News / Arts & Entertainment

Novel Tells Tale of Asian American Entertainers

Novel Tells Tale of Asian-American Entertainersi
X
June 19, 2014 2:33 AM
Writer Lisa See tells the story of Asian-American entertainers in her latest novel, "China Dolls". It is set in the 1930s and ‘40s in the network of nightclubs known as the Chop Suey Circuit. VOA’s Mike O'Sullivan spoke with the author about the real-life performers who inspired the novel.
Mike O'Sullivan
Asian American entertainers are at the center of Lisa See's latest novel, "China Dolls."  It is set in the 1930s and ‘40s, in the network of nightclubs known as the Chop Suey Circuit.  VOA spoke with the author about the real-life performers who inspired the story.
 
They were well-known names in the Chinatowns of San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles - names like Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American movie star, and nightclub entertainer Beatrice Fung Oye. Oye appeared in the 1945 film On Stage, Everybody.
 
Writer Lisa See says in that segregated era, entertainment venues served different ethnic groups in clubs named for ethnic dishes.
 
“There was the Borscht Belt for Jewish entertainers and there was the Chitlin' Circuit for African American entertainers, and similarly there was what was called the Chop Suey Circuit for Chinese Americans - actually Asian, all Asian Americans. And what they would do, they would travel from club to club,” says See.
 
See’s novel "China Dolls" is the story of three female friends who become entertainers.  Although the book is fiction, they are inspired by real-life characters from the Chop Suey Circuit.
 
Like Oye, Asian American nightclub entertainer Anna Chang also made the transition to Hollywood. She appeared opposite Cary Grant in the 1932 short film Singapore Sue.
 
Lisa See says other ethnic stars included the dancers Dorothy Toy and Paul Wing.  They were billed the Chinese Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the most famous dance couple of the day.
 
“Just incredibly talented, and if they had been white, or if it had been today, things might have been very different for them,” says See.
 
See says the nightclub era came to an end for Asian Americans and others after World War II.
 
“They got married, they moved to the suburbs, they got a lawnmower and a washing machine and a television. And it was when television came into people's homes that, right away, nightclubs started to die,” says See.
 
The rise of global entertainment and opening of Hollywood brought new opportunities, but the early stars of the Chop Suey Circuit paved the way for other Asian American entertainers.

You May Like

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Graham Nash has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice – once for his work with The Hollies and once as part of Crosby, Stills & Nash. The legendary folk-rocker joins "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his latest project, “CSN 2012,” which captured on video recent live performances by Crosby, Stills & Nash.