Chinatown Opera Theater in North America

Chinatown Opera Theater in North America

Nancy Yunhwa Rao

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780252040566

Publisher: University of Illinois Press


In this expansive project, Nancy Yunhwa Rao examines the world of Chinatown theaters, focusing on iconic theaters in San Francisco and New York but also tracing the transnational networks and migration routes connecting theaters and performers in China, Canada, and even Cuba. Drawing on a wealth of physical, documentary, and anecdotal evidence, Rao brings together the threads of an enormously complex story: on one hand, the elements outside the theaters, including U.S. government policies regulating Chinese immigration, dissemination through recordings and print materials of the music performed in the theaters, impresarios competing with each other for performers and audiences, and the role of Chinese American business organizations in facilitating the functioning of the theaters; and on the other hand, the world inside the theaters, encompassing the personalities and careers of individual performers, audiences, repertoire, and the adaptation of Chinese performance practices to the American immigrant context. The study also documents the important influence of the theaters on the Chinatown community's sense of its cultural self. Presenting Chinese American music as American music, Rao's work significantly revises understandings of American music by placing the musical activities of an important immigrant group firmly within the bounds of music identified as "American," liberating it from the ghetto of exoticism. Firmly grounded in both Chinese and English language sources, this study offers critical insight into both historical and contemporary questions of cultural identity in the American context.