Literary Identity/Cultural Identity:
Being Chinese in the Contemporary World

Essay by Arif Dirlik[ * ]

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September 2013)

World Map displaying density map of Chinese literature origins


Recent work on the mapping of Chinese literatures offers telling testimonial to the demographic and power reconfigurations at work in a changing world situation, their conceptual and political challenges, and their impact on national and ethnic self-identification. I have in mind such works as: Global Chinese Literature: Critical Essays, edited by Jing Tsu and David Der-wei Wang (2010); a special issue of the Asian American periodical, Amerasia, “Towards a Third Literature: Chinese Writing in the Americas,” edited by Evelyn Hu-DeHart, Russell Leong, and Ning Wang (2012); Shu-mei Shih’s (2007) Visuality and Identity: Sinophone Articulations Across the Pacific; a volume Shih co-edited with Chien-hsin Tsai and Brian Bernards (2013) with evidently canonical aspirations, Sinophone Studies: A Critical Reader; and finally a special issue of Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (IACS), “Asian American Studies in Asia” (2012). These works do not necessarily reject the modern convention that presupposes mutual constitution of nation and literature, but they are informed by a sense of “cultural complexity,” in Ulf Hannerz’s (1992) term, that calls for recognition of cultural spaces beyond and within the nation that subvert the integrity of national cultural identity, including the identity of literature. Their differences over these issues are as revealing as the goals they have in common.

My interest here is cultural dimension of these works and its implications for the field of literature and beyond. The identity of literature presented in these works is a national and ethnic-cultural identity—namely, what constitutes Chinese literature. The IACS special issue extends the question of identity to other Asians as well. The question leads ultimately to issues of the identities of of authors and readers (which receives surprisingly little attention), the locations they hail from, cultural affinities, and, above all, language. Of particular interest is what these mappings of literature have to say about issues of space and place, which in turn reveal assumptions about history and structure in the making and understanding of cultural identity.

These works and the mappings they offer are products of a new sense of the transnationalization of Chinese populations and cultural practices. Designations such as global, Sinophone, “third space,” and “between nations and across the ocean” represent alternative conceptualizations of “Chinese” spaces that accommodate transnationalization. As with other populations subjected to the forces of globalization, however, this Chinese transnationality brings in its wake a compelling sense of difference—most important, differences of place, cultural practice, including language, and multiplicity of social differences as well. As a consequence, the reconstruction of “Chinese” spaces appears at one and the same time as their deconstruction. To make matters more complicated, the disposition of difference is subject to struggles over hegemony instigated by the reconfiguration of global power relations. What distinguishes these competing mappings, ultimately, is not the spatial scope implied by their terminology or differences over the cultural dynamics of “Chineseness,” on which they mostly agree, but their stance over issues of hegemony. In the end, what is thrown into question is the very idea of “Chineseness” as it is appropriated for conflicting ideological and cultural orientations.[ 1 ]

Book cover for Global Chinese LiteratureIn their introduction to Global Chinese Literature, Jing Tsu and David Wang (2010: 1) concisely sum up these issues in the mapping of Chinese literatures and cultures:

We choose the title “global Chinese literature” for this volume in full awareness of its various settings, temporalities, omissions, and contradictions. Our aim is to make explicit the conceptual, historical, linguistic, and geographical tensions that occasion the emergence of Sinophone literature (huayu yuxi wenxue). In our view, the point of departure is best staged at the gathering of consensus as well as dissensus among multiple disciplinary perspectives, each born from a different academic context and its created audience.

In a similar vein, Hu-DeHart and Leong (2012: iv) qualify their proposal for a “literature of the Americas” with the stipulation that “by the late-twentieth and early twenty-first centuries . . . Chinese outside of China had become cosmopolitan and globalized on different levels, with their attendant literary and cultural identities taking on diverse forms, including ‘multicultural’ and ‘pluralistic’ forms in liberal democracies, or in postcolonial forms in the nations of Central and Latin America.” By bringing together in the volume “diverse writings, written in English, Spanish, or Chinese,” the editors hope to “open a window into Sino-American and Latin American relations, and, perhaps most importantly, document the independent intellectual and political positions the Chinese outside of China have taken and continue to take, in the global arena” (xiv). In their contribution to this same volume, Wen Jin and Liu Daxian (2012: 45) write with astute irony that, “in the ongoing search for the proper terminology for Chinese diasporic and transnational writings, ‘Chinese Writing in the Americas’ appears to have surfaced as a good solution, a solution that refuses the very logic of finding solutions.” “Chinese writing in the Americas,” the authors continue, “groups certain writings provisionally, while avoiding the imposition upon them of a certain ‘essence’” (45).

Place-difference appears most prominently and persistently in Shu-mei Shih’s various writings as a fundamental defining feature of her particular version of the Sinophone. She writes in her contribution to Global Chinese Literature that “the Sinophone is a place-based, everyday practice and experience, and thus it is a historical formation that constantly undergoes transformation to reflect local needs and conditions” (Shih 2010a: 39). In a more recent essay, published inSinophone Studies, Shih offers further elaboration:

Sinophone studies allows us to rethink the relationship between roots and routes by considering the conceptions of roots as place-based rather than ancestral or routes as a more mobile conception of home-ness rather than wandering and homelessness. To decouple home-ness and origin is to recognize the imperative of living as a political subject within a particular geopolitical place in a specific time with deep local commitments. (Shih 2013: 38)

Indeed, the essays in Sinophone Studies are notable for their questioning of homogenized notions of “Chineseness.”[ 2 ] Similarly, in their choice of case studies, the editors draw on literary production in diverse locations across the Pacific, with subject matter ranging from issues of national and regional to women’s, ethnic, and indigenous literatures, including the literature of “colonized” minority groups within the PRC. As with the theoretical essays, most of these case studies display the influence of questions associated with postcolonial criticism. Indeed, the Sinophone appears here as little more than the application of the postcolonial to Chinese literature—and not necessarily to literature in the Chinese language either.

Book cover for Sinophone StudiesWe need to bear in mind, however, that these works are more about spaces than places. The stress on place-differences is crucial to resisting hegemonic homogenizations of culture. But space in turn is indispensable to comprehending place-differences, as well as the social and cultural differences that go into the making of places; the latter draw their ecological, political, social, and cultural configurations not only from within but from their placement within larger spaces, identified in modern conventions with networks of relationships that comprise the nation, and are conditioned in turn by its organizational and cultural self-conception and imperatives. Informed by demographic transformations and cultural transnationalism that recent globalization has instigated, these works offer alternative spatializations that seek to transcend national boundaries in new configurations. As Tsu and Wang suggest in the quotation cited above, “academic context and its created audience” play no little part in the construction of space. More important, it is significant that places in these spatializations no longer derive their meaning only or even primarily from the nation but from processes and perspectives that are transnational. The question here is whether or not these new spatializations erase or marginalize the place-differences they seem to uphold with the imposition of new unities or commonalities that are the premise of any idea of space? It is a question oddly missing from most of these discussions.

At its broadest, the new space of Chineseness is global, as is indicated in the title of the volume edited by Tsu and Wang. Global in this usage needs to be understood metaphorically. Its importance lies not in its reference to the globe as a whole, but to the removal of preconceived boundaries that delimit the space of analysis. The space they have in mind is unrestricted in its inclusiveness. As they say of their understanding of “Sinophone writing,” nationality does not determine the geographical parameters of Sinophone writing.

Geographical location, moreover, is no more fixed than the place of origin. To use what Edward Soja once said about the study of urban geography, the space of urban geography, the space of diaspora may be more instructively thought of as a malleable space, created by new social relations, rather than as a geometric, inert “container” that does not come under the influence of such relations. Thus looking at Sinophone writing as an interaction between the production of literatures and moving agents, one might subject the narrative of customary disciplinary divides and national literary histories to similar shifts. More important than the coinage of new terms is the creation of new dialogues among the fields of area studies, Asian American studies, and ethnic studies. (Tsu/Wang 2010: 3).

The essays in this collection are conceptual in orientation, mostly exploring problems presented by the idea of the Sinophone from a variety of spatial and disciplinary perspectives. With the conspicuous exception of Shih, the editors and most contributors to the volume use Sinophone in a denotative sense, referring to Chinese language speech and writing. The contributions by Shih and Sau-ling Wong are the only ones to address the question of place directly, although the issue of locatedness appears in most of the essays. Wong’s contribution is particularly significant because she long has stressed the importance of place in Asian American literature against its erasure in diasporic and transnational orientations. A rare scholar in her use of Chinese-language literature in Chinese American literary studies, she raises in this essay a question crucial to the notion of place that revealingly receives little attention in the discussion of place and language in these volumes—namely, the implications for place-consciousness of excessive emphasis on the global and the Sinophone. She writes,

This essay examines Sinophone literature outside China in the context of China’s preoccupation with quanqiu. As an Asian Americanist who has been teaching and researching both Anglophone Chinese American literature and Sinophone Chinese American literature since the 1980s, I am curious about the implications of shifting nomenclature for Chinese American literary studies, especially the transition from shijie huawen wenxue to shijie huaren wenxue, which I translate as “world literature in Chinese” and “world literature by Chinese” respectively. . . . I note the uneasy coexistence, under a shared “global” rubric, of nuanced, heterogeneity-respecting criticism from China and essentialist discourse that seeks to level differences in the name of a triumphalist “Chineseness.” (Wong 2010: 49-50)

I will return below to further discussion of the distinctions Wong offers, and their implications for questions of place and hegemony.

Hu-DeHart and Leong offer a similarly unbounded and malleable space, although their idea of “third literature” (or more broadly, “third space”) is indeed delimited by “academic context and its created audience.” “Third space” is intended to overcome the opposition between native (meaning US-born) and immigrant (or diasporic) in Asian American writing.[ 3 ] They believe that “forming a third space for Chinese literature of the Americas would address . . . concerns around limiting experience and its telling to the works of native-born speakers, while excluding new immigrant writers, for example, or blindly viewing immigrant writing in the Americas as ‘diasporic,’ deriving its meaning solely from an original ancestral Asian homeland” (Hu-DeHart/Leong 2012: ix). The volume seeks to achieve this goal in two ways. One set of essays address the work of Ha Jin, a distinguished immigrant writer writing in English “who most saliently captures the complications of identity, literature, language and politics facing a Chinese American immigrant writer today.”[ 4 ] The other set seeks to offset the monopolization of “America” for the US by discussions of Spanish American fiction, including, interestingly, translation into both English and Chinese of a short martial arts story by Siu Kam Wen originally written in Spanish. Other essays in the volume extend the discussions across the Pacific with contributions by specialists in Asian American studies from Taiwan and the PRC. Particularly noteworthy is a discussion of the Yi minority scholar-poet Aku Wuwu from the PRC and his interactions with native American writers, made possible, interestingly, by the distinguished anthropologist Stevan Harrell from the University of Washington.

Book cover for Towards a Third LiteratureThe no-solution solution Wen Jin and Liu Daxian remarked upon aptly captures the orientation that informs the volume, which seeks to affirm a transnational space (or spaces) without compromising the commitment to place, at least not intentionally. As veterans of the Asian American movement and with ongoing commitment to building local communities both for Asian Americans and across ethnic groups, the editors are keenly aware of the contradictions between place and transnationality. As founding editor of Amerasia for more than three decades, Leong has consistently been mindful of this tension, and sought to keep the commitment to community in the foreground while opening the journal to transnational connections. Hu-DeHart was until recently practically the only Asian American scholar to deal with Hispanic Latin Americans of Asian origin. The third space they envision is a space of “consciousness” intended to preserve openness to other communities of Chinese without undermining local differences and commitments.

And yet “Chinese writing in the Americas” conveys a strong impression of the “uneasy coexistence” in Sau-ling Wong’s diagnosis “of nuanced, heterogeneity-respecting criticism from China and essentialist discourse that seeks to level differences in the name of a triumphalist “Chineseness.” This is not just due to intangible factors such as the tone of the contributions and the apparent privileging of the “Chinese” and the diasporic in most of the contributions. As in the case of all these studies, the volume brings together scholars from the US, Taiwan, and the PRC. The main difference may lie in the assignment of the rather privileged theoretical introduction to a PRC scholar, Wang Ning, and the insistent intrusion of “Chineseness” in his analysis that does not deny Chinese Americans their “Americanness” but seeks to draw them closer to the PRC not just as a matter of ancestry but in service to its global aspirations. Wang’s discussion eschews distinctions between native and immigrant or diasporic that justify the formulation of a “third literature,” but includes both in the designation Asian American. The discussion suggests that if the immigrant may be assimilated to the native, the procedure also allows for a reverse assimilation of the native to the immigrant. It is difficult to tell which group he is referring to when he writes that, “Chinese who live outside of China are struggling for their lives in this global age in which their identity has undergone a sort of splitting: on the one hand, these writers have both Chinese blood and faces; on the other hand, they cannot speak, read, or write Chinese for the most part” (Wang 2012: xv-xvi). The latter part of the statement surely is more applicable to “native” Asian Americans than to writers such as Ha Jin who write in English by choice, or because they cannot publish their works in the PRC. Wang, moreover, speaks not just of identity formation under globalization but of the necessity of the “(re)construction of Chinese identities in a global age,” which aptly captures what may in fact be the processes at work. The reference to “Chinese blood and faces” is an instance of what Sau-ling Wong (2010: 56) has described as “genocentrism,” which is a more technical way of referring to the racialization of Chinese and other populations in the course of their globalization.” Despite their cultural distance from their origins, therefore, Chinese American writers in Wang Ning’s (2012: xvii) formulation represent “a sub-stream of both Chinese literature and American literature.” Addressing his remarks as much to an imaginary PRC as to an English-language readership, Wang writes that,

international Chinese literature studies will become, like its counterpart in English, a sub-discipline within the context of comparative and world literature. In this way, we will appreciate all the more the great efforts made by Chinese American writers who have helped promote Chinese culture and literature worldwide, pushing it closer and closer to the mainstream of world literature. (xxi)

The issue of hegemony appears throughout Global Chinese Literature but most prominently in the introduction and the contributions by Jing Tsu, Shu-mei Shih, and Sau-ling Wong. It is also the subject of the concluding commentary on the volume by Eric Hayot in an extended discussion of “Chineseness,” with reference to the tendency of some PRC scholars to claim “real” Chineseness for mainlanders while denying it to Chinese outside of the PRC. His anecdotal introduction to the problem recalls “an otherwise lovely dinner earlier this year” where “I listened to a senior scholar of Chinese literature tell the rest of the table that Shu-mei Shih’s recent arguments about the Sinophone should be considered in light of the fact that Shih grew up mostly in South Korea and Taiwan, and therefore she wasn’t ‘really’ Chinese” (Hayot 2010: 219). The senior scholar’s attitude is a widespread one, not just among scholars but the Mainland population in general, directed not only at Chinese minority populations overseas, but to Chinese from other “Chinese” majority societies such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. It no doubt derives some legitimation, we may add, from a global tendency to identify China and Chinese with the Han mainland as a matter of everyday language and official discourse.[ 5 ]

Questions of authenticity aside, the scholar’s remarks about Shih are not to be dismissed offhand unless we are prepared to claim that there is no connection between ideas and ideologies and the location and experience of their authors. If Shih’s version of the Sinophone is not to be attributed with addlebrained reductionism to her South Korean and Taiwanese origins, it is difficult to imagine that her formulation of the Sinophone could be authored by a mainlander, scholar or otherwise. The relationship of Chinese Overseas to the PRC is the central question raised in her particular version of the Sinophone. The relationship she posits is not complimentary to the PRC. The question of hegemony she raises, moreover, is likely appreciated most directly by Chinese Overseas, which accounts for the widespread attention to place-differences in all the works discussed here, as well as the enthusiastic reception given to her work, which has benefited from “a new diasporic politics” that has arisen out of “strong objection to the dominance of mainland nationalism” (Tsu 2010: 110).

In his contribution to Global Chinese Literature, Tee Kim Tong offers a critical survey of the different senses of the term Sinophone as it has been used in literary studies since the 1980s. The term has acquired currency over the last decade, not just among literary scholars but also among historians of minority populations in the PRC as well as those seeking a more inclusive term that would transcend in scope the term “Chinese” that is not only identified with a national unit but also foregrounds the Han ethnic majority.[ 6 ] In an intervention calling for a “new Sinology,” Geremie Barmé published in 2005 an essay by that title that called for “robust engagement with contemporary China” and indeed with the Sinophone

world in all of its complexity, be it local, regional or global. It affirms a conversation and intermingling that also emphasizes strong scholastic underpinnings in both the classical and modern Chinese language and studies, at the same time as encouraging an ecumenical attitude in relation to a rich variety of approaches and disciplines, whether they be mainly empirical or more theoretically inflected. In seeking to emphasize innovation within Sinology by recourse to the word ‘new’, it is nonetheless evident that I continue to affirm the distinctiveness of Sinology as a mode of intellectual inquiry.

world in all of its complexity, be it local, regional or global. It affirms a conversation and intermingling that also emphasizes strong scholastic underpinnings in both the classical and modern Chinese language and studies, at the same time as encouraging an ecumenical attitude in relation to a rich variety of approaches and disciplines, whether they be mainly empirical or more theoretically inflected. In seeking to emphasize innovation within Sinology by recourse to the word ‘new’, it is nonetheless evident that I continue to affirm the distinctiveness of Sinology as a mode of intellectual inquiry.

He stresses later in the essay that “implicit in the inquiry of ‘New Sinology’ then is an abiding respect for written and spoken forms of Chinese as these have evolved over the centuries.”[ 7 ]

Barmé’s emphasis on “sinology” may not be shared by all, but it is the same “denotative” and inclusive sense in which the term appears in most usages, including by the editors of Global Chinese Literature. The reconstruction of China in global, transnational, and, importantly, translocal spaces has been motivated by deconstructive goals: to “de-nationalize” and “de-sinicize” Chinese language literature (Tsu 2010: 110). In linguistic studies, this has appeared in the deconstruction of “Chinese” or Sinophone into idiolects or, in Victor Mair’s (1991) term, “topolects.” “Sinophone” is taken by most of its advocates as a better term to express this simultaneous commonality and difference than the term “Chinese,” which is closely identified by both Chinese and non-Chinese with the Han nationality, with alleged attributes so persistent that they are barely distinguishable, if at all, from racial characteristics.

The distinguishing feature of Shih’s use of “Sinophone” in this discursive field is the exclusion of PRC literary products from the Sinophone. Her deployment of the term was inspired initially by her colleague and collaborator Francoise Lionnet’s (2009) interventions in debates on French and Francophone that were entangled in issues of nationalism, colonialism, and diversity in the identity of literature. Shih (2007) has pursued advocacy of her version of Sinophone with missionary zeal since the publication of Visuality and Identity: Sinophone Articulations Across the Pacific, where she first broached it. Over the last half decade, she has added new dimensions to the scope of the Sinophone to accommodate the alternative uses of the term referred to above. But despite criticism of her exclusion of PRC literary work from the Sinophone, she has held fast to her position.[ 8 ] As she puts it in her most recent publication, “I coin the term Sinophone to designate Sinitic-language cultures and communities outside China as well as those ethnic communities within China, where Sinitic languages are either forcefully imposed or willingly adopted. The Sinophone, like the history of other nonmetropolitan peoples who speak metropolitan and/or colonial languages, has a colonial history” (Shih 2013: 30).

Book cover for Visuality and IdentityAnother distinction Shih may justly claim is her attentiveness to theoretical questions drawn from colonial/postcolonial studies. She herself claims only to have added “critical valence and historical specificity” to an existing theoretical field in which “many scholars, thinkers, and writers had expressed ideas and sentiments akin to what are now more critically and historically envisioned as Sinophone studies” (Shih/Tsai/Bernards 2013: ix). The question this raises, of course, is that this prior theorization, much of it produced in the 1990s, owes little to the term “Sinophone” or the theoretical claim Shih makes for it, but was, like “Sinophone” itself, a product of a changing global situation. To recall an observation I offered above, it is significant that the volumes discussed here, fromGlobal Chinese Literature to “Third Literature” to Sinophone Studies,” are more or less interchangeable in content, but are branded with different appellations in the different volumes, depending on editors’ inclinations. Those inclinations may point to different political, ideological, and cultural orientations, but they indicate that the themes taken up (be they women’s literature, ethnicity, indigenism, diaspora, etc.) are not generated by the terms applied to them. Rather, the different appellations point to different “strategies of containment” of more or less similar sets of issues.[ 9 ] Perhaps this is what Tsu and Wang (2010: 3) have in mind when they state that “the creation of new dialogues” may be more important than “the coinage of new terms.”

Still, how these theoretical issues are deployed does have consequences. I will return to the issue of diaspora by way of conclusion, as it does present a central question in the reconstruction of Chinese identities and societies. I also happen to think that while controversial in the Chinese self-image, there is much to be gained from the application of the paradigm of colonialism to Chinese nationalism—both to the Han as settler colonialists within or without China, or to the colonized minorities within.

One question that needs some comment here is that of “places,” which appears prominently in Shih’s version of the Sinophone, and which bears directly on the question of new hegemonies in the reconstruction of Chinese cultural identities.[ 10 ] For all her stress on places, Shih strikes me as being quite oblivious to the implications of the Sinophone for places. The question here involves the multiplicity of languages in local literary production, which is raised in the works discussed above, most insistently in the essay by Sau-ling Wong as well as the volume edited by Leong and Hu-DeHart, but also by Tee Kim Tong. Shih is no doubt correct when she observes a tendency to the marginalization of Chinese language writing in Asian American literature. But the stress on a Sinophone that is oblivious to the multiplicity of languages is equally problematic when it comes to issues of place.[ 11 ]

If place as concept is to be more than a cliché, the construction of place (or place-making) calls for closer theoretical attention to the interaction of different language communities within the same ethnicity, as well as the relationship of the languages of any one ethnic group to those of others (say, Asian Americans in general, not to speak of the larger environment in which they live). It is indeed the case that an exclusive emphasis on Anglophone Chinese literature in the past has marginalized the Sinophone. A place-based Sinophone needs to be comprehended (and theorized) in terms of its articulation to the multiplicity of its linguistic environment in different locations, and not just to an abstract “Sino-sphere.”[ 12 ] The latter, contrary to the author’s stated intentions, ends up diasporizing Chinese places in a linguistic reification of “Chineseness.” If there is anything to be said for the “affective affinity” that scholars such as Shan Te-hsing have spoken of with reference to “Chineseness” across spaces, through the medium of language or other cultural commonalities, it is the case also between different ethnicities brought together in places. It is, to say the least, challenged by transnationalization in the fragmentation of places: the deployment of “affective affinity” in the construction of transnational ethnicity is at odds with the inter-ethnic “affective affinity” crucial to place-making, with potentially divisive consequences.[ 13 ]

Similarly, as both Tsu and Tee point out in the discussions cited above, the relationship between Chinese Overseas and China is not a relationship between a nation and its nationals abroad, but a translocal relationship between places, both in terms of social and cultural traffic and in terms of language. The deconstructive implications of these relationships are quite significant: places are important not only among Chinese overseas but in the constitution of China itself. The idiolects and topolects linguists speak of, similarly, are fundamental features of the Sinophone conceived inclusively. To separate “China” out and exclude it from the sphere of the Sinophone not only undermines a defining characteristic of diasporic Chinese populations, but also leaves unfinished the job both of deconstruction and reconstruction.[ 14 ]There may be much to be learned in this respect from the application of the metaphor of place to PRC literary production, as Franco Moretti did, for example, with the European novel (Moretti 1998). The question is very much worth pondering.

The issue of hegemony, as a broader issue in US-Asia relations, is also the subject of the IACS volume about which I have said little so far. While not strictly about Chinese literature, in the breadth of its coverage this volume further underlines the struggles over hegemony in literary studies in scholarship and more broadly the organization of scholarship on Asians that places issues of Chinese literary studies in a broader spatial and geopolitical perspective. Not the least important aspect of the collection are the questions it raises concerning the hegemonic implications of methodological choice. Wang Ning and other PRC scholars are not alone in staking claims to Asian American studies. The reconstruction of Chinese identities Wang alludes to is suffused with the ethos of PRC cultural aspirations to globality. It is not therefore just a nationalist fantasy; it is as much a reality of changes triggered by the most recent round of globalization as it is about the designation of an imaginary “third space” to accommodate the social and cultural pressures of diaspora. The “third space,” moreover, is not just metaphorical. It derives its plausibility and force ultimately from materially grounded exchanges that range from the economic to the academic. The essays gathered in this special issue were garnered from conferences on Asian American studies in Taiwan and the PRC. Asian American writers have benefited from the Chinese-language publication of their works in Taiwan and the PRC. And, perhaps most intriguingly for a community oriented academic discipline, Asian American studies are in the process of deterritorialization and “Asianization” with the establishment of “Asian American studies in Asia.” The “roots” that the Asian American movement claimed in its origins to force recognition of the citizenship that had been denied to them because of their “Asiatic” differences have, maybe not so surprisingly, turned under pressure of these changes into “routes” back to “Asia.”[ 15 ]

This redirection of Asian American studies is indeed the purpose of the special issue of IACS, “Asian American Studies in Asia,” which proposes to “re-orient Asian American studies through Asia as a geo-historical nexus and interactive plurality” (Chih-ming Wang 2012: 165). While not explicitly concerned with issues of space and place, there is nevertheless an implied space informing the contributions that is captured in the title of the editor’s introduction: “between nations and across the ocean.” The nations in question are Japan, Korea, and Taiwan in their relationship to the US across the Pacific, more or less the “Pacific Rim” in its early formulations in the 1970s and 1980s, minus Canada and the Philippines.

The volume is more interesting for what it says about transformations in intellectual and academic relationships across the Pacific than about Asian American studies here and there, however one might take those locations. It is unfortunate that rather than discuss the political and cultural forces that shape Asian American studies in different locations in “Asia,”[ 16 ] as the volume’s title promises, the contributions in the volume for the most part use Asian American studies in its birthplace as an excuse for criticism of US imperialism, hegemony, and orientalism. Indeed, in one of the contributions, US Cold War imperialism and hegemony serve as an excuse for including in “Asian American Studies” an analysis of a book primarily on intra-Asian migration in Taiwan that stretches Asian American studies beyond recognition, which the editor seems to acknowledge, somewhat obliquely, as “differing from the normative subject of Asian American studies” but therefore challenging and problematizing “such normative categories as ‘Asian American’ and ‘modernity.’”[ 17 ] This reader cannot but wonder if it is the conceptualization of Asian American studies that justified the inclusion of such a piece in the volume, or the inclusion for whatever reason that drives the conceptualization.[ 18 ] In either case, the inclusion may say something about forces shaping Asian American studies in “Asia,” in this case Taiwan.

Several of the contributors to the volume are products of Asian American studies programs in the US, and no doubt are quite aware that Asian American studies and its orientations to “Asia” have been the subject of much criticism and debate in its unfolding as a discipline. What constitutes Asia, who is to be included in that category, how to reconcile Asian differences in the formation of an Asian American movement or scholarly undertaking in an environment in which they were brought together are fundamental questions that Asian Americans have had to struggle with, and still do, now within the context of changing relationships between the US and “Asian” societies. Orientalism, too, has been a problem, especially with the first generation of Asian American scholars who were neither scholars of Asia nor had any direct experience with the region they made into a marker of their identity by virtue of ancestral origin. If Asian American scholars such as Sau-ling Wong and King-kok Cheung struck some as “over bearing” in their “Asian” overseas visits over issues of race and ethnicity, as one contributor avers, it may indeed be due to their unawareness of struggles over such issues in Taiwan or Japan (Nakamura 2012). Or it may be due, for better or worse, to the unequaled salience of those issues in US politics and culture. None of this, however, justifies the invocation of Gayatri Spivak as an alibi in support of the allegation that Asian Americans are unaware of or oblivious to the “vastness,” “complexity,” “heterogeneity” or “interactive plurality” of “Asia,” when the statements attributed to her are about the exploitation of Asians in US multiculturalisms and model minority myths, no doubt with the complicity of some Asians. It may be noteworthy that both Gayatri Spivak and Lisa Yoneyama, who provides the concluding warning not just against US hegemony but Asian American complicity in neoliberalism, are American scholars of “Asian” origins, though I am not sure whether they carry US passports or green cards (Yoneyama 2012). At any rate, even perfunctory perusal of a periodical like Amerasia Journal should provide ready evidence that much of this criticism rests on selected evidence and reductionist generalization.

Put bluntly, the criticisms directed at Asian American studies and scholars in these contributions come down to one fundamental issue: their Americanness. “Asianizing” (“re-orienting”) Asian American studies is the stated goal of the volume, which implies re-viewing it through the lens of “Asia as method,” an idea floated by the Japanese scholar Takeuchi Yoshimi in 1960 that has found an enthusiastic proponent in Chen Kuan-hsing in recent years. Chen provides the concluding essay to the volume, and “Asia as method” is cited repeatedly by the contributors as a means of overcoming US methodological hegemony.[ 19 ]It is not clear from the analyses, however, if “Asia” provides a method or simply a perspective. Perspectives from Asia are important to be sure, but it is a mystery to me how “Asia as method” may claim responsibility for the criticism of hegemony or orientalism. Indeed, there is some irony to the use of the term itself in light of the protests in the volume against the reification of Asia by Asian Americans, among others. The notable exception is the discussion by Tee Kim Tong who delves in some depth to the analytical consequences of reading from Malaysian and Taiwanese perspectives.

To appreciate the significance of the mappings proposed in these works, it is necessary to view the questions they raise in historical perspective. The perspective I take up in this discussion is that of Chinese Americans. One reason for my choice is some familiarity with the unfolding of Asian American studies, having served for nearly two decades on the editorial board of the premier publication in the field,Amerasia Journal. But there is another reason as well, in my opinion a more important one. A product of the 1960s movements in the US for ethnic self-assertion and demands for full citizenship both politically and within universities, the apparent tilt toward Asia in Asian American studies presently offers revealing insights into changes in the topography of Chinese and other Asian populations as well as their intellectual and affective orientations. The IACS special issue on “Asian American Studies in Asia” offers eloquent evidence that Asian American Studies is no longer just American but also Asian; as the issue editor puts it, the goal of the special issue is “reorienting Asian American studies through Asia as a geo-historical nexus and interactive plurality” (Chih-ming Wang 2012: 165).

Less obvious but no less significant, the authors and editors of the works I focus on here are all residents of the US. I am not sure in some cases how these scholars identify themselves. Changes in the US in recent years have led to another identity term, “America-based Chinese.”[ 20 ] The terms “Asian American” or “Chinese American” were all along blurred around the edges. Ambiguities about belonging were not eliminated when postcolonial studies endowed with positive valence the term “hybridity” which long had suggested an undesirable product inferior to its progenitors. The shift from “neither fully Chinese nor fully American” to “both American and Chinese” is quite significant but anxiety-ridden nevertheless. More immediately here, it is less certain than ever “where anyone is from.” However they may self-identify, the fact that US scholars of Asian origin are engaged in the construction of alternative Chinese spaces suggests a reinvention of self and history that is an unmistakable sign of a significant shift in identity-making.

While the mappings offered in these works may claim some novelty, the questions they grapple with have been around for some time. As I noted above, the works included in Sinophone Studies as theoretical alibi were all published in the 1990s. These works represented theoretical efforts to address issues of “Chineseness” within the context of globalization, which itself emerged as a problem during that decade. The theorization, moreover, was increasingly infused with the language of postcolonial criticism, which also acquired currency during this same period. In the case of Eastern Asian societies, the turn to globalization as a political and ideological concern was heralded from the late 1970s by the ascendancy of the Asia Pacific idea, already perceived by its promoters as a regional foundation for a globalizing world. The ultimate product of these developments would be the rise of the People’s Republic of China from the late 1990s, once the 1989 Tiananmen crisis had been weathered, and a decisive turn had been taken by the Deng Xiaoping leadership toward incorporation in a globalizing capitalist world economy. The rise of China, which has brought in its wake a new discourse of “the rise of Asia,” has been the immediate source of the new ferment over cultural identity among Chinese populations in particular but also more generally among Eastern “Asian” populations. As Tsu and Wang (2010: 5-6) put it, “as China continues to reestablish itself as a world power in the twenty-first century, the centripetal pull of its economic presence creates a renewed cultural gravitation.”

Mainland China is not just the physical origin and source of the roughly 50 million Chinese people who have settled elsewhere around the globe during roughly five centuries of overseas migration. It has also been their cultural center of gravity. But a revolutionary China that largely shut out the outside world for three decades after 1949 was only a remote and abstract cultural presence that did not permit easy cultural affiliation, especially for those who disagreed with its politics. PRC culture did not enter to any significant extent into the construction of cultural affinities in societies that the Chinese settlers had made their homes.

The postrevolutionary opening of the PRC, and its subsequent emergence as a global economic and political power, has triggered dramatic changes in the cultural self-identification of Chinese populations around the world. This is quite evident in the case of Chinese-Americans. When a self-consciously political and cultural Chinese-American literature appeared in the 1960s, its goal was to assert a Chinese presence in American literature. As part of a broader Asian-American movement informed by the ethnic liberation movements of the 1960s, this literature sought to overcome racist marginalization or exclusion by reaffirming Chinese “roots” as a source of pride rather than embarrassment. But its orientation was to carve out a social and cultural space in the society of arrival. The literary output that mattered was written in English. Few of the writers of this generation had access to the Chinese language, and literature written in Chinese by Chinese-Americans was ignored by all but a handful of scholars and cultural activists.

The last half century has witnessed a significant reorientation in the literary aspirations of Chinese Americans. There are, I think, two major reasons for this shift. One reason is change in demographic composition. Cultural activists of the 1960s were for the most part descendants of immigrants who had resided in the US for several generations and who had been insulated from their origins first by restrictive immigration laws and subsequently by the self-isolation of the PRC (60% of all the Chinese in the US as of 1960 were from a single county—Taishan—in Guangdong) (Hsu 2000). An important change in US immigration law in 1965 opened the way to a renewed influx of Chinese immigrants that would rapidly transform the ratio of foreign-born to native-born Chinese. During the decade of the 1960s, the Chinese population in the US doubled, mainly due to new immigration. This would become the pattern for subsequent decades. It drew additional impetus from the intensification of economic activity across the Pacific with the result that, as part of a surge in the Asian American population as a whole, foreign-born immigrants had by 1980 already come to outnumber US-born Chinese. Initially, most of the new immigration was from Taiwan, with fewer numbers from Hong Kong and other Chinese populations in Southeast Asia. With the reopening of the PRC after 1978, they were joined by immigrants from the PRC (including Hong Kong) who now constitute the largest share of Chinese immigrants. The number of Chinese Americans has increased over the last fifty years from nearly 240,000 in 1960 to somewhere around 3,350,000 in 2010. During the last decade, 700,000 immigrants from the PRC (including Hong Kong) were issued green cards. The demographic shift has transformed not only the composition of Chinese America but its cultural and linguistic profile as well. It has also reconnected descendants of US-born Chinese with other Chinese populations, most importantly with that of the PRC.

Secondly, the increase in PRC wealth and power has given unprecedented credibility to its claims to be not just the physical but also the cultural source of Chinese everywhere. Already in the 1960s, a new generation of Chinese radicalized by the movements of that decade had called for a shift in Chinese allegiance from the Republic to the People’s Republic of China. While the PRC’s turn to incorporation in capitalism after 1978 disappointed some among these radicals, the disappointment was more than compensated for by the increased visibility of the PRC, the new opportunities it offered to Chinese populations in the development of “the motherland,” and active efforts to court the Chinese overseas in the promotion of “Chinese” culture. If changes in demographic composition encouraged renewal of ties to the Chinese Mainland, the Mainland in turn has been more than willing to cultivate those ties in an effort to re-make Chinese populations into diasporic extensions of a new global Chinese nationalism.[ 21 ]

“China’s rise,” so-called, has empowered the globalization of claims to Chineseness, as well as interest in things Chinese. It is not to impugn these authors’ scholarship to suggest that under whatever sign, China scholarship like Chinese cultural production in general is very much in demand. New brandings that respond to changes at work in China and Asia are necessary for reorganizing academic work in teaching and research, as well as to market proliferating publication in these fields. Not the least important, a theoretical discourse that can claim “interdisciplinary” and “transnational” credentials is more marketable than a nation-based one at a time when these terms have become slogans of change in educational work and institutions. The reverse may also be the case: that comparative and interdisciplinary work has opened up new questions in the study of China and other Chinese societies.[ 22 ]

Re-configurations of economic and cultural power in eastern Asia as well as across the Pacific have created new pressures on the identities and self-identifications of Chinese populations globally. The PRC’s expanding gravitational field intensifies both pressures to re-sinicization and the urge to difference. Shifts in power across the Pacific have also emboldened calls for “Asianization”—not just from within but also among populations of Asian origins elsewhere. It is important to remember that most of the authors of the works discussed above are what Nakamura describes as “US based Asian” or “US-based Asian American” scholars—in other words, what has been described in postcolonial studies as “diasporics.” The question of place that appeared in the 1990s simultaneously with accumulating evidence of diasporic transnationalism has become more important even as places have become more fragile with the pull of global multiculturalism.[ 23 ]

In spite of their stands on the valorization of diasporas, Shih and Leong and Hu-Dehart in their arguments take diasporas as extensions of the national interests and cultures of origin. On these grounds, the one seeks to repudiate the term while the others try to accommodate it by articulating place to diasporas. In my understanding of postcolonial usage of the term, “disaporas”—whatever the merits of that reductionist term—are realms of fluidity and uncertainty. Stuart Hall, one of the progenitors of this usage, attributed to “the diaspora experience . . . the process of unsettling, recombination, hybridization, and ‘cut-and-mix’—in short, the process of cultural diaspora-ization (to coin an ugly term) which it implies” (Hall 1996: 447). The metaphor of “third space” as diasporic space has been popularized in postcolonial criticism (see Rutherford 1990). It is the space of dialogical encounters, oppositions and hybridizations, of people and spaces, including places. It is the space where essentialized notions of self and other are overcome. The hybridization of place is foremost in the minds of the contributors to “Towards a Third Literature: Chinese Writing in the Americas.” It is what Shih overlooks when she writes that “the Sinophone is a place-based, everyday practice and experience, and thus it is a historical formation that constantly undergoes transformation to reflect local needs and conditions” (Tsu/Wang 2010: 39). “Local needs and conditions” are significant to be sure, but so are translocal and diasporic pressures, to which the last three decades in the US bear eloquent witness.[ 24 ]

It is the fluidity of identity that makes diasporas into sites of struggle among their constituents in the places of origin, places of arrival, and the people in diaspora themselves.[ 25 ] To historicize our own present, the works discussed here are articulations of just such a struggle. It is to create out of the fluidities of the present new identities and identifications that suit interests and visions in conflict.

The other important aspect is the struggle over history. Shih is correct to point to places as the locations of history (see Dirlik 2002). On the other hand, place-based histories and identities are already recognized, even if they are rather misleadingly identified with national entities rather than with translocal social and linguistic relationships: Chinese literature, Taiwan literature, Hong Kong literature, Malaysian Chinese literature, Chinese American literature, etc. If there is any point to the Sinophone (or to any of the other alternatives discussed above) as a criterion for mapping literature and culture, it is to call for a spatiality that enables dialogue between different, place-based, histories in the creation of a new cosmopolitan space of “Chineseness.” While they all insist on the recognition of place-based differences, neither Shih nor the other authors discussed above delve very far into the implications for place-based histories and identities of the relationships they propose across spaces, structured by assumptions of linguistic or more broadly cultural affinity.

The contradictory relationship between place and space appears at one and the same time as a contradiction between history and structure: between the localizing demands of history and the deterritorialized pull of forces generated by economic, political, social and cultural transnationality. To take the case of Asian Americans, the Asian American Movement and Asian American Studies were born in struggles to establish history in the place of arrival. That history has been challenged as a source of identity by transnationalization and translocalization, which draw attention to the force of relations across spaces in the structuring of new identities. In the Sinophone dialogue they promote, these works are themselves part of the transformation they seek to comprehend. While they question the confinement of cultural identity by the nation-state, moreover, they open the door to a new kind of global trans-nationalism that is very much in keeping with cultural tendencies in contemporary global modernity. Whether or not a new history can be created out of “global relations” remains to be seen. Anthony Smith, the distinguished historian of nationalism known for his emphasis on the ethnic historical roots of nationalism, quipped somewhere that globalization has no history. Is a new history in the offing, arising out of Sinophone interactions across borders, including the borders of the PRC? Too early to say.

What needs guarding against, given the reality of cultural difference among “Chinese” populations, is the slippage of cultural commonality into “Chinese blood and faces” as the point of departure—what Sau-ling Wong describes as “genocentrism.” That would make for bad but also perilous history. It is a peril of our times to which none is immune. Perhaps a conglomeration of histories would serve better than the search for a single history in avoiding such an eventuality.

Arif Dirlik
Independent Scholar, Eugene, Oregon


[ * ] I am grateful for their readings and comments to Ya-chung Chuang, Ruth Hung, Nick Kaldis, Sheldon Lu, Victor Mair, and Jing Tsu. They bear no responsibility for the views I offer. I have also presented versions of this essay at the Tenth Anniversary Conference of the Taiwan Studies Program at the National Normal University in Taiwan, as well as seminars at the Ch’eng-kung University Taiwan Studies Program and The Institute of Literature and Philosophy of the Academia Sinica. The enthusiastic response of the participants in these seminars was much appreciated.

[ 1 ] The questions presented by the terms “China” and “Chinese” are legion; these terms are used in a multiplicity of senses to refer to a country and a nation-state, its citizens, to the majority Han population—both as a cultural entity and a racial group— with easy slippage from one sense to another. These questions are discussed at length in the theoretical essays included in Sinophone Studies and Shu-mei Shih’s contribution to Global Chinese Literature. I have discussed the problems of the term “China/Chinese,” as well as its Chinese counterparts, ZhongguoHuaXiaHuaXia, etc. See Dirlik 2011: 157-96, esp. 173-196. While the English (and various European) terms are particularly reductionist, none of the other terms escapes reductionism and partiality. This may be one reason for the enthusiastic reception of Sinophone by many, although that term, too, is subject to many of the same qualifications, as it is little more than a Latinized equivalent of “Chino-phone,” and is restrictive both in its linguistic basis and its methodological traditionalism. The term, Zhongguo, while an ancient term going back to the Zhou dynasty, is a modern term in its use as the name of a nation-state. For a recent work affirming the use of the term for the state since the Song dynasty, see, Ge 2011. For Hua and Xia, see, Ren Jifang 1998: 35-40. (I am grateful to Victor Mair for bringing this article to my attention.) In 1900, in an essay discussed in my book cited above, the seminal thinker Liang Qichao wrote that while Zhongguo was not really the name of the country, it might well become that as everyone used it already. I have a similar feeling about “Chinese.”

[ 2 ] Shih acknowledges that the influential authors of these essays, gathered here as “fellow travelers of Sinophone studies,” “had expressed ideas and sentiments akin to what are now more critically and historically envisioned as Sinophone studies” (Shih/Tsai/Bernards 2013: ix).

[ 3 ] The Taiwanese scholar of Asian American studies, Shan Te-hsing, apparently used the term “third space” nearly a decade earlier in a work published in Chinese with reference to “the scholar-subject dangle[d] between two centers and their peripheries.” See Tong 2012: 286.

[ 4 ] Hu-DeHart/Russell 2012: xi. Ha Jin himself seems to identify more closely with other writers who have experienced exile from Joseph Conrad to Milan Kundera than with any particular ethnic or national group (Cheung 2012: 2-3). Ha Jin is also included in Sinophone Studies without any explanation of why a writer in English belongs in a volume ostensibly about “Sinophone” writing. See Ha Jin 2013: 121.

[ 5 ] We may also recall that until the 1970s, in the eyes of foreigners, including many scholars, the Guomindang represented the “real” China against Red usurpers.

[ 6 ] Tee 2010: 77-99. For discussions with reference to minorities in the PRC, see Crossley/Siu/ Sutton 2006.

[ 7 ] See Barmé 2010. “New Sinology” has been translated into Chinese as HouHanxue, literally “post-Sinology.” While the linking of “Sinophone” to Sinology may be problematic, Barmé’s intervention offers an important reminder of the importance of language as the defining feature of the term. After all, the “Sino” in both terms is nothing but a Latinized version of “Chino,” and there is little semantic difference between “Sina” and “China.” What makes “Sinophone” useful as a term, as distinct from “Chinese,” is its de-linking of a “Sino-sphere” from the name of a national entity, especially these days when “China” and “Chinese” are commonly equated with the People’s Republic of China. By convention, if not semantically, the term demands accounting for other “Chinese” societies, not by excluding the PRC but by calling attention to other Chinese-language (or more broadly “Sinitic”) literary and cultural production.

[ 8 ] Notable follow-ups are Shih 2010a; 2010b; 2011; and 2013. For the critique, see Sheldon H. Lu 2012: 21-24.

[ 9 ] It seems important to recall here this seminal term Fredric Jameson (1981: 52-53) offered in his discussion of the ideology of literary texts in in The Political Unconscious.

[ 10 ] Issues of place and space, too, acquired increased visibility from the 1980s, in conjunction with processes of globalization. For examples pertinent to the discussion here, see Prazniak/Dirlik 2001 and Dissanayake/Wilson 1996.

[ 11 ] On one occasion where this issue is raised, it is to argue for the “Americanness” of Sinophone language and culture, without further attention to the implications of a transnationalized Sinophone for places. See Shih 2013: 714-715.

[ 12 ] An eloquent example, given its colonial context, is Chen Shu-jung 2011. I am grateful to Dr. Chen for sharing this publication with me.

[ 13 ] See Dirlik 1996. For “affective affinity,” see Chih-ming Wang 2007.

[ 14 ] Hence Tee (2010: 81), for example, insists on further qualification of the Sinophone: “as Chinese [in its localized idiolects and topolects] is the mother tongue and not an ex-colonizer’s language, the diasporic Chinese writers should be termed specifically Sinophone Chinese American, Sinophone Chinese Malaysian, etc.” This, of course, still leaves out the Anglophone, Hispanophone, Francophone Chinese writers, one of whom is the recipient of the two Nobel prizes that have been given to Chinese writers, creating major problems of identity for the PRC. See the discussion (pre-Mo Yan) by Julia Lovell 2010. A similar though not equally severe crisis was created for the Turkish government by the granting of the Nobel Prize to Orhan Pamuk, for his views on the ethnic cleansing of Armenians early in the twentieth century.

[ 15 ] Roots: An Asian American Reader (Tachiki et al. 1971) was the title of the first reader for courses in the new field. The juxtaposition of “roots” and “routes” we owe to James Clifford (1997).

[ 16 ] Three essays in the volume (Hihara 2012; Kun Jong Lee 2012; and Tee 2012) survey the development of Asian American studies in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, respectively. As surveys, these discussions do not go into analytical depth. The essay by Lee is revealing in suggesting that Korean scholars all along have viewed Korean American literature in whatever language as extensions of Korean literature. Most interesting is Tee’s perspective on the entanglement in hegemonic relations of the differential reception given to Asian American studies in Taiwan as compared to Malaysian Sinophone or Anglophone literatures.

[ 17 ] Chih-ming Wang 2012: 168. Wang’s accommodation of this expansion of the scope of Asian American studies is curious because of his recognition of the importance of place in shaping that field. He wrote, with reference to “the huaren market” in Taiwan in literature, film and music that, “taken out of its local history, ‘Asian American’ becomes a desirable and accessible identity in Asia” (Chih-ming Wang 2007: 141). This statement may be as applicable to intellectual production as it is to the production of popular cultural commodities.

[ 18 ] The contribution in question is Amie Elizabeth Parry 2012.

[ 19 ] Kuan-hsing Chen 2012. Chen (2010) is also the author of a book of that title, Asia as Method-Toward Deimperialization.

[ 20 ] Indeed, a new terminology has appeared that once again turns Asian Americans into sojourners, which was one of the targets of Asian Americans in their struggle for citizenship. Two of the authors in theIACS special issue refer to “US-based Asian scholars” (Kun Jong Lee 2012: 282) and “US-based Asian American Scholars” (Nakamura 2012: 251). I encountered the term “US-based” recently in a circular from the Center for Asia Pacific Studies at the university of Oregon dated 2013/08/20, “In Honor of the 80th Anniversary, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art is Raising Funds for New Chinese Art Acquisition.” We may recall here by way of contrast that one of the founding scholars of Japanese American studies who was also responsible for coining the term “Asian American,” Yuji Ichioka (2000: 43-45), adamantly resisted appropriation of Japanese American studies for Japanese history, insisting that Asian American history was part of American history.”

[ 21 ] See, for example, Andrea Louie 2004. An important organizational product of these changes was the founding in 1992 of the International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas (ISSCO), of which Wang Gungwu and Ling-ch’i Wang played leading parts. The society included Chinese from all parts of the world as well as non-Chinese scholars. Another example of the gathering of “Chinese” from different societies (PRC, Taiwan, Hong Kong) at this time was the 1993 conference in Taipei out of which issued a volume edited by Pang-yuan Chi and David D. W. Wang, Chinese Literature in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2000). The Preface describes the excitement of the occasion, and while the editors clearly recognize the heterogeneity of Chinese literature, they display little qualm about references to Chinese literature or culture as a unifying characteristic (Chi 2000: 14). Interestingly, among social scientists, such “inter-Chinese” meetings got under way shortly after the PRC’s opening after 1978.

[ 22 ] I am grateful to Nick Kaldis for drawing my attention to the relevance of the market in comparative studies.

[ 23 ] Most of the theoretical works included in Sinophone Studies, written in the 1990s by prominent scholars, are devoted to refutation of the reification of “Chineseness,” with colorful titles such as “Can One Say No to Chineseness” (Ien Ang). The most colorful title, not included in Sinophone Studies, was Allen Chun’s, “Fuck Chineseness: On the Ambiguity of Ethnicity as Culture as Identity,” boundary 2, 23.2 (Summer 1996): 111-138.

[ 24 ] This was already apparent in the 1990s. For an extended discussion on that period, see, Dirlik 2010. I argued in that essay that distinction between native and newcomer does not enable easy prediction of commitment to place of arrival, as new comers sometimes display stronger commitment than “natives.” On the other hand, the complications should be obvious. A recent case is the campaign of John Liu for the mayor of New York City. Liu is of the so-called “one-and-a-half” generation of Taiwan origin. And he obviously has strong commitments to place. On the other hand, his campaign got into trouble over issues of illegal fund-raising on the part of his managers, one of them a newcomer from the PRC and involved with a Beijing association through her father, the other another PRC newcomer charged with involvement in the illegal activities of the Fujian Association. As “Asian Americans,” they had drawn strong hope and support from the “Asian American” communities across the country.. A concise discussion of his career and the scandal is offered in the Wikipedia article under his name.

[ 25 ] Further discussion is available in Dirlik 2004. For a general discussion, see Gabriel Sheffer 2006.


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