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Chinese and Chinese American Life-Writing

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Through a comparison of Chinese and Chinese American (auto)biographical accounts, this article facilitates a transpacific literary exchange that tracks cultural persistence and diffusion, offers a transnational perspective on the alleged absence of indigenous Chinese autobiography and the controversial use of fake “Orientalist” material in Chinese American life-writing, and highlights the need for bicultural literacy in grappling with this literature. Contesting Frank Chin’s categorical condemnation of autobiography (as a Western Christian contraption laden with self-hatred), I trace its manifestations in transpacific texts and the convergences in those texts: melding of autobiography and biography, salience of maternal legacies, and interdependent self-formation. Unlike the Chinese authors who lavish compliments on their forebears, however, the Chinese American authors do not scruple to disclose unseemly family secrets or to defy the boundaries between history and fiction—practices that some Asian American critics find vexing. I demonstrate that the critical qualms about Chinese American life-writing have to do with the politics of representation and that bicultural literacy can obviate cultural misreading.

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