Contested "Chineseness" in Transnational Narratives: Works by Post-1979 Chinese/American Immigrant Writers Ha Jin and Geling Yan

Ping Qiu, Purdue University


This dissertation aims to claim immigrant literature as an essential part of Chinese American studies. It responds to the challenge by considering how “Chineseness” is negotiated, challenged, and transformed in the literary texts produced by both writers. I argue that “Chineseness” as presented by post-1979 immigrant writers Ha Jin and Geling Yan is a transnational process of defamiliarization, radicalization, and transformation. In their work, new immigrant writers are self-consciously and strategically positioning themselves as both insider and outsider. They engage in, negotiate, and challenge the troubling term “Chineseness” as defined in either U.S-centric/Eurocentric or Sinocentric points of view. For writers, the concern and movement of contending “Chineseness” from the China “center” to the “peripheral” are transnational in nature. Their definition of “Chineseness” is historically situated and not static; it is something that keeps evolving. It exceeds containment within fixed boundaries of identity and nation, transcending meanings inscribed by national ideologies. A key thread that weaves through this dissertation is how notions and claims of “Chineseness” operate discursively with Chinese and American national history, intersecting with race, class, gender, and ethnicity. The work of both writers can be roughly divided into two categories, aligning with their creative careers: “China narratives” that focus on writing on China and “Chinese immigrant narratives” that focus on immigration and Chinese in America. In “China narratives,” both writers take a critical distance and create works that reflecting, criticizing, and renegotiating Chineseness from afar. “China narratives” from a transnational vantage point involves constant efforts of “remembering” and “reimagining,” which entails telling tales of China, particularly of its recent historical past, Mao's Communist state from 1949 to 1976. Similarly, “Chinese immigrant narratives” capture the “transient” existential condition of immigration, meaning the conflicts of deconstructing and reconstructing Chineseness in the process of Chinese/American immigrant identity formation. In “Chinese immigrant narratives,” the writers’ creative energy is partially conditioned and facilitated by immigration, and it is subsequently channeled into their creative work on Chinese immigrant subjects in America. They join in unison with the ongoing discourse on Chineseness, as a racialized and gendered identity in Chinese immigrant history to the United States and the processes of historical and systematic racialization.




Mullen, Purdue University.

Subject Area

American studies|Asian Studies|Asian American Studies

Off-Campus Purdue Users:
To access this dissertation, please log in to our
proxy server