NEH banner [Return to Query]

Products for grant HB-262749-19

Cross-Media World in a Segregationist Era: Chinese-American Actress Anna May Wong (1905-1961)
Yiman Wang, Regents of the University of California, Santa Cruz

Grant details:

When Cosmopolitanism Meets Nationalism: “China’s Daughter” Anna May Wong and Her China Trip Films (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: When Cosmopolitanism Meets Nationalism: “China’s Daughter” Anna May Wong and Her China Trip Films
Author: Yiman Wang
Abstract: The pioneering and cosmopolitan Chinese-American screen, stage and television performer Anna May Wong paid her one and only China visit in 1936, in the aftermath of her race-based exclusion from MGM’s mega-production The Good Earth, and on the brink of the Second Sino-Japanese War. This trip was filmed by the photojournalist “Newsreel” Wong and by Wong herself. Two decades later, at the height of the Red Scare, Wong’s quasi-travelogue footage was reedited into an ABC television episode, “Native Land” (of the Bold Journey series), which was narrated by the aging Wong and broadcast in April 1957 to the McCarthy-era American audience. The travelogue footage doubling as a time capsule crystalized the meeting, clashing and negotiation of different times, geopolitics and differently situated audiences, all of which were centered on layers of mediation—of the young cosmopolitan Wong mediating herself to her Chinese public (including nationalist detractors who deemed her Hollywood films defaming to China) on footage originally intended to be shown to the mid-1930s American movie audience, and of the aging Wong mediating her younger self’s experience in the bygone pre-WWII China to the 1950s American television audience. My paper unpacks these layers of mediation to probe Wong’s agency that was fashioned through concatenated media making (from film to television) in articulation with her negotiation with different modes of nationalism in the semi-colonial China and in the Cold War America.
Date: 03/22/2021
Conference Name: Association for Asian Studies annual conference

“Life is too serious to be taken seriously” Anna May Wong’s Comic “Racial Melancholia” (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: “Life is too serious to be taken seriously” Anna May Wong’s Comic “Racial Melancholia”
Author: Yiman Wang
Abstract: Anna May Wong, the most well-known Chinese-American performer active in the first half of the 20th-c., has been commonly seen as the screen-stage originator of Orientalist feminine stereotypes of Lotus Blossom and Dragon Lady—both ending up dead, hence her sarcastic summary of her fictional persona as the woman who had died a thousand times. This preponderant victim discourse, however, has obliterated an intriguing strand in her performance career—as a comedienne in some 1920s shorts produced by Hal Roach. This paper unearths Wong’s performance endeavors as a comedienne by piecing together and contextualizing archival materials ranging from her Hal Roach contracts to fanzine publicities. My goal is two-pronged—enhancing our understanding of Wong’s oeuvre and performance legacy, and probing the ways in which early comedy shorts intertwined with the race-gender discourses especially as they pertained to the so-called inscrutable “Oriental” face and femininity. I argue that Wong’s comedies, while not as abundant as her pathos-laden dramatic films, offers a crucial site for exploring a dimension of her performative agency—one that has escaped critical attention and yet powerfully challenges the received understanding of Asian American racial melancholia. Methodologically, I ponder questions of how we recover obscured film histories, what to recover, and how to interpret or contextualize such histories so as to illuminate marginalized spaces and lacunae. Grappling with these questions necessitates engagement with the scarcity and incompleteness of empirical evidence. Thus, studying Wong’s sparsely documented comedic performance as part of the supporting cast for Hal Roach’s 1920s shorts holds broader ramifications for finetuning our methodology of doing early film historiography.
Date: 3/18/2021

To Be an Actress: Labor and Performance in Anna May Wong's Cross-Media World (Book)
Title: To Be an Actress: Labor and Performance in Anna May Wong's Cross-Media World
Abstract: Between 1919 and 1961, pioneering Chinese American actress Anna May Wong established an enduring legacy that encompassed cinema, theater, radio, and American television. Born in Los Angeles, yet with her US citizenship scrutinized due to the Chinese Exclusion Act, Wong—a defiant misfit—innovated nuanced performances to subvert the racism and sexism that beset her life and career. In this critical study of Wong's cross-media and transnational career, Yiman Wang marshals extraordinary archival research and a multifocal approach to illuminate a lifelong labor of performance. Viewing Wong as a performer and worker, not just a star, To Be an Actress adopts a feminist decolonial perspective to speculatively meet her as an interlocutor while inviting a reconsideration of racialized, gendered, and migratory labor as the bedrock of the entertainment industries.
Year: 2024
Primary URL:
Access Model: A free ebook version of this title is available through Luminos, University of California Press’s Open Access publishing program. Visit to learn more.
Publisher: University of California Press
Type: Single author monograph
ISBN: 9780520346321
Copy sent to NEH?: No