New Books Network

The story of popular entertainment in American immigrant communities is only just beginning to be told. Chinatown Opera Theater in North America by Nancy...

The story of popular entertainment in American immigrant communities is only just beginning to be told. Chinatown Opera Theater in North America by Nancy Yunhwa Rao from University of Illinois Press (2017) addresses the history of Cantonese Opera performed in Chinatowns in cities across North America with a primary focus on San Francisco, New York City, and Vancouver during the 1920s. Using a wealth of archival material, including extensive records from the U.S. Immigration Service, Rao provides an enormous amount of information about the theaters, companies, performers, and repertoire of this operatic genre. She contextualizes the performance of Cantonese Opera within the cultural life of Chinese communities, explains the print materials and recordings that circulated the music, and details the significant impact that exclusionary governmental immigration policies had on this theatrical tradition and Chinese immigrants in Canada and the United States. Rao’s book not only offers information about this performance tradition that has never been published before, it also provides a model for the kind of work that still needs to be done on musical and theatrical entertainment in many other ethnic communities in North America. Chinatown Opera Theater in North America has been awarded the 2019 Association for Asian-American Studies Performance and Media Studies Book Award, the Irving Lowens Book Award from the Society for American Music for the best book published in 2017, and the 2018 Music in American Culture Award from the American Musicological Society.

Nancy Yunhwa Rao is a professor of music at Rutgers University where she is the Head of Music Theory. One of the leading scholars in the study of Chinese American music, her work has appeared in many journals including the Cambridge Opera Journal, the Journal of the Society for American Music, and Music Theory Spectrum. She has received an NEH Research Fellowship and ACLS Scholar in China Fellowship to support her work on the intersections between China and the West, particularly in contemporary Chinese music. In 2007, she won the Irving Lowens Article Award from the Society for American Music for an essay on the music of Ruth Crawford Seeger.


Kristen M. Turner, Ph.D. is a lecturer at North Carolina State University in the music department. Her work centers on American musical culture at the turn of the twentieth century and has been published in several journals and essay collections.