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Forbidden City: The Golden Age of Chinese Nightclubs (The Hampton Press Communication Series)

4.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1572739475
ISBN-10: 1572739479
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  • Forbidden City: The Golden Age of Chinese Nightclubs (The Hampton Press Communication Series)
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Product Details

  • Series: The Hampton Press Communication Series
  • Paperback: 156 pages
  • Publisher: Hampton Press Inc (November 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1572739479
  • ISBN-13: 978-1572739475
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 7 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #494,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Paige Turner VINE VOICE on May 17, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I saw Arthur Dong's documentary on Forbidden City on PBS and was intrigued. The film was about a little known era of nightclubs in San Francisco. At the time, having an all Asian Revue in a nightclub was unheard of. The book consists mainly of interviews with various people who worked as singers, dancers and entertainers at the Forbidden CIty Nightclub and other clubs who copied the idea of an all-Asian Revue from Charlie Low, founder of the Forbidden City.
This book also offers a slice of Asian-American history that is not well-known.

Interestingly, the cast was not all Chinese in these clubs. First, the local Chinese women and men wouldn't be caught dead performing in these clubs, so there was a shortage of qualified Chinese entertainers, so often clubs hired Japanese or people of mixed heritage (but who had some Asian blood). Most of the performers came from small towns in other states and were from non-traditional, more "Americanized" families, so they didn't have traditional Asian families clucking their disapproval. You might say a lot of them were very modern who dared to defy the traditional roles of men and women in Asian society.

A lot of the entertainers tried to make it in Hollywood, but found little success, due to the scarcity of roles for Asian actors, and because of the racist practice of taking major, well known actors and putting them in yellow face. Asian acts were seen as one-time-appearance novelty acts in Hollywood films, so most of the performers found steady work in the nightclubs. Forbidden City was the first to have an all-Asian revue. The book contains a lot of photos of the entertainers as well as newspaper clippings, old advertisements, etc. It chronicles the start of these clubs, the boom years, to the closing of these clubs. It is a fascinating look at a brief but glamourous period in Asian-American history.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Really a collection of anecdotes and personal mementos, this book is an interesting exploration of a subject area that I had never heard about. The photos and stories are unique, and stir the imagination as to what it was like to be living in that era and habiting those clubs.
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Format: Paperback
Presented as an oral history, Forbidden City: The Golden Age of Chinese Nightclubs records the recollections of nearly two dozen Asian American performers who worked in San Francisco's "all-Chinese" revues from the late 1930s through the 60s.

The transcribed interviews of the artists, and their friends and relatives, paint an intimate portrait of this unique cultural scene. Profiled are some of the better known alumni of the Forbidden City nightclub -- like singers Larry Ching and Frances Chun and dancers Dorothy Toy, Tony Wing, and Jadin Wong -- as well as other performers I'd never heard of before, such as:

* Ellen Chinn, Forbidden City dancer and, according to news of the day, "possessor of Chinatown's most beautiful pair of legs"

* Mai Tai Sing, Forbidden City dancer who later ran a cocktail lounge in Chinatown and played a bit part in the 1960 TV show Hong Kong, starring Rod Taylor

* Coby Yee, "China's Most Daring Dancing Doll", an exotic dancer who performed off and on at the Forbidden City and later bought the club from founder Charlie Low in the mid-60s

* Cynthia Yee, dancer in Dorothy Toy's various revues, Miss Chinatown of 1967, and founder of the Grant Avenue Follies

One of the best things about the book are the more than 200 illustrations, ranging from newspaper ads and magazine articles to family photos and glamor shots. They are absolutely priceless and by themselves worth the price of the book.

I would have given Forbidden City a 5-star rating, but unfortunately the book is let down by a lackluster design and the lack of a readily apparent organizational structure.
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