What Is Asian American Biblical Hermeneutics?

From the preface of What Is Asian American Biblical Hermeneutics? (University of Hawaii Press, 2008), by Tat-Siong Benny Liew.

I remember having lunch several years ago with a senior Asian American Bible scholar. As we were chewing and chatting, we began to talk about a recent attempt made by another Asian American scholar to construct an Asian American theology. Suddenly my lunch partner, whose work I greatly respect and admire, said in all seriousness, “I would like to know what is Asian American about that theology, and what is theological about that construction.” Racial/ethnic minority scholarship often finds itself facing a crisis of legitimacy from both friends and foes.

My friend might not realize this, but his statement over the lunch table that day has been haunting me ever since.

Chinese talk about people, generally women, who have yin yang eyes, eyes that can see persons and ghosts, and eyes that witness both the living and the dead.

There is yet another reason why my reading with yin yang eyes focuses on the oppressive as well as the liberating potential of the Bible. As I have already intimated, oppression comes from without as well as from within Chinese American communities. This realization should alert us to the danger of idealization or romanticism of any form. As there is no innocent history, there is no perfect culture; neither is there a book that is solely and squarely on the side of liberation.  This awareness pertains to Chinese Americans in particular, because, being made representative of other Asian Americans and touted as the so-called model minority, we often “occupy a [middle] position in the social structure that makes [us] simultaneously oppressed and oppressor.” Developing a double-edged attitude towards the Bible may help develop a habit of re-viewing and problematizing one’s own arguments and positions. This habit may, in turn, do more than just negotiating the tendency for Chinese Americans to be pigeonholed; it may also complicate the binary oppositions of “Chinese” and “American,” “colonizer” and “colonized,” “powerful” and “powerless.” Such a complication will, at least, expose our complicity in oppression, and, if we are lucky enough, prevent the production of a new form of totalizing discourse and totalitarian practice.