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Sons of the Yellow Emperor

by: Lynn Pan

New York NY: Kodansha International 1994, $16.00, Paperback
ISBN: 1-56836-032-0

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2004 Issue: 11(4) page(s): 24 and 25

This book is not new, and not to be missed. Ten years before Iris Chang Chang wrote her book, The Chinese in America, a world view of the Chinese diaspora set the stage for comprehensive accountings of what the text calls the world's greatest continuing migration. Although it ends its saga in the 1980's, Chinese people are still on the move; and perhaps always will be.

Their complex and compelling view and their history is detailed in this Chinese diaspora. The author speaks about why people left China, how their arrival in so many world-wide locations went, how they transformed their new societies, and how they are changing the face of their homeland since they left. If you have any interests in anything Chinese, you must get to this wide-ranging, well-researched, riveting read.

The book is in four temporal parts, 1500 to 1870, the 1870's to 1920's, the 1920's to the 1960's, and the 1960's through the 1980's. There are eighteen chapter titles that tell it all. They are: Pioneers;East Meets West; annd Floodtide in the first part; and Shores; Limehouse and San Francisco; Immigrant Society; The Jews of the East; and Hybrids, in the second section. Part Three chapters are titled: Three of the Men; Some of the Women; and Trojan Horse?. Part Four includes: Crooks or Capitalists?; Cultural and National Identities; Melting Pot; Chinatowns; Food; Triads; and Hong Kong. What is needed now is an addendum taking us at least to this new millennium.

Each part is its own story. Each chapter is not only well documented, but also as fascinating as it is scholarly. Each can be read alone or as part of the whole. Each is compelling and deeply rooted in personal perspectives. This great read, that we missed some years back, maps people and places, personalities and predilections, as none before has done for the Chinese worldwide.

The chapter on food is its own tour de force. Lynn Pan speaks of what westerners see through food, how and why the Chinese take their cuisine with them wherever they go, and the impact food has had on their economics and the economics of trade they have spawned, The author understands food and culture, details cookery books, cookery in general, and those who cooked and served it. Pan ends the food chapter saying what most Chinese refuse to admit, that they cannot eat a Chinese dish in its virgin state; and quite often do not want to. Why not, because the Chinese themselves, Chinese food, and so much else has changed, as have their very own taste buds.

The book details changes not only in foods but in physique. It ends with an Epilogue that points out that Chinese dispersal has occurred across one hundred nine countries, and for centuries. The author points out what other scholars have seen, they have left China in four main waves. These are worker-artisan, contract laborer-coolie, sojourner still attached to the mother country, and naturalized-or-born-abroad immigrant-citizen. Some of the latter come from a string of other countries other than China. Adaptation of the diaspora ends this section pointing out that returning to China often means never being able to return permanently in both body and soul.

Yet another section follows this Epilogue; it reveals the author’s own life. It queries the reader asking what is Chinese-ness, who is Chinese, and will there be a reconciliation as those in China see their overseas brethren and recognize their future selves?

Like any good scholarly tome, notes are grouped by chapter after the text, and followed by all works cited. These eight pages are in and of themselves, a course in Chinese migration. Then comes a like-size two-column index to get the reader to a specific item in the text. Readable, enjoyable, and yet another must. It has similarities of hardship, hate, atrocity, and adaptation between this book and the one by Iris Chang. The books reviewed in this issue belong on holiday gift lists; so start your shopping early!

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