“I Have Heard the Land Sing:” (Re)reading American Landscapes in Shawn Wong’s Homebase and Maxine Hong Kingston’s China Men


  • Selma Siew Li Bidlingmeier




The myths of North America were born out of the imaginaries of the American landscape—the wilderness, the Frontier, the West, the Cultivated Garden. From Washington Irving’s New World folktales, the adventures of Davy Crockett, the landscape artists of the Hudson River School, Concord’s transcendentalists, to Jackson Turner’s thesis, Nature was conceived/perceived as a constant given, as an object, a resource bestowed to the White, Anglo-Saxon, heterosexual male. The project of nation-building required the creation of national narratives and an American consciousness of progress, advancement, strength, and regeneration—through violence, to distinguish itself from the Old World and gain position within a geopolitical-geoeconomic colonial world order. These myths, imagineerings, and historical documentation of the American landscape have systematically silenced and erased the histories of Native Americans, Black slaves, Latino ranchers and Chinese coolie workers and at the same time dehistoricized and depoliticized thehistory of the material, natural world. This paper discusses Chinese American story-telling in Shawn Wong’s Homebase (1979) and Maxine Hong Kingston’s Chinamen (1980) as a means of (re)imagining a material history of the American landscapes in the negotiation of agency. Approaching the history of land(scaping) as material-cultural history formed during the colonial and industrial era, it seeks to understand and complicate the dialectic relationship between the material space of land and the body, the discursive space of American landscapes and identity, and the lived space of experience and memory.


Adamson, Joni and Scott Slovic. “An Introduction to Ethnicity and Ecocriticism.” MELUS. 34.2 (2009): 5-24.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London:
Verso, 1991.
Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.
Bosma, Ulbe, et al., eds. “Sugarlandia Revisited: Sugar and Colonialism in Asia and the Americas, 1800 to
1940, An Introduction.” Sugarlandia Revisited: Sugar and Colonialism in Asia and the Americas, 1800-
1940. New York: Berghahn Books, 2007. 5–30.
Buell, Lawrence. The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imaginations.
London: Blackwell, 2005.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Between Decolonization and the Anthropocene: History Today. International Literature
Festival, 15 September 2019, James-Simon-Gallery, Berlin, Germany. Lecture.
Chin, Frank, et al. Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers. Washington, D.C.: Howard UP, 1974.
Grice, Helena. Maxine Hong Kingston. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2006.
Hayashi, Robert T. “Beyond Walden Pond. Asian American Literature and the Limits of Ecocriticism.” Coming
into Contact: Explorations in Ecocritical Theory and Practice. Eds. Annie Merrill Ingram, et. al. Athens:
Georgia UP, 2007.
Hsu, Hsuan L. “Guåhan (Guam), Literary Emergence, and the American Pacific in Homebase and From
Unincorporated Territory.” American Literary History 24.2 (2012): 281-307.
Kingston, Maxine Hong. China Men. New York: Vintage, 1989.
---. The Woman Warrior. New York: Vintage, 1989.
Lee, Rachel. “Claiming Land, Claiming Voice, Claiming Canon: Institutionalized Challenges in Kingston’s
China Men and The Woman Warrior.” Reviewing Asian America, Locating Diversity. Ed. Wendy L. Ng,
et al. Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1995.
Rhodes, Edward Lao. Environmental Justice in America. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2003.
Wong, Shawn. Hombase. New York: Plume, 1991.






Articles (general section) - American language, literature, and culture