Not for publication: You’d think that in L.A. where I live, and the East West Players campaigns for actors that have no Asian consciousness or conscience, and names their theater “The David Henry Hwang,” and the Mark Taper, the whitest theater in town, puts on a Hwang play that names me by name and characterizes me as bully but not as knowledgeable Asian about the falsifications of Mulan and Kwan Kung and Yue Fei in the work of Kingston and Hwang, that in the year Yellow Face has been workshopped at Stanford’s Okada House, named for John Okada, author of No-No Boy, a novel recovered and republished by Chin, Chan, Inada and Wong (The Aiiieeeee! Boys) in 1975, yellow writers at every newspaper and TV station, you would think one of them, living in L.A., would talk to Hwang and talk to me and write a face-off of me and David Henry Hwang.
In Yellow Face, Hwang takes me on by name, but the white press that employs yellows at all levels of staff and management, don’t notice.
He argues against fact in writing of real people. “Fiction is more persuasive than fact.”
David Henry Hwang became prominent on the stage due to efforts of Lloyd Richards, director of the O’Neil Playwrights Center and the theater department at Yale. He directed F.O.B. at the Public Theater, and Hwang won an Obie.
According to his plays F.O.B. and Dance and the Railroad, Hwang hates Chinese culture so much he slanders the characters from history and lies about the culture.
Hwang’s representations of Mulan, according to the example of Kingston’s Woman Warrior, and Kwan Kung were like World War II American caricatures of Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. After the war, the caricatures are celebrated as acts of wartime propaganda. But Hwang and Kingston and Tan’s fakes have become American icons of yellow self-contempt.
Yellow Face is about many things, but where I occur as a name and a curse, Hwang is working word magic on our ears, persuading us to believe his inspired fakery of everything Chinese is morally, more true than the facts that define bearers of the names Mulan and Kwan Kung.
My image of a three-eyed George Washington is more American than George Washington? Oh, it’s a matter of style—the style over substance argument—rhetoric versus logic. Aristotle wrote books on rhetoric and logic and favored logic as the basis of law.
The purpose of children’s stories is to teach the principles of the law. The Chinese route through moral stories is different from the cultures of the West. Yellow Face is a lot talk about a phony Asian American identity problem. It’s normal for Asian Americans to tell Jack and the Beanstalk or Cinderella or The Ugly Duckling and a hundred “American” children’s stories at the drop of a hat, to justify the “American” part of Asian-American, but what of the Asian part. Can David Henry Hwang tell a hundred Chinese children’s stories?
Did Kingston’s fake Mulan and trashing of poor unnamed Yue Fei in Woman Warrior go unnoticed by all the yellow faces on TV news? Did Hwang’s repeat of Kingston’s fakery of Mulan and his own fake Kwan Kung in F.O.B. and his really big step into the bottomless pit of ignorance in Dance and the Railroad intimidate the yellows in the media rather than stimulate them?
The whites who made and adore David Henry Hwang don’t know Mulan, Kwan Kung, the Cantonese opera or the railroad. That’s who and what DHH wrote of as if he knew. And I am the only one that said all that knowledge was fake, that it was racist, anti-Chinese.
Every Chinese writer that got a job at a real newspaper, a real TV or radio station did not know a hundred Chinese children’s stories. They did not know that Chinese, Korean, and Japanese children’s stories were the same until the family names coalesced into alliances and nations around 600 AD, the Tang in China, Korea builds a nation out of tribes and districts, Japan ruled by a military shogun, the emperor a figurehead. Flags still bore family names, not symbols of national unity, because there was no national unity. China didn’t have a national flag until 1872 in the Manchu Qing.
There are no Asian American critics, no Chinese-American writers, only yellow servants polishing white ego, yellows afraid to say anything about Hwang’s blatant challenge to the audience’s opinion of me. Why? He’s flipped out my ugly name. He wants his differences with me aired. He expects the yellows in the know about what’s what in yellowdom to side with him. And I expect nothing less. And, so far, a lot less is being written.
At least “Chin is the only Chinese-American to accuse Kingston and Hwang and Tan of being fakes because of non-existent tattoos, a fake Mulan, a fake Kwan Kung and a fake story about chickens that dream of being beautiful geese….”
I can’t argue with the facts. Why are the yellows afraid of the facts?
A letter from “Bananas” about my airfare to New Zealand, leads to a call to my more white than thou Chinese Christian travel agent. He says he, his wife and his son a couple of years older than Sam were talking about me. He’d just seen David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face at the Mark Taper Forum. He said there is a character “David Henry Hwang” and he quotes me by name as saying, “David Henry Hwang is a white racist asshole.”
David Henry Hwang is the main character in Yellow Face, a new work-in-progress in development during his Stanford residency. The play explores the nature of ethnicity in America and begins with Hwang’s real-life protest over the casting of a white actor as the Asian lead in Claude-Michel Schonberg’s Miss Saigon. True to history, Hwang’s character writes a satire in response to the controversy, called Face Value. As the story diverges into fiction, Hwang’s character discovers that the actor cast as the Asian lead in his own play is of ambiguous ethnic origins. The character then finds himself implicated in a money-laundering scandal which spins him into a cultural and political quandary.
(David Henry Hwang)
That was the first of Marcus’ emails to me. More than a few Asian Americans still wonder what happened to him. After all, in certain circles, Marcus G. Dahlman, or Marcus Gee, as he was known in the community, remains a hero to this day.
Isn’t it always the case, that when a voice from our community gets too powerful, white America always finds a way to bring him down?
In mainstream culture, however, Marcus, like most Asian American celebrities, remains virtually unknown. True, a few took note of his downfall.
Senator John Kerry—
SEN. JOHN KERRY
It’s hardened people’s cynicism. Everyone loses for that.
But for the most part, when the truth about Marcus finally came out, the press had moved on to other stories, and the fate of a minor figure in a couple of discredited scandals no longer mattered to them. Perhaps it even embarrassed reporters that so many of their hunches turned out to be, well, wrong. But everyone makes mistakes, don’t they?
Because Marcus’ world collapsed outside the glare of the mainstream media, no one bothered, or even cared, to look back on my own role in his story. Some Asian American did, but they chose to look the other way, or forgive me for my mistakes.
Playwright Frank Chin—
FRANK CHIN 1
David Henry Hwang is a white racist asshole.
Well, most of them did, anyway. After all, I was—and to a large degree, still remain–a respected figure in the community, the first Asian playwright to have a play produced on Broadway.
Please welcome Miss Lily Tomlin.
DJ plays Awards Ceremony entrance music.
And the 1988 Tony Award for Best Play goes to… M. Butterfly. Author: David Henry Hwang. Producers: Stuart Ostrow and David Geffen.
My phone rang at 6:30 a.m. and woke me—a N.Y. Times fact checker calling me to ask what I thought of David Henry Hwang. “He’s a white racist asshole,” I said and hung up.
I didn’t know about Yellow Face or his directly challenging my back-of-the-book “first Chinese American on the New York stage” brag with his “first on Broadway.” But a yellow at the drama desk doing a story on Hwang, the theater named after him, and his new play, in his hometown, would know I’m in town and don’t like him.
I defend the Chinese children’s story and facts of history against the white racist fakery. What are they afraid of?
He accuses me of raising “authenticity” as an issue. No, I don’t raise “authenticity” as an issue. Specifically, I said he repeated Kingston’s faking of Mulan and added his own fake Kwan Kung.
To the Pasadena Weekly he said:
“Authenticity? That’s a familiar issue. Authenticity is an ambiguous term,” he adds, after being asked about writer and activist Frank Chin. Chin, who lives in Los Angeles, has labeled Hwang and other Asian-American writers as “inauthentic.”
Hwang quotes Chin in Yellow Face as labeling DHH “a white racist asshole.”
Yet, Hwang states in an interview, “I really like him as a writer. I kind of consider him to be my literary father, which then makes me a disowned son. When F.O.B. was first done in New York, I was 23 and I looked on Frank as a pioneer.”
Hearing Chin’s criticism, Hwang acknowledges, “It hurt my feelings.” But that was more than 20 years ago. While Hwang has “kind of gone back and forth” on his feelings about Chin’s criticism, he’s glad that now there are a lot more Asian-American playwrights who can represent different points of view. Obviously Yellow Face, with a protagonist named DHH, represents Hwang’s own viewpoint.
Hoon Lee plays DHH—David Henry Hwang—in Yellow Face.
Lee’s enthusiasm for his work shines as he talks about the play, which will be part of the new season at New York’s Public Theater. Nibbling an ahi tuna salad at a downtown restaurant takes a back seat to an intellectual conversation that runs the gamut from how to develop one’s acting technique to defining authenticity in racial identity.
“Ideas as loaded as race are really felt on the personal level, and yet we discuss them on an abstract level, and they cease to have meaning,” Lee says. “I’m Asian American, and I don’t speak Korean. There are some in the Korean American community who wish I did. I identify myself first and foremost as an American. But in theater, film and TV, you’re judged on your appearance, and I’m seen as an Asian.
“If you identify yourself with a particular group, it creates a structure and a sense of support, but does it also limit you? Is reverse discrimination a justifiable means to an end? I like examining those kinds of questions.”
His arguments are racist. Why is someone else’s misjudgment of me my responsibility?. To what does my knowledge of the Chinese children’s stories limit me? Does it stop me from learning the American stories come from England, France, Denmark, Germany and Greece? How does he get from liking unanswerable questions to erecting fake Mulan as a tribute to Kingston and a fake Kwan Kung as a tribute to me?
Take an American expatriate writer in Paris in the summer of the 1920’s explaining the characters in his play as being named Molly Pitcher and George Washington but their historical identity is irrelevant because I wrote Molly as a tribute to Maxine Hong Kingston and George Washington as a tribute to Frank Menton.
Do I take the Asian American Writers Workshop’s backing Kingston’s fake Mulan with fake feminism, and the new Asian American Theater Coalition bowing to David Henry Hwang, and the Yellow Face campaign from Stanford to Broadway personally?
Why such a tortured and elaborate campaign against Far Mulan, Yue Fei, Kwan Kung, the Chinese children’s story and the Chinese gods spelled with the smallest “g’s” among the letters? Think of a campaign among feminists to justify the American tattooing of French heroine Joan of Arc, and the feminist criticism of France for the fake tattoos.
You’re an American in Italy. An Italian produces a portrait of George Washington, looks you in the eye as he takes out his pee-pee and pisses on George’s face. Would you take it personally? Sure, you would. You might not do anything about it, but you would take it personally, because you know a hundred “American” children’s stories.
We are obviously missing, just missing from American history and art. I say it’s our fault. Our eyes weren’t on ourselves, but on the others, whose way of seeing us, counted more than our own.
We can see out of all eyes. We flash the wonders we have seen through the eyes of others. We don’t acknowledge having eyes of our own, in spite of being on every newspaper and every broadcast news outlet in the three coastal states, and being everywhere we were denied before, more politicians.
But Hwang by naming me in the play and arguing with me in front of the press joins me in pleading with our people to produce critics to argue and appreciate our works with sense.
How do AA plays and Asian children’s stories play in the Asian world of New Zealand? NZ is a white nation closer to China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and Indonesia than New York, Stanford, or L.A. I’m going there to tell Chinese stories to their kids.
The judging of yourself by the way you are seen by others rather than by the facts, seems to be the difference between Asian Americans and the other minorities, like the Jews, the Mexicans and Chicanos, the blacks.
It’s no wonder that DHH celebrates their richness and inspiration. Their art is about something and nothing. Ours, as Hwang is our best example, is just about nothing.
Is our “Asian” dead? Can you tell a hundred Chinese stories for the hundred Euro-American stories you can recite right now?