Identity Development and Cultural Production in the Chinese Diaspora to the United States, 1850–2004: New Perspectives

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Asian Ethnicity
Vol. 9, No. 3, October 2008, 201–218

Identity development and cultural production in the Chinese diaspora to the United States, 1850–2004: new perspectives
David Pendery*
Department of English, National Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan

Diaspora studies have grown in importance in the modern world as world travel and relocation have become more feasible; as the numbers of persecuted peoples and those seeking exile or new beginnings in new lands has increased; as globalization has created new classes of diaspora movement based on economic motivations; and as technology and modern communication has linked people worldwide and made virtual diasporas and identities readily possible. In the present time, the concept of the diaspora has become the most relevant and usefully adaptable way to view global cultural interaction and human situational practices. This paper examines change and development in Chinese diaspora populations in the US, which have encountered the entire range of diaspora experience, old and new, from 1850 to the present day. The aim is threefold: (1) comparatively to sketch new ideas in diaspora studies, add to them where possible, and employ them in an analysis of individual and community identity construction in the Chinese diaspora, while comparing and contrasting these experiences with those of the Jewish and black diasporas; (2) to present a four-stage model of diasporic literary production and attendant personal and community identity construction, through which varied examples of Chinese American writing will be examined; and (3) within this model, to give extended attention to Chinese American writer Maxine Hong Kingston’s China Men (1980), a pivotal text defining and describing Chinese American diaspora identity and experience in the US. The paper concludes with a look forward, and thoughts about possible new conditions modifying ‘new diasporas’. Keywords: diaspora; Chinese diaspora; Jewish diaspora; black diaspora; Chinese history; Chinese culture; American history; American culture; individual identity; community identity; race; citizenship; assimilation; Chinese American literature; AsianAmerican literature; Maxine Hong Kingston

Introduction
The conditions that diaspora populations live in around the world, and the challenges they face in adapting to new cultures, have become increasingly important questions at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Previous conceptions of diaspora – groups of immigrants, sojourners, slaves or strangers living in new lands, while retaining strong attachments to their homelands – still apply, but an urgent need for renovation and expansion of our understanding of the diaspora experience has arisen as world travel and various modes of relocation have become more common, globalization has created new classes of diasporic peoples based on economic motivations, and technology and modern

*Email: jamesnightshade@yahoo.com
ISSN 1463-1369 print/ISSN 1469-2953 online
Ó 2008 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/14631360802349221
http://www.informaworld.com

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David Pendery

communication have made virtual diasporas and identities readily possible. It is indeed ‘The Age of Migration’ as Stephen Castles and Mark J. Miller have written. The aims of the analysis of diaspora peoples and experiences in this paper are threefold: (1) to focus on personal and community identity construction in the Chinese diaspora to the US from 1850 to the present day, while comparing and contrasting these experiences with those of the Jewish and black diasporas; (2) to present a four-stage model of diasporic literary production and attendant personal and community identity construction, through which varied examples of Chinese American writing will be examined; and (3) within this model, to give extended attention to Chinese American writer Maxine Hong Kingston’s China Men (1980), a pivotal text defining and describing Chinese American diaspora identity and...
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