Despite his enormous popularity as a native interpreter of Chinese culture for Western readers, Lin Yutang's literary career has been largely ignored in American studies and only selectively attended to in Asian and Asian American studies. This essay argues that much of this inattention and misreading has been a result of failing to see how Lin's engagement with the discourse on technology (and especially his decades-long attempt to invent an electric Chinese typewriter) was central to both his literary work and its transnational circulation. Whereas some scholars have argued that Lin simply internalized the basic tenets of Euro-American orientalism, Williams contends that Lin's typewriter demonstrates an aggressive attempt to modify and subvert those discursive practices for Asia's benefit. Recasting Lin's career in the context of a discourse he calls “Asia-as-technê” not only provides a more accurate picture of Lin's transnational literary development; it also opens a space for a reading of Lin's novel Chinatown Family that dramatically alters the typical Asian American understanding of his work and offers an important contribution to the larger critical discourse on the place of technology in American studies.
R. John Williams; The Technê Whim: Lin Yutang and the Invention of the Chinese Typewriter. American Literature 1 June 2010; 82 (2): 389–419. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00029831-2010-006
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