Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow in the Humanities
2009—2010 Forum on Connections
Reading Race and Capital in Ha Jin
This project examines the contemporary bilingual writer Ha Jin’s prose through the economy of race and capital. Two theses popular since the postwar era are behind the economy of race and capital which I pose: the model minority discourse, which posited that Asian Americans are well suited for economic integration because of their cultural values, and bilingualism as human capital, which was persuasively used to advocate bilingual education in public schools and transform the liability of bilingualism into an asset. As a writer whose life in the U.S. is intimately tied to the historical turmoil in modern China and who continuously works through questions of exile, immigration, and writing in and between two languages, Ha Jin’s prose raises interesting questions about the cultural capital of bilingual writers in Asian American cultural criticism. In this project, I focus on his representations of China, the question of ethnic authenticity and his self-reflections on the bilingual writer to examine how race and capital function in the reception and understanding of Ha Jin’s prose as part of Asian American literature.