115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Contamination, Contact, and Sex(ual) Justice in Marilyn Chin's Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen

Julia Taylor, University of Oregon

 

This paper applies ecocritical theory to Marilyn Chin’s Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen to show how it counters narratives of yellow peril and colonization. Female homosocial relationships and sexualities serve as potential sites of resistance to these queered, gendered, and racialized power dynamics, challenging racialized notioans of female sexual desire and purity. 

Proposal: 

Chinese take-out has long been ubiquitous in American culture and cultural mythology—both as a typical (preferably inexpensive) weeknight meal, but also as a site of anxiety about contamination. Chinese cuisine must be readily available and inexpensive, and yet it maintains an uneasy relationship with broader American culture. For many white Americans, Chinese takeout becomes a stand-in for Chinese people as the primary point of contact. In Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen, Chin uses images of contamination and consumption to counter narratives of yellow peril and colonization. Female homosocial relationships and sexualities serve as potential sites of resistance to these queered, gendered, and racialized power dynamics.

In “Deadly Perils: Japanese Beetles and the Pestilential Immigrant,” environmental historian Jeannie Shinozuka analyzes archival data to argue that the US government demonized “mutually constitutive Japanese beetles and bodies as deadly yellow perils” (831). Japanese beetles were an invasive species that lead to crop blight in 1920s-30s California. Shinozuka exposes the rhetoric of contagion and poison that underlies legislation, writings, and interviews around Japanese bodies and Japanese beetles. I argue that this same rhetoric of poison can be traced in Marilyn Chin’s Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen when Grandmother Wong’s Chinese restaurant’s business is threatened by rumors of dog meat and food contamination. Further, such histories of yellow peril/poison are inherently at stake in narratives about Asian cuisine in the US. Marilyn Chin taps into existing narratives about Asian-Americans and contamination to challenge racialized notions of female sexual desire and purity.