William Gow, "Performing Chinatown: Hollywood, Tourism, and the Making of a Chinese American Community" (Stanford UP, 2024)


This episode features a conversation with Dr. William Gow on his recently published book, Performing Chinatown: Hollywood, Tourism, and the Making of a Chinese American Community (Stanford University Press, 2024), focuses on the 1930s and 1940s Los Angeles–its Chinatowns, and “city,” as well as the Chinese American community’s relationship with Hollywood. Chinatown and Hollywood, Gow argues, represented the two primary sites where Chinese Americans performed racial difference for popular audiences during the Chinese exclusion era. As he will illustrate later in this conversation, Chinese Americans in Los Angeles used these performances in Hollywood films and in Chinatown for tourists to shape widely-held understandings of race and national belonging during this pivotal chapter in U.S. history.

Performing Chinatown builds on Gow’s background as a historian, educator, and documentary filmmaker–even incorporating his own family’s history with Hollywood throughout the book’s opening and closing. A fourth-generation Chinese American and a proud graduate of the San Francisco Unified School District, he holds an M.A. in Asian American Studies from UCLA and a Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley. Before receiving his doctorate, he taught history for nearly a decade in California public schools. For the past 20 years, he has also served as a volunteer historian with the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California (CHSSC), a non-profit in Los Angeles Chinatown. At the CHSSC, he is the co-director of the Five Chinatowns project, documenting the history of the five Chinatowns that existed in Los Angeles before 1965. He is presently an assistant professor of Asian American and Ethnic Studies at Cal State Sacramento.

Donna Doan Anderson (she/her) is a research assistant professor in History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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Donna Anderson

Donna Doan Anderson (she/her) is a PhD candidate in History and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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