In The Year of the Dragon Asian American playwright Frank Chin narrates the story of Fred Eng, a Chinese American tour guide who makes his living by taking white American tourists through the crowded streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Fred is continually frustrated by his job, which requires him to pander to Orientalist fantasies about Chinese Americans that lead to easy conflations of Chinatown with China, eliding the racial histories that mark Chinese Americans as Americans. To be heard, he must speak in terms that the mainstream understands. For Eng this means talking about food. “Food’s our only common language,” becomes his refrain through the play. He castigates his sister, a cookbook author, for inventing a “new literary form” that Chin names “food pornography.” Sau-Ling Wong describes this as the deliberate self-promotion of one’s ethnic heritage, particularly in the culinary realm, within a capitalist exploitative framework (1993, 58–62). For Chin, writing about food can only be pornographic—it exoticizes Asian cultures for an American audience eager to consume the palatable elements of multiculturalist difference (Mannur 2005).

This essay may be found on page 95 of the printed volume.

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