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The tragicomedy of Anna May Wong

  As the first Chinese actress with international influence in the 20th century, Anna May Wong’s life is undoubtedly tragic. On the one hand, her artistic talent has allowed the Western world to see a modern, fashionable and charming Chinese image. But at the same time, she was also a victim of racism in Western society at that time, and became a “foreign spectacle” stared at on the Western screen. In the early 20th century, when Anna May Wong lived, the relationship between the East and the West was extremely unequal, and Western-led imperialism and colonialism made European and American countries discriminate against other races, including the Chinese. This historical background determines the tragic fate of Huang Liushuang and the cultural landscape she presents on the screen.
  Although Anna May Wong has longed to play active Chinese roles in movies all her life, her weak position in the Hollywood film industry has determined that she has to play an image of an “Asian woman” in the eyes of Western society. In many movies, the role of Huang Liushuang is endowed with two dimensions by the West: in some movies, she is the pure, weak, submissive “Madame Butterfly”. In other movies, she played the alluring and aggressive “Dragon Lady”. And these two roles, in the end, often end in tragedy.
  This shows the complex feelings of Western society towards China at that time: On the one hand, the West believed that China, which had been humiliated in modern times, was weak and deceitful. On the other hand, the West is curious and afraid of the “mysterious” Chinese culture, and even worries that China may replace the West’s dominant position in the future. At the same time, because interracial marriage was still considered illegal in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, many American audiences also gained a pleasure of “breaking the taboo” from Anna May Wong.
  Hollywood’s exploitation has made her rethink her relationship with China. Although her understanding of China is one-sided and idealized, her feelings for China are undoubtedly sincere and warm.
  In the complex background of the times, Huang Liushuang was “involuntary” in the Western film and television industry, but solved the “whether or not” of cultural exchanges between China and the West. She broke into the mainstream of Western culture, showing an international image of Chinese, and proved that Chinese can gain a place in film history. Her ups and downs in her life also reflect the complicated fate of Chinese people on the international stage in this special era.

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