“The Remasculinization of Chinese America: Race, Violence and the Novel” was originally published in American Literary History, volume 12, issue no. 1 & 2, pages 130-157 (Spring/Summer 2000).
The year 1968 signaled a change in consciousness for Chinese Americans, as many of the younger generation in college became radicalized around the antiwar and anti-imperialism movements, and began to connect those issues with the cause of domestic racial empowerment. In that year, Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino American student activists at San Francisco State College coined the term “Asian American.”‘As part of their radicalization process, these young Asian American activists during and after 1968 began to see violence as a tool they could use for agency, rather than only as a weapon that targeted them as objects. Although violence throughout American history had been used to emasculate Chinese American men by exploiting their labor and excluding them from American society, young Asian Americans discovered that violence could also be used to remasculinize themselves and the historical memory of their immigrant predecessors. Though begun in 1968, this remasculinization of Chinese America continues because the gendered subordination of Chinese American masculinity persists in mainstream culture through stereotypes that have not substantially changed since their creation in the latter half of the nineteenth century. As this essay will argue, recent Chinese American literature has assumed the task of dismantling these stereotypes largely through the assumption of the same violence that was earlier used to subordinate Chinese Americans. More important, this violence, whose features are nationalist, assimilationist, and masculine, becomes a significant method for claiming an American identity that has a long tradition of deploying violence to define itself.
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