Writers from China's diaspora As you might expect of a man best known for the screwball novel Donald Duk, Frank Chin has an unusual background. 'I brought myself up,' says Chin, 64, from his San Francisco home. 'It was pretty good,' he says, unfazed that his parents, who hailed from Guandong province, had little time for him. They were so distant that the future writer had no idea what parents were. When his father did materialise, he wasn't much of a mentor. Chin, who has three children by two marriages, describes his father as a playboy. His only skill lay in the bedroom, he jokes. The self-styled humorist is a straight-talker who speaks in a dry growl punctuated by eruptions of laughter. His skill at writing was obvious from an early age. In junior high school, he was pegged as an author and sent to college writing courses. He loved Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce. However, he didn't think much of the Beat writers because Kerouac and Ginsberg 'had a reputation - had a taste for little Chinese boys'. Chin preferred the company of the robber-turned-poet Gregory Corso and his girlfriend. They would come round for coffee, the relationship casual 'because Corso was always drunk and always focused on himself. His girlfriend was a very lovely girl and she cared for him very much and I think he was lucky. He reminded me of my father.' Chin flirted with various colleges and wound up at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Despite being a couple of points short, he achieved his BA in English through an unconventional method: 'I had to intimidate them,' he says. Chin says he'd taken a couple of years off to work on the railroad as the first Chinese brakeman on the southern Pacific track. 'Deans and people with titles at the university were working stiffs - they didn't impress me.' Chin says he walked up to a dean and said: 'I want a decision by Friday and he said, 'Well, I'm a very busy man,' and I said, 'You're a working stiff like me - you have a decision Friday and I don't care what it is. Either I've graduated or I haven't graduated because I have to get back to work.' Friday, I walked by the office and the secretary jumps up and says: 'You've graduated!' I said, 'That's all I want to know'.' Chin stayed for two more years on the railroad. Then in 1966 he found a reporting job at a small Seattle communications conglomerate called King TV. A whirl of plays and short stories followed. Next he co-edited an anthology of Asian American writing entitled Aiiieeeee!, a second volume, The Big Aiiieeeee!, appeared in 1991 - the same year as Donald Duk, which the art critic Tom Robbins described as 'red-hot chop suey laced with laughing powder and amphetamines'. Chin's capacity to laugh is miraculous, in more ways than one. A stroke in 1990 killed it off, but he says he only noticed he'd lost it when he regained it - speaking at a funeral. He has yet to recover his ability to play flamenco guitar, although he can indulge his other hobby, driving, and hasn't lost his appetite for knocking other Chinese writers whom he brands 'fake'. He trots out the usual suspects: Maxine Hong Kingston, David Henry Hwang and Amy Tan. Kingston's Woman Warrior - winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for the best book of non-fiction published in 1976 - depicts the legendary heroine Fa Mulan with a tattoo, the mark of a criminal. 'Why tattoo Mulan, who has committed no crime?' Chin asks. 'Why use cutting tools, when tattoos are made with needles and ink? Why is a heroine turned into a victim? Why are real Chinese heroes having their lives changed in 1975 by a madwoman in Oakland, California? It doesn't make sense,' Chin says. 'The Chinese have no critics. Every five years or so, a new impostor turns up claiming to be the messiah of traditional Chinese literature.' His latest target? Fellow American humorist Gish Jen.