Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Formatting (Symbol)

The teleplay format through which the novel is conveyed is a symbol for how most Americans understand Chinese culture through its representation in movies, which are rife with stereotypes. By telling the story in this unconventional format, Yu can play with and expose the stereotypes of modern entertainment, establishing how those stereotypes confine Asian Americans by laying out generic roles. Yu emphasizes this point by having Wu and his family eventually escape the scripted world in which the novel takes place, the set-like environment of Chinatown dissolving to reveal the protagonist finally being himself and enjoying life with his family.

Kung Fu Guy Role (Symbol)

Kung Fu Guy—the role Wu and any other Chinese-American on Black and White longs to play—is a symbol for how an Asian actor's highest achievement still has limitations because of cultural prejudice. From a young age, Wu aspires to be cast one day as Kung Fu Guy. However, by the time he ascends the ladder of roles and arrives at his dream, he has realized that the upper echelon of stardom available to him is no less of a stereotype than Generic Asian Man was.

Black and White (Symbol)

Black and White, the fictional police procedural TV series on which Wu and his family members are cast, is a symbol for how Black Americans in the entertainment industry have reached parity—or what appears to be parity—with white actors while Asians are more likely to be cast as extras or pure stereotypes. The two lead characters are a Black and a white detective, a racial casting composition referenced unsubtly in the show's title. While Turner, the Black detective, may seem to hold more cultural cachet and power than Wu, he reveals that to play the role he is conforming to a macho, muscular Black male stereotype just as much as Wu conforms to a generic Asian stereotype; the difference is that Turner's Black stereotype commands a starring role and higher salary. In both Wu's and Turner's cases, racial representation still has room for progress.

Accented English (Symbol)

The heavily accented English that Asian characters on Black and White speak is a symbol for how mainstream American media perpetuate racial stereotypes. Rather than having American-born Asian actors speak in their American accents, the show's writers and producers expect them to speak as though they have learned rudimentary English after having come to the U.S. Wu conforms to the recent immigrant stereotype in order to ascend the ladder of available roles within the TV show, having no choice but to speak unauthentically and thereby contribute to the perpetuation of Chinese-American stereotypes.

Chinatown (Symbol)

The Chinatown setting of Interior Chinatown is a symbol for the way Chinese-American culture is simplified and stereotyped to be more palatable and legible to mainstream Americans. Yu underscores the symbolism with the novel's final epigram, which references how San Francisco's Chinatown was leveled by an earthquake in 1906 and rebuilt to look more "oriental" than it previously did: "Chinatown, like the phoenix, rose from the ashes with a new facade, dreamed up by an American-born Chinese man, built by white architects, looking like a stage-set China that does not exist." With this quote, Yu illustrates how Chinatown—a mythical place constructed partly from reality and partly from fiction, partly from the wisdom of an ancient culture and partly from the wisdom of marketing gurus—is a physical representation of how Chinese-American identity largely is built by stereotyped representations.