One of the Atlantic's "Books to Get Lost in This Summer"
Best Books of August 2023: New York Times Book Review, InsideHook, BookRiot, WNET AllArts, Arlington Magazine
A trenchant reclamation of the Chinese American movie star, whose battles against cinematic exploitation and endemic racism are set against the currents of twentieth-century history.
Born into the steam and starch of a Chinese laundry, Anna May Wong (1905–1961) emerged from turn-of-the-century Los Angeles to become Old Hollywood’s most famous Chinese American actress, a screen siren who captivated global audiences and signed her publicity photos—with a touch of defiance—“Orientally yours.” Now, more than a century after her birth, Yunte Huang narrates Wong’s tragic life story, retracing her journey from Chinatown to silent-era Hollywood, and from Weimar Berlin to decadent, prewar Shanghai, and capturing American television in its infancy. As Huang shows, Wong’s rendezvous with history features a remarkable parade of characters, including a smitten Walter Benjamin and (an equally smitten) Marlene Dietrich. Challenging the parodically racist perceptions of Wong as a “Dragon Lady,” “Madame Butterfly,” or “China Doll,” Huang’s biography becomes a truly resonant work of history that reflects the raging anti-Chinese xenophobia, unabashed sexism, and ageism toward women that defined both Hollywood and America in Wong’s all-too-brief fifty-six years on earth.
Yunte Huang, a Guggenheim Fellow, has taught at Harvard and the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he is a professor of English. The author of Inseparable and the Edgar Award–winning biography Charlie Chan, both National Book Critics Circle Award finalists, Huang speaks frequently about American popular culture. He lives in Santa Barbara.
Yunte Huang photo courtesy of Sherry Shi.