Chinese Culture" And the Continuation of Tradition
From Singtao Daily
From September 15, 2002
Upon observing that Amy Tan signed her name only in English at
a book-signing ceremony yesterday (September 10th), a disappointed
Chinese parent quipped, "To say that its necessary to broadcast
Chinese culture, and yet to be capable of only an English signature,
its quite evident that though her skin is yellow, her heart
Thereupon the parent, a Ms. Zhang, decided not to wait on line
for an autograph and promptly left with her son. The American-born
Tan, who unabashedly admits to knowing hardly a single word of Chinese,
has been known to have said, "My Chinese handwriting is really sloppy."
Chinese readers have repeatedly criticized Tan, whose works deal
primarily with inter-generational conflict within Chinese America,
for "creating a false Chinese culture" due to her apparent ignorance
of true Chinese traditions.
Yet Amy Tan does not deny her poor understanding of the turf where
her parents were born and raised. "My knowledge of Chinese culture
comes primarily from listening to my mothers accounts of the
past and reading works of reference. When she was still alive, Mother
would often say, You dont understand China, so how can
you even write about it?" said Tan.
Yet she does not want to be a spokesperson for Chinese culture,
but only wishes to reflect on her own background:
"My works are based solely upon my experiences growing up and discussions
with my mother, both of which are emotionally rooted; I never expected
the need to take up the responsibility of introducing Chinese culture
to the Western world. In addition, I feel that no single person
could write enough to describe all of China and Chinese culture;
its a huge country inhabited by plenty of ethnic groups; how
can one book possibly encompass all of it?"
To tell the truth, however, many Westerners derive their knowledge
of China entirely from Amy Tans books. The fates of the matronly
protagonists of "The Joy Luck Club," the novel which made Tan famous,
have moved many readers to tears of pity, some of whom probably
couldnt point out China on a map. And the object of yesterdays
ceremony, Tans book "Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat", will
probably be the first step for many children in the development
of an interest in China.
At yesterdays book signing, the reporter met a white Indiana
mother, Jamia Dixon, and her adorable six-year-old Chinese adoptee
daughter, Annie. Ms. Dixon expressed the hope that her daughter,
born in Anhui province, would grow up to appreciate Chinese culture
and to remember her Chinese identity. Her daughter wasnt much
interested in what she had to say, and seemed quite annoyed with
the Chinese classes which her mother makes her attend. However,
ever since Annie started reading "Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat"
last year, she has persisted in questioning her mother about ancient
China and has demonstrated greater effort in her language studies.
"We live in the Midwest, which does not offer as many Chinese cultural
activities as New York does. Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat
is Annies sole source of interest in and understanding of
China. I feel grateful to Ms. Tan for writing such a meaningful
book," said Dixon.
As far as whether the China depicted by Tan is accurate or not,
Dixon said, "Even though those details known only to native Chinese
inhabitants are glossed over, the book is good enough for foreigners
interested in China."
A consultant for Girl Scouts of the USA present at the ceremony,
Weiyi Zhu, agreed with Dixons pronouncement. As one engaged
in promoting Chinese culture to mainstream American society, she
often encounters many difficulties. "Whenever cultural activities
come up, most Americans are drawn only to the fun, and would never
take up a real interest in Chinese culture. Thats why I often
think of my work as hopeless," said Zhu. However, from her long-standing
experience, she has discovered that combining Chinese culture and
American attitudes is a more viable route.
"Chinese food brought over to the U.S. has undergone improvement
to fit American tastes. The same should be done with culture. Although
Amy Tans books have been accused of providing false depictions
of Chinese culture, one cannot deny that they have inspired many
Americans interest in China," she added.
Tans works may also offer lessons to Chinese in addition
to American families. Girl scout extracurricular activities sometimes
dont inspire the greatest enthusiasm among Chinese parents,
said Zhu. They believe that time spent outside of school for their
children should be devoted to such activities as piano lessons or
Zhu often cites "The Joy Luck Club," and the failure of the strict
measures which earlier generations imposed upon their children concerning
education, when attempting to make Chinese parents understand that
by participating in more social activities, their children become
well-adjusted members of American society. "The majority of parents
have seen or read The Joy Luck Club. They often immediately
grasp my meaning when I mention the book," said Zhu.
Weiyin Zhu added that the Girl Scouts will launch a series of events
to promote Amy Tans "Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat," nationwide
beginning with next years Lunar New Year. New York will be
one of the locales where activities will take place.
Translated From Chinese By Kelvin Wu
Back to The Citizen Page