Study Guide

Dragonwings Race

By Laurence Yep


There was reason to worry, too, for just a few years ago, the demons had broken their own laws and turned away over twenty thousand of their former guests who had expected to be readmitted. This figure does not even reflect the large number of Tang men who could not get into the country for the first time. The demons, it seemed were determined to cut down on the number of Tang people living on the Golden Mountain. (1.38)

Race and nationality unfairly factor into who is able to create a home in America. On an even more basic level, racial prejudice dictates who is able to feel like they belong in the Land of the Golden Mountain.

[Grandfather] was a proud man who would take nonsense from nobody. One day shortly after he had arrived, some drunken demons had tried to cut off his queue. Grandfather could have worn a wig if his queue had been cut off. He would not have been the first "guest" of the demons who had to resort to one, but instead Grandfather had spat in their faces and busted a few heads, and before the whole thing was finished, he was swinging from a lamppost by some demon's clothesline. (4.13)

Moon Shadow's family is already deeply affected by the consequences of racial unrest in America. Grandfather was lynched by people who acted violently in response to his queue, a characteristic of Tang people of the time.

The tent flap was raised by a young demon officer. One of Miss Whitlaw's demon neighbors was pointing at us. "Come along, you two," the young officer said. "We're moving you out."

"All of us?"
Father asked incredulously.

"Just YOU, Chinamen," the young officer said. "You sabe me?" (10.84-87)

The Lees are kicked out of Golden Gate Park by city officials after the earthquake based solely on their looks. Despite the fact that the earthquake was a natural disaster that left most everyone homeless, the authorities chose to discriminate and treat the Tang people as less than other inhabitants.

Father patted Miss Whitlaw on the shoulder. "It some misunderstanding. We fix," he lied, to make her feel better. It was a misunderstanding, but we would not be able to fix it. Nobody short of Heaven could fix it. (10.96)

Even Windrider, a very good handyman, cannot singlehandedly solve the problem of racial anxiety. Moon Shadow is pessimistic that any person can do something about it.

It was now rumored that the demon officials were going to make us rebuild the Tang people's town not in our original location but down at Hunter's Point; and yet every other ethnic group in the city was going to be allowed to return to its old homesite. (10.102)

The Tang people are being treated differently here, through legally sanctioned discrimination against Chinese immigrants.

"It's too bad," Father observed, "that you have to appeal to their sense of greed."

"That's the way it is with demons," Uncle snapped.

"That's the way it is with most men," Father said. (10.121-123)

Though Uncle and some other characters in the book are quick to blame inequities on non-Chinese people, Windrider reminds us that no one is exempt from being responsible for injustices.

[Moon Shadow and Mother] could not go to live with [Father] for two reasons. For one thing, the white demons would not let wives join their husbands on the Golden Mountain because they did not want us settling there permanently. And for another thing, our own clans discouraged wives from leaving because it would mean as end to the money the husbands sent home to their families – money which was then spent in the Middle Kingdom. (1.4)

Moon Shadow's family cannot easily be together in America because of discriminatory laws limiting Chinese immigration. The belief was that allowing whole families to immigrate would lead to Chinese people settling and remaining in America for the long haul. Restrictive immigration laws were not only racially charged from the American front, but also economically charged from the Chinese government's perspective.