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Representation of China in Ha Jin’s Works and the Controversy over Orientalism

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Representation of China in Ha Jin’s Works andthe Controversy over OrientalismLEE, Su MeeChinese American Writer, Ha Jin has been writing exclusively about the lifein his native Communist China. His stories and poems are almost all about theChinese people so far. In addition, the distinctive Chinese flavour and the inexorablyrepressive image of China in his works present an ‘Other’ to the American culture. Such kind of Chineseness can also be found in Ha Jin’s works and his careeras a writer. The continued demand for knowledge of China, which is createdby China’s increasingly important role in the globalized economy, sustains thecountry’s position as an Other for America. In his early four novels, Ha Jin portrays a totally repressive image of CommunistChina, an image of which functions perfectly as a form of otherness for his Americanreaders. In Ha Jin’s portrayal, the Chinese masses are subjected to the Communistauthority through its bureaucracy and state-economy mechanism, as well as throughthe godlike image of Mao Zedong. They are to follow the Communist conscienceand subscribe to unity-in-difference. Deviation from the one-party rule is intolerable. In each of the novels, Ha Jin presents a specific system of repression. In In thePond, confrontation against Party authority is contained by a process of complicity. In Waiting, the Party’s power is upheld through a system of surveillance in whichpeople act as agents, resulting in a web of power which paralyses love. The Crazedillustrates a play of power by Party officials which, against the backdrop of theTiananmen Square Massacre, is full of craze itself, driving people either out ofsanity or out of the country. War Trash exposes the Communist power’s repressionto the extreme by presenting a case of dishonour in those whose life is debasedas trash by the Party. The repressive image of China produced in these stories,which span over half a century, makes Ha Jin’s China a perfect Other for theWest. To sum up, Ha Jin’s novels construct a repressive image of China. In his novels,Ha Jin exposes the working of repression in particular systems. Through thesesystems, he problematizes the notion of personal autonomy for Chinese peopleand proposes for his western/American readers a solution which eventually turnsinto a re-presentation of American hegemony.

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