This essay is about the rise of American romance novels featuring East Asian and East Asian American protagonists, written by novelists of East Asian as well as Caucasian backgrounds. I focus on East Asians rather than South, Central or Western Asians because, as we shall see, there is a common history charting the appearance of East Asian romantic protagonists in the romance genre that differs from other Asian traditions.
The term “Asian” is, evidently, confusing. There is a proliferation of “Asias” in the western imagination, and the first thing this essay does is to explore what “Asia” and “Asianness” means in relation to the romance genre, before proceeding to analyze how these novels imagine and constitute East Asianness. I will consider how history, culture, and, above all, a certain notion of the oppressive Asian family are used to create a sense of authentic Asianness in the historical romances of American novelists Jade Lee and Jeannie Lin, as well as contemporary romances that also employ tropes about identity formation and identity crisis found in Asian American Young Adult (YA) novels. In this essay, I use the term “Asian” as a shorthand to refer to an imaginary, historically shifting cultural construct of East Asian subjects and cultural identities in the United States.