The Year of the Dragon Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1981, in The Chickencoop Chinaman and The Year of the Dragon: Two Plays by Frank Chin

Type of work: Play

Type of plot: Social

Time of work: The 1970’s

Locale: San Francisco’s Chinatown

Characters DiscussedFred Eng

Fred Year of the Dragon, TheEng, a Chinese American travel agent and tourist guide, head of Eng’s Chinatown Tour ’n Travel. Fred, the eldest son of Pa Eng, is in his forties, unmarried, and balding. Born in China and brought by Pa to San Francisco when an infant, Fred feels neither Chinese nor fully assimilated American Chinese. His job, which he despises, makes him conform to the American stereotype of the Chinese American, epitomized in the play by the American film character Charlie Chan. Although he must live and work in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Fred hates the place. When in school, he apparently had promise as a writer, but he has lost sight of his dream to become one. Torn between his desire for his own life and his responsibilities to his family, Fred hates himself and the life he feels compelled to live. In the play’s main action, the family members have gathered at their Chinatown home in San Francisco to celebrate the Chinese New Year, which is likely to be the dying Pa’s last. Fred wants to get Ma and Johnny to leave San Francisco’s Chinatown after Pa’s death and move to Boston with Sis. He tries to get Pa to tell them to go, but the old man refuses and dies during a struggle with Fred. Fred remains in Chinatown, even though he hates it, because the San Francisco Chinatown is the only place he feels he belongs.

Wing Eng

Wing Eng, called Pa, the father of Fred, Sis, and Johnny, and the honorary mayor of San Francisco’s Chinatown. A stylish but conservative dresser, Pa is a China-born Chinese man in his sixties. He has been in the United States since 1935 and regards San Francisco’s Chinatown as his home. He is dying of a lung disease. As the play’s action demonstrates, Pa is at times brutally autocratic and selfish, but he is loved by his children and wife. Pa clearly depends on Fred but also abuses him and considers him a failure. He refuses to see Fred as an individual and spurns Fred’s request that he tell Johnny and Ma to move to Boston. Pa’s love-hate relationship with Fred dramatizes the play’s central conflict.

Hyacinth Eng

Hyacinth Eng, called Ma, a Chinese American in her middle or late fifties. Ma is Pa’s second wife (his American wife) and the mother of Sis and Johnny. She is proud of being born and reared American and of her mission-school education. Ma loves her home and family. She fears change but is aware that her family is drifting apart. Maniacally efficient, practical, and irrational, Ma attempts to escape moments of stress by going to the bathroom or bursting into song and dance. For Pa, whom she loves, she plays the role of a Chinese woman, though not successfully. Through Ma, the audience discerns historical discrimination against Chinese in the United States.

Johnny Eng

Johnny Eng, the younger brother of Fred, a Chinese American in his late teens. Johnny is a Chinatown street kid, on probation for carrying a gun. Although he is an alienated youth, Johnny believes in the Chinese family. He wants to stay in Chinatown and help Fred with his tour business. He therefore resists Fred’s attempts to make him move to Boston and live with his sister, Sis.

Mattie

Mattie, called Sis, a Chinese American, the married daughter of Ma and Pa Eng. Sis is middle class in dress and manners. She has married a white American, has moved out of Chinatown, and is having commercial success in Boston as a Chinese cook, under the pseudonym Mama Fu Fu. She has just published a cookbook that promises to be a success. She hates Chinatown and has returned only at the request of her dying father. Sis is a fully assimilated Chinese American.

Ross

Ross, Mattie’s Caucasian husband. A sincerely interested and admiring student of all things Chinese, Ross is aesthetic, supercilious, and pleasant. Unlike Ma, Fred, Sis, and Johnny, Ross reads Chinese. In the play’s main action, Ross represents the majority white culture in the United States, which admires the Chinese culture yet does not understand the difficulties of the Chinese adjustment to life in the United States.

China Mama

China Mama, an old woman, Pa Eng’s China-born Chinese wife. She is Fred’s biological mother, whom Pa left behind when he immigrated with Fred to the United States. Pa has brought China Mama to America so that he may die “Chinese.” Near the end of the play, her presence incites Ma to try to act like a Chinese-born woman to please Pa Eng.

Sources for Further StudyChen, Jack. The Chinese of America. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980.Chu, Patricia P. “Tripmaster Monkey, Frank Chin and the Chinese Heroic Tradition.” Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory, Autumn, 1997, 117-139.Davis, Robert Murray. “Frank Chin: Iconoclastic Icon.” Redneck Review of Literature 23 (Fall, 1992): 75-78.Kim, Elaine H. Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982.Kim, Elaine H. “Frank Chin: The Chinatown Cowboy and His Backtalk.” Midwest Quarterly 20 (Autumn, 1978): 78-91.Kroll, Jack. “Primary Color.” Newsweek, June 19, 1972, 55.Li, David Leiwei. “The Production of Chinese American Tradition: Displacing American Orientalist Discourse.” In Reading the Literatures of Asian America, edited by Shirley Geok Lim and Amy Ling. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992.McDonald, Dorothy Ritsuk. “An Introduction to Frank Chin’s The Chickencoop Chinaman and The Year of the Dragon.” In Three American Literatures: Essays in Chicano, Native American, and Asian American Literature for Teachers of American Literature. Edited by Houston A. Baker, Jr. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1982.Samarth, Manini. “Affirmations: Speaking the Self into Being.” Parnassus: Poetry in Review 17, no. 1 (1992): 88-101.Wong, William. “Chinatown Viewed from Within.” Wall Street Journal, June 19, 1972, p. 14.
Categories: Characters