Events

engraving of the chinese lady leaning against 1800s table

Detail from advertising broadside. The Chinese Lady, Afong Moy. Philadelphia: Jesper Harding, 1835.

The Chinese Lady tells the story of fourteen-year-old Afong Moy as she’s brought to the United States from Guangzhou Province in 1834. Allegedly the first Chinese woman to set foot on U.S. soil, she has been put on display for the American public as “The Chinese Lady.” For the next half-century, she performs for curious white people, showing them how she eats, what she wears, and the highlight of the event: how she walks with bound feet. As the decades wear on, her celebrated sideshow comes to define and challenge her very sense of identity. Inspired by the true story of Afong Moy’s life, The Chinese Lady is a dark, poetic, yet whimsical portrait of America through the eyes of a young Chinese woman. Filmed onstage in the Wallace Theater, directed by Princeton alumnus Richard Peng ’20 and featuring Princeton senior Jacy Duan in the title role with senior Minjae Kim as scenic and sound designer. Co-produced with Princeton student group East West Theater.

View program information for The Chinese Lady »

ACCESSIBILITY

closed captioning availableThe filmed performance will be closed captioned in Chinese and English, and the talkbacks will be live captioned in English. Viewers in need of other access accommodations are invited to contact the Lewis Center at least 2 weeks in advance at LewisCenter@princeton.edu.

 

The Chinese Lady is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc, New York.

ESSAY: "The Many Lives of Afong Moy"

By Jacy Duan ’21

In 1834, Afong Moy became the first Chinese woman to arrive in America, presented as an exhibit in museums across the country as a curiosity and an object. For over a decade, she lived her life on display—eating, walking, drinking tea—under the gaze of white audiences, a gaze that rendered her backwards and inferior, something to conquer and possess, not to humanize and respect.

In his play The Chinese Lady, Lloyd Suh injects a new life and voice to Afong Moy. She tells her story to the audience, from beginning to end. As a theatre certificate student, I chose to propose this show as my thesis performance because when I first read the play last year, Afong Moy felt like a friend. She felt like someone I knew: all at once as a distant Chinese ancestor, my Chinese grandmother, my immigrant Chinese mother, and myself. She started her life in America, like all the immigrants who came before and after her, excited and hopeful, eager to see America, to learn English, to use forks, and to share her culture with Americans in the hopes that it could lead to empathy and compassion across an ocean of difference.

But how could she know that when Americans saw her, all they saw was an object, a decoration, an ornament? All they saw was a monstrosity, something less than human, from her small, slitted eyes, to her tiny, bound feet. All they saw was something inherently foreign and despicable, something to spit at, to push, to shove, to kill, and eventually, to ban from their country all together. In 1850, Afong Moy disappeared completely from our historical record; no one knows what happened to her. Yet, she still survives today.

Afong Moy continues to live in the strong Asian women in my life and in myself. She lives in the wrinkles of my mother’s eyes as she squints into the California sun after landing in America for the first time. She lives in the palms of our hands, where we hold fat little dumplings and delicately pinch together the edges. She lives in the tears in my eyes when I am laughed at and told for the first time at age 12 that I am not American, that I do not belong in the place that I call home. She lives in the candle I hold in my hand as I mourn the deaths of six Asian women and two other victims at the hands of a white supremacist and terrorist.

She lives because over 200 years later, the fight is still not over. Asian Americans are still struggling to be seen, not simply for the complexity of our language, the color of our skin, or the shape of our eyes, but for our humanity, for the shared humanity that lives in each of us. Six Asian women were killed in Atlanta not because the murderer was addicted to sex, but because he was addicted to the power he could wield over Asian women—over objects inferior to him, objects that existed purely for his enjoyment, devoid of their own voice, power, or control.

Objects like Afong Moy.

Giving life to Afong Moy these past few months has brought me so much healing, as well as a deeper understanding of the legacy and strength of the Asian women who have come before me. Even though she endures so much pain, loss, and loneliness, she does not despair. She looks ahead to those who come after her, to people like myself, to people like you.

I hope that you will listen to Afong’s story. I hope that you will hear her voice. I hope that you will carry on her spirit and continue the fight.

 

 

Presented By

  • East West Theater Company
  • Program in Theater

Additional Info