“moy” // “mui”
Afong Moy was the first Chinese woman in the United States, fourteen years old when she was imported and exhibited as “The Chinese Lady” by merchant traders Nathaniel and Francis Carnes in 1834. She was used to sell other oriental commodities, a spectacle of difference first staged in an “oriental parlor” in the Carnes’ New York City home, and going on to be displayed in cities and towns across the U.S. and Cuba. She was used to shape Americans’ impressions of China, mutable to whatever fantasies would help sell her managers’ goods while also inspiring poetry and fashion trends. In her later years in the U.S., Moy was managed and exhibited by ‘master of spectacle and difference’ P.T. Barnum. Despite having been advertised to stay in the United States for only two years (“on loan from her parents”), records indicate she was in the U.S. for at least eighteen years before disappearing (from records). Not much is known about her, and she has been a speculative figure for Chinese diasporic artists, theorists, and writers inspiring creative works such as Lloyd Suh’s The Chinese Lady (2018) and Jamie Ford’s The Many Daughters of Afong Moy (2022).

I wish I could sit with you. 

Amongst those objects. Up on a dais - on display to be seen. Drapery, objects, furniture, knick knacks —  enframing, mediating, muffling, coloring, triangulating as the backdrop to the frame to the scene to the lithographic capture, European replicas of “Chinese” portraits overlooking. I conjure a new mythology for them, for us. 

[Which them which us we are all                                           ]


I wish I could sit with you. Sit. Linger. “Lingering presupposes a gathering of the senses” (한병철, The Scent of Time, 87). Can I feel the space as you do, sense it and perceive it like you? Could we feel it together? Might we be connected by a racial/ized lineage that allows us to move along an affective vector of space that reflects off surfaces and bounces into corners to reveal our shared intimate spaces? It colors a field. Where is this? Who enters it? 

“Contemplative lingering is also a practice of friendliness. It lets happen, come to pass, and agrees instead of intervening… Contemplative lingering gives time. It widens that being that is more than being-active. When life regains its capacity for contemplation it gains in time and space, in duration and vastness” (한 113). 

Life is life is value at rest. 
Static life synthetic life gives rest life. 


“She goes by many names: Celestial Lady, Lotus Blossom, Dragon Lady, Yellow Fever, Slave Girl, Geisha, Concubine, Butterfly, China Doll, Prostitute. She is carnal and delicate, hot and cold, corporeal and abstract, a full and empty signifier…What happens when we consider ornamental forms and fungible surfaces, rather than organic flesh, as foundational terms in the process of race making?”[1] 

She — the ornamental figure, the “yellow woman” — is this where we began? 


I wish I could sit with you. 

I wish I could be your limbs, serve you tea, tend to your feet. I wish I could care for you and all the unacknowledged trauma you go through, the dehumanization and racialized aesthetic objectification you experience. We were too young for this. I wish we could clear the mental, spatial, emotional clutter of being surrounded by stuff that is not ours, that we will never possess but shape our being nonetheless. We have no choice. The space of the ship, the cargo hold, the parlour, the suffocating spaces of whiteness and commerce and constant consumption, no room to lie, to rest, to be at peace. A life marked by movement, precarity, contingency. Where did you end up?

I wish I could sit with you. Dizziness from the waves rolling, nausea from the crew yelling. Did you convince yourself you were on a great adventure? Did you board the ship with nervous excitement? Or did you utterly dread it? Did you know what was going on, what was going to happen? Did anyone tell you anything? You were only fourteen. 

I wish I could sit with you. Where would you have sat on the ship? Would anyone have told you where you are going, what is going on? Did you interact with Mrs. Obear much? Did she ever try to care for you? Or did you always communicate with her through Atung? How long? Were you freely allowed on deck, to breathe the fresh salt ocean air? Or were you restricted and confined, freedom always-already limited? Were you kept away like a treasure to be hidden, another object in the registry of mercantile cargo? Maybe that time alone in your room-hold-crate was preferable to whatever color of un/familiarity [difference] they chose to treat you with: 
- An object, part of the cargo-manifest.
- A treasure, an ornament, delicate, infantalized, protected, hidden away (from the crew?)
- A person, but one unknown and unfamiliar, impenetrable, inscrutable. 
- A robot. 
- A clone. 
- An alien. 
- A prostitute.
- A doll.
                                        Where in time are we? 

Where in the legacy are we? 

You are fundamental to my being.


I wish I could sit with you.

I wish I could sit and watch the parade with you. The parade of bodies coming to see the pretty living object. Who is [the one] on display? I wish I could stand behind you and glare at those who gawk, yell at those who point and mutter and snicker and delight at our spectacle. Maybe we’d giggle about it later while making fun of the gweilo or maybe …

I don’t like parades.


I wish I could sit with you.

Your ornamental presence racializes the architecture of home and its interiors, the specific configuration of objects and commodities and features and intimacies that constitute the performative interior service surface stage.
You architect the space through sartorial splendor, accessorizing the intimacies of the home even as they dress and enveil and encrust you in turn. 

I wish I could sit with you. 

What did it look like, beyond the frame? Beyond the frame of the lithograph, of what we see as the stage. Was it a harsh divide? Did it feel like a stage, a set, a facsimile? Or did you seep out past your containers? This is not our home, but it is someone else’s. We do not belong here but we are here.


I wish I could sit with you. “I am sitting in a room”
 “I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.”[2]

Stutter, smoothing out, surface, space. 

“To smooth out”. Smoothing is intended, smoothing is desired, smoothing is a process, smoothing is an outcome, smoothing as that which reveals the contours of a space. Smooth, fluid, modern, minimal. Smooth is ideal, smooth is perfect.[3] Another aesthetic act where surface becomes a site of struggle through both quality and action. 

Smooth, like porcelain. 
Smoothing that smothers, that whitens, that suffocates.
Impenetrable. Nothing to exploit. 

I wish I could sit with you. 

Do you speak Cantonese? If you do, it’s probably very different from the Cantonese I speak. I wonder what we’d talk about. I’m older than you were then, when you were first staged in the Carnes’ “Oriental parlour”. You are fourteen, far too young to be bearing the weight of empire and ornament, silenced by that same weight. Would you call me jiejie? That feels wrong, because I am also a mui. But the thought makes me want to care for you as a jiejie. I wonder if you feel the weight of family titles as I do, or if you readily take it on as your familial role to play. Mui — the youngest sister/daughter. Is it the same as your Moy? That might not even be your real name. I wish I could hear your name as you know it. I hope it doesn’t sound as infantalizing as I hear it in my head. Is there a way to find out? What did Atung call you? Did you like having an interpreter, did it feel more intimate for you, someone who could mediate your mediation? Or did you want to scream at the procession of whiteness in front of you, the vacant sacks that want to consume more more more. 


Language of extraction, empire, and capital, eventually in your mouth, your throat, your lungs, your breath, reverberating the chest, settling in the stomach. Showcasing empire selling race speaking whiteness. Did you feel yourself losing the language of your homeland? Was it even home for you? Layers and layers and layers and layers and layers and layers of coloniality. We are all [ ]  .?! 

I wish I could sit with you. 

What is selling who is selling what is going on here? “Could have”, “may be”, “would have”, “could be”, “might have”, speculation on speculation, in contrast to the ‘material’ ‘reality’ of existing in a room, objects amongst objects. 
Did you also trace the patterns of the carpet with your eyes, trying to hold and memorize them? Did you follow the folds of the curtains, watching them fall, drifting towards then making eye contact with the painted figures that enframed you? Did you feel their presence behind you, did you wonder about their origin? Did you wonder about your own? Did you trace the decorative lattice of the chairs with your fingers as you stepped about on bound feet? Did you look at yourself in the mirror? Or is it just another portrait? Did you look to the objects around you for the comfort of something familiar, or did they just remind you of your own difference, of your role to play of the mediating surface through which these objects diffract through, mediating culture, commerce whilst negating your self? 

“The object is thus in the strict sense of the word a mirror, for the images it reflects can only follow upon one another without contradicting one another. And indeed, as a mirror the object is perfect, precisely because it sends back not real images, but desired ones.”[4] What does it mean to exist as a mirror?

Mirror (object), mirroring (process), an ontological state. State — changeable, a condition. What do you want from me? Who controls what is seen in the mirror? The see-er/looker/viewer/spectator/mirror? It is more active and relational than we might initially think. Mirror, showing you what you want to see, 



You hold my trauma

Baudrillard peaks back over my shoulder: “What is more, you can look at an object without it looking back at you” ([1996] 2005, 96).

We look back. We hold our trauma

We look back, disaffected on the surface, disorientated beyond, but together in our moments of disaffectation and disorientation. How do we withhold when everything around us takes and extracts and sucks and consumes and exhausts?. What do we withhold, where are the boundaries of what we withhold? Where do we withdraw to? Disaffection, a survival strategy, disorientation, a survival strategy?

I am forever unfolding between two folds, and if to perceive means to unfold, then I am forever perceiving within the folds.[5] 

Tableau vivant.

I am disoriented among the folds. It is not a bad thing. 
I wish I could linger here, with you.


It is hard to focus today but I am glad to be sitting with you. 

You are the lynchpin, what holds this all together. The fundamental. This — a strange confluence of

 aesthetics // affect

intimacy  // interiors 

commerce // capital

race // racialization

spectacle // surface

ornament // object. 

A mirror, another diasporic legacy that continues to extend over two hundred years later, past me now beyond 2046. What is the consequence of excavating this ghost? I do not know, though it worries me. 

My difference is paraded in the academy, yet it works for me even as I loathe it as a marker of me. Racial capitalism, in one of its many forms. You sell objects, I sell knowledge. Or I’m supposed to, anyway. I think. You sell self-as-object, and I sell self-as-object, though mine is wrapped in degrees and CV lines and fancy language and I don’t think I’m doing any of this very well. You had no choice, agency stunted, bound like your feet, confined to the embroidered borders that constitute your object-hood. I…have choice. Do I?

Is it possible to share a memory with someone you’ve never met? Is it possible to have the same memory as with someone you’ve never met, never can meet? Can you remember something that hasn’t happened yet?

I wish I could sit with you.

printed in exhibition zine New seed. XXXXXX. New seed. XXXXXX. 
Human Resources LA, July 2022
[1] Anne Anlin Cheng, Ornamentalism (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2019).
[2] Alvin Lucier, I am sitting in a room, (1969).
[3] Byung-Chul Han, Saving Beauty, trans. Daniel Steuer, 1st edition (Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA: Polity, 2017).
[4] Jean Baudrillard, The System of Objects, trans. James Benedict, Nineth edition (London ; New York: Verso, 2006).
[5] Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, 1 edition (Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press, 1992).