Mixed as Absurd and The Inn of The Sixth Happiness

We can be hyper rational about things. Sure, we can peer down at everyone else armed with critical theories and modalities and counter-micro-aggressions. Yet, there is comfort in the absurd. There are revelations in the absurd. Neither Hapa nor Eurasian addresses the absurdity of being mixed. 

The 1958 movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness[i] has a character, Colonel Lin Nan, who exemplifies this.

Getting saucy in the days before 老干妈

Getting saucy in the days before 老干妈

He is a fictive character who serves our purposes. The following dialogue reveals some key details about the Colonel:

Col. Lin Nan: “You’re white. You shouldn’t be in China at all.”
Gladys Aylward: “How can you say that, when you’re part white?”
LN: “I’m half-white. In your world, I can only be a second-class citizen. I chose China because here, I’m allowed to be of value.”
GA: “That’s why I came here. To be of value.”

The movie is loosely based on the life and times of Gladys Aylward (played by Ingrid Bergman), the British missionary who got caught up in the on-again-off-again upheaval of prewar China. As the movie unfolds, we can’t help but sense that some conflict involving the Colonel is brewing.

And then at the 81-minute mark, Aylward, after Col Lin Nan’s rousing speech to inspire villagers to give half their grain and livestock in support of the war effort against the Japanese, clears her throat. She knows the natives. She senses them, and at a glance has a ready quip to make sense of their restive and quasi-compliant faces. She has been waiting the whole movie for this very moment. She says: 

“You mustn’t mind. They are just terribly suspicious of foreigners.”

At this point in the story, Aylward had already expatriated from Britain and is a papers-wielding Chinese citizen. Bergman commands your attention when she delivers that line. It is the most dramatic moment of the film, the point when an outsider trumps a supposed insider.

"Take off that ridiculous hat!" "I'm a Colonel for God sakes!"

"Take off that ridiculous hat!" "I'm a Colonel for God sakes!"

Being mixed invokes the absurdity of being “too foreign” here, and “too Chinese” there, and so forth. Aylward captures this utter absurdity. There is absurdity in the very notion of race, in the very notion of purity. Absurd it is that everyone needs to put everyone else inside a tidy box.

But rather than pray for torrential rain to wipe that box away, maybe mixed is happiest and most creative when embracing the absurdity.

[i] Bergman, Ingrid, Robert Donat, Curd Jürgens, Chin Tsai, Isobel Lennart, Buddy Adler, Mark Robson, and Alan Burgess. The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. Beverly Hills, Calif: Twentieth Century-Fox Home Entertainment, 2003.

*I don’t dismiss out of hand the idea of a plausibly mixed/half-Chinese Colonel Lin Nam. Nonetheless, his character, played by Curt Jennings, is entirely made up. In real life, there was no half-Chinese general leading villagers in Yangcheng, Shanxi.