Introduction

Leaving China & the
Journey Across the
Pacific

Cultural Traditions

Women in Early
Chinatowns

Anti-Chinese Violence
& Women's Resistance

Chinese Women at
Work

Educational
Opportunities

Women in Cultural
Work

The Great Depression
and War

Conclusion

Additional Resources


 

 

 

Anna May Wong

Portrait of Anna May Wong, 1934.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-112059

“With every passing year I feel myself more Chinese; it is as though I were taking up the heritage of my race. Yet I have never seen China.”
---Anna May Wong, in an interview with columnist Harry Carr, 1934 50

Anna May Wong (Jan. 3, 1905 – Feb. 2, 1961) was a silent movie actress and an important Chinese American presence in the early film industry in Hollywood. Born Wong Liu Tsong in Los Angeles, the daughter of a laundryman, she began playing bit parts as a teenager in the early days of Hollywood.

Although her family had lived in California since 1855, as a Chinese American Wong was viewed as “exotic” and "foreign". Wong's career was particularly affected by the anti-miscegenation rules of the Hays Code that existed in Hollywood from 1930 until 1948, which prevented her from playing romantic roles with non-Asian actors.

Mackaye Morris and Anna May Wong in Turandot, 1946.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LOT 12735, no. 857

Despite the discrimination which limited and defined her career, Anna May Wong had a number of significant film roles. Her first starring role was in Hollywood's first film in color, The Toll of the Sea (1921), opposite actor Kenneth Harlan. Hoping to escape some of the constrictions of Hollywood, she lived for a time in Europe, and was one of the leads in the British film Piccadilly (1929).

She also made films in Germany and France, but facing similar cinematic stereotypes, she returned to the U.S. In the early 1950s, Wong starred in her own television series, The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong.

To honor her contributions to the film industry, in 1960 Anna May Wong was given a star on the legendary Hollywood Walk of Fame. 51