Ha Jin’s representation of the Chinese and Chinese Americans in A Good Fall (2009).
Ha Jin's representation of the Chinese and Chinese Americans in A Good Fall is particularly relevant because of the author's background. A native of China, Jin grew up under Communist rule and went to study in the United States during the 1980s. At the time of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, he was still in America, and as a result of the harsh actions of his government, he decided to stay longer than expected in the USA. He has never been back to China since, and his writing reflects the struggle of a Chinese identity in exile, and mirrors his own adjustment to American life. Thus, the narratives of A Good Fall, which are all set in Flushing, New York, are particularly apt and relevant to Jin's own experiences. The emotional and moral struggles of Chinese Americans are presented in various ways, and are reinforced through dialogue and expressions. The characters display a certain vulnerability, which is related to the Chinese identity. Often it is apparent that there is a fundamental clash between the 'old' Chinese identity, and the more modern and worldly Chinese-American identity. Jin portrays these differences as important, but also nuanced in that value systems can overlap and identities are not always clear-cut. A Good Fall is an intimate glimpse into the potential mindset of many Chinese Americans, in how they react with the new culture around them and the culture they somewhat left behind.
One of the main themes that Ha Jin expresses in A Good Fall is the idea of distance. His representation of Chinese Americans often deals with significant distance, which can take either emotional or physical forms. For instance, the most obvious form of distance explored is the actual distance between the Chinese Americans' home of Flushing, New York, and their original homeland of China. In the story 'Temporary Love,' the character Lina expresses the negativity of distance, as, "the weight of the two families, despite the distance of an ocean and a continent, came back to her all of a sudden." Jin is showing how powerful the physical distance between China and the USA is, and how it can still take an emotional toll. In this instance, it is not a longing feeling that affects Lina's character, it is instead the impact and pressure that her family can still have on her from such a vast distance. They achieve this penetration through passing on news and requests through Lina's estranged husband. Thus, the distance is shown to be so vast yet still not enough to remove herself from unwanted pressure and burdens. Jin's portrayal of distance is not always negative in association, as more favourable examples can be garnered from 'The House Behind A Weeping Cherry.' The protagonist Wanping says, "I was miserable and couldn't help but miss home," and further that he could usually suppress being homesick, because, "A busy man cannot afford to be nostalgic." This adds a new dimension to the portrayal of Chinese Americans as being affected by the physical distance between their new and old homes, as it can be both negative and positive. Jin’s representation is nuanced and mixed regarding the concept of distance, just like the human character tends to be.
Jin more conceptually explores the idea of emotional distance. As part of the ongoing theme that Chinese Americans are struggling to adapt to a Westernised life, the characters are also portrayed as struggling to maintain emotional ties to their relations. The idea of separation and disconnection are key in showing Chinese Americans to be ultimately frustrated and detached in their personal lives. Even the disjointed language used by the characters hints at a certain separation and breakdown of communications for many. The emotional distance is exemplified in 'The Beauty,' when the married couple, Dan and Gina sleep separately, "because he often worked deep into the night and because she wanted to sleep with their baby." One can garner from this the degree of separation that these characters face, and also the cause of their emotional distance: differences in priorities and intimacies. Here the spectre of dedication to hard work haunts the two characters' relationship, and bridges the gap between the two individuals. This also adds evidence to Jin's portrayal of Chinese people generally being overly hardworking and subservient to their jobs. Jin is representing the Chinese Americans as more individualistic than Chinese society itself, with their own issues and problems that has the ability to disrupt their personal relationships.
Further to this, Jin also portrays the distance between the Chinese and Chinese Americans through cultural clashes and emotional backlash. This is most clear in the story 'In The Crossfire,' where the main character Tian's mother travels from China and disrupts his home life in Flushing. The line, "Since his mother's arrival, Tian and his wife had slept in different rooms," is particularly telling. Jin is portraying the bridged gap between Chinese and Chinese Americans, as causing emotional distance. Tian's mother disrupts his personal relationship, which is more 'American' and less rigidly defined as in China. Therefore, the relative distance between the character Tian and his old home of China, represented by his mother, is increased and proves detrimental to his new relationships with his wife and the USA as a whole. Jin shows that the traditional 'Chinese traits' of upholding tradition and utter dedication to work, creates distance between Chinese Americans and their past. In turn, this distance builds up more emotional distance between different characters. Ultimately, both physical and emotional distance is represented as a part of many Chinese Americans' experiences, in direct relation to their Chinese background. The Chinese American identity is particularly affected by the concept of distance, even if just to prove that no distance is far enough to escape some forms of baggage and meddling.
As well as showing the theme of separation and distance in A Good Fall, Jin noticeably demonstrates the closeness of the Chinese community, to a contrasting effect. Jin connects the homeland of China to the lives of Chinese Americans, in a way overcoming the vast distance between the two places as previously explored. In 'In The Crossfire," the character Meifen is shown to especially befriend those neighbours who were from her own region in China. Similarly, the protagonist Jufen in 'A Pension Plan,' supposes that because both her employer and her client come from Nanjing, they would be on especially good terms. Jin shows that Chinese Americans are interconnected within their culture, especially to those from their own part of China originally. The area of Flushing is the greatest encapsulation of this concept. The community is portrayed as extremely close-knit, to the point where the main character in 'The Beauty,' Dan, describes it as, "isolated culturally," a place where, "most immigrants…didn't bother to use English in everyday life." Jin shows the reader the extremes of the closeness of the Chinese community in the USA. This limits the Chinese Americans’ cultural assimilation into the West, because of the extent to which their Chinese communities have been preserved, creating a distorted concept of what ‘home’ really is. The closeness of this community is juxtaposed against the physical distance between the two worlds, yet this closeness also comes across as suffocating and overcrowding, hence Dan's frustration with Flushing in 'The Beauty.'
The closeness of the Chinese community is often represented as a disadvantage for many of the characters. Even with the previous example from 'A Pension Plan,' Jufen cannot receive fair treatment because her employer favours the client from his home city during a dispute. Similarly, in 'Temporary Love' the taboo relationship between the characters Panbin and Lina is exposed, and the news even reaches China because of how close the Chinese community are in Flushing. As Panbin explains to Lina, "Anyone who resented us being together could tattle on us." Thus, Jin portrays the Chinese community’s intimacy as disadvantageous to anyone trying to conceal a secret or live in a way deemed inappropriate by conventional standards. The characters may be distant from China, but they are not far enough away to escape the grasp of their social responsibilities completely. In 'The House Behind A Weeping Cherry,' the prostitute Huong is threatened by her pimp if she does not pay him back. The character Wanping acknowledges that this could have repercussions in Asia too, as he says that the man, "likely had networks in China and Vietnam that could hurt our families." Thus, Jin presents Chinese Americans as beholden to their roots, which are heavily intertwined within their own lives in the West. Everything they do in the USA could lead to ill effect in China as a result of the tightness of the Chinese American community and its connection to the homeland. Thus, Jin shows the disadvantage of having a close Chinese community in a new place, as it increases the scrutiny some could face and ultimately hinders their freedom.
Related to this, Jin also focuses on the prospect of the USA as a unique land for Chinese migrants. Despite the uniformity of Flushing, many of the characters break the mould eventually, and in the process they sever their Chinese ties. The final story, 'A Good Fall,' contains many references to the ability to start one's life anew in America. For instance, the protagonist Ganchin is told by others that, "This is America, where it's never too late to turn over new page," and further, "You mustn't think of yourself as a stranger-this country belongs to you if you live and work here."  Jin presents these characters' admirations for American freedom as a stark contrast to the constraints of Chinese society and government. This could reflect Jin's own experiences with the Chinese state, such as being refused entry to his native country and receiving limited opportunities to print his work there in its original language. In a way like the author, Chinese Americans are portrayed as given opportunities that perhaps many Chinese people are not, although this could come at a price that they can never return to their homeland if they fully break out.
In 'A Good Fall,' the real value of an American life is revealed after Ganchin's attempt to commit suicide only leads to a second chance at making a living and surviving in the country. Thus, one can see the positive characteristics of the USA for Chinese immigrants, under the right circumstances. Similarly, in 'The Beauty,' Gina refers to her plastic surgery being a saving grace, saying, "I love my beauty. It's the best thing America gave me." Gina is shown to be grateful for a chance to alter her supposedly off-putting appearance, and credits the country as allowing her to have such a purely aesthetic and confidence-boosting procedure. Relevantly, the reason that she tells her husband that she altered her appearance this way, is because of her dubious connection to the character Fooming, who represents her past. Therefore, Jin again shows that having baggage from the mainland and maintaining any semblance of a connection there can jeopardise a fresh start. Only the USA as a ‘promised land’ can give such immigrants hope, yet it only functions effectively if the characters in question are starting completely fresh, thus isolating them in a different way. Therefore, Chinese Americans are represented through difficult choices about whether to make or break connections with their past to succeed, leaving them especially vulnerable.
Jin personifies the traditional Chinese culture as a restraint on the Chinese American life, portrayed through overbearing and frustrating characters such as Meifen in 'In The Crossfire.' Jin shows such characters to be critical and negative of the lifestyles of their Chinese American relatives because it goes against their traditions. The character Panbin in 'Temporary Love' expresses contempt with burdens of China and the past, saying by the end of the narrative, "From now on I won't date a Chinese woman again. Just sick of it-every Chinese has so much baggage of the past, too heavy for me to share and carry." Jin is articulating, through Panbin's speech, a criticism of Chinese links to the past. Panbin’s character is informed through his experiences with the debacle of having a 'wartime wife' when their spouses are back in China, and the aftermath of this. Jin criticises the Chinese emphasis on social traditions, which creates the chaos of the story when Lina's 'original' husband comes to America and uproots the real relationship she shares with Panbin. Thus, the indication is that even though the Chinese immigrant tradition of a 'wartime couple' brought the two characters together, it also operates as a hindrance, as they can never be more than temporary lovers because of the rigidity of the social rules they abide by.
The customs of marriage, fidelity and earning and caring for your spouse are shown to hold a great weight for the Chinese characters, to the point where it disrupts more promising and fulfilling relationships in America. The absurdity of this situation is demonstrated through Lina's feelings; ""she longed to have that intense intimacy with Panbin for the last time. After Zuming came, she would have to become a faithful wife again." Lina's true passion is clear, but she is bound by her past commitments, which is emphasised by Chinese custom. When Lina's husband comes to America, her character is forced to revert to the past and stay in what is shown to be an unhappy and inadequate marriage for the sake that it is a marriage. Jin is presenting Chinese Americans as having potential to break out of old traditions, but too often being bound by the burdens of their past. Panbin's adverse reaction to all Chinese women by the end of the narrative is an example of just how much baggage the Chinese carry from their respective homes. Both characters end up in adverse situations because of the traditional trait of staying loyal to one's past and commitments, even if that past is problematic itself.
Regarding the burdens of a Chinese past, Jin effectively represents Chinese Americans as always having one mind in China, because of their commitments to providing for their families back home. The concept is presented as an accepted fact of life for many Chinese Americans, such as when Wanping considers what the prostitute Huong has to go through in 'The House Behind A Weeping Cherry;' "She was young and beautiful and shouldn't be selling herself like that. For sure she had to send her parents money regularly, but there were other ways of making a living." Wanping does not want her to continue as a prostitute, yet he admits that sending her parents money back home should be the top priority, not her immediate safety. Thus, Jin establishes the practice of Chinese Americans providing for their families in another land as a necessity and something to be achieved at all costs. Indeed, this task is shown to be the only option for Huong to be in America, and once she is there, she is trapped. For example, she says, "I often dream of going back, but my parents won't let me…they only want me to send them more money." This really shows that the custom of sending money back to China does not take into account how miserable or degrading the jobs in America might be for an immigrant. The pressure of this stipulation leads to extreme cases such as Ganchin's fate in 'A Good Fall,' where his lack of ability to earn money for his parents drives him to attempt suicide. The reasoning behind such an extreme is explained, "If he died here, at least some of the creditors might take pity on his parents and forgive the debts. Oh, this was the only way he could help his family!" Jin is highlighting the extreme pressure on Chinese Americans to provide for their families in China through the despair of Ganchin. The commitments to China are shown to be burdens for the individual. Jin portrays the pressures on Chinese Americans as extremely consequential but entirely necessary in their minds. In this sense, it trumps even life itself in terms of what matters most to these characters, as Ganchin would rather die than return to his parents penniless.
This point also illustrates the disconnect between the Chinese and Chinese American characters in Jin's work. Jin demonstrates that Chinese families often do not comprehend the difficulties that their relatives face in America in actually raising enough money for them. In 'The Bane of the Internet,' the main character's feelings are succinctly summarised through the line, "My family always assumes that I can pick up cash right and left here. No matter how hard I explain, they can't see how awful my job at a sushi job is." This suggests an ignorance of the plights that working Chinese Americans face in trying to survive and send money back to their families at the same time. The pressure even spreads beyond immediate family as shown in 'In the Crossfire,' when Tian muses that, "The old woman must still bear a grudge against him and Connie for not agreeing to sponsor his nephew…who was eager to go to Toronto for college." The burden is so great that a Chinese American like the character Tian is expected to help out other relatives at his own expense, and is supposedly punished for not providing for enough people. Thus, Jin demonstrates how unsympathetic Chinese families expect a return for sending their kids to America, without appreciation for how difficult this process could be for the immigrants themselves.
In keeping with this theme, the idea of struggle is also a vital part of Jin's portrayal of both Chinese and Chinese American characters. The theme of hard work is especially relevant to Chinese culture, and can be garnered from many of the short stories. In 'Shame,' Hongfan responds to his Chinese professor's assertion that he is earning a lot of money in the USA, stating, "He could hardly imagine how hard I worked." Again, this hints at the disconnect between the Chinese image of America as a rich and rewarding society, and the Chinese Americans who have struggled very hard to achieve some semblance of prosperity in the country. Hongfan is clearly shown by Jin to not have an easy life, yet his professor is envious of what he is doing because of the implications of living in America as opposed to living in China.
The community of Flushing, New York, is portrayed as representative of the amount of hard work that Chinese immigrants in America have to do. This idea is articulated with a line from 'The Beauty;' "New arrivals had made little effort to protect the environment, or perhaps they were too desperate for survival to worry about that." This shows that just trying to survive may be the primary motivation for many Chinese Americans. Hence, characters such as the prostitutes in 'The House Behind A Weeping Cherry' are portrayed sympathetically by Jin, as they are just another part of a wider immigrant community that are struggling getting by in America. This understanding is shown through the character Wanping's realisation that prostitution is just another job; "once I got to know the women a little better, I realized that they were not "bloodsuckers," as people assumed. Like everyone else, they had to work to survive. I too was selling myself." His character appreciates that he is not so different than anyone that has a profession that still entails hard work or sacrifice. Jin is demonstrating the struggle of Chinese Americans in any profession, and the extent to which they have to 'sell themselves,' physically or otherwise. Their lives often centre on work, and the job itself is irrelevant because it is just another means to sustain themselves.
As well as focusing on the strain of hard work, Jin also represents the Chinese identity as revolving around money. Almost every story has references to the societal obsession with earning enough money, and the stigma involved in having too little. This is related to the struggle of living in America, which may have a higher standard of living and better wages than China, but also comes with higher expenses such as rent and food. Even minor characters such as Fanku in 'A Good Fall' attest to the power of money, saying, "Sometimes I'm so desperate for cash that I feel like mugging someone." The extremity of this desperation demonstrates that the struggle of Chinese Americans in Jin's narrative is based around both relentless hard work and a lack of money. In 'The Bane of the Internet,' the protagonist specifies that she will lend her sister the money she made "by working [her] ass off." The character's point is to highlight to her Chinese sibling that the money she is begging for did not come from nowhere, and was in fact a result of dedication to an unglamorous job. Yet again, Jin is emphasising that this short-sighted obsession with money does not account for the harsh reality of working full-time as an immigrant in America. The Chinese identity revolves around earning money, whether it is to expect monetary help or to struggle to make enough to survive. The pitfalls of having too much money is also explored by Jin, which only adds strength to the issue of societal obsession with money, as it can go both ways in a sense. When discussing a particular client of the prostitutes in 'The House Behind A Weeping Cherry,' one character reveals that, "Money's the root of the trouble. He's so rich he can't find a trustworthy wife." This quote shows that this man's wealth makes him a target to money-orientated society, and is vulnerable in a different way to someone with no money at all.
In terms of the strictly Chinese identity, many characters put into an American setting display an even stronger emphasis on the importance of money. This is made especially apparent to the reader in 'Children as Enemies.' The grandfather of the family is shown to clash with his more Westernised grandchildren, prompting him to say, "Auto mechanics make good money here-I know a fellow at a garage who can't speak any English but pulls in twenty-four dollars an hour, plus a generous bonus at the end of the year. I made it clear to my son that a few tricks in "art" would never get his kids anywhere in life." The Chinese ‘old’ world values are represented through this character, as opposed to the more relaxed or open-minded attitudes of assimilated Chinese Americans. Here, the grandparent emphasises that working a manual job with an impressive pay is more important than anything creative or artistic that does not produce the same material rewards. The extent to which pay is important to him is apparent because the example he gives is of someone who does not even speak English, in America of all places. Thus, he places emphasis on earnings above even learning the language of one’s country of residence. Jin is effectively demonstrating the Chinese focus on the importance of money, which may be more about survival for many Chinese Americans, but could mean everything to many Chinese nationals.
This relates to another theme running through A Good Fall about the differences between Chinese and Chinese American identities. It is often framed as a generational issue, which makes sense given that younger members of a family, more able to work, are the most likely to be sent to America to provide for their elders back home. Thus, when these two types of people are brought together in the narrative, there is likely to be a clash between the older and more traditional Chinese, and the somewhat-Westernised younger generation. In 'A Pension Plan,' the elderly character’s daughter is said to regard traditional Chinese medicine, which he often uses, "as quackery." This difference of opinion shows the generational and cultural disparity between the Chinese who remained in China until later in life, and those that emigrated young. 'Children as Enemies' really outlines this collision of opinions, as the plot explores the differences of the older Chinese generation with American life. Everything from the children's decision to change their Chinese names, to their dislike of superstition and learning the Chinese language, is shown to completely decimate all the traditions that the older characters hold dear. The concept of caring for and respecting the older generation is clearly challenged in the more Westernised household. The difference is especially demonstrated with a line from the grandfather, "At our ages…it's hard to adjust to life here. In America it feels as if the older you are, the more inferior you grow." The juxtaposition is clear because in China, being elderly and more experienced commands more respect. In this storyline, the two Chinese grandparents are dismissed and challenged by their grandchildren instead. Thus, generational friction is exasperated by the differences between a purely Chinese upbringing, and one shared between Chinese and American identities.
Another aspect explored by Jin is the importance of status. This can appear in the form of the status of material possessions, or through more abstract notions of upholding familial or societal positions. The whole basis of 'The Bane of the Internet' explores the importance of this, with Yuchin writing from China to her sister of the 'need' for a car; "I cannot drive a Chinese model. If I did, people would think I am cheap and laugh at me." The fact that she is later willing to offer her organs for a car, but only for one that comes with a particular image, is telling of the importance of status and appearance for many Chinese characters. Similarly, the character Meifen explains in 'In the Crossfire,' that, "You must give me some money. I can't go back [to China] empty-handed or our neighbours will laugh at me." Here, the fear of being publicly perceived as poor or downtrodden means everything to Chinese characters like Meifen and Yuchin. The status of wealth, combined with the overall societal focus on money, is assigned importance through just how seriously these characters take it, and how vulnerable they are to its power.
When it comes to other forms of status, the implication is the same. The concept of marriage is shown to be very important, and many characters are afraid of being seen in public doing anything to disrupt this traditional image. For instance, during Dan's accusations of his wife in 'The Beauty,' he asks, "You're a married woman, but you dined with a bachelor in a restaurant on a busy street. Who's insane?" Thus, his character is suggesting that it is "insane" to be seen with a man who is not her husband, as people will gossip, which clearly matters to him. Jin is showing how much those with Chinese origin may think about the importance of appearance. This sentiment is echoed in 'Temporary Love,' when Lina's husband comes to America. She kisses him but he does not reciprocate, instead saying, "Hey, we're in public." Thus, again the debate is framed in a way that separates the 'old' Chinese identity, with the more relaxed Western approach. Public displays of affection appear to be outside the realm of acceptable practice for Chinese characters, in the same vein as the appearance of infidelity. Jin's representation of the Chinese is an emphasis on their concern about the notion of status and keeping up appearances.
Related to this idea of status, is the importance of 'saving face.' Jin shows this to be a real concern for many Chinese characters in A Good Fall; indeed, many of the plots are based on its significance. In 'Temporary Love' for instance, Lina says, about leaving Panbin for her estranged husband, "This has little to do with love. I'll try to be a good wife to him." Therefore, her character places greater emphasis on keeping up the appearance of a solid marriage, than on any virtues of love or intimacy. This relates back to a previous point about appeasing traditions. Later on in the narrative, when it is revealed that her husband knew about the affair with Panbin, she realises that she will have to pay for his schooling, as it would be the only way to stop him, “disclosing her affair to her in-laws and thus bringing her parents to shame." The concepts of shame and dishonour are so great to the Chinese culture that it appears to be acceptable to endure an unhappy marriage and lose all your savings just to avoid embarrassment and scandal for your family. Such characters end up falling victim to the power of fear.
The concept of love and happiness are sacrificed for the greater good of saving face and upholding tradition, no matter the negative consequences of such an act personally. Jin demonstrates that the Chinese culture places great value on appearance and conforming to societal expectations; having a 'strong' marriage and having an adequate social standing and wealth, is given preference over a personal satisfaction with life. Even characters that find some kind of escape or joy by the end of their narrative are shown to second-guess their decisions based on what others might think. In 'The House Behind A Weeping Cherry,' Wanping describes his love for Huong, but her prostitution always remains an issue of honour for him. He says that, "it would be shameful to have an easy woman as a girlfriend," and further that once they were together, they would, "conceal her past from others." Thus, the stigma of keeping up appearances is never fully resolved, as even the more content characters display a conscious attitude of how to save face. This only shows how dramatic and intense the desire to keep up appearances can be within Chinese culture.
In terms of politics, Jin's representation of the Chinese and Chinese Americans in A Good Fall often links back to the Chinese state. Jin portrays many characters as victims or participants of China's Communist government, thereby intermingling their past with the political power of China, even if they have left it behind physically. This likely comes from Jin's own experience of not being able to re-enter China after being openly critical of the Chinese Communist Party. In fact, the character Dan in 'The Beauty,' seems to mirror the author's own experiences, when it is explained that he had "renounced the Party membership mainly out of indignation at the carnage of civilians," and found that after that, "everything seemed to work out to his advantage." Jin's projection of his own life shows how closely linked the Chinese identity is to the state itself. In the same story, Dan exerts leverage on Fooming with the information he knows about Fooming's Communist background, which had not been formally renounced as his had. Fooming's reasoning is that if he declared a public renouncement of the Party, it would affect the lives of his family in China. This shows the power that the CCP wields in affecting the lives of the individual, even after they may have migrated to America. The risks of being a Party member whilst in America are contrasted to the rewards of retaining Party membership in China, such as in 'In the Crossfire,' when Meifen states, "Your father enjoys some leisure only because he joined the revolution early in his youth. He's entitled to his pension and free medical care." The suggestion is that preference is given in China to those most loyal to the state. This is particularly notable given Jin’s background as once being a loyal soldier in the People’s Liberation Army, only to become a dissident and resident of the USA. Jin presents these characters as having no choice but to be politically conscious, and they are affected by the power of the state even if they live abroad.
The political situation in China is a backdrop to many of the stories and is tied to many character’s identities. In ‘Shame,’ Mr. Meng is presented as a product of the Communist state. For instance, he only learned English instead of Russian after China and the former Soviet Union fell out, which enabled his continued study of English as a professor. Further to this, he tells Hongfan that his own generation was, "ruined by political movements in our formative years." Jin shows Mr. Meng to be a composite character of a Communist-era scholar, doomed in intellectual freedom and choices by the state's restrictions. Mr. Meng’s work in English is described as limited to "rehashing official views and interpretations," due to all the state censorships. Thus, despite Mr. Meng's clear intelligence, he is ultimately restricted by the system that he lives in, a feat that Ha Jin himself managed to escape and be able to write freely about China. In contrast to Mr. Meng, the younger Chinese American Hongfan is shown to be more worldly and self-aware, even though the professor is a more senior figure. Thus, one can see that his character has been negatively impacted by the power of the state, as it limits his knowledge and then forces him into hiding when he wants to escape such a life. Hongfan clashes more directly with the state, arguing with the guard at the Chinese embassy who does not admit him to the building, saying, "You make me ashamed of holding this passport," prompting the man to reply, "Get a blue one with a big eagle on it-as if you could." The guard represents the power that the Chinese state holds, and the reality that the option to be granted American citizenship is unlikely. Thus, the Chinese American identity is still connected to the global identity of China’s political state, even if one wants to break out of it.
Jin furthers this theme of the power of the state by suggesting that it takes preference over individuality within Chinese culture. In 'A Good Fall,' the character Master Zong's plan to kidnap and send Ganchin back to China is described by him as not personal, but rather to attempt to not "sully China's image" by allowing the monk to "roam the streets of New York." Thus, the perception of China as a whole is more important than the wellbeing or wishes of an individual such as Ganchin. Many are presented as giving the country a personification over individual concerns. In 'The House Behind A Weeping Cherry,' Wanping reacts to this idea when Lili says, "I feel so awful to be Chinese here, because China always makes cheap products," and, "China has degraded its people and let me down." This prompts Wanping to ask, "How could an individual blame a country for her personal trouble?" Jin is challenging how the state can hold such sway and influence over individuals' identities. The idea goes both ways, as if individuals do something unsavoury it is said to reflect badly on the whole country, but also if the country produces something shoddy, individuals are subject to criticism for it. Jin shows the absurdity of both situations, and is ultimately demonstrating how closely tied Chinese identity is to the state itself. This erodes how much individuality one person can claim, if the actions of the state reflect onto them, and their actions are dictated by how much damage it could do to China as a whole.
Despite the friction presented between the identity of Chinese and Chinese Americans, Jin still creates an atmosphere of longing for home comforts in A Good Fall. Particularly, food is used in this instance to portray a sense of stability in the characters' lives. Again and again, Chinese food is used as a cultural signifier and a representation of comfort. For instance, it is presented as an incentive to stay within the Chinese immigrant community in America. The character Dan in 'The Beauty,' tells of an old Taiwanese couple that wanted to move from Switzerland to Flushing simply because of the availability of authentic Chinese food there. Thus, one can begin to see the scope of how much food matters to Chinese migrants, as it could be one of the most important reminders of home they have. In 'Choice,' Flushing's restaurants are described as appealing to immigrants because they were, "offering the foods of their left-behind homes." Jin here is making it even clearer how much food can mean to those who have left their home in China, and treats it as a stabilising influence. It even serves as an indication to which part of China one character might come from, such as when Huong cooks wheat noodles for Wanping in 'The House Behind A Weeping Cherry;' "She must have guessed that, as a northerner, I would prefer wheat." Food is a nuanced and subtle influence on the identity of Chinese Americans; it is presented by Jin as a small home comfort in the midst of larger problems for these characters.
Jin ultimately shows both the Chinese and Chinese Americans in A Good Fall to be victims of their own circumstances. No matter the differences between the characters over the separate narratives, they are shown to be living with regrets over important life choices. Hence, the repetition of the phrase "if only" across many of the tales. In 'In the Crossfire,' it is Tian's regret over allowing his mother to move in with him in Flushing: "If only he'd thought twice before writing his mother the invitation letter needed for her visa." In 'An English Professor,' it's about job security: "If only I had changed fields in '89." In 'A Pension Plan,' it's about youth, "If only I were thirty years younger!", and in 'A Good Fall,' it is about America: "If only I had been born here." These quotes are about different subjects but all illustrate a longing for another chance, and regrets about the path these characters' lives has taken. Thus, Jin is illustrating a common Chinese American cause to live in the past and not fully appreciate the positive aspects of their lives. This regret interferes with what direction one takes in the future, as it only discourages these characters further because they feel trapped or stuck in their current situations. Thus, Jin illustrates the great risks that these immigrants have taken by moving to a new home, as often it causes them to rethink their life if it has not worked out exactly to a plan.
In conclusion, Ha Jin presents the Chinese and Chinese Americans in A Good Fall as nuanced and vulnerable. They are vulnerable in the narratives through their dedication to keeping up appearances, and their focus on money and tradition. The extent of this reliance often causes cultural and generational conflict, but Jin shows these traits to be very powerful forms of control for Chinese Americans regardless. They are pressured by burdens from China, often in the form of Chinese family members themselves, which makes their struggle as immigrants all the more difficult. Their physical absence from China provokes emotional displacement, and highlights the alienation they might feel from their old culture. At the same time, the comforts of their home life, often illustrated through the use of food, provides these characters with at least some gratefulness for their origins. Thus, Jin intermingles emotions of regret and loyalty within the characters’ stories, increasing the complexity of discovering just what a Chinese identity entails. All the nuanced characters in A Good Fall share one trait: a connection to China. It is a testament to the strength of this bond that often individuality is challenged by the closeness of the Chinese community and the power of the Chinese political state. Jin’s ultimate representation of the Chinese and Chinese Americans in A Good Fall is one of human vulnerability, made up of the struggle to really survive in this world.
 Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, "Dissident author Ha Jin on life in Boston and exile from China," The Financial Times, February 20, 2015.
 Ha Jin, A Good Fall [Kindle Edition], (New York: Pantheon Books, 2009), 2750.
 Ibid., 3166-3177.
 Alexandra Alter, "Exploring China-in America," The Wall Street Journal, December 4, 2009.
 Jin, A Good Fall, 430-439.
 Ibid., 1367.
 Ibid., 1418.
 Ibid., 2483.
 Ibid., 490-501.
 “Chinese Author Pens ‘A Good Fall’,” NPR, December 21, 2009.
 Jin, A Good Fall, 2816.
 Ibid., 3297.
 Ibid., 3480, 3492.
 Sebag-Montefiore, "Dissident author.”
 Jin, A Good Fall, 641.
 Ibid., 2897-2911.
 Ibid., 2653.
 “Chinese Author,” NPR, December 21, 2009.
 Jin, A Good Fall, 3409.
 Ibid., 3266.
 Ibid., 3567.
 Ibid., 50.
 Ibid., 1367.
 Ibid., 1825.
 Ibid., 501.
 Ibid., 2976.
 Ibid., 3428.
 Ibid., 69.
 Ibid., 3087.
 Ibid., 1188.
 Ibid., 2402.
 Colm Toibin, "Exile From Themselves," The New York Times, December 31, 2009.
 Jin, A Good Fall, 1167-1179.
 Ibid., 40.
 Ibid., 1740.
 Ibid., 524.
 Ibid., 2718.
 Ibid., 2683.
 Ibid., 2794.
 Ibid., 3066, 3266.
 Sebag-Montefiore, "Dissident author.”
 Jin, A Good Fall, 547.
 Ibid., 692.
 Ibid., 1532.
 "The Writer as Migrant," The University of Chicago Press, 2008.
 Jin, A Good Fall, 1856.
 Ibid., 1835.
 Ibid., 1856.
 Todd Gitlin, "The New America," New Republic, January 21, 2010.
 Jin, A Good Fall, 1802-1814.
 Ibid., 3524.
 Ibid., 3542.
 Ibid., 439.
 Ibid., 720.
 Ibid., 3177.
 Ibid., 1367.
 Ibid., 2153.
 Ibid., 2495.
 Ibid., 3492.
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