Book Review

American Chinese Restaurant: Society, Culture and Consumption is a collection of ethnographic case studies on American Chinese restaurants and personal stories of people who started, worked at, and/or grew up in this business. The essay contributors come from various backgrounds to introduce Chinese restaurants as “dynamic agencies,” inviting readers to ponder on issues including identity, ethnicity, transnationalism, assimilation, and socioeconomic differences. Editors Jenny Banh and Haiming Liu group the essays into five major categories and present them in ways that will interest readers of any background. 

The first part of the book addresses the topic of social analysis. In “Creating and Negotiating ‘Chineseness’ through Chinese Restaurants in Santiago, Chile,” Carol Chan and Maria Montt Strabucchi explore the “dynamic relations between migration, race, the restaurant industry, and national identity in Santiago” (20). Deriving from the interviews with people who run and/or work in Chinese restaurants, Chan and Strabucchi discuss how the people’s Chilean and Chinese identities were expressed and challenged in their communities. Similarly, Patricia Palma and José Ragas’s essay “Feeding Prejudices: Chinese Fondas and the Culinary Making of National Identity in Peru” also raises the issue of identity, particularly the relationship between Chinese restaurants, prejudice, and national identity. This chapter explains how Chinese diaspora and their businesses, especially the chifas (Peruvian-Chinese restaurants) and fondas (small restaurants), continued growing despite opposition from society.

Two essays in the first part of the book analyze the Southeast Asian communities living in Los Angeles and focus on the Chinese donut restaurateurs' practices and strategies to deal with economic issues. Francis Huynh’s “From Chinese Donuts to Leek Cakes: Navigating Los Angeles Chinatown’s Golden Waters” studies Kim Chuy, a Teochew-style restaurant, that had a major influence on the identity formation for the diasporic Teochew community in the United States. Huynh analyzes how the restaurant dealt with economic challenges (e.g., gentrification) and accommodated the growing diversity of customers and workers. Erin Curtis’s “Selling Donuts in the Fragmented Metropolis: Chinese Cambodian Donut Shops in Los Angeles and the Practices of Chinese Restaurants” explores the strategies and practices that helped Chinese Cambodian donut shops succeed in the United States restaurant industry.

In the last essay of this section, “Talk Doesn’t Cook Rice: Chinese Restaurants and the Chinese (American) Dream in Ohio,” Anthony Miller discusses how Chinese restaurant owners in Ohio attempt to present authentic Chinese food to the community without provoking prejudice against Chinese due to the rise of China’s economy. At the same time, Miller also looks at these restaurateurs' struggles and strategies to succeed in the US restaurant industry. 

The second part of the book addresses the topic of culinary histories. In “Surveying the Genealogy of Chinese Restaurant in Mexico: From High-End Franchises to Makeshift Stands,” Yong Chen considers the question of what restaurants can be categorized as Chinese restaurants. He decides to take an inclusive approach by “count[ing] the Mexican-owned ‘Chinese restaurants’ as equally belonging to the general category, and … not [being] concerned with the question of what is ‘authentic’ Chinese food” (89). From his research, he came up with four groups of Chinese restaurants in Mexico, namely the restaurant chains from the United States (e.g., Panda Express), the restaurants intended for people with a Chinese palate, the restaurants catered to the general public, and the restaurants run by Mexicans who once worked in Chinese restaurants in the United States.

Oliver Wang’s “Live at the China Royal: A Funky Ode to Fall River’s Chow Mein Sandwich” discusses the history of Chow Mein Sandwich in Fall Rivers, Massachusetts. Wang highlights the significance of the chow mein sandwich that was considered a “fusion” dish in the Asian Pacific Islander communities.

David Wu’s “Under the Banner of Northern Chinese Cuisine: Invention of the Pan-China Cuisine in American Chinese Restaurants” shares the stories of two successful “Northern Chinese” restaurants. The stories explain the origin of the late twentieth-century “Northern Chinese” dish and how it eventually became known as “Pan-China Cuisine” in most American Chinese restaurants. The history of these restaurants reflects the story of Chinese and Taiwanese diaspora in the United States.

In the essay “Oriental Palaces: Chin F. Foin and Chinese Fine Dining in Exclusion-Era Chicago,” Samuel King explores the story of a famous Chinese restaurateur who established luxurious Chinese restaurants catering to middle- and upper-class white diners. This way, he showed that he was of the “better element” of the Chinese Americans in Chicago, allowing his family and himself to be better accepted by the dominant Americans. 

Haiming Liu’s “Chop Suey, P.F. Chang’s, and Chinese Food History in America” examines the role of chop suey and P.F. Chang’s in the American Chinese culinary history. Chop suey was indeed a major contributor to the popularity of Chinese cuisine in America as it attracted even the famous President Eisenhower. P.F. Chang’s has also been successful in promoting Chinese cuisine, although Liu argued that “it was unrelated to Chinese American identity and culture” (165).

The third part of Banh and Liu’s book contains person-centered narratives. Jacob R. Levin’s “Chinese Restaurants and Jewish American Culture” explains how generations of his Jewish family and other Jewish Americans interacted with Chinese food that it became the “‘most Jewish’ of the ‘non-Jewish’ foods in Jewish American culture” (174). Meanwhile, Cheuk Kwan’s “Last Tango in Argentina” is a first-person account of Kwan’s Chinese restaurant in Argentina, in which he shares his experience meeting Foo-Ching Chiang, a Chinese restaurateur.

Moreover, Jenny Banh contributes three essays in this section. In the “Chinese Restaurant Kids Speak about Labor, Lifeways, and Legacies,” Jenny Banh shares her personal experiences with her immigrant family, describing the experiences she had and life lessons she learned as she grew up working in a Chinese restaurant. “Chinese American Chef Ming Tsai Life of East and West Hybridity” and “Culinary Ambassador Chef Martin Yan Speaks Life, Authenticity, and the Future of Chinese Restaurants” present interviews with Chef Ming Tsai and Chef Martin Yan. In these interviews, the chefs shared their migration stories as well as experiences in running their own Chinese restaurants and food television shows. 

The fourth and fifth parts of the book are related to visuals. Part four is a unique collection of comics which highlight events from the everyday life of owners, workers, and customers of Chinese restaurants. Part five analyzes real photos and building environments of certain Chinese restaurants. 

The fifth part of the book opens with Nicholas Bauch and Rick Miller’s “A Visual Habitat Study for Chinese Restaurants in a California Conurbation.” This chapter analyzes the neighborhood surrounding the “Chinese food mecca” in San Gabriel Valley, CA. The photographs show the local area that plays an important role in supporting the economy of these Chinese restaurants.

Christopher Sullivan’s “Redefining and Challenging the Boundaries of Chinese Cuisine: A Visually Based Exploration of Uyghur Restaurants in the United States” introduces the Uyghur cuisine, which came from a Turkic Muslim population that lives in Xinjiang province, Northwest of China. The Uyghur cuisine challenges Americans to expand their definition of Chinese cuisine. 

The last two essays touch on political and racial issues. Lily Cho’s “Diasporic Counterpublics: The Chinese Restaurant as Institution and Installation in Canada” examines how a Canadian Chinese restaurant became the “diasporic counterpublic” for Chinese Canadian communities. Cho defines “counterpublic” as “a community that exists as a counter to a dominant or mainstream community” (283). In a similar vein, Hongyan Yang’s “Toy’s Chinese Restaurants: Exploring the Political Dimension of Race through the Built Environment” analyzes the history and built environment of Toy’s restaurants in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, particularly their racial representations of Chinese.

American Chinese Restaurant: Society, Culture and Consumption presents various research essays, personal stories, comics, and photographs of Chinese restaurateurs and restaurants. The book invites us to see the realities, joys, and struggles of the American Chinese diaspora. Banh and Liu effectively showcase the essays in ways that will surely attract readers and scholars who are interested in the significant relationships between food and cultural identity.

Multilingualism and Translanguaging in Chinese Language Classrooms by Danping Wang presents research on Chinese as a Second Language (CSL) teaching and learning practices based on an ethnographic classroom study. This book exposes the complex language use in second language classrooms and the debates on monolingual and multilingual teaching methods and practices. It provides the basics of classroom translanguaging research to help equip second language teachers in assessing their classroom practices. Throughout the book, Wang emphasizes how language policy and practices should consider the diverse backgrounds and support the different needs of multilingual students.

Wang begins by introducing the context of the study and summarizing the major events and challenges that affect Hong Kong’s CSL programs. After the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty in 1997, the government required the citizens to acquire Mandarin in addition to Cantonese and English. However, unequipped teachers and the “one-size-fits-all monolingual curriculum” (p. 5) could not support the needs of learners with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds whose numbers were rapidly increasing. Elaborating on these challenges, Wang highlights the urgent need of transforming the second language curriculum and pedagogy to support multilingual learners. 

Chapter 2 dives deeper into the issues regarding the “medium of instruction (MoI) policies and pedagogies in CSL teaching” (p. 17). Despite having different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, CSL programs across the globe usually have similar MoI policies. Moreover, some teachers undervalue the role of learners’ home language in learning a second language. As a result, communication issues among teachers and students increase whereas students’ motivation decreases. 

After presenting the challenges and background of Chinese as a Second Language pedagogy, in Chapter 3 Wang discusses the theories and approach of this study. The key concepts that set the foundation of this research include the origins of the monolingual principle and criticisms against it as well as theories about second language learning, sociocultural, ecology, multi-competence, and translanguaging. Wang further elaborates on the ethnographic classroom research design, research context, and the two research questions examining: 1) the functions of L1 use in L2 classrooms and 2) teachers' and students’ attitudes on monolingual/multilingual learning and teaching practices. 

In Chapter 4, Wang discusses the results of this ethnographic classroom study, focusing on the translanguaging practices and perceptions of the students, teachers, and course developers. The findings suggest that most of the translanguaging practices in this study were for scaffolding purposes. Moreover, Wang provides guiding principles for teachers to incorporate translanguaging in their teaching practices while leveraging the learners’ home languages as an asset to acquire new languages.

In the last chapter, Wang invites us to rethink and ponder some key concepts including “code-switching, medium of instruction, native speaker, English as a lingua franca” in second language teaching and learning (p. 97). The detailed guiding principles of classroom translanguaging research provide teachers with the foundation to evaluate and improve their pedagogical practices, freeing them from monolingual principles. 

This research raises great challenges to the generally acknowledged monolingual CSL curriculum and pedagogy while introducing translanguaging practices that teachers can incorporate to better understand and support multilingual learners. The book will help us as educators to enhance our understanding of second language pedagogy and provide opportunities for our diverse students to contribute their multilingual assets to the classroom.

The “rise of China” since the 1980s has been influencing global politics, economy, technology, and art, and it has also led to greater discourse around the Chinese diaspora. Diasporic Chineseness after the Rise of China: Communities and Cultural Production explores the connections between the political and economic rise of China and the kinds of cultural productions represented by the Chinese diaspora. This collection of essays features personal voices of migrants including intellectuals, businesspeople, writers, and artists as they struggled with their identities as Chinese diaspora, offering a novel insight to the notion of identity and diaspora in general. Julia Kuehn, Kam Louie, and David M. Pomfret, as editors of the book, purposely organized the essays to show the “complex development of diachronic and generational differences within the diaspora” (p. 9).

Following the introduction, in the essay “No Longer Chinese? Residual Chineseness after the Rise of China,” Ien Ang shares her personal experience to reflect on the dynamic meaning of “Chinese diaspora” (p. 20). Ang was born and raised in 1950s and 1960s Indonesia, lived in the Netherlands for 25 years, and has been living in Australia since the 1990s (p. 18). Ang examines the influence of the rise of China on the development of diasporic Chinese identities, wondering if “vernacular, localized, hybrid Chinese diasporic identities” will persist, or instead, be suppressed by the “homogenizing, essentializing, and nationalizing force of a global China” (p. 10).

Meanwhile, China’s success in adopting capitalism led other Chinese diaspora to consider the idea of reterritorialization by returning to their homeland. Ouyang Yu’s “Twenty Years in Migration, 1989-2008: A Writer’s View and Review” highlights the perspective of a migrant writer as he dealt with the “bitter experience of the costs of migration” which made him consider going back to China (p. 11). In a similar vein, Kam Louie’s “Globe-Trotting Chinese Masculinity: Wealthy, Worldly, and Worthy'' examines the plans and strategies of diasporic businessmen in order to succeed in China. The essay further highlights how the “self-worth” of these migrant businessmen was measured by their wealth (p. 11, 47).

Chapters 5 and 6 examine literary-cultural productions that portray Chinese diaspora. In “Textual and Other Oxymorons: Sino-Anglophone Writing of War and Peace in Maxine Hong Kingston’s Fifth Book of Peace,” Shirley Geok-lin Lim discusses Kingston’s notion of identity as an “incongruous unity.” Lim points out that as peace and war are an oxymoron, identities like “Chinese American” can be understood only in conjunction with each other (p. 77). Along the same lines, focusing on two women playwrights, Hilary Chung’s essay “The Autoethnographic Impulse: Two New Zealand Chinese Playwrights” explores the ways diasporic Chinese artists and writers in New Zealand aim to authorize their identity (p. 82).

The next two chapters focus on films. Rey Chow’s “The Provocation of Dim Sum; or, Making Diaspora Visible on Film” explores how the movie Dim Sum reconciles two different representations of China in media—the one represented by older Chinese Americans and the other by the younger generation (p. 13) Meanwhile, in her essay “Performing Bodies, Translated Histories: Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, Transnational Cinema, and Chinese Diasporas,” Cristina Demaria analyzes the film Lust, Caution that may represent people with transnational identities and the complexities—e.g. home and host cultures, local and global, traditional and modern—they are facing (p. 13, 124). 

Chapters 9 and 10 discuss Chinese diasporic dance and artworks. Sau-ling Wong, in “Dancing in the Diaspora: ‘Cultural Long-Distance Nationalism’ and the Staging of Chineseness by San Francisco’s Chinese Folk Dance Association,” presents a case study on a dance association, discussing the rising arguments among different generations of Chinese diaspora on representations of “authentic” Chineseness (p. 14, 146). Yiyan Wang’s “Tyranny of Taste: Chinese Aesthetics in Australia and on the World Stage” discusses how works by diasporic artists are mostly evaluated based on the criteria of the host country and how the rise of China influences such evaluation processes (p. 14, 149).

The last essay, Kwai-Cheung Lo’s “Reconfiguring the Chinese Diaspora through the Ethnic Minorities” concludes the book by emphasizing that ethnic traditions and minorities have significant roles in the development of diasporic communities. The rise of China and the debates between China’s majority and minority communities present different opinions regarding Chinese identity (p. 15, 173).

Through various forms including writings, films, and art, this collection of essays explores how the concept of diaspora has become more “fluid, flexible, and open” (p. 14). The studies and personal experiences discussed in this book have enriched the discourse and sparked further explorations and analyses on the notion of diasporic Chineseness after the rise of China.

The discourse on Chinese Indonesians has focused mostly on the notion of victims and bystanders. Since transitions of powers in Indonesia were often followed by violence against Chinese, writings on Chinese Indonesians have been dominated by prejudice and persecutions especially during the regime changes, portraying Indonesians of Chinese descent as “invasive agents.” Moreover, many of the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, are considered “outsiders” in their host countries since their identity and culture are similar and have mostly remained the same for hundreds of years. These views diminish the significance of Chinese Indonesians’ roles in “shaping, moderating, or stimulating social change in Indonesia” (p. 8). Chinese Indonesians and Regime Change suggests that we need to switch from those perspectives to understand the important contributions of Chinese Indonesians throughout the history of Indonesia. Edited by Marleen Dieleman, Juliette Koning, and Peter Post, the essays collaboratively explore Chinese Indonesians’ “active agency.”

In the introduction, the editors presents an “alternative perspective” that views Chinese Indonesians not only as bystanders or victims of these historical events but also “active agents of change.” The following chapters examine regime changes in Indonesia from multiple perspectives, focusing on the everyday lives of these agents including a shopkeeper, small businessman, and teenager. The book shows how Chinese Indonesians who came from different economic and social backgrounds have significant, active roles in building the future for themselves and the country. 

The book presents this alternative perspective in three parts. The first part focuses on policy and dignity where authors Juliette Koning, Nobuhiro Aizawa, and Andreas A. Susanto explore the notions of “assimilation, identity, and belonging” from multiple perspectives. Koning analyzes the influence of charismatic Christian religious movements on Chinese Indonesians. Quite a number of Chinese Indonesians followed these movements since they provided a sense of “belonging.” Aizawa explores the Chinese assimilation policy during Suharto’s era, especially the ways the Indonesian Ministry of Home Affairs viewed Chinese Indonesians. Susanto studies how Chinese Indonesians, particularly those in the city of Yogyakarta, reacted to Suharto’s assimilation policy and the resulting impact of the policy on their lives.

Moving on to the second part, the essays discuss the notion of justice and representation, exploring how Chinese Indonesians established their identity and rights as citizens. Nobuto Yamamoto demonstrates how peranakan (person of mixed ancestry) Chinese Indonesian journalists, especially the ones living in the 1910s–1930s, were active in promoting nationalism. Moreover, in her essay, Patricia Tjiook-Liem tells Loa Joe Din’s story, a Chinese Indonesian shopkeeper who initiated a transformation in the legal system during the colonial era that affected all Indonesians. 

In the last part, which highlights the theme of survival and creativity, Alexander Claver, Peter Post, and Marleen Dieleman examine the various strategies and creative methods that Chinese Indonesians used to survive and thrive amid transitions of power and changes in the economy between the 1930s and 1990s. Claver examines the MargoRedjo Company, a coffee company from Java, that incorporated advanced marketing strategies that enabled the company to flourish during the Great Depression in the 1930s despite its harm on the Indonesian economy. In his essay, Post discusses the Oei Tiong Ham Concern, the biggest Chinese Indonesian firm in the colonial era, who decided not to align themselves with any specific national identity, but instead focused on protecting the company by making adjustments and embracing new possibilities. Lastly, Dieleman analyzes how the Salim Group survived despite the economic instability caused by the fall of Suharto as well as how they managed to develop cooperation with global entities. 

This book helps to open our eyes and see Chinese Indonesians through the “alternative perspective.” Though regime changes throughout the history of Indonesia had indeed triggered horrors for Chinese Indonesians, they also provided possibilities for Chinese Indonesians to shape their own future, become “active agents of change,” and make significant contributions to the development of the country.

Today, the notion of transnationalism is ever increasing as immigration and globalization continue to rise. Cultural boundaries are blurring; the distinctions between the concepts of native, immigrant, and diaspora begin to fade. Thus, it is imperative for us to learn from individual cultures as well as the mix of these cultures. Moreover, people who have transnational and multicultural backgrounds have fluid identities, enabling them to relate with and be more culturally sensitive towards people from diverse backgrounds. They also have the perseverance and experiences in dealing with prejudice, separation, and displacement. These provide significant contributions to the discourses on transnationalism. 

The book Diasporic Histories: Cultural Archives of Chinese Transnationalism discusses the important role of the Chinese diaspora in transnational discourses. Edited by Deborah Madsen and Andrea Riemenschnitter, this collection of twelve essays examines historical accounts and cultural representations of the Chinese diaspora, exploring how their identities and cultures have been shaped, preserved, and changed over time.

The book explores various historical accounts of the Chinese diaspora. Ping Kwan Leung’s essay “Writing across Borders: Hong Kong's 1950s and the Present” provides a new perspective and analysis on the cultural and linguistic characteristics of Hong Kong literature, disclosing the history of Chinese diaspora in Hong Kong. In the essay “Diaspora, Sojourn, Migration: The Transnational Dynamics of "Chineseness,” Deborah Madsen discusses how the concept of “Chineseness” can no longer be used to refer to a specific cultural identity since there are various factors including language, economy, and literary production which influence identity. Madsen explores the different meanings of sojourning, migration, and diaspora throughout history. Helen Siu, who has done extensive research on the history and ethnography of southern China and Hong Kong since the 1970s, analyzes several major oppositions against China’s political moves within the last few decades to indicate “how diaspora and centre, groundedness and displacement are mutually constitutive.” Prasenjit Duara’s essay “Between Sovereignty and Capitalism: The Historical Experiences of Migrant Chinese” contrasts the history of Chinese immigrants in Southeast Asia and the United States between the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. He further analyzes the relationships between capitalism with nationalism and colonialism. 

Moreover, several essays review the history of Chinese immigration from as early as the Han Dynasty until the 18th century. Nicolas Zufferey, in his essay “Exile in China during the Han Dynasty,” attempts to present the feelings and conditions of the Chinese diaspora, especially their view towards their home and host countries during the Han Dynasty. Roland Altenburger examines the writings of Ji Yun, a mid-18th century Chinese scholar. Altenburger analyzes Ji Yun’s detailed documentation, including verses and prose, of his experiences during exile. 

Besides historical narratives, some essays discuss cultural and literary representations. Mary Shuk-han Wong wrote “The Voyage to Hong Kong: Bildungsroman in Hong Kong Literature of the 1950s,” in which through the Bildungsroman perspective, she analyzes refugee literature (难民文学) of the mid-20th century that shares the experiences and conditions of mainland Chinese who escaped to Hong Kong. The essay “Women and Diaspora: Zhao Shuxia's Novel Sai Jinhua and the Quest for Female Agency” by Kathrin Ensinger explores the way Zhao Shuxia, a diasporic woman, retells the story of Sai Jinhua, a courtesan and a well-known figure who “offers a link between a complex tradition of courtesan culture with its strong ties to the male literati world of imperial China and modernity.” Ensinger further discusses how the life of a courtesan, including being displaced and separated from family, resembles that of the diasporic immigrants.

Furthermore, some essays examine more recent fiction narratives. Sau-Ling Wong explores a rare, yet crucial topic in her essay “The Yellow and the Black: Race and Diasporic Identity in Sinophone Chinese American Literature.” She analyzes how the identities of Chinese diaspora were constructed in some Chinese American fiction and how Black characters have a significant role in this notion of identity construction. The essay “Another Diaspora: Chineseness and the Traffic in Women in Fruit Chan's Durian Durian” by Pheng Cheah examines the condition of China’s small businesses after the Hong Kong Handover. Cheah also discusses the movie Durian Durian that represents Hong Kong’s unsteady economic condition during that era. Andrea Riemenschnitter’s essay studies Taiwanese and Hong Kong fiction writings within the past few years that are related to transculturalism and diaspora, especially their contribution to the discussion on queer transnationalism. In the last article “Double Diaspora? ‘Re-Presenting’ Singaporeans Abroad,” Tamara Wagner discusses how the current fiction narratives about the Chinese diaspora in Singapore and Asia Pacific countries are combinations of superficial multiculturalism that attracts Westerners and “profoundly ironic, self-reflexive re-plottings of the region's historical triangulations of diaspora, migration, and cultural hybridity.”

These twelve essays profoundly explore, analyze, and highlight the Chinese diaspora’s experiences, expressions, and contributions across different times and places. These essays present readers with possibilities and challenges to conduct further studies and research on transnationalism.