The Original Siamese Twins and Their Rendezvous With American History
Born in a fishing village in Siam in 1811, Chang and Eng Bunker were from birth joined at the sternum by a piece of cartilage with a fused liver, and were “discovered” by British merchant, Robert Hunter, who took them on a world tour, where they landed in Boston in August, 1829.
Nearly a decade after his triumphant Charlie Chan biography, Yunte Huang returns with this long-awaited portrait of Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874), twins conjoined at the sternum by a band of cartilage and a fused liver, who were “discovered” in Siam by a British merchant in 1824. Bringing an Asian American perspective to this almost implausible story, Huang depicts the twins, arriving in Boston in 1829, first as museum exhibits but later as financially savvy showmen who gained their freedom and traveled the backroads of rural America to bring “entertainment” to the Jacksonian mobs.
Their rise from subhuman, freak-show celebrities to rich southern gentry; their marriage to two white sisters, resulting in twenty-one children; and their owning of slaves, is here not just another sensational biography but a Hawthorne-like excavation of America’s historical penchant for finding feast in the abnormal, for tyrannizing the “other”—a tradition that, as Huang reveals, becomes inseparable from American history itself.
Yunte Huang is a Guggenheim Fellow and a professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Transpacific Imaginations and Charlie Chan. Having come of age in China as a student in the time of Tiananmen, Huang now lives in Santa Barbara, California.
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