Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850s-1920sBook - 2005
Music and performance provide a unique window into the ways that cultural information is circulated and perceptions are constructed. Because they both require listening, are inherently ephemeral, and most often involve collaboration between disparate groups, they inform cultural perceptions differently from literary or visual art forms, which tend to be more tangible and stable.
In Yellowface, Krystyn R. Moon explores the contributions of writers, performers, producers, and consumers in order to demonstrate how popular music and performance has played an important role in constructing Chinese and Chinese American stereotypes. The book brings to life the rich musical period of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During this time, Chinese and Chinese American musicians and performers appeared in a variety of venues, including museums, community theaters, and world’s fairs, where they displayed their cultural heritage and contested anti-Chinese attitudes. A smaller number crossed over into vaudeville and performed non-Chinese materials. Moon shows how these performers carefully navigated between racist attitudes and their own artistic desires.
While many scholars have studied both African American music and blackface minstrelsy, little attention has been given to Chinese and Chinese American music. This book provides a rare look at the way that immigrants actively participated in the creation, circulation, and, at times, subversion of Chinese stereotypes through their musical and performance work.
In a roughly chronological fashion, Moon (history, Georgia State U.) describes how musical production for the American stage was used by non-Chinese, Chinese, and Chinese-Americans to construct and contest stereotypes of Chinese ethnicity during the 19th and early 20th centuries. She begins with chapters on common American and European perceptions of the Chinese and then provides explorations of early Chinese performers and the use of musical notation and instrumentation to represent China. Finally, a survey and analysis of the heterogeneity of Chinese images produced from the mid-1880s to the 1920s is followed by profiles of Chinese and Chinese-American vaudevillians. Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)