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 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 towards women that defined both Hollywood and America in Wong’s all-too-brief fifty-six years on earth.
"[A]n incisive guide to the tangle of race, politics, and business that Anna May Wong encountered during her rise to fame... Daughter of the Dragon offers a lively tour through Wong's world and filmography, and the film stills and portraits included throughout are a particular pleasure. Mr. Huang turns the spotlight back onto an important but largely forgotten film icon—one who shone brightly despite the bitter racial bias she faced throughout her long career. " — Julia Flynn Siler, The Wall Street Journal
"With Daughter of the Dragon, Huang is offering something different... a form of reclamation and subversion. Huang is a wry and generous storyteller; the Anna May he evokes stepped out from the limited roles she was relegated to and turned to writing as a way of showcasing her curiosity and wit." — Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times
"Yunte Huang's superb biography of Hollywood's first Chinese American movie star, Daughter of the Dragon: Anna May Wong's Rendezvous with American History, doubles as a reckoning with the country's attitudes about Asian people in Wong's day... tremendously elucidating and moving." — Nell Beram, Shelf Awareness
"Daughter of the Dragon gives us a sense of how difficult it was for Wong to operate amid the legal, cultural, political and social constraints that restricted the roles she could play in the movies and the choices she could make in her life. Yet Huang also lets us watch Anna May transcend those limits, sending witty letters to friends, welcoming reporters, posing for photographers and campaigning for war in relief in China, all the while creating the character that still demands our attention. " — Ann Fabian, National Book Review
"Daughter of the Dragon soars when Huang resists treating Wong as a hapless victim of American history and digs deeper to reveal the shrewd, resilient soul beneath. During her lifetime, Wong's stardom was, for reasons beyond her control, eclipsed by that of her white peers. Thanks in part to scholars like Huang, her legacy won't suffer the same fate. " — Mayukh Sen, The New Yorker