Space, Experience, Consciousness
Chinatown as a Wild Zone in Louis Chu’s Eat a Bowl of Tea
← 72 | 73 →Francesca de Lucia
Louis Chu’s Eat a Bowl of Tea has a history that partly reflects that of the marginalized reality it depicts. Chu was born in the southern Chinese city of Taishan in 1915 and immigrated to New Jersey with his family in 1924. Eat a Bowl of Tea, his only novel, was first published in 1961. It received little attention at the time and was rediscovered in the 1970s in the context of the awakening of the Asian American collective consciousness embodied by figures such as Frank Chin and Jeffery Paul Chan. The novel has been praised for its lack of Orientalism and exoticization, as well as its realistic representation of Chinatown life in the 1940s. It was eventually made into a film in 1989 by Wayne Wang.
Eat a Bowl of Tea can be read as a sexual farce and a novel of manners, drawing inspiration from the Chinese tradition embodied by the seventeenth-century erotic classic Chin P’ing Mei (or Plum in the Golden Vase), as well as wuxia narratives; it uses as its most significant background the Chinese ethnic ghetto of the pre-war era. Indeed, Chu’s text indirectly explores the consequences of Chinese America’s long and dramatic history. Chinese immigration started in the mid-nineteenth century, sparked by the California gold rush in 1849 and the construction of the Pacific railway from 1865 to 1869. Factors such as the Opium War, poverty in rural areas and ethnic conflicts pushed the Chinese...
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