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Misreading the Chinese Character

Images of the Chinese in Euroamerican Drama to 1925


Dave Williams

From colonial times to the present, the Chinese have appeared on American stages in various guises, and these portrayals have evoked varying degrees of emotion. In almost all cases, however, they did not appear as they actually were, but rather as Euroamerican playwrights and their collaborating audiences would have had them be. Invisible for a long time, they took the stage first as harmless buffoons, then as hardened criminals. Despite the wide differences in manifest content, all the portrayals of the Chinese sprang from the Euroamerican need to maintain a race-based separation from the Chinese.