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Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850s-1920s Paperback – November 3, 2004

3.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Yellowface details the theatrical and musical history of Chinese and Chinese American performance at a time when 'Asian American' identity was unheard of. It should be a welcome addition to Asian American studies and American cultural history, as well as theater and music history."
(Josephine Lee author of Performing Asian America: Race and Ethnicity on the Contemporary Stage)

"Krystyn Moon has produced a finely detailed and nuanced study of China and Chinese Americans on the nineteenth-century American musical stage. Yellowface is an important work for anyone interested in the history of American popular culture and race."
(Robert G. Lee author of Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture)

About the Author

Krystyn R. Moon is an assistant professor at Georgia State University, where she teaches U.S. cultural history and Asian American history.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press (November 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813535077
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813535074
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,862,678 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Krystyn Moon has written a necessary text in the history of Chinese impersonation 'yellowface' performance. The text includes music and lyrics of the many songs that have been researched. Although I am not specifically interested in the music of the time I found the historical and cultural context of performing Chinese in America in the nineteenth century valuable to my own study of Chinese diaspora.
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With a title like "Yellowface," I thought this would be the Asian equivalent of Eric Lott's "Love and Theft" on black-defaming minstrelsy. However, Dr. Moon does not discuss non-Asians pretending to be Asian until one of the last chapters of the book. This text really dealt with non-Chinese artistic responses to the Chinese and Chinese Americans and those two groups' counter response. Most cultural studies focuses upon visual art or writings because any modern can read a book or use their eyes to analyze something. However, and surprisingly, the focus in this book is on music. Moon is knowledgeable about Chinese instruments and musical writing. Music majors may be especially appreciative of this text.

This text must be a celebration of tenure, because I can't imagine a graduate student being able to pick up so much for a dissertation. Further, this tenure is well-deserved: it must have taken a lot to be a professor in Georgia and pull up so much historical evidence from San Francisco and New York City. Sometimes the text is repetitive, but the reader can still notice that it took a lot of hard work to pull together and analyze all this material.

This book does not treat "white" and "yellow" exclusively; Native Americans, African-Americans, and even Eurasians are brought up. Still, at one point Dr. Moon mentions a Black vaudevillian who take on the name Ding-a-Ling. She totally fails to recognize the racialized phallocentricity here.

Dr. Moon is great at not seeing things as absolutes. The time periods of the chapters overlap, as history actually doesn't have sharp beginnings and endings. English Americans first dismiss Chinese music as "noise" but by comparing it to Scottish music, they recognize its musicality, at least somewhat.
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