Anne Anlin Cheng

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Anne Anlin Cheng
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Taipei, Taiwan
CitizenshipUnited States of America
Alma mater
  • University California, Berkeley
  • Stanford University
  • Historian
  • theorist

Anne Anlin Cheng is an American historian and theorist, known for her extensive writings on the intersections of race, gender, aesthetics, American literature, psychoanalysis, Asian Americans, and Black studies. She is currently a Professor of English and American Studies at Princeton University.[1]

Early life

Cheng was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and immigrated to the United States at the age of twelve. Cheng graduated with a Bachelor's degree in English and Creative Writing from Princeton University in 1985, earned her Master's in English and Creative Writing at Stanford University in 1987, and received a PhD in Comparative Literature at University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley in 1994.

Her research often returns to some of the most famous yet misunderstood figures of the 20th century, such as Anna May Wong and Josephine Baker. Rather than characterize these highly visible "race beauties" as simply empowering or stereotypical, as more popular narratives of racial progress and uplift demand, Cheng asks readers to consider them as "severely compromised" and highly fabricated, aestheticized surfaces that trouble our sense of the human.[2] Benjamin Kahan, Assistant Professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies at Louisiana State University, wrote of her second book Josephine Baker & the Modern Surface, "it might be easy to miss that this is a monumental work of scholarship, making major interventions into critical race theory and Modernism|modernist studies."[3]

Cheng's first book, The Melancholy of Race (2001), examined melancholia as the very process that forms racial identity in the United States. The book weaves a thread between historic moments in the nation's legal system such as the Brown v. Board of Education US Supreme Court case, literature such as Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior, film such as Flower Drum Song (film), and conceptual artists such as Theresa Hak Kyung Cha.[4]

Her most recent book, Ornamentalism (2019), aims to formulate the very first "feminist theory for the yellow woman." By centering her critique on the myth of the "yellow" woman rather than more politically correct, ameliorative terms such as Asian Americans, Cheng hoped to address the painful and unspoken ways in which Asiatic femininity is constructed rather than necessarily claimed.[5] In a review of the book, scholar Michelle Lee writes, "building on writers such as Mel Chen and Fred Moten, Cheng’s logic of ornamentalism suggests that objectification is no longer the threatening process which removes subjecthood, but rather prioritizes how objects become animated, highlighting how performances of liberation emerge from inorganic, inanimate places."[6] The book continues her lifelong body of work that builds upon renowned race theorists such as Saidiya Hartman, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak|Gayatri Spivak, Frantz Fanon, and Hortense Spillers to place Asian-American studies firmly within the discussion surrounding racial formation in the United States, as seen in her previous books such as The Melancholy of Race (2001) and critical reviews for the Los Angeles Review of Books that have covered Ghost in the Shell (2017 film)|Ghost in the Shell, Crazy Rich Asians, and Mulan (2020 film).[7][8][9]


  1. "Anne A. Cheng". Department of English at Princeton. October 20, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. Cheng, Anne and Tom Holert (July 2, 2015). "Do You See It? Well, It Doesn't See You!". E-Flux, Politics of Shine.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. Kahan, Benjamin (Summer 2013). "The paradox of the Striptease". Criticism. 55: 515 – via GALE.
  4. Lee, Anthony (Spring 2002). "Review: The Meanings of Melancholy". Art Journal. 61: 97–99. doi:10.2307/778172 – via JSTOR.
  5. Xiang, Sunny (March 18, 2019). "The Peculiar Objecthood of the "Yellow Woman"". Los Angeles Review of Books.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. Michelle Lee (2020): "Ornamentalism", Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, DOI: doi:10.1080/0740770X.2020.1791392|10.1080/0740770X.2020.1791392
  7. Cheng, Anne (October 3, 2020). "I'd Rather Be a Witch Than a Warrior". Los Angeles Review of Books.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. Cheng, Anne (August 24, 2018). "Anxious Pedigree: From Fresh-Off-The-Boat to "Crazy Rich Asians"". Los Angeles Review of Books.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. Cheng, Anne (April 17, 2017). "The Ghost in the Ghost". Los Angeles Review of Books.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

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