Maxine Kingston's Woman warrior has been a controversial addition to the literature written by Chinese-American writers. The writer has tried to answer the critical question of Chinese-American identity and hence been criticized for adopting an orientalist framework to win approval of the west. The woman warrior speaks of a culture that neatly fits the description of the "Other" in the orientalist framework. It appears alien, remote and immensely degrading to women who were treated like non-human beings by Chinese chauvinistic society. However things changed for the generation of Chinese that grew up in the U.S. Or at least that is what Kingston wants us to believe.
Frank Chin has been the most vocal critic of Kingston's who accused her "of reinforcing white fantasies about Chinese-Americans" (Chin, 1991) and claimed that writers like Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan and David Henry Hwang who won approval of the American white readers deliberately distorted the image of Chinese-American to reinforce stereotypes and cater to the fantasies of American readers about a traditionalist Chinese culture. (Frank Chin, 1991, pp. 3-29)
In order to better understand the criticism against Kingston, we must first understand what is meant by orientalist thinking or orientalism for that matter. One of the authorities on the subject, Edward Said explains the term "Orientalism" and tackles the question of East and West divide in the framework of western discourse. He realizes that in order to establish the superiority of western ideology, western discourse illustrated an irrelevant and rather unrealistic picture of the "Other." This 'Other' was termed as Orient or the Oriental and the culture that it subscribed was referred to as Orientalism. The creation of this 'other' was critical for accentuating the superiority of the west. And hence Said believes that Orient has not been depicted as it really was but was made to fit the so-called Oriental picture by means of western manipulation and fabrication. This is what was meant by his statement that, "Orient was Orientalized not only because it was discovered to be "Oriental" in all those ways considered common-place by an average nineteenth-century European, but also because it could be that is, submitted to being-made Oriental." (p. 5-6)
By discussing the Orient, the west had only one agenda in mind and that was to subjugate all identities and nationalities other than its own. This was done by various means and especially by constructing a poor mythical picture of the Orient and then forcing all Oriental societies to fit that image. The same treatment was meted out to Japanese societies and other societies of the East. India was the land of snake-charmers and spices for as long as we can remember until India burst out with a brand-new identity by becoming a leader in science and technology. However to this day, many people would connect India with its Oriental image and those who visit the land usually do so because of the mythical picture they have constructed in their minds. India is no such place and it never was. But presenting it as an exotic and mythical land west had no desire to accentuate the beauty or charm of the land but instead it simply wanted to develop an unmistakable contrast between East and West so the latter would always be able to maintain its dominance by presenting itself as the more enlightened and educated of the two societies. The same treatment was then accorded to the Chinese societies and the readers assumed that this was probably the real Oriental society without ever questioning the authenticity of the account in the eyes of the people being depicted: "There is very little consent to be found, for example, in the fact that Flaubert's encounter with an Egyptian courtesan produced a widely influential model of the Oriental woman; she never spoke of herself, she never represented her emotions, presence, or history. He spoke for and represented her. He was foreign, comparatively wealthy, male, and these were historical facts of domination that allowed him not only to possess Kuchuk Hanem physically but to speak for her and tell his readers in what way she was "typically Oriental." (Orientalism, p. 6)