Ed Lin is not Robert Chow, his fictional alter ego who has starred in three of Lin’s four books. If nothing else, Lin is just too young, too happy, and too funny to resemble the Vietnam War veteran-turned Chinatown, New York City cop. The other major difference? Lin got the girl – charmer that he is – while Chow is probably going to remain single for a good long time.
This month, Chow faces his third grisly Chinatown mystery in One Red Bastard. Introduced in Lin’s second novel, This Is a Bust, Chow is the lone Chinese American policeman in 1976 New York Chinatown. Having returned from Vietnam with secrets too horrific for words, Chow can only face the inhumane aftermath of war by drowning himself in booze. While his higher-ups think he’s fit only for ribbon-cutting ceremonies and other such photo ops, Chow manages to solve his first Chinatown murder solo – it helps to speak the language! – and picks up a few true friends along the way.
Personal demons aside, the sobered-up Chow is settling well into his tough-guy-on-the-outside-caring-citizen-on-the-inside leading man role in his second title, Snakes Can’t Run. Still the token Chinese American cop in New York, Chow has finally graduated to full-time detective. When two corpses turn up under the Brooklyn Bridge, Chow’s investigation eventually leads him to chasing down immigrant smugglers – otherwise known as snakeheads – who traffic in human flesh.
Now in One Red Bastard, Chow is finally hoping to earn his gold badge, regardless of the endless obstacles some of his superiors throw his way. Chairman Mao is dead, his fourth wife and widow’s in jail, and their only daughter wants to seek asylum in the good ‘ol U.S.A. Mao’s grown-up baby girl (who hardly knew big Daddy) sends an official representative to check out her immigration prospects. Meanwhile, Chinatown is divided on what Li Na’s defection might mean to the already politically factionalized Chinese American community – especially between the Mao-supporting Communists and the Taiwan-bolstering Kuomintang.
Chow’s girlfriend, who’s working hard to establish her career as a journalist, scores the one interview with the Chinese official. Of course, he wants to meet over dinner, in his swanky Plaza Hotel room – but he swears they won’t be alone, as he has bodyguards galore. But in the wee hours, his bludgeoned body ends up dumped in Chinatown, and – surprise, surprise! – the police insist Chow’s girlfriend was the last person to see the foreign official alive…
Okay, so spill it… Which side are you on? KMT? Commies?
I never pick sides! Well, shoot, let’s remember that the KMT and Commies have been really good friends and terrible enemies at times over the years. It was a coalition of Chinese nationalists, Republicans, and Socialists that brought down the last “Chinese” dynasty, the Qing, in 1912. I put that in quotations because it was a foreign dynasty founded and run by the evil Jurchens [an ethnic group who inhabited present-day Northeast China, who adopted the name "Manchu" in the 17th century] who colonized China and treated ethnic Chinese people like second-class citizens over the 250 years-plus of their reign. Members of my family have been a part of the Commies, the KMT, and the native Taiwanese movements. It always helps to have more than one membership card in your wallet. Even better to belong to a few secret societies, too. You never know when the wind’s gonna change. Look at what great buddies the KMT and Commies are right now, agreeing about how Taiwan is an inalienable part of China. Phooey!
And how did you choose Mao’s youngest daughter – and only child with his infamous fourth wife, Jiang Qing, Ms. One-Quarter-of-the-Gang-of-Four – as your focal point for Red?
People always talk about how cunning Mao was, but what about that Jiang Qing? She was an actress early on, and you can never trust them. They lie. Like Mao, Jiang changed names and traded up with partners and spouses when it was expedient. I wondered what life has been like for Li Na, the daughter of Mao and Jiang, who spent her early life hidden away with distant relatives. (She is 71 or 72 now.) She has lived a quiet life, and only a handful of old photographs exist, which is a little strange for the sole offspring of two of the most infamous people in modern Chinese history. I’ll bet that Li wanted to get away from it all at some point. She would have wanted to give America a shot since it was the most fascinating country to Chinese people after Nixon’s visit.
Does this upcoming trip to Taiwan have anything to do with your affiliations?
Sorta. I haven’t been to the island in years and I want to see what’s up. I’m going hardcore Taipei, since I’ve never really been to that city. My father’s family is from central Taiwan, a real benshengren stronghold. They are Taiwanese who originally came over from China centuries ago, as opposed to the Johnnies-come-lately waishengren who washed up on Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. There have been all kinds of tensions over the years between the benshenren and waishengren, not to mention the Hakka people and indigenous Taiwanese. My trip is a vacation in the disguise of research for another book. On a different note, I discovered that there is a university in Beijing that has an Asian American literary department. I’m going there in June to deliver the keynote address for their conference.
I don’t want to allow any spoilers, but who’s the “one red bastard”? Uhh… lots and lots of “red” bad guys, but you’re sort of leading your readers astray on purpose, aren’t you? ‘Fess up!
It’s a mix of “red” herrings with the literal and figurative meanings of “bastard.” I love to trick people. It makes me feel smart. [... click here for more]
Author interview: Feature: “An Interview with Ed Lin,” Bookslut.com, May 2012