From "Golden Girl" to "Yellow Peril": Reading the transgressive body in Ruthanne Lum McCunn's Thousand Pieces of Gold

Tunc T. E.

ASIAN JOURNAL OF WOMENS STUDIES, cilt.14, sa.2, ss.59-79, 2008 (SSCI İndekslerine Giren Dergi) identifier

  • Yayın Türü: Makale / Tam Makale
  • Cilt numarası: 14 Konu: 2
  • Basım Tarihi: 2008
  • Sayfa Sayıları: ss.59-79


The female body and the social constructions that define it, can literally be '' read '' in fiction and non-fiction, and in a genre which combines elements of both literary styles: the biographical novel. Ruthanne Lum. McCunn's Thousand Pieces of Gold, which traces the life of Lalu Nathoy, a Chinese woman who migrated to the United States during the late-nineteenth century, is a prime example of such a hybrid account. As both a modem historical figure and a post-modem "fictive" literary character, Lalu Nathoy serves as a microcosm of the Asian-American experience and the ways in which gender, race, and class are produced and read through women's bodies. Her desire to escape poverty in rural China compels Lalu to negotiate a new social position for herseff - one that challenges her family's middle-class aspirations and allows her, like the bamboo she cultivates, to be '' strong yet bend in the wind.'' Although, to her parents' dismay, this survival mechanism (which is enacted on her body) characterizes her as a sexually-ambiguous working-class woman who is not even worthy of prostitution, it allows her to escape China's rigid social system and migrate to the United States. However, as Lalu soon realizes, her status as a Chinese immigrant renders her '' undesirable '' in the context of the American national project. Through the adaptive survival techniques of mimicry, hybridity and assimilation, she uses her body to adopt a new set of gender, race and class strategies, which ultimately allow her to carve out a niche for herself in the turn-of-the-twentieth-century American West. In doing so, Lalu not only elucidates the ways in which transcultural persons can resist hegemonic. pressures and claim agency for themselves (in her case, by sabotaging the practices designed by Chinese and American society to discipline women), but also exemplifies the transgressive and subversive power that can be produced through the body.