Customer Reviews: China Men
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on January 8, 1999
If you want to learn about a great, five-thousand-years-old culture of the east meeting the west, China Men is definitely the right book for you. Maxine Hong Kingston has skillfully woven an epic of Chinese history in America in the most creative way. From the early Chinese immigration to the present day, the Chinese's dream, experience, suffering, and success in America is wonderfully told through many generations. Unlike many historical novels, this book is told from the Chinese perspective right down to the details from character to character. This book is written so impressively eloquent and truth to the bones that I dare say a native Chinese might not even know as much about his/her own culture. From Alaska to Hawaii, Kingston has covered every corner of the U.S. that Chinese immigrants have gone. The characters also added a little Chinese wisdom now and then in a day when working on the railroad or fighting in the Vietnam War.
Aside from extremely in-depth in history and Chinese culture, the stories are especially fun to read. I can only describe them as totally fantastic, bizarre, and unbelievable.Do you know the Chinese had found a place called"Land of Women" ? There was also communist Uncle Bun who suspected the U.S. government was plotting to poison him by collecting garbage from every door and hiding them in his food. Yes, these interesting stories have significant meaning related to the actual history. Not all of them are funny though; there are also stories that are terrifyingly shocking such as the inhuman tortures the Japanese did to Chinese and the bias laws America had toward Chinese. There are also side stories and fairy tales of all kinds from Chinese ghost stories to a lesson by Li Fu-yen which added a savor to the book. Anyone who read China Men would view life different than before.
I recommend China Men to people who have a desire to understand Chinese culture and learn how America culture affected them. However,the book is so abstract and arbitrary that it is hard to understand. Warning, it is not an easy book to read. If you feel you are confused, read several times more. There are many amazing truths of life in China Men, which are subtle but such a waste to miss.
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on February 16, 2003
In China Men, Kingston took me on a ride all over the literary landscape. In general, I thought her book was an interesting tossed salad of memoir, fable, reporting, and poetry. As a reader, it reminded me of a scrapbook of family stories, newspaper articles, heritage legends -- all assembled in one place.
Interestingly, Kingston begins the book with two distinctive chapters. Unlike the rest of the book, these two chapters are relatively homogenous, sticking with one form, voice, structure and tone throughout. The first chapter is the fable of the Land of Women. I didn?t understand this chapter until the last sentences, when it seemed as though Kingston was saying that coming to North America emasculated the Chinese men who made the journey to the Gold Mountain.
If Kingston?s main theme is that the journey to North America emasculated the Chinese Men, then from a reader?s perspective I?m not sure if the book delivers on this promise. To put a fable with a very obvious moral at the beginning of the book seems to me to set up a contract with the reader about the subject or theme of the book. Although, Kingston explores many different aspects of the Chinese experience in North America, and even starts to explore the ways that China Men were oppressed, I?m not sure she completely proves her case in my mind. I could be wrong, however.
Interestingly, the second chapter of the book is another short one, this time a nearly pure piece of memoir. Alone, this chapter seems to set up the author?s own relationship with Chinese men. By mistaking another man for her father, she seems to be saying from the beginning of the book that from her perspective Chinese men are nearly interchangeable. But interestingly, she isn?t the only one who makes the mistake. All the children in that scene mistake the strange man for their father. I like this chapter placed here because it contrasts nicely with the fable/story in the first chapter. The first chapter is told at a distance by a storyteller/narrator. The second chapter is told first person from our main narrator?s voice.
Kingston returns to this theme several more times in the book. On page 217, she remarks that one of her Uncles looks just like her father. Interestingly, Uncle Bun is also completely forgotten, erased from her sister?s memory only a few years after he leaves. Kingston often hints at how distant and interchangeable the China Men were to her and to the women of her family. At other times she explores her narrator?s perceptions that China Men have no heart, no emotions.
One of Kingston?s greatest strengths, in my opinion, is her ability to weave in all sorts of other stories into the narrative of her story -- presenting a mosaic of memoirs, possibilities, facts, essays, fables, legends, ghost stories, scenes and reporting -- that all add up to a complete picture of the lives of the China Men who came to the United States. On page 49, she starts one version of a trip to the US with, ?I think this is the journey you don?t tell me:? She then recounts the tale of the father?s arrival in the US as a stowaway. But like The French Lieutenant?s Woman, she (Kingston) also gives us another, more ordinary version of the father?s emigration. I don?t know which one is ?real? and which one is imagined and, frankly, I don?t care. The fact that some Chinese used each of these methods is credible enough to keep my disbelief suspended and keep me in the story.
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on July 12, 1999
After reading Kingston's "The Woman Warrior," I thought I'd read "China Men." I am not disapointed at all. "China Men" is an excellent biographical work that recounts the lives of Chinese men in America from the 1840s to the Vietnam War. Although Kingston uses as much Chinese myth in this book as she does in "The Woman Warrior," she apparently decided to keep the mythology and biography more separated. Even so, Kingston's stories and the way in which she recounts them is absolutely splendid.
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on November 8, 2002
The China Men by Maxine Hong Kingston was a very interesting book. It contains stories of Chinese men traveling to America in the 1800's and working on the transcontinental railroads, in Sierra Nevada. The author shares a lot of details in the stories about her family traveling to America. She retold the story from a male's perspective of what hardships they've been through to get to America, in search for the Golden Mountains. A rich country that they about which is full of riches. As they reach to America what they thought was the Golden Mountains was just a land of hard labor and low paying jobs. Some of them regretted coming to America, but they couldn't go back to their country because they had no money.
Some part of the story made me feel like I could relate my family to the characters that Kingston has written about. My family immigrated to the United States in 1984. Like the characters in Kingston's book they heard about the Golden Mountains that's why they came to America. All they found was low paying jobs which are similar to the characters in Kingston's book. Is this really what they thought of as the Golden Mountains? It was for sure not what they had thought of. Like many Chinese family my parents thought that the Golden Mountain was really a place to find gold, but all they found was their own blood, sweat, and tears that they shed of all the hard work that they did.
This book is also very educating because in one of the chapters, Kingston listed a list of laws that were set against Chinese in the 1800's. It gives the reader more information of what the Chinese immigrants had went through to come to America and to work for the country. Overall, this book is very good and very detailed. I strongly recommended this book, if you're interested in learning more about the experiences of Chinese men traveling to America and their stories. This is also one of the best book that I've read.
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on June 2, 2002
This is an amazing book, wrought with heartwrenching love and pain over the wiping out of Chinese Americans in American history. I disagree with people who say it can be confusing for a non-Chinese reader, because it is certainly accessible. The plot is made up of several stories from different eras of history, along with beautifully narrated myths that are symbolic of America's inhospitability. It made me reaccess my understanding of an America that is not covered in textbooks and really to see how it feels to not feel at home in one's own country.
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on January 9, 1999
The book, China men, was an unveiling of the life-stories of Chinese men proceeding to the West in the early 20th century. It was a repulsive collision between the eastern worldviews with the West. The East's attempt to blend into the Western society was the main essence of the book. Maxine Hong Kingston revealed details of the men in her family who went to America, the so-called "Golden Mountain."
In the book China men, the book setting switched from time to time, and characters to characters. The book isn't in sequential order or chronological order; it was an attempt to seek order out of disorder. This type of arrangement enhances the reader's thinking to proceed to further complicate intellectual thoughts. The disconnected stories were very confusing but however, all the chapters that seem totally unrelated were interrelated in a sense.
At the beginning of the book, the author, Maxine Hong Kingston gives specific descriptions of various aspects of life in China. It was a symbolism of the eastern worldview. The cultural background is an important part of the life-journey. Each individual has an identity, and the cultural background is a part of a person's search of their true identity. Further more into the story Maxine emphasizes on the Chinese culture and traditions.
Later on in the book, Kingston continues to the call to adventure. This is a very important turning point of the book. Baba, the father, became bored of grading papers at school one night and went to attend a talk meeting with people from the village. People of the village were talking about stories on the "Golden Mountain" in the meeting. The more they talked, the more interested the people got. At the end, they all decided to go to the "Golden Mountain" and bring riches back to China. They viewed America as a land of gold, the country of opportunities. All the stories that the men brought back to China were exaggerations and it created a "Golden Illusion". It gave the Chinese the wrong sense of what America really is. It is very normal to be tricked by the mask. The wrong interpretations of America were in a way a mask that disguised America. It made the Chinese believe in something that was not true. Anyway, the Chinese gave into it and went to America. Maxine then further emphasizes on how the Chinese traveled half the planet to get to America. There were rough times. The Chinese went through lots of trouble to get to America.
The book progresses to a totally unrelated story. It began talking about characters called Ed, Woodrow, Roosevelt, and Worldster. I doubt the validity of this section of the book. In the book, these people were characterized as Americanized people. They were people that had American names. They drove cars, danced with American women, shop for hundred-dollar clothing, and flew an airplane. These are almost impossible things that could've happened for the early Chinese immigrants. I believe that this section of the book is strengthening the golden illusions of the Chinese. At the same time, it could also be providing a secondary illusion of America to the reader.
Throughout the book, Kingston gives stories of the men of her family that went to America. Kingston emphasizes on the awkward feeling of Kau Goong (Grandfather's) burial. After the burial ceremony, mother burned Kau Goong's clothes and shoes. She gave the pallbearers red paper with money inside it to the kids. It was meant to end the death and begin the luck again. This is a type of Chinese tradition that Chinese still follow nowadays. But this is a significant act. It is a symbolism of the death and rebirth experience. This could be suggesting that the Chinese Americans, had spiritually been rebirth to become Americans. Although they may carry hope all the way from China, but there are Americans. That is when they were eating in the restaurant and everyone was behaving in a way as if there was no funeral a moment ago, which is the American way. While in China, the people would be crying and making religious offerings to the person whom pasted away.
Is Kao Goong an American? What is his identity? The true identity of an individual doesn't necessary have to be determined by the place that they were born. For example, in Greek myths, often times the hero searches for the identity in his journey rather than that he was given the identity at birth. I believe that Kao Goong found his true identity in America and that he is truly a "man of the golden mountain". This cemetery incident is a really symbolic part of the book that is rich in psychic energy. It integrated the historical content and the mentality of Chinese Americans and it was expressed in the form of fiction. This incident symbolized a very important part of the Chinese experience in America.
At the end of the book, the heroes looks back at his journey and realizes that everything was just an illusion. All the hard work, all the sweat and heart that's been putted in were for nothing. Although they were Americans inside their heart, but they feel the sense of non-acceptance because of their Chinese descent and physical appearances. They realized that it was all a "deterioration of the golden illusions". But the hero, unstoppable with his passionate heart, will continue in the divine cycle of the journey and keep walking down the path of life. That is just how the China Men from Kingston's family kept on coming and coming, thus they will never give up to whatever obstacles may stand in their way.
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on April 16, 2002
I fell in love with this book, with the men in this book, and with the author. Most of all, with the simple, profound images that penetrated to my core. Such as: a children's song depicting joy with a mockingbird's "tails in the air, tails in the air." An old man pounding the table with his ineffective penis that will not give him a girl child. And on and on. I love what this author does with language. I love this book! The author cares about these men in a way that is very real to me...
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on January 7, 1999
I have to both praise and criticize this book. First of all, China Men is a story book revolving around history and includes historical details on the Chinese Americans. It vividly depicts the experiences of the Chinese Americans from 1840s to the World War II. It is particularly helpful for those who study Chinese immigration into America, and who are interested in Chinese Americans. Not only is it more enjoyable to read than a history book, it also provides deep insights into the feelings of the Chinese Americans, which could not be seen in ordinary history books that are merely loaded with details and facts. Yet, the book is confusing in parts and Maxine Hong Kingston seems to have shown some lack of understanding about the Chinese culture.
At the beginning, I had some trouble understanding the plot, because I did not realize that this book is divided into lots of short stories rather than one complete story. In the event, I thought it makes a lot more sense, and the book a lot more readable.
This is also a humorous book, and there are parts where I literally laughed. An example would be the sugar story, where the policeman had mistaken the word Sook-ah, meaning old man, for sugar. However, foreigners might miss the catch of humor.
It is easy to get mixed up with the different characters since many of the names were similar, such as Ah Goong, Say Goong, Kau Goong, Ngee Bak, Bak Sook Goong, Bak Goong and Sahm Goong. It would be a pity if some of the readers may get confused. Another thing is that the narrator seems to be the same person in every story, which adds to the confusion.
Although this is a fascinating book, Kingston did not seem to truly understand the Chinese culture. For example, she said that "Hong Kong people are more refined than us (Chinese from China) and don't say old lady for wife or old rooster for husband.". However, this is certainly not true, Hong Kong people today still use these old sayings. At least my parents do so.
Lastly, I would not recommend you to read this book, if you have no idea of what was going on in World War II, Korean War and the Vietnam War. This is because the last story The Brother in Vietnam would seem very confusing and might make you frustrated. Also, a communist might feel disturbed by the satirization of communists, and how the communists were degraded.
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I have never read a book before or since, that has moved me so much. In writing a history and the mythology of her family in America, Maxine Hong Kingston has almost written the history of my old sojourning family in Australia. The names and the places are different-but the expericences and the emotions are the same. The author beautifully crafts together the elements of the Cantonese expericences in America with 'talk story',both of the old world and of the new, to describe the essential concept of the book; that is, what it means and what it feels to identify oneself as a Chinese-American (or Australian). The images of self-identity, of being a part of the new world from one's roots in the old, is an undercurrent which flows through and shapes this book as you read it. The only regret that I have with it, is that if the reader can't identify with the people and the experiences in the book, perhaps much of the magic and the sentiments that the author has described is lost. I have to say that it is THE finest book that I ever have read (and re-read many times over). Absolutely fabulous.
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on January 7, 1999
The book China Men, written by Maxine Hong Kingston, is a book that is written to describing serious of historical events in Kingston's perspective. This book is consists of many short stories about Kingston's relatives that have had the experiences of struggling as new immigrants on the "Gold Mountain". One interesting point about this book is that the incidents described in this book are purely collective information and stories heard and gathered by Kingston. She does not have the experiences of immigrating into America as her father, grandfather and great grandfather did. The stories that she had heard from her relatives are told from the perspectives of Chinese immigrants. Imagine how an event can be depicted through the eyes of a group of ethically raised Chinese, and then the event is then interpreted through the ears of a Chinese-American, and now written as a book for people with any backgrounds to interpret. Kingston has written a novel explaining the situations of Chinese immigrants that are not much different from a history text, and the only difference between them is that Chine Men views the history from a different perspective. The reason why I like this book is because I found this book very humane. In each of the stories with the father going to the Gold Mountain for the gold rush, the grandfather going to Sierra Nevada Mountain to construct the railroad, the great grandfather going to the Sandalwood Mountain to work in the fields and even the brother going to Vietnam during the Vietnam war, personal feelings and insights along with the descriptions of the situation that they had experienced. Each character in this book had to go through many different physical hardships as well as internal obstacles. This book showed how the Chinese immigrants had contributed to the development of the American industries. As grandfather had stated, "No China Men, no railroad"(140). Not only were the significance of the contributions were acknowledge, but the process of how America has shaped the Chinese immigrants as well. Another thing that made become fond of this book is because the terminology and Chinese ethics used do not easily confuse. Between each chapter, Kingston has wisely included additional information or side stories that would supplement to the moralities and ethics discussed in the stories. All in all, China Men is a historical novel that reflects the views and ethics of the Chinese immigrants.
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