I grew up in a household of women. My father was the only man, so the Hui family was a woman’s kingdom. Every time I sit down to write about my family I imagine three women— my mother, sister and I, the three main characters of all my stories. I was raised by my mother. But if I’m being honest, I wasn’t only raised by her. There was Mei Fang. She was short, with a wide nose and hair scraped into a loose ponytail. She always smelled very faintly of fish. Rarely do I acknowledge the presence of her life in mine, and the times I do I am forced to reconcile with some knotted feeling of love and guilt, kinship and detachment. Perhaps I could have known her better. Perhaps what I don’t know about her illuminates something I have never explored. Here is her (re)constructed story. －
When I Try To Piece Together The More Invisible And Detached Parts Of Mei Fang’s Life
Mei Fang was my a-yi; the domestic worker that my parents hired when we moved to Shenzhen in 2002. What made Mei Fang different from basically every other person I met in Shenzhen was the fact that her family was actually local. They lived on Lingding Island off the coast of both Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Guangdong people through and through, Mei Fang’s family, pre-reform period, survived off fishing.
Shenzhen was China’s finest Post-Mao creation. Previously called Baoan County, it was a mainly compiled of fishing and farming villages. In 1980, Baoan County became China’s first Special Economic Zone, chosen for its geographical proximity to Hong Kong, a major commercial and industrial port. The population of young, skilled Chinese workers grew as they started working for transnational corporations that started to locate their factories and businesses there. In 1992, Deng Xiaoping embarked on the Southern Tour and visited Shenzhen for the first time. There, he crucially sided with the young workers actively rejecting the rhetoric of hardline Communist Party members who were concerned about Shenzhen’s turn towards consumerism rather than politics as their ideology.
Maxine Hong Kingston and Toni Morrison are two of America’s most famous women writers of color, whose books have usually focused on the experiences of Asian and Black American women using unconventional narrative devices, such as the blending of stories and myth with memoir, or employing a non-linear narrative. The intersection between race and gender is apparent in many, if not most, of Kingston and Morrison’s work. Why, then, have they decided to make the protagonists of their novels Song of Solomon (by Morrison) and Tripmaster Monkey (by Kingston) men? And why have Kingston and Morrison, in these two novels, decided to create, out of each novel, the bildungsroman— one of the most typical forms of narrative in Western literature? Indeed, have they lost their literary radicalness?
While Cesaire’s A Tempest is, in many ways, a re-working of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, it is quite obvious that there are some differences between the plays. For one, why does Cesaire choose to change “The” to “A”? While Shakespeare’s plays tend to tell the fantastic stories of important, singular, and “special” princes, queens, and dukes, Cesaire’s play is about the masses—more specifically, the colonized and downtrodden. The name plays off this difference between playwrights— while The Tempest is ultimately the story of Prospero’s own redemption and forgiveness, A Tempest’s focus is more on the relationships Prospero has with his two slaves, Caliban and Ariel. This focus on the relationship allows Cesaire to create a story about the themes of colonialism and power rather than the singular characters themselves. Prospero represents White European colonialism and Caliban and Ariel represent the colonized. Cesaire recognizes that the story he is telling happens, and is currently happening— it is merely A Tempest, one struggle, in a whole world full of them.
“African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life—but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.” Binyavanga Wainaina, How to Write about Africa
In On Photography, the noted essayist Susan Sontag wrote, “Although there is a sense in which the camera does… capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much as an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are.” The Western world’s interpretation of Africa is underpinned by its history of domination in Africa, subscribing Africa to a few narrow narratives. Africa is presented as a “foil” to the West, a place described in Heart of Darkness as “unearthly”, with Africans described as “savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent”. Upon reading these descriptions, it becomes apparent that the image of Africa has not changed much since the 1800s.