The Myth of Zheng He: Kenya-China Encounters in Yvonne Owuor's The Dragonfly Sea

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Mingqing Yuan (University of Bayreuth, Germany)

Published Dec 20, 2020

Abstract

The year 2005 marked the 600th anniversary of Zheng He’s first voyage on the Indian Ocean and the 50th anniversary of the Bandung Conference. In the same year Mwamaka Sharifu, a girl from Lamu island in Kenya, also a descendent of sailors of Zheng He’s fleet (1405-1433), was awarded a scholarship to study in her “home country”. In 2019, the novel The Dragonfly Sea by the Kenyan female writer Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, which incorporates the story of Mwamaka Sharifu, was published
by Alfred A. Knopf. By using the concept of “fictive ethnicity”, proposed by Balibar, and “push back”, as articulated by Ruth Simbao, this paper tries to explore how the history of Zheng He is adopted and narrated to construct, blur or refute boundaries of nation and ethnicity in The Dragonfly Sea. It also investigates how fictional writing, both aesthetically and culturally, intervenes and responds to the dominant discourses surrounding “China-Africa” by exhibiting the ambiguity and nuances within. It shows that an epistemological and discursive fracture exists between Africa and China that leads to a binary construction of the myth of Zheng He, which might be effective to some degree but runs the risk of repeating nation-state and ethnic configurations.


KEY WORDS: ZHENG HE, CHINA-KENYA LITERATURE, FICTIVE ETHNICITY, THE DRAGONFLY SEA


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