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“A Chinese Banquet” Poem by Kitty Tsui Essay

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Updated: Oct 25th, 2021

Kitty Tsui writes, “I grew up in my body, but she was a stranger to me, I wanted to be a girl with curly hair and blue eyes, not the skinny Chinese girl with straight bangs who stared at me out of the mirror” (66).

In order to get the full impact from this poem, one has to understand something about the poet and the culture in which she grew up. It is difficult in the North American culture, certainly, for anyone who is different in any way. In Hong Kong, it would have been almost unbearable to grow up lesbian. The British influence would have marginalized Kitty because she was Chinese, and her family would simply not have acknowledged her as a person. In fact, her family might have actually disowned her, but her mother, instead, chose not to hear when she said she was lesbian. In the 1960s, China would not have allowed anyone to be that different. Even though Kitty was in Hong Kong, which was a British colony, there would have been ties to mainland China through family before the Cultural Revolution split them up. Her choice to become a writer would also have been unacceptable, since only men did that and only in Chinese. It would have required many years of study for her to become a poet in Hong Kong as she would have had little access to the English publishing world and none to the Chinese unless she were willing to conform to the philosophical and political requirements of the market. Kitty’s most grave sin to her family was not to marry a man and produce children. Family, especially children, is everything in China. More difficult even than the pain she felt from being marginalized by her birth country and culture, and also hot ever fully accepted by her adopted country and culture was this idea that she did not exists for her family.

The one who was not invited was, of course, Kitty’s significant other, her female companion. In the first verse, we understand that the poet is different. She does not wear a long gown or a corsage. She probably works pants and was only allowed, because she was family. The occasion must have been a wedding. We get a clue from the mention (twice) that her mother no longer asks when she is getting married. 26 was the age at which Chinese women were expected to be married and have children. The family is affluent and educated. One uncle makes enough money to own a very expensive car. Shark’s fin soup, even then, was also not cheap. The longevity noodles are a final clue to the occasion as they are served at birthdays, christenings, and weddings. These are noodles made in one very long string. The longer the noodle on your plate, the longer you will live.

Kitty paints a picture for us of her culture of birth and shows us how she never fit in. Her family is all disappointed in her, especially her mother. His mother would actually have been personally ashamed. Deviance was seen by the Chinese as an affront to family and to the regime, termed as “the people”. While in Hong Kong, the Chinese would have had some separation from the communist revolution, they could not have helped but know that this kind of deviance was met with fierce measures. Deviants were re-educated in China, a very harsh treatment. Even now, when one gets a visa to visit China, one is asked upon entry into the country if he or she is insane. Saying “yes”, even in jest, will put the traveler back on the plane.

More than the uninvited partner, Kitty, herself, was not invited. She was simply there. It was her home, so she was not excluded, but she might have been if her family had not been tolerant. They actually went as far as their enculturation would allow by simply refusing to acknowledge that Kitty was gay. To acknowledge it they would have had to send her away. She repeats that it was a family affair. She knows that her family members are unable to accept or even acknowledge her sexual orientation. They keep the appearance that she is part of the family, but she is actually an outsider. One rather interesting note is that her girlfriend has blue eyes, as we see by the reference to the “cloudscape in your eyes.” This is what she would have preferred to be. It is, perhaps, a hint that she wants the world to become more open that she tells us that their bedroom ceiling is the wide-open sky.

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