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The China Mystique: Pearl S. Buck, Anna May Wong, Mayling Soong, and the Transformation of American Orientalism

Karen J. Leong
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 260
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  • Book Info
    The China Mystique
    Book Description:

    Throughout the history of the United States, images of China have populated the American imagination. Always in flux, these images shift rapidly, as they did during the early decades of the twentieth century. In this erudite and original study, Karen J. Leong explores the gendering of American orientalism during the 1930s and 1940s. Focusing on three women who were popularly and publicly associated with China-Pearl S. Buck, Anna May Wong, and Mayling Soong-Leong shows how each negotiated what it meant to be American, Chinese American, and Chinese against the backdrop of changes in the United States as a national community and as an international power.The China Mystiqueillustrates how each of these women encountered the possibilities as well as the limitations of transnational status in attempting to shape her own opportunities. During these two decades, each woman enjoyed expanding visibility due to an increasingly global mass culture, rising nationalism in Asia, the emergence of the United States from the shadows of imperialism to world power, and the more assertive participation of women in civic and consumer culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93863-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Gendering American Orientalism
    (pp. 1-11)

    Throughout the history of the United States, images of China have populated the American imagination. Always in flux, these images can shift rapidly, as they did during the early decades of the twentieth century. During these years the United States experienced increasingly open debate regarding race relations and women’s rights and confronted geopolitical alignments and conflicts that contributed to the nation’s gradual shift toward being an international power. Simultaneously, China developed into a modern nation state and sought international legitimacy for its international role. As a result, beginning in the 1930s Americans began to imagine China differently, no longer as...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Pearl Sydenstricker Buck
    (pp. 12-56)

    In her life and in her career Buck epitomizes the dynamic history of American orientalism. Her perspectives about race, gender, nation, and power were formed on the mission field where, as a child and then a missionary, she witnessed dramatic changes in China over thirty years. Buck brought these perspectives with her when she relocated to the United States, where she gained prominence based on her intimate understanding of China and her fresh, critical perspectives on American society.

    Buck’s position as an authority on China allowed her to address American race relations in an international context. Her social critiques contributed...

  6. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  7. CHAPTER 3 Anna May Wong
    (pp. 57-105)

    As an American-born female of Chinese ancestry, Anna May Wong experienced the legacies of American orientalism: spatially, in the social geography of Los Angeles; socioeconomically, within the Chinese American community; and culturally, in the images of Asia that saturated American popular culture. Her status complicated the orientalist assumption that Asian identity was diametrically opposed to American identity.

    Unlike Pearl Buck or Mayling Soong, who could reside in each other’s countries without losing claim to their national status, Wong confronted ambivalence in both the United States and China because of the seeming ambiguity of her identity; her U.S. citizenship was always...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Mayling Soong
    (pp. 106-154)

    In 1943 Geraldine Fitch—a former missionary to China—described for her friends the impact of Mayling Soong’s visit to the United States. A featured attraction for wartime America,

    Madame Chiang herself—gracious, beautiful, dignified, courageous—was in the star role and no one could “steal the show.” She has rightly captivated the hearts of the American people, and I think has accomplished in one visit what centuries of formal friendship between China and America could not do. She has made Americans realize that the Chinese are like us: our differences superficial, our similarities fundamental. Restauranteur[sic]and laundrymen (and...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Transforming American National Identity—The China Mystique
    (pp. 155-172)

    Orientalism assumes that the cultures of the West and Orient are in diametric opposition. American orientalism from the turn of the century through the 1920s projects similarly distorted images of Chinese as primitive, slavish, exotic, manipulative, and amoral while American nationalism views its own population as modern, free, civilized, and trustworthy. Regardless of ideological borders people moved back and forth between the two nations. As the family histories of Pearl Buck, Anna May Wong, and Mayling Soong indicate, interaction between the United States and China has always relied on individuals—missionaries, immigrants, and diplomats—to link the two cultures. The...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 173-202)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-220)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 221-224)
  13. Index
    (pp. 225-236)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-237)