During the era of Chinese exclusion from U.S. immigration in the early twentieth century, a play that purportedly offered an authentic replication of Chinese drama became heralded as an important and innovative American contribution to the development of modern theatre. This essay examines Harry Benrimo and George Hazelton Jr.’s The Yellow Jacket, which opened on Broadway in 1912, and its strange career from ethnographic amusement to globetrotting masterpiece. It argues that the play benefited from the convergence of contemporary anxieties about the lack of a strong American dramatic tradition vis-à-vis Europe and shifting conceptions of assimilable and unassimilable difference vis-à-vis China. The essay further suggests that the play was able to accommodate such contradictory assessments of its significance, because it assumed an explicitly alienated perspective of the theatre it claimed to imitate. By encouraging its audience both to see the Chinese and see as the Chinese, the play allowed spectators, as well as the “yellowface” performers, to enact a partial crossing of racial boundaries.


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pp. 75-92
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