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Journal of Asian American Studies 6.2 (2003) 208-209

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Cultural Studies Book Prize Awardee

Picturing Chinatown: Art and Orientalism in San Francisco , by Anthony W. Lee (University of California Press, 2001).

Award Committee: (chair) Peter X Feng, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Amy K. Stillman

The 2001 Cultural Studies Book Award committee is pleased to confer the award to Anthony W. Lee's Picturing Chinatown: Art and Orientalism in San Francisco, published by University of California Press. The pool of nominated books was particularly strong and represented a wide range of disciplines and methodologies; that said, Picturing Chinatown emerged as the clear choice of the committee.

In his account of Chinatown's cultural significance from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth, Lee manages to tie together analyses of photography (and attendant discourses of portraiture, landscape, and social reformist traditions), painting (ranging from the picturesque to modernist), and performance (the floor shows of Charlie Low's Forbidden City). He situates these various representations and performances in the context of the transformations wrought upon San Francisco and Chinatown, illuminating the changing tides in mainland China and the coming-to-consciousness of a laborer class in the American West. To all this, Lee brings the discerning eye of an art historian and the vivid voice of an important critic: photographs and paintings spring to life in Lee's prose, as he compels us to scan for traces of human subjectivity—of the [End Page 208] intentions of the artists and their subjects, of the representers and the represented. The committee was particularly impressed by the deference Lee pays to the materials he has uncovered in his archival research, shaping his argument around the evidence he has gathered and resisting the temptation to tailor the evidence to fit his theories—a temptation that the author wryly acknowledges. Lee's book is a model work of cultural studies, informed by but not beholden to theory, engaged in an active dialogue with historiography, ultimately telling a compelling story about visual culture.

— Peter X Feng
University Of Delaware



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