THE CHINESE LADY
Written by Lloyd Suh
Presented by Southern Plains Productions
in collaboration with the Asian District Cultural Association of Oklahoma
The Chinese Lady is based on the true story of the first documented Chinese woman in America, Afong Moy, as she is toured around the United States as a living museum piece. On display for nearly half a century during the 1800’s, Afong clings to the hope that her presence might spark empathy and understanding between cultures. As she slowly comes to terms with her lack of autonomy, Afong turns critical of America’s imperialism, hypocrisy, and shallow understanding of a world outside its own. This wrly comedic, grimly honest story finally gives this widely forgotten historical figure a voice, leaving audiences to reexamine the current state of cultural dynamics in the modern world.
Lloyd Suh’s The Chinese Lady is more than a historical retelling. Suh skillfully infused this 19th-century story with the influence of modern events concerning AAPI lives, constantly warning us of “what’s to come” in the present day. This story draws attention to the ways empty, insincere representation continues to be an enemy to cultural progress, and how we rarely fit into the boxes (or, in our case, frames) we’re expected to.
As our team is primarily non-locals, it was important to me that this production include perspectives from AAPI artists of Oklahoma. Our gallery serves as a platform for local voices, demonstration of our collective efforts towards social progress, and a reminder of the empathy we must continue to cultivate. Performing in this modern gallery allows us to visually compare and contrast how stories from marginalized communities have been presented to “high-brow” audiences thoughout history. It pokes at the self-congratulatory nature with which certain audiences consume art, and how financial access to these stories has always been a “luxury” reserved for the social elite— a way to superficially align themselves with a cause.
The racism presented in The Chinese Lady hasn’t disappeared; it’s been repackaged into something more insidious, often deceivingly civil. Nearly 200 years after Afong’s nationwide tour, we are still understanding how to honor not just the abstract idea of a community, a history, but the vast range of individual experiences that make up the whole.
The featured artists’ work is framed similarly to the painting Afong Moy sits inside of, suggesting the similarities between her experiences and that of modern day AAPI women. Conversely, the difference in mediums, color palettes, and design point to the liberation that we’ve achieved since Afong’s time.