(Re)cycling Culture: Chinese Opera in the United States


Cecilia J. Pang


Chinese opera is often regarded as the epitome of Chinese culture. Despite its strong racial identity, the history of Chinese opera in the United States has evolved from a recreational entertainment provided by touring Chinese artists and intended primarily for Chinese immigrants to a vocation engaged in by Chinese-American immigrants and directed more specifically toward a diverse American audience. This development coincides with the sociological evolution of Chinese ethnic/immigrant identity.

There are four major phases in this expansion: first, was the arrival of Hong Took Tong who provided entertainment for the early Chinese immigrants in the 1850s. The group represents the first generation of immigrants who often maintained an attachment to the motherland. Second, was the visit of Mei Lanfang who embodies the second generation of immigrants interested in introducing Chinese opera to the American audience in the 1930s. Third, was the influx of Jackie Chan and Yuen Wo-Ping who influenced American film in the 1980s and 90s with their hybrid cultural acts recalling the third generation of immigrants who straddle dual identities and transform cultures. The last phase of expansion is marked by the rise of Qu Shu Fang who has been steadily carving out a niche in the American culture scene and embodies all three waves of immigration in her tireless dedication to performing and promoting Chinese opera to an American audience. These artists have worked hard to create additional diversity in the mosaic culture of contemporary American by preserving their own traditional aesthetics while simultaneously living their own versions of the American dream.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.