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Finalist for the 2020 Organization of American Historians Mary Nickliss Prize
Pioneering Chinese American actress Anna May Wong made more than sixty films, headlined theater and vaudeville productions, and even starred in her own television show. Her work helped shape racial modernity as she embodied the dominant image of Chinese and, more generally, “Oriental” women between 1925 and 1940.
In Anna May Wong, Shirley Jennifer Lim re-evaluates Wong’s life and work as a consummate artist by mining an historical archive of her efforts outside of Hollywood cinema. From her pan-European films and her self-made My China Film to her encounters with artists such as Josephine Baker, Carl Van Vechten, and Walter Benjamin, Lim scrutinizes Wong’s cultural production and self-fashioning. Byconsidering the salient moments of Wong’s career and cultural output, Lim’s analysis explores the deeper meanings, and positions the actress as an historical and cultural entrepreneur who rewrote categories of representation.
Anna May Wong provides a new understanding of the actress’s career as an ingenious creative artist.
About the Author
Shirley Jennifer Lim is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Stony Brook and the author of A Feeling of Belonging: Asian American Women's Public Culture, 1930-1960.
“Lim’s innovative book expands the existing archive on Anna May Wong and provides a new analytic framework for materials discussed in other works. Her masterful exploration of modernity and women of color through the central presence of Wong, combined with her creative ways of imagining different experiences, is both engaging and moving. Broadening the analysis from a singular celebrity, Anna May Wong shows how women of color whose careers relied on their visibility and self-fashioning encountered and engaged modernity and its various articulations. Richly nuanced, this book is elegant and lucid, absorbing and provocative.”—Karen J. Leong, Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State University and author of The China Mystique: Pearl S. Buck, Anna May Wong, Mayling Soong, and the Transformation of American Orientalism