Willkommen, schön sind Sie da!
Logo Ex Libris

The Flower Drum Song

  • Kartonierter Einband
  • 272 Seiten
(0) Erste Bewertung abgeben
Alle Bewertungen ansehen
C. Y. Lee arrived in the United States in 1943 and graduated from Yale in 1947 with an MFA in playwriting. He has been a contribut... Weiterlesen
CHF 17.50
Auslieferung erfolgt in der Regel innert 2 bis 3 Wochen.


C. Y. Lee arrived in the United States in 1943 and graduated from Yale in 1947 with an MFA in playwriting. He has been a contributor to Radio Free Asia and an editor at Chinese World and Young China.


David Henry Hwang, acclaimed playwright, screenwriter, and librettist, won the Tony Award for his play M. Butterfly.

Originally published in 1957, The Flower Drum Song was a groundbreaking work of popular literature. An immediate bestseller, it inspired the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. This charming, bittersweet tale of romance and the powerful bonds of family tells the story of Wang Ta, who wants what every young American man wants: a great career and a woman to love. Living in San Francisco's Chinatown-with his widowed father, Old Master Wang, who misses the old way of life in China, and his younger brother, who just wants to be a normal American teenager-Wang Ta becomes involved with a series of women as he searches for love and the American dream. Comic, poignant, and sexy, The Flower Drum Song is an astute portrayal of immigrants struggling with assimilation. This edition features a new introduction by David Henry Hwang.




Chin Y. Lee was born in Hunan, China, in 1917. He received his B.A. from the National Southwest Associated University, Kunming, China, in 1940. He came to the United States in 1943 and attended Yale University, graduating in 1947 with his M.F.A. in playwriting. In San Francisco, he worked as city editor for the newspapers Chinese World and Young China, as well as a feature program writer for Radio Free Asia. The Flower Drum Song, published in 1957, was his first novel, and was the basis for a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that ran on Broadway and subsequently became a film. Lee has published a number of other novels, and his stories and articles have appeared in The New Yorker, Theatre Arts, Writer’s Digest, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, among others. He has worked as a scriptwriter for Twentieth Century Fox. His honors include a California Commonwealth Club Gold Medal Fiction Award, a San Francisco Press Club and Union League Annual Award, a Writer’s Guild Annual Award for Writing Achievement, a Box Office Blue Ribbon Award, and the key to the City of San Francisco. A C. Y. Lee Archive has been established at Boston University’s Mugar Memorial Library. Lee lives in Alhambra, California.

David Henry Hwang was awarded the 1988 Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics, and John Gassner awards for his Broadway debut play, M. Butterfly, which was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His other plays include FOB, which won a 1981 OBIE Award, and Golden Child, which received a 1998 Tony nomination and a 1997 OBIE Award. He co-wrote the book for the Broadway production of Aida; his libretti include two for composer Philip Glass; and he has written screenplays for M. Butterfly, Golden Gate, and Possession. Hwang wrote a new book for the revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song, which premiered in 2001. He lives in New York City.

   Flower Drum

by C. Y. Lee

Table of Contents

Author’s Note

In the late forties, Chinatown in Los Angeles was a roofed bazaar the size of two football fields. I’d moved there after escaping China during the Second World War on a student visa and subsequently finding that the Master’s in Fine Arts I had from Yale wasn’t helpful in making me a successful playwright or getting a job at the U.N. as an interpreter.

One morning, as I was having my daily 25-cent bowl of noodles, I read an announcement in the Chinese World that would turn my life around. The paper was preparing to publish an English section and needed a columnist. I went home and wrote two sample manuscripts, naming my proposed column “So I Say.” A week later, I received a check for ten dollars and a letter from the editor asking me to submit five columns a week, for which he would pay me $5 each. I calculated on my fingers: $25 a week would buy a lot of noodles. I threw my arms into the air and cheered. For the first time in my life I could make money from writing.

I wrote about life, love, and emotions to appeal to the younger generation who could read English, and my column became quite popular. I was promoted to assistant editor and, in addition to my regular column, began translating some news stories from the American papers. The paper was based in San Francisco, and I could move there if I was interested. I moved immediately.

Mr. Li Ta-Ming’s Chinese World occupied a large upstairs room on Grand Avenue in San Francisco. It was crowded, busy, and noisy. My duties now included searching for some city scandals from the English papers—and inventing a few if necessary. I rented a little room above a Filipino nightclub on Kearney Street, a short walk from the office. The room was cheap because of the noise from the club. I settled into San Francisco life and began my first novel.

One afternoon, just as I finished that day’s column, I received a call from a man with a gravelly voice. He started asking me all kinds of questions, and I immediately thought he was from the Immigration Service. “Officer,” I said, “I’m all packed. Deport me any time.” The caller didn’t know what I was talking about. It turned out he was the editor of Writer’s Digest informing me that I had won first prize in their short story contest. He wanted to make sure I was the right Lee before he sent me the prize money of $750. When the editor’s formal letter and check arrived, I brought them to the Immigration Service to apply for an extension of stay. The pokerfaced officer studied my case, shoved some papers at me and told me to fill them in and sign. They were papers for permanent residence. If approved, I could become an American citizen in five years.

I finished my novel and found an agent, Ann Elmo, to represent it. Ann called one summer day to give me an update: my novel, The Flower Drum Song, had been turned down by almost every major publisher in New York. She hinted that after one more rejection, she would return it and I should think of another line of occupation. A week later she called again and said, “Keep writing, Lee. A highbrow publisher, Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, has bought your book.” She added that the publisher liked it because it was quaint and episodic—the very reasons the other publishers had turned it down.

A month later I took a trip to New York and had a chance to meet John Farrar, my editor and a senior partner at the publishing house. He told me that my manuscript of The Flower Drum Song had first landed on the sick bed of an eighty-year-old reader who worked for the publisher screening submissions. The elderly gentleman, having finished the book, didn’t have enough energy to write a detailed critique. With his last bit of strength, he scribbled on the dog-eared cover, “Read This,” and died. I especially enjoyed retelling this story when The Flower Drum Song climbed onto The New York Times bestseller list. Radio Free Asia soon offered me a job. I took it and resigned from the newspaper, but I still kept that cheap room on Kearney Street.

One late afternoon Ann Elmo called me from New York with some good news. There were quite a few nibbles for The Flower Drum Song, and two of them were very promising. A Broadway producer had offered $3,000 to option the book for two years to make a stage play, and an independent Hollywood producer had offered $50,000 to buy all the dramatic rights outright, including film. Ann wanted me to choose one of these two offers. I promised my agent that I would give her my answer the next morning.

That night I didn’t write. I returned to my room to think things over. If I took the $3,000 I could collect future royalties from the play. If the play failed, though, I wouldn’t get anything but the $3,000. If I accepted the Hollywood producer’s money, I would be quite rich for a while. I could move to Nob Hill, take a trip to Europe, and come home with plenty of money left in the bank. For a while.

I lay on my squeaky bed and stared at the ceiling. For the first time I didn’t mind the roof-shaking music; it gave my room a festive mood. I could have jumped at the guaranteed big money, and yet, something seemed to hold me back. My frugal nature and my desire for instant security were pushing me one way, but something else, maybe a gambling gene telling me to throw the dice, was pulling me the other way. Finally, I decided to get a drink. I went downstairs and bought a Budweiser, the best in the Filipino nightclub. Sipping my beer from the bottle, I began to relax, then I began to feel good. I even forgot I had a problem to solve.

I don’t know what happened to me that night. I might have gotten drunk and dozed off or made some drunken disturbance that was safely covered by the worse noises from downstairs. The next morning I woke up with a hangover, a little ashamed that only one beer could have conked me out. When I remembered my dilemma, the phone rang. It was Ann Elmo, calling to congratulate me on having made the right decision.

C.Y. Lee


As a child growing up in Los Angeles during the 1960s, I developed a somewhat curious practice: if I heard that a particular movie or television show featured Asian characters, I would go out of my way not to watch it. I would not have been able to articulate a reason for my behavior, other than the fact that the images made me feel “icky.” This was a time when Asian characters in American popular culture could be generally characterized as “inhuman,” either inhumanly bad (e.g. Fu Manchu; evil Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese soldiers, take your pick) or inhumanly good (e.g. Charlie Chan; the plethora of Asian women who died for the love of a white B-movie actor). Some of these odd creatures who looked like me served as the butt of derisive humor, due to their grotesque mannerisms, bizarre customs, and an endlessly amusing inability to distinguish between the letters r and l. Yet one work stood as an exception: I can’t recall the first time I encountered Flower Drum Song—not the novel or the Rodgers & Hammerstein stage musical, but the 1961 film version of that Broadway show. It was no doubt on some late-night television movie, and I was pleasantly shocked: here were Asians who spoke without an accent, in a love story between Asian men and Asian women, singing and dancing up a storm to beautiful, relatively hip music. For Asian American baby-boomers like me, this portrayal was, for its time, nothing short of revolutionary.

By the time I attended college in the late 1970s, campuses were buzzing with artists and activists representing Americans whose voices had been ignored or marginalized by mainstream society. We sought our own revolution, to shake up a literary establishment that considered, for example, the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald to be true literature, while those of Toni Morrison were merely ethnic works of limited appeal. We agitated for the right of Asian American writers to define our own identities and communities, rather than permitting these images to be drawn by the dominant (i.e. Caucasian) society, which had done such a poor job of portraying us in my youth. As part of this movement, we condemned (rather simplistically) virtually all portrayals of Asian Americans that had been created by non-Asians. So I ended up protesting Flower Drum Song, which had become associated almost exclusively with the movie and musical, as “inauthentic.” But even at such political gatherings, if I took a protester aside privately, he might well reply, “Actually, I sort of like it.” The movie remained a guilty pleasure for many of us, even at our most politically extreme.

By the early-1980s, the few who did recall that Rodgers & Hammerstein had drawn upon source material by an immigrant Chinese American chose to ignore it. As I began discovering my own voice as a writer, Asian American Studies classes were springing up around the country. We were searching for our own literary history, works neither white American nor foreign Asian, but specifically Asian American. Writers and scholars rediscovered John Okada’s No No Boy (1957) and Louis Chu’s Eat a Bowl of Tea (1961). C.Y. Lee’s The Flower Drum Song (1957), however, was neither reclaimed nor celebrated. A new generation of scholars began to compile what would eventually become an Asian American literary canon, but omitted this prominent Chinese American novel.

The omission was deliberate, I believe, resulting from two realities of that period. Foremost was the novel’s association with the musical and movie. To the extent that we discredited the musical Flower Drum Song as inauthentic, the novel became tainted by association; the unsophisticated politics of that period could not accommodate such a distinction. Second was a reverse-snobbery whereby the very success of the novel in the general marketplace rendered it suspect as an example of true Asian American literature. This sort of prejudice is not limited to ethnic studies scholars. It often happens in mainstream circles that a critically acclaimed artist is abandoned by his allies after achieving popular success: if the masses like it, how artistic could it be? Similarly, Asian American critics might have argued that if white readers had liked The Flower Drum Song, how “authentic” could it be?

By the mid-1990s, when I began to consider writing a remake of the musical Flower Drum Song, the novel had more or less vanished from both mainstream and Asian American consciousness. A few scholars, such as the late Amy Ling of the University of Wisconsin, were brave enough to buck the tide of fashion by writing about author Chin Yang Lee, but by and large his first novel and his subsequent ten works were ignored by both English Literature and Asian American Studies departments. (An exception was Boston University, where a C.Y. Lee Archive was established at Mugar Memorial Library.) Lee’s body of work as well as his literary reputation have long been secure in Taiwan, but when I looked for the novel that had inspired Rodgers & Hammerstein here in America, I found it virtually impossible to obtain a copy. Luckily, through a mutual friend, I obtained a used copy from the invaluable Seattle bookseller David Ishii. I pulled the well-preserved hardcover from its mailing paper and sat down to investigate this forgotten novel with the world-famous title.

With the turn of each page, I grew increasingly moved and excited. I had not experienced a feeling like this since I first picked up Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior (1976) as a college student. Here were characters, cultures, and situations that I knew well but had never expected to encounter so intimately on a published page. Yet there were differences between my Lee and Kingston experiences. In the 1970s, I was a young aspiring writer at a time when any Asian American work was still a rarity. By the late 1990s, I had become a middle-aged playwright, and in the intervening years had witnessed a blossoming of Asian American writing, much of it to critical and popular acclaim. My experience with The Flower Drum Song, therefore, was like discovering a long-lost ancestor, a forgotten branch of my family tree, a missing piece of literary history for which I felt particular affinity.

I sought out the author, who was by then in his seventies and living in southern California. Spry, affable, and sporting a mischievous smile, C.Y. Lee met me for lunch in the Los Angeles suburb of Monterey Park, home to a large and growing Chinese community. Over dishes of the type featured in the novel, he described the humorous and providential manner by which this novel came to be, stories he’d no doubt recounted most of his life, but which still seemed fresh. Lee had come from China as a foreign student and graduated from Yale Drama School. Upon the advice of an agent, who told him plays about China would never sell, Lee switched to prose, and lived in a small room above a Filipino restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown, eking out a living editing a Cantonese newspaper and waiting for immigration to deport him when his student visa expired. It was the Writer’s Digest short story prize that allowed him to stay, and the sale of his novel to a New York publisher that was a turning point in his life.

Lee’s stories of the mainstream success following publication felt familiar and touching to me. Playwright and screenwriter Joseph Fields, author of works such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Wonderful Town, optioned the book, and then persuaded the A-team of the American musical theater, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, to adapt the work with him for the stage. Lee was shepherded around Hollywood, where Edward G. Robinson met him with the pitch, “I want to play the Chinaman.” Lee was in his early forties when his novel was published, about the same age as I was on the occasion of our first lunch. I felt I was meeting a father figure in more ways than one.

A strong case can be made for The Flower Drum Song as the first Chinese American novel to be released by an established publishing house. Works by Chinese American authors in English had been published prior to The Flower Drum Song’s appearance in 1957, and some, like Pardee Lowe’s Father and Glorious Descendant (1943) and Jade Snow Wong’s Fifth Chinese Daughter (1950), had attracted substantial readerships. But these were memoirs that, as noted by scholars such as Jeffrey Paul Chan, essentially followed the form established by a single antecedent, Yung Wing’s My Life in China and America (1909). While it is fair to assume that elements of Lee’s work are autobiographical (an assumption reasonably applied to many works of fiction), his is clearly a novel, and it predates the publication of Eat a Bowl of Tea. As such, whether by design or happenstance, The Flower Drum Song represents the birth of a new literary genre, one which has since blossomed into a vital and prospering form. Add to this the fact that it became a bestseller and was translated into a popular dramatic form, and the impact of this work upon American culture, as well as on a nascent Asian American consciousness, can hardly be overstated.

What of the work itself? Lee’s novel strikes me as an amazingly daring and evocative portrait of Asian American sexuality during a critical period of fundamental transition in the Chinatown community. For historical context, we should go back to 1882, when the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited immigration to America from China. Originally intended to lapse after ten years, in 1904 the legislation was extended indefinitely. This represents the only instance in American history when a group of people was denied entry to this country based solely upon a formulation of “race.” Those Chinese already living in the United States were prohibited from bringing in their wives and families and were subject to numerous anti-miscegenation laws around the country, which made intermarriage nearly impossible. A historical accident arising from the destruction of immigration records during the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 enabled the admission of a small trickle of Chinese, who in subsequent years entered as “paper sons” or “paper daughters,” most claiming to be children of some individual who had successfully established American citizenship after the records were lost. In the main, however, these and other racist policies turned American Chinatowns into bachelor societies, where males far outnumbered females.

When China became American’s ally in the war against Japan, the Chinese Exclusion Act came to be viewed as a diplomatic embarrassment. This and other factors led Congress to modify the legislation through a series of laws, beginning with the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943. The 1952 McCarran-Walter Act established a system of quotas, through which “national origin” was established as the basis for immigration, a policy that continued to discriminate against non-whites. By the time this system was abolished by the Immigration Act of 1965, the total annual quota from all Asian countries stood at 2,990, as opposed to 149,667 from Europe and 1,400 from Africa.

The Flower Drum Song takes place in the mid-1950s, when the bachelor society was just beginning its long transition into a more demographically normative community. (The balance of females to males in American Chinatowns would not equalize until the 1980s.) Its story of traditionalist patriarch Wang Chi-Yang and his culturally conflicted sons, Ta and San, can be read against the backdrop of a society where new immigration had not been seen in substantial numbers for many decades, and where Chinese male sexuality had been suppressed, even demonized, by mainstream Americans around them. To some extent, this attitude continues even in the present day; whereas Asian females have long been considered a desirable, “exotic” sexual commodity by the larger culture, Asian males have been viewed as effeminate, unassertive, and sexually undesirable, a stereotype which has only begun to change in recent years.

It is all the more surprising, then, that this novel should concern itself so honestly with Asian male sexuality. In this sense, it shares a thematic bond with Eat a Bowl of Tea, a work enthusiastically embraced by early Asian American scholars. The quest of the decent but confused Wang Ta to find a wife constitutes one thread of Lee’s book. As we follow his journey, we continually encounter the consequences of racist American policies since 1882. At several points in the story, most notably when Old Master Wang and his sister-in-law Madame Tang hatch a scheme to bring in a foreign-born bride for Ta, draconian quota restrictions foil their plans. Furthermore, the demographic legacy of the bachelor society, which created a severe imbalance between males and females, practically functions as a character in the story. Ta’s philosopher friend Chang invokes the imbalance to explain the undoing of all their romances, a rationalization we are probably not meant to take literally, but which nonetheless underscores its importance in their lives.

To say that Lee’s novel focuses on male sexuality is not to diminish his portrayals of Chinese women, who are drawn with thrilling authenticity. In mainstream American culture, Asian female characters are often limited to the “lotus blossom” or “dragon lady” stereotypes. Similar to the Madonna–whore dichotomy, the “good” Asian woman is portrayed as dutiful and submissive, whereas the “bad” woman is crafty, manipulative, and overtly sexual. The women in Lee’s novel, however, transcend such restraints to emerge as complex, fully human characters. Consider May Li: as a new immigrant from China, devoted to her father, she might be a perfect candidate for the lotus blossom stereotype, and as translated for the stage by Rodgers, Hammerstein, and Fields, she did come much closer to that image. In the novel, she is a young woman quick to speak up for herself, whose first words upon arriving at the Wang household to the cranky servant Liu Ma are, “We are strangers in Chinatown. We shall go when we are ready, you do not have to show so many of your teeth and growl.” Far from a shy and sexually retiring butterfly, she stays out all night with Ta without feeling embarrassment or shame.

Similarly, the character of Miss Tung, who became the flashy showgirl Linda Low in the musical, here emerges as a much less skilled sexual player; the last thing we hear about her is her pathetic desire to be admired for her supposedly Greek nose. Perhaps the most fascinating female in the novel is Helen Chao, representing a type rarely portrayed: the unattractive Asian woman, rejected even by men of her own society. In his kaleidoscope of meticulously observed men and women, Lee captures a community, disfigured like Helen by the ravages of history, awkwardly struggling to rediscover its fundamental life force.

Some Asian American critics have accused the novel of glorifying white American culture at the expense of Chinese customs; they argue that the struggle between Old Master Wang and Wang Ta portrays the Chinese as foolish and backwards, thus reinforcing rather than challenging popular opinion. Such a reading strikes me as superficial and simplistic. Though Old Master Wang is a harsh, flawed figure, his deficiencies are not specifically the result of Chinese customs. On the contrary, characters such as May Li’s father, while traditional in their outlook, come across as highly admirable. Conversely, Madame Tang, while open to American ways and generally sympathetic, unwisely opposes Ta’s romance with May Li. I feel Old Master Wang and Wang Ta represent a subtler dynamic: the conflict between growth and stagnation. By actively striving to construct a new identity for himself in America, Ta continues to engage life, struggling with the contradictions before him, making mistakes, yet ultimately evolving to a level of understanding which is neither white-American nor traditional-Chinese, but uniquely his own. When Chang finally settles upon a wife, she is neither Chinese nor Caucasian, but of Mexican origin. Characters like Ta and Chang are working to create the future of America. Old Master Wang lives in a condition of stasis and alienation; as a speaker of Hunan dialect who cannot even converse with the largely Cantonese population around him, he remains isolated even from other Chinese. He seems incapable of pleasure, whether from a dancing girl or from Chinese delicacies at mealtime, he does no meaningful work, and his primary activities include counting money and cultivating his cough; this latter habit, in particular, establishes him as a man essentially waiting to die. His relationship with his older son pits a mentality that values life in opposition to one that affirms death. Old Master Wang’s decision at the end of the novel to have his cough examined by a Western doctor (significantly, a Chinese American doctor), rather than affirming the superiority of American medicine, shows instead that he has accepted the inevitability of change, and consented to be part of that future.

As Wang Ta and Old Master Wang discover, the future can indeed be filled with surprising turns. More than forty years ago, C.Y. Lee wrote a novel that became world-famous when it was translated to the stage and screen. Ten years later, a group of writers and scholars began fighting for a re-evaluation of the American literary canon to include all Americans, but rejected the first Chinese American novel based primarily upon those subsequent adaptations. Largely because of the efforts of those agitators, however, the genre which Lee pioneered has grown into a popular and respected form, a fact which now contributes to the reissue of his novel. In my view, The Flower Drum Song represents a major achievement in American literature: it is an Asian American classic. I am thrilled it will once again grace the bookshelves of our land, for new generations to discover, evaluate, and enjoy, in an America whose changing landscape C.Y. Lee first captured decades ago.

David Henry Hwang



To the casual tourists, Grant Avenue is Chinatown, just another colorful street in San Francisco; to the overseas Chinese, Grant Avenue is their showcase, their livelihood; to the refugees from the mainland, Grant Avenue is Canton. Although there are no pedicabs, no wooden slippers clip-clapping on the sidewalks, yet the strip of land is to the refugee the closest thing to a home town. The Chinese theatres, the porridge restaurants, the teahouses, the newspapers, the food, the herbs . . . all provide an atmosphere that makes a refugee wonder whether he is really in a foreign land. And yet, in this familiar atmosphere, he struggles and faces many problems that are sometimes totally unfamiliar.

Wang Chi-yang was one of those who could not live anywhere else in the United States but in San Francisco Chinatown. He was from central China, speaking only Hunan dialect, which neither a Northerner nor a Cantonese can understand. His working knowledge of the English language was limited to two words: “yes” and “no.” And he seldom used “no,” for when people talked to him in English or Cantonese, he didn’t want to antagonize them unnecessarily since he had no idea what they were talking about. For that reason, he wasn’t too popular in Chinatown; his “yes” had in fact antagonized many people. Once at a banquet, his Cantonese host claimed modestly that the food was poor and tasteless and begged his honorable guest’s pardon, a customary polite remark to be refuted by the guests, and Wang Chi-yang, ignorant of the Cantonese dialect, nodded his head and said “yes” twice.

But Wang Chi-yang loved Chinatown. He lived comfortably in a two-story house three blocks away from Grant Avenue that he had bought four years ago, a house decorated with Chinese paintings and couplet scrolls, furnished with uncomfortable but expensive teakwood tables and chairs, and staffed with two servants and a cook whom he had brought from Hunan Province. The only “impure” elements in his household were his two sons, Wang Ta and Wang San, especially the latter, who had in four years learned to act like a cowboy and talk like the characters in a Spillane movie. At thirteen he had practically forgotten his Chinese.

Wang Ta, the elder son, was less of a rebel. Quiet and unhappy at twenty-eight, he was often embarrassed in his father’s company. But he was reluctant to correct the old man’s old habits and mistakes, for Wang Chi-yang was a stubborn man. In his house he was the “lord”; his words were th...


Titel: The Flower Drum Song
EAN: 9780142002186
ISBN: 978-0-14-200218-6
Format: Kartonierter Einband
Herausgeber: Random House N.Y.
Genre: Übrige Sachbücher & Sonstiges
Anzahl Seiten: 272
Jahr: 2002



Meine Bewertung

Bewerten Sie diesen Artikel