a signifier for homosexuality in Chinese court and literary tradition." As the voice-over continues with the narrative, two Asian men appear on the screen, performing erotic affection in slow motion close-ups against an orange-colored background. Ma's deliberate use of Asian images and their homoerotic performance on equal terms addresses Fung's concern about the privileging of white male desire and the objectification of Asian male body and sexuality. The homoerotic performance in Ma's video represents the Asian male body as desirable, and Asian gay men as desiring subjects in contrast to the kind of representation in popular pornographic films, which Fung discusses in his essay, "Looking for My Penis."
- At the same time, Ma uses the two versions of the "Cut Sleeve" story to theorize about story-telling which undermines cultural nationalist notion of "authenticity," even as he seeks to assert homosexuality through Asian culture. In one version of the story, the emperor chose to cut off his sleeve which was underneath Dong Xian who was asleep when the Emperor wanted to get up. The emperor's action was considered an act of great love and consideration for his lover. In the other version of the story, the emperor ordered Dong Xian to wear women's clothes with short sleeves in their bed chambers, which would arouse the emperor's desire. Hence short-sleeved clothing became a trend among the court retainers, who "in imitation of Dong Xian's costume, hoped to win over the emperor's favor." While the first version of the story enhances the love between two men, the second foregrounds the power and domination of the emperor marked by gender difference. Rather than concerning himself with the problematic notion of "authenticity" with regard to the different versions of the "Cut Sleeve" story, Ma theorizes about the conditions or motivations that give rise to different versions of the same story. He does so by quoting from James Baldwin through voice-over: "A story is impelled by the necessity to reveal; the aim of a story is revelation, which means that a story can have nothing -- at least not deliberately -- to hide. This also means that a story resolves nothing. The resolution of the story must occur in us, with what we make of the questions, with which the story leaves us" (qtd. in Carlton Moss 121).
- Simultaneously, Ma shows another perspective on the story that resonates with and supplements Baldwin's remarks, through the scrolling text: "A story is a translation, but its telling may also be a refusal to translate. A pledge of loyalty to one's traditions. An assertion of one's identity." These perspectives offer a theoretical understanding of Maxine Hong Kingston's kind of imaginative, feminist revision of Chinese legends, and pose a challenge to Frank Chin's insistence on the "authenticity" of Chinese myths and traditions, while providing a theoretical ground for the story-telling taking place in Toc Storee. At the same time, the interviewees' stories about some Asian gay men's preference for white men over Asian men, shed light on Ma's motivation to use Asian images for homoerotic performance, and to re-tell the male-love stories in Asian cultures, such as the Chinese stories of "Dividing Peach" and "Cut Sleeve" and the Japanese story of "Great Mirror of Male Love" by Ihara Saikaku.
- In addition, those stories of the past construct a homosexual tradition that helps affirm Asian and Asian American gay men's identity of race, culture, and sexuality. This affirmation provides a contrast to some Asian and Asian American gay men's internalized racism in their preference for companionship. It also undermines some Western writers' totalizing assumptions about contemporary Chinese male homosexuality. For instance, after an account of a Chinese gay man who will date only white men, the first interviewee talks about the importance of the "ethnic bond" between him and his Chinese lover in Hong Kong, asserting that he finds this relationship empowering. While this interviewee continues with his story, Ma uses scrolling text to provide the viewer with an opposite perspective from Bret Hinsch's book Passions of the Cut Sleeve, in which Hinsch claims that contemporary Chinese gay men have lost touch with their "native" homosexual tradition, and now look only to the West for models of behavior and for "justification of self-worth" (Hinsch 171). Except for the first sentence in the quote -- "But this renewed awareness of homosexuality in Chinese society has not resulted in a revival of the homosexual tradition" (171) -- Ma translates Hinsch words into a phonetic version of "what it would sound like if someone with an exaggerated 'oriental' accent reads it" in order to "subvert" Hinsch's "authoritative voice" with jovial irony and menace. Ma's subversion to Hinsch's assumed authority in speaking for the "natives" is characteristic of the kind of mimicry and parody which Homi Bhabha speaks of in discussing the possibilities of resistance to the dominant discourse in a colonized society. "The menace of mimicry," Bhabha writes, "is its double vision, which in disclosing the ambivalence of colonial discourse also disrupts it authority" (The Location of Culture 88). Ma reinforces his subversive mimicry by simultaneously showing images of two Asian men engaging in homoerotic performance. Such use of language and images have the function of what Bhabha has called "a capacity, a strategy, an agency" (The Location of Culture 110).
- In a way, Ma's multi-voiced story-telling in Toc Storee, particularly his use of the interviewees' own narratives in their own voices, are strategies for allowing Asian and Asian American gay men to express themselves and to formulate their opinions, rather than speaking for them as Hinsch does. In so doing, Ma offers a mode of representation that refuses to define Asian and Asian American gay men in terms of what Rey Chow calls "the white man's symptom," that is "as that which is externalized in relation to the white-man-as-subject [. . .]." As such, Chow points out, "the space occupied by the native is essentially object-ive, the space of the object" (Writing Diaspora 31). Such an objectified status characterizes the position assigned to Asians and Asian cultures in Orientalist discourses and in North American popular gay videos. Ma's Toc Storee, like Fung's Chinese Characters, disrupts the Orientalist production of knowledge of the "Other" by allowing Asians to occupy the position of the subject without re-inscribing them as the Other of the West.
- In addition, Ma's representation of Asian cultures, though different from Fung's in style and thematic concerns, is similar to Fung's mode in that it brings into crisis cultural nationalist notion of and strategies for portraying ethnic culture, which returns culture to the status of pure origin and "authentic" property. Both Ma and Fung treat culture as a process of constant change and transformation rather than a fixed origin. This notion of culture is embedded in Fung's re-interpretation and re-contextualization of the Chinese myth about the Milky Way, and in Ma's re-telling of the Chinese and Japanese stories about male same-sex love. In their respective works, they both reveal no intention for returning to a pure cultural origin. For them, ethnic cultural heritage is open to re-interpretation and re-vision according to personal and collective negotiations in responses to specific historical conditions. Their representation of culturally hybrid homosexuality marks their departure from cultural nationalist strategies for claiming an Asian American cultural identity, which is similar to what Chow refers to as root-searchers'"essentialist wishful thinking typical of root-searching -- the thinking that, in spite of the history of Western colonialism, non-Western cultural productions should remain pure, original, truly indigenous, and truly other-'sounding.'" Chow further argues that
For root-searchers, the task of interpreting culture is tied to the establishment of identity rather than being seen as a process in which differences constantly erupt and demand a new conception of the "whole." These conservative interpreters of culture find the metaphor of "roots" congenial because "roots" signify a return to the past so that the multiplicity of the present is reducible to a long-lost origin. (Ethics 162)
- Departing from such fixity of culture, Fung and Ma deal with culture and identity as co-productions of local and global historical encounters of domination and resistance. In his essay, "Center the Margins," Fung emphasizes the necessity of engagement with the dominant cultural discourses in re-representing Asian American images:
I do not think that it is possible to create innocent images of Asians either; to ignore the overbearing history of Hollywood and of television, we much somehow learn to place ourselves at the center of our own cultural practice, and not at the margins. (Re)creating ourselves in our own terms requires constant reevaluation of the master narratives that have bracketed our lives. For this we need to understand the history and language of images, we must grasp this language and make it our own. (67)
This emphasis on critical engagement with "master narratives" characterize Asian Americans' battles over images as a site of imposition and resistance. However, both Fung and Ma's representations defer significantly from cultural nationalist oppositional strategies of identity reconstruction, which attempt to return to Asian cultural "roots," while paradoxically claiming a new American nativism by distancing the Asian American identity from Asia and from Asian immigrants.
- It seems that the much critiqued limitations of cultural nationalist identity politics are not so much the result of a resistance staged from within the boundaries of the nation-state, as the consequence of reconstructing the Asian American identity within a binary framework of difference and power. In her discussion of the limits and possibilities of critical intervention, Chow points out that claims to racial, class, and gender differences "tend to reinscribe those categories in the form of fixed identities," for "these categories of difference are often used in such a way to stabilize, rather than challenge, a preestablished method of examining 'cultural diversity,' whereby 'difference' becomes a sheer matter of adding new names in an ever-expanding horizon." "If categories such as 'race,' 'class,' and 'gender' are to remain useful means of critical intervention," Chow argues, "they must be used to analyze, decode, and criticize one another [. . .]" (Writing Diaspora 108). It is precisely through analysis and decoding of the categories of race, gender, culture, and sexuality that Fung and Ma's respective representations of homosexuality constitute a critical intervention in the production of knowledge and identity by hegemonic discourses.
- In his work in process, Xin Lu: A Travelogue in Four Parts, Ma explores new possibilities of resistance and re-invention through representation of diasporic experience of travel, exile, dislocation, and immigration. Differing from cultural nationalist impulse of claiming America as home, the first part of Ma's series, Myth(s) of Creation (1997), seeks to articulate a "deterritorialized" subject position, which is not quite the same as Shirley Lim's definition of the "paradigms of diaspora" that "will tend to overlap, destabilize, or supersede paradigms of immigration" (291). Rather than dividing narratives of immigration and diaspora as opposing ideological positions -- immigration/assimilation versus diaspora/anti-assimilation -- Ma collapses those dichotomized narratives about the experience of dislocation of refugees, tourists, sojourners, immigrants, political exiles, foreign investors, and illegal aliens. In collapsing these categories, Ma not only challenges the homogeneity of national identity, but also opens up a space of representation where the "Other" is not safely kept over "there" in other times and places, but are gathering "here" in Western metropolitan cities, destabilizing identity boundaries of race, culture, and nationality.
- Like Toc Storee, Myth(s) of Creation is a multi-voiced and multi-media montage, consisting personal narratives, story-telling, performance, theoretical meditation, and so on. Ma interweaves these multiple voices and images with the motif of travel and the themes of exile, immigration, and dislocation. Unlike Fung's Dirty Laundry or Chinese Characters, travel in Myth(s) of Creation is not a journey of discovery. Rather, it is at once a reality imposed or self-chosen, and a metaphor of movement that evokes Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's notion of "nomadism." In his article, "Between the Nomad & the Exile: Some Thoughts on To Liv(e)," Ma refers to Deleuze's and Guattari's concept of "nomadism," introduced in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenic, as "a theoretical paradigm that is capable of going 'from the central layer to the periphery, then from the new center to the new periphery, falling back to the old center and launching forth to the new'" (117-18). Ma considers such nomadic mobility "an ideological position that resists incorporation into dominant cultures's binary opposites of male/female, black/white, self/other, center/margin, etc." These fixed positions, Ma contends, can be "de-stabilized" by the theoretical "nomad":
For a theoretical "nomad," a series of constantly shifting ideological positions can be occupied and vacated as one "journeys" through a cultural "landscape." Positions of resistance, then, can be articulated outside of the hegemonic culture/counter culture paradigm. Hegemonic thinking can in fact be de-stabilized through this mobility of positioning. (118)
This strategic positioning proposes a mode of resistance that differs from the model of critical engagement that "requires constant reevaluation of the master narratives that have bracketed our lives" as Fung has remarked.
- It seems that in Myth(s) of Creation Ma explores the possibility of the theoretical-nomad position for resistance to assimilation, and for escaping binarism. Yet Ma does not embrace the idealized mechanism of mobility in Deleuze and Guattari's notion of nomadism. Rather, he emphasizes the diasporic subject's dislocation, alienation, and tenacious attachment to its native land and ethnic culture, while incorporating "nomadism" into a decentered representation with multiple, fragmentary narrative voices and perspectives on travel, exile, and immigration. The video begins with Ma's narrative and footage of his travels with his family in London in 1991 where he had marched in 1989 to support the democracy movement in China and to protest the massacre on June 4. This event provides an indirect explanation for his family's dispersal to Canada, the U. S., England, Europe, and Australia, with the prospect of the return of Hong Kong from British colonial rule to the rule by Communist China. Despite the privilege and freedom of mobility his family enjoys, Ma shows that they are alienated from the landscape they move in and out around the world, as they journey through the "new center" and the "new periphery, falling back to the old center and launching forth to the new." People like his family are called "tai kong ren" ("astronauts") in Hong Kong. Uprooted and traveling through space without a centered home-base, such a postcolonial "nomad," Ma notes, does not stay "in one place long enough to form positions of resistance, as we conventionally understand it." However, "This elusiveness can be a freedom from the binary discourses we are so trapped by."
- One of the binary discourses he seeks to undermine is the opposites of immigration/assimilation versus exile/resistance. Rather than a narrative of the immigrants' assimilation process into the national history and dominant Eurocentric culture, Ma's representation of the immigrants' experience overlaps that of the refugee and the exile in their respective resistance to assimilation. As he writes, "if you read the accounts of actual displaced persons, such as political exiles and refugees, you will find a tenacious, stubborn hold on what they remember of their national identity and [a refusal] to forget about their homeland." For this reason among others, Ma refuses to "subscribe wholeheartedly" the abstract, post-structuralist ideas such as Deleuze and Guattari's notions of "nomadism."  Rather, Ma destabilizes the polarized positions of the immigrant and the exile in binary discourses by assembling a list of identities such as "An Exile," "A Nomad," "A Sojourner," "A Foreign Investor," "An Illegal Alien" and so on, while the voice-over articulates their resistance to assimilation in the plural pronoun of "we":
Excellent at adaptation, we remain always our own communities. And we build miniaturized versions of China in different periods of its history with which a particular community identifies. In these cities within cities, time could be compressed, retraced, and anticipated with different idealized versions of the motherland, including all the various guises and incarnations she has ever adopted, an re-enactment of her history spread out in space.
This act of creation resonates and juxtaposes with the Australian Aboriginal creation myth that runs throughout the video with constant disruptions -- a myth that ends with a longing for rxeturn to the ancestors' home. Maintaining and recreating an ethnic culture at the periphery of the dominant culture, Ma suggests, is simultaneously an articulation of nostalgia, a recreation of a diasporic community, and a resistance to assimilation.
- In narrating the experiences of the displaced and deterritorialized subjects, Ma breaks away from reevaluating the master narratives as a prerequisite of self-representation, in order to escape fixed subject positions within binary discourses. With this escape, he enters what Trinh calls "no master territories" where "the return to a denied heritage allows one to start again with different re-departures, different pauses, different arrivals" (When the Moon Waxes Red 9, 14). The "myth(s) of creation" in Ma's video suggest that despite the diasporic subjects' attachment to their native land, their re-inventions of cultures have not only crossed national and cultural boundaries, but have also transgressed the ideological boundaries of the nation-state drawn on the basis of ideological unity, of a common language, of racial and ethnic purity, and of patriarchal heterosexuality. In the worlds of the diasporic subjects in Ma's video, English words are juxtaposed with Chinese characters; the English subtitles are accompanied by sign language; male and female voices with different English accents are mixed with voices in Spanish; the "insurmountable sadness" of exile is articulated along with homosexual desire. Such heterogeneous multiplicity and diversity constitute another form of resistance to hegemony. Moreover, the multiple categories of difference in Ma's video are not represented as oppositions -- the kind of difference which Trihn deplores as the "apartheid-type of difference" that essentializes racial and sexual difference "to exert power." Rather, Ma explores the possibilities of using difference "as a tool of creativity"(Trinh's phrase, When the Moon Waxes Red 150), and as a form of subversion that undermines and transforms essentialist constructions of the nation-state on the basis of racial purity, cultural origins, masculine patriarchy, and normative heterosexuality. In this respect, Myth(s) of Creation shares much in common with Fung's Dirty Laundry, though it differs from the latter in both content and style.
- Indeed both Fung and Ma insist on representing the body and sexuality as part of the social formations of race, gender, and the nation-state. Their articulation of homosexual desire addresses the current concerns of Asian American critics about the naturalization of sexuality and race, and the privileging of sexuality over other identity categories. Yukiko Hanawa, for instance, has noted that "One by-product of the attempt to 'discover' the genealogy of Asian lesbians and gays is to both naturalize and neutralize the racialized subject that Asians in America are" (481). On a different note, Gayatri Gopinath observes that "some recent attempts to consider the imbrication of discourses of nationalism and women's sexuality still presume the heterosexuality of the female subject." She adds that "By failing to examine the existence and workings of alternative sexualities within dominant nationalisms, such analyses leave intact hegemonic constructions of the nation as essentially heterosexual" (469). Similarly, Jasbir K. Puar in an essay, "South Asian (Trans)nation(alism)s and Queer Diasporas," contends that "Queer diasporas are not immune from forms of cultural nationalism; in fact, they may even rely on them" (410). As such, Puar contends, "a diaspora could simply be yet another multiculturalist version of a disciplinary incorporative moment of the state [. . .]. This construction of diaspora may not effectively function as a transnational alternative to local/global binary thinking, in that it reconstitutes, rather than exposes, the nation" (409).
- Fung and Ma are keenly aware of the "traps" of binarism and have sought to expose its effects, and to escape its framework. Rather than re-inscribing hegemonic ideologies in articulating homosexuality and diaspora, they disrupt the production of knowledge by power, while investigating the deployment of power in the construction of identities of race, gender, culture, sexuality, and nationality. Their respective representations of homosexuality and the diasporic subjects foreground the conceptual and methodological premise which David Eng and Alice Hom emphasize as a fundamental basis for queer studies: "our very epistemological conception of what it is to be queer cannot be understood without a serious consideration of how social differences such as race constitute our cognitive perceptions of a queer world, how sexual and racial difference come into existence only in relation to one another" (12). The historically specific and theoretically informed representations of Asians and Asian Americans in Fung and Ma's videos offer an alternative to the binary paradigm of Asian American self-representation which re-inscribes hegemonic ideologies.
- Rather than privileging narratives of diaspora over those of immigration, the videos by Fung and Ma point to the necessity of critical intervention by analyzing, decoding, and critiquing categories of race, gender, nation, and sexuality. A sustained analytical and theoretical deconstruction of these categories are particularly pertinent in the current debates on the paradigm shifts in Asian American studies. Indeed Dirty Laundry, Chinese Characters, Toc Storee, and Myth(s) of Creation participate in shifting the critical paradigms in Asian American studies from a heterosexual rhetoric and nationalist cultural identity politics to much broadened and complicated concepts of and methodologies for investigating and re-inventing identities in the transnational historical contexts of immigration and diaspora. In other words, Fung and Ma's respective works indicate a profound development in Asian American studies and cultural productions -- a development that cannot be fully understood only in terms of the polarized impulses of "claiming America" and "writing diaspora." The 1998 anthology, Q & A: Queer in Asian America, edited by Eng and Hom illustrates that in recent years a complex theoretical and critical framework has been developed at the intersections of Asian American studies, queer studies, and postcolonial studies. While the videos and critical writings by Richard Fung and Ming-Yuen S. Ma contribute to this development, they also demand a non-binary framework for analysis of their mode of Asian American cultural productions.
I wish to thank the editors of this special issue for their valuable suggestions.
For a review of the "paradigm shift" in Asian American studies, see King-Kok Cheung's introduction, "Re-viewing Asian American Literary Studies," to An Interethnic Companion to Asian American Literature, 2-10. Back
In her provocative 1996 essay, "The Fiction of Asian American Literature," Susan Koshy discusses the problems in Sau-Ling Wong's "framing of false oppositions (between what [Wong] calls 'domestic' and 'diasporic' perspectives, and between politics and theory) [. . .]" (350-41). Koshy notes the "theoretical weakness" in Asian American literary criticism, and calls for new conceptions and methodologies which can meet the challenges of profound transformations of Asian America, as a result of development in transnational economic, political, and cultural structures." David Palumbo-Liu's recent book, Asian/American: Historical Crossings of a Racial Frontier (1999), suggests an alternative methodology to the binary framework, while investigating the dynamic interactions between the global and the local. Back
See for instance, Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, "Denationalization Reconsidered: Asian American Cultural Criticism at a Theoretical Crossroads," Amerasia Journal 21.1&2 (1995): 1-27; Shirley Geok-lin Lim, "Immigration and Diaspora" 289-91; Jinqi Ling "Identity Crisis and Gender Politics" 312-37; King-kok Cheung, "Of Men and Men" 173-99; and Sheng-mei Ma 24-39. Back
I am indebted to Floyd Cheung for calling my attention to Theodore Roosevelt's justification of American imperialism by engendering racial identities. Back
See Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung, Island Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1993. Back
For Richard Fung's critique of Asian Night , see "Looking for My Penis," 154-57. Back
Ming-Yuen S. Ma, e-mail to the author, 8 Oct. 1999. Back
Ma, e-mail to the author, 20 Oct. 1999. Back
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