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Journal Article

Incorporating: Chineseness in Chen's Trinidad

Sean Metzger
The Global South
Vol. 6, No. 1, Special Issue: States of Freedom: Freedom of States (Spring 2012), pp. 98-113
Published by: Indiana University Press
DOI: 10.2979/globalsouth.6.1.98
Stable URL:
Page Count: 16
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Incorporating: Chineseness in Chen's Trinidad
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ABSTRACT As part of a larger project on freedom and belonging in the Chinese Atlantic, I elaborate the logic of “incorporating.” I focus on the oeuvre of Chinese Trinidadian artist, writer, and dramatist Willi Chen. Chen is perhaps the best known writer of Chinese descent in the Anglophone Caribbean, but he has received little critical attention. The few scholars of Chen's work argue that he offers a unique perspective on Trinidad's racial dynamics, often through the figure of the Chinese entrepreneur that occupies a privileged position in much of Chen's creative work. Of course, trade — particularly the traffic in people and the establishment of the plantation system that provided materials for European and, later, U.S. metropoles — is precisely what shaped the Atlantic into the engine of modernity. Within this system, Asian migrant labor complicated, destabilized, and sometimes contradicted a black-white social structure. I hypothesize that Chen's work demonstrates a logic of “incorporating.” While the flesh that lingers in the root of the word incorporating is often the site through which economic and social adaptation becomes manifest, the financial dimensions suggested by this term point towards particular relations between the state, places, and individuals that exceed the boundaries of singular bodies—be they nations or people. The complexities engendered in this negotiation of person and collective enable new forms of belonging that shift our understanding of the nation-state and the subject ostensibly appropriate to that formation.

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