Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lady in the Red Dress

I caught David Yee's Lady in the Red Dress today and it was really good. The play, produced by Fu-Gen, a local theatre company dedicated to developing Asian Canadian playwrights, centres around the issue of redress for the Chinese Head Tax by the Chinese Canadian community.

Thousands of Chinese came to Canada between 1881 to 1885 as labour to build the Canadian Pacific Railway, but as soon as the railway was completed, the Canadian government moved to restrict Chinese immigration by imposing a $50 head tax on every Chinese that came to Canada. By 1903, the head tax was $500, which was worth about 2 years wages at the time, and to add insult to injury, Chinese were denied citizenship. Despite this, Chinese immigrants continued to arrive and in 1923, the federal government passed the Chinese Immigration Act excluding all but a few Chinese immigrants from entering Canada. Until the act was repealed in 1947, less than 50 Chinese were allowed to come to Canada. And for those that were here, they were faced with endless discrimination. I wrote a paper about this for my Canadian history class in university and remember images in the reference books of signs posted in storefronts that said "No Dogs or Chinese Allowed."

I must admit that parts of the play were difficult to watch because I found the racist depictions of some of the characters offensive...but there were also parts which were hysterically funny...like Ins Choi as Happy Chan, the one-man radio show and his brother Biff, who was equally skilled with the direction of his own one-man TV show.

David Yee was present for the performance and I would have loved to tell him how much I enjoyed it as I saw him outside the theatre, possibly having a smoke, but I've never had it in me to approach someone I've admired for their work like that. Oh well.

1 comment:

The Lone Beader said...

I recently watched an American history documentary by Simon Schama and he mentioned Chinese building our railroads, too... I never knew that because well, that's not something they mention in the history books in school. It made me really sad to think about all the history that Americans don't know about their own country. I think if we did know more about these truths, we would be even more 'united'.

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