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Brave new world: Myth and migration in recent Asian-Australian picture books

Author(s): Wenche Ommundsen

Journal: Coolabah
ISSN 1988-5946

Volume: 3;
Start page: 220;
Date: 2009;
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Keywords: Myths of migration | Picture books | Asian-Australian writing

From Exodus to the American Dream, from Terra Nullius to the Yellow Perilto multicultural harmony, migration has provided a rich source of myth throughouthuman history. It engenders dreams, fears and memories in both migrant and residentpopulations; giving rise to hope for a new start and a bright future, feelings of exile andalienation, nostalgia for lost homelands, dreams of belonging and entitlement, fears ofinvasion, dispossession and cultural extinction. It has inspired artists and writers fromthe time of the Ancient Testament to the contemporary age of globalisation and massmigration and it has exercised the minds of politicians from Greek and Roman times toour era of detention centres and temporary visas. This reading of Asian-Australianpicture books will focus on immigrants’ perception of the ‘new worlds’ of America andAustralia. The Peasant Prince, a picture-book version of Li Cunxin’s best-sellingautobiography Mao’s Last Dancer, sets up tensions between individual ambition andbelonging, illustrated by contrasts between the Chinese story ‘The Frog in the Well’ andthe Western fairy-tale of Cinderella, to which Li Cunxin’s own trajectory from poorpeasant boy in a Chinese village to international ballet star is explicitly related. ShaunTan’s The Lost Thing and The Arrival trace the journey from alienation to belonging bymeans of fantasy worlds encompassing both utopic and dystopic visions. By way of aconclusion, the paper considers the nature of myth as evoked and dramatised in thesetexts, contrasting the idea of myth as eternal truth with Roland Barthes’ insistence thatmyth is a mechanism which transforms history into nature.
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