Wednesday, October 19th at 7:00 p.m.
The cultural writer Hua Hsu’s non-fiction debut A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific, excerpted in the New Yorker, rescues from obscurity a significant body of work by an immigrant Chinese writer that, with Hsu’s illuminating perspective, makes for a multi-dimensional counterpoint to the American view of China. Hsu will explore these facets – and more – in reading, q&a, with signing to follow.
A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure across the Pacific, tells the story of the interwar years, when American condescension toward “barbarous” China yielded to a fascination with all things Chinese, and the rapturous reception that greeted The Good Earth—Pearl Buck’s novel about a Chinese peasant family—spawned a literary market for sympathetic writings about China. A circle of writers sparked an unprecedented public conversation about American–Chinese relations and became ensnared in bitter rivalries over which one could claim the title of America’s leading China expert. But on the margins—in Chinatowns, on Ellis Island, and inside FBI surveillance memos—a different conversation was taking place. A Floating Chinaman takes its title from a lost manuscript by H. T. Tsiang, an eccentric Chinese immigrant writer who self-published a series of visionary novels and discovered the American literary market to be far less accommodating to his more skeptical view of U.S.–China relations. His “floating Chinaman,” unmoored and in-between, imagines a critical vantage point from which to understand the new ideas of China circulating between the world wars—and today, as well.
“[A] lively debut… Tsiang’s eclectic writings and unusual life provide a great deal of grist for Hsu… Hsu writes in a graceful manner about Tsiang and the people he considered rivals… Tsiang comes across as a fascinating and sometimes maddening figure.”—Jeffrey Wasserstrom, The Wall Street Journal
Hua Hsu is a contributor to The New Yorker and newyorker.com. He has previously written for Artforum, The Atlantic, Grantland, Slate, and The Wire. His work has been anthologized in Best Music Writing and Best African American Essays, and his 2012 essay for Lucky Peach on suburban Chinatowns was a finalist for a James Beard Award for food writing. He also served on the editorial board of A New Literary History of America (2009). He is currently an associate professor of English at Vassar College and a fellow at the New America Foundation. He serves on the executive board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop.