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Performing Mahjong in the 1920s: White Women, Chinese Americans, and the Fear of Cultural Seduction

Performing Mahjong in the 1920s: White Women, Chinese Americans, and the Fear of Cultural Seduction Performing Mahjong in the 1920s White Women, Chinese Americans, and the Fear of Cultural Seduction Annelise Heinz On the cover of Auction Bridge and Mah-Jongg Magazine's 1924 September issue, a woman in gauzy faux-Chinese dress paints designs on a larger-than-life mahjong set. Behind the delicate craftswoman and her embroidered slippers glows a golden Chinese dragon screen, at once alluring and ominous. The woman, however, is not portrayed as racially Chinese, for the elegant tile-painter is clearly white. Exemplifying the massive American cultural output inspired by mahjong, the illustration highlights the performative possibilities the game opened in America, the fad's ambiguous representations of China, and how the Chinese game and its accoutrements helped form a 1920s "Oriental" aesthetic. In this image as in the culture at large, mahjong represented far more than a commodity sold for mass consumption. Mahjong, the Chinese game of skill played by four people with dominolike engraved "tiles," swept the United States in the 1920s.1 It resonated with a specific historical moment in American life and generated an outpouring of commentary and representations. Hundreds of thousands of Americans purchased game sets, and middle- and leisure-class women enacted representations of Chinese civilization through dress and entertainment. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies uni_neb

Performing Mahjong in the 1920s: White Women, Chinese Americans, and the Fear of Cultural Seduction

Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies , Volume 37 (1) – May 19, 2016

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Publisher
University of Nebraska Press
Copyright
Copyright © 2008 Frontiers Editorial Collective.
ISSN
1536-0334
Publisher site
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Abstract

Performing Mahjong in the 1920s White Women, Chinese Americans, and the Fear of Cultural Seduction Annelise Heinz On the cover of Auction Bridge and Mah-Jongg Magazine's 1924 September issue, a woman in gauzy faux-Chinese dress paints designs on a larger-than-life mahjong set. Behind the delicate craftswoman and her embroidered slippers glows a golden Chinese dragon screen, at once alluring and ominous. The woman, however, is not portrayed as racially Chinese, for the elegant tile-painter is clearly white. Exemplifying the massive American cultural output inspired by mahjong, the illustration highlights the performative possibilities the game opened in America, the fad's ambiguous representations of China, and how the Chinese game and its accoutrements helped form a 1920s "Oriental" aesthetic. In this image as in the culture at large, mahjong represented far more than a commodity sold for mass consumption. Mahjong, the Chinese game of skill played by four people with dominolike engraved "tiles," swept the United States in the 1920s.1 It resonated with a specific historical moment in American life and generated an outpouring of commentary and representations. Hundreds of thousands of Americans purchased game sets, and middle- and leisure-class women enacted representations of Chinese civilization through dress and entertainment.

Journal

Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studiesuni_neb

Published: May 19, 2016

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