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Race and the Modern Exotic: Three ‘Australian’ Women on Global Display

Chapter 2

Rose Quong

Appropriating Orientalism

Rose Quong, an Australian actor, lecturer and writer, was born and brought up in Melbourne but left in 1924, at the age of 44, with an ambition to make it on the London stage. Quong’s career, which would span Britain, the United States and even China itself, was the result of her marketing of her mixed cultural heritage. She became a skilled purveyor of cultural mixing and cultural difference, casting herself as an essentially qualified interpreter of Chinese culture to the Western world. Yet Quong’s measurable success creating a theatrical and lecturing career as a professional Chinese woman must be seen as a compromise. When Quong arrived in London, she brought with her a successful reputation from repertory theatre in Melbourne, as an actress well versed in Shakespeare and the theatrical canon of the day. Shakespeare was her lifelong first love as a poet and playwright, but her desire to perform on the metropolitan stage as a Shakespearean or mainstream actress ran up against racial stereotyping. Partly from her own choice and interest, and partly through the repeated suggestions and encouragement of Australian and English friends, Quong carved out instead a niche for herself as a lecturer on Chinese culture and philosophy, an ‘Oriental’ actress and a reciter of Chinese poetry. Her successes – such as acting alongside Laurence Olivier and Anna May Wong, reciting on BBC radio, appearing on a BBC television program as early as 1935, publishing two books with a major American publisher, and being cast as herself in a 1971 film – testify to her talent, hard work, energy and determination. But they need to be juxtaposed with Quong’s separation from her home and family, the marginality of her material standard of living, and the cultural stereotyping that precluded a career in Shakespeare and pushed her instead towards her own careful appropriation of Orientalism. Quong’s story leads us to consider how Orientalism – that edifice of Western representations of ‘the East’ as exotic, mysterious, barbaric and sensuous, among other characteristics – could be appropriated by ‘Orientals’ to their own ends. It also compels us to think about how Quong juggled her mixed Australian, British and Chinese identities – stressing each in particular ways and at different times.

A generation ago Edward Said drew attention to the discursive structures of ‘Orientalism’, which he saw fundamentally as ‘a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient’. Further, Said contended that Orientalism was the mechanism by which European culture ‘manage[d]’ and ‘produce[d]’ ‘the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period’.1 Although Said focused mostly on the Middle East, an ensuing generation of scholarship has applied his insights further afield, including to the relationship between ‘the West’ and East Asia. Orientalism continues to engage scholarly attention despite critiques of Said’s original thesis, and challenges such as David Cannadine’s controversial counter-proposition of ‘ornamentalism’ as a better descriptor of dominant British imperial attitudes.2 Yet we still do not fully understand the historical evolution of Orientalism as a constellation of assumptions and attitudes, its efflorescence globally, its intersections with European colonialism in different sites, nor its twists and turns in the twentieth century. As Ann Curthoys has noted, the history of attitudes towards the Chinese in Australia must be linked to the evolution of British and other European Orientalisms, notably the shift from an eighteenth-century ‘Orientalist wonderment and fascination with Chinese art and learning’ to a mid- to late-nineteenth century rising belief in European superiority and perception of mobile Chinese labourers as a threat.3 As practices of discrimination were undergirded by purportedly scientific theories of social Darwinism, and the global modernist proclivity for racial stereotypes reached its apogee in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Western Orientalist taxonomies of ‘the East’ held their purchase through continuing evocations. The constellation of racist immigration and labour policies in multiple Western countries, articulated and ubiquitous racial stereotypes, and continuing Orientalist cultural fascination and condemnation, were virtually impossible to escape for those marked as ‘Chinese’, ‘Asian’, ‘Hindoo’ or ‘Moslem’.

Portrait of Rose Quong taken in Melbourne

Source: Rose Quong Papers, MSS132, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, with permission of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

It is important historical context for Rose Quong’s story that Chinese immigration to Australia was restricted temporarily from 1855 to 1867, then ‘permanently’ from 1880 to 1887, prior to being banned under the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act, the first substantive piece of legislation passed by the new Commonwealth of Australia.4 This act, of course, codified what was informally known as the White Australia Policy and which would operate as Australia’s overtly racist immigration policy until 1966. Henry Chan has argued that we need to see Chinese people not just as victims of the White Australia policy, but as historical actors in their own right, with individual lives, and family and community ties. He contends that we need to identify continuing links between families and villages in China and Chinese migrants in Australia, and to see this history as integral to a broader transnational, transpacific history of the Chinese diaspora.5 Chan’s emphasis on the transnational dimensions to the history of the Chinese in Australia makes very good sense.

What I want to suggest is that Rose Quong reveals another transnational dimension to the history of Chinese-Australians, a dimension so far overlooked in this area of scholarship, and that is the role of London and Britain as imperial metropole. Quong presents us with the perhaps startling realisation that the Australian colonial connection to London could and did provide a venue in which she articulated her identity as part of another diaspora and tied to another homeland, that of China. Quong’s story forces us to recognise that British imperial identity, Australian colonial and national identity, and Chinese cultural identity were not mutually exclusive but in fact could work to reinforce each other. This recognition negates the explicit assumption by some scholars of Chinese history in Australia that Britishness and Chinese cultural identities were antagonistic formations. The one scholar who has already pointed towards this possibility is Ann Curthoys, who has contended that the history of immigration in Australia must be seen within the framework of the history of colonisation, and that Anglo-Celtic and Chinese Australian identities were both formed through dispersed populations moving back and forth between Australia and an imagined homeland.6 Rose Quong’s life story pushes Curthoys’s point one step further by demonstrating that British-Australian and Chinese-Australian identities were not just parallel or comparable but could in fact be intersecting, overlapping constructions of self.

The story of Rose Quong becoming Chinese in interwar London thus presents a new dimension to the formation of Chinese-Australian identities, and raises interesting questions about Australian and British anti-Chinese sentiments – such as why the imperial metropolis was a context in which Quong could pursue a professional theatrical career better than in Melbourne, yet found more success in her self-constructed Chineseness than in mainstream roles. In Melbourne, Quong’s Chineseness seems mostly to have been tacitly ignored; she seems to have been accepted on her own merits, more or less as an honorary Anglo-Australian, perhaps not unlike the way in which prominent businessman and philanthropist Quong Tart was accepted and even celebrated in Sydney in the last decades of the nineteenth century.7 Both Rose Quong and Quong Tart were accepted at least in part because they overtly embraced British culture. For her part, Quong seemed to believe that she had not been discriminated against in Australia. In 1942 she asserted that she scaled her ‘first racial barrier’ only on her first entry into the United States – and that that experience was not as bad as Canada’s exclusionary laws.8

In 1939 The Australian Woman’s Mirror blamed British racism for Quong’s career not going according to its original plan:

Many Melbourne people remember Rose Quong, the accomplished elocutionist, to whom when she went abroad a successful stage and screen career seemed assured. The British public, however, apparently did not appreciate the idea of a Chinese woman reciting Shakespeare, and she could not persuade film magnates that there was room for a second Chinese star beside Anna May Wong. So Rose tried another path. She studied Chinese poetry, art and legends, and then, wearing exquisite Chinese costumes, she launched herself as a lecturer on Chinese art and literature. Success came at last, and on her latest lecture tour of Great Britain some of her audiences numbered 3000 people.9

Despite this Australian self-congratulation, there is evidence that her success in amateur theatre in Melbourne occurred despite prevalent racism.

Rose Quong presents an illuminating case study in relation to John Fitzgerald’s argument about what he terms Australia’s ‘big white lie’. Fitzgerald contends that Chinese immigration to Australia was restricted, and Chinese people in Australia were subordinated, on the basis that they held values that were antithetical and inassimilable to Australia’s cherished democracy and egalitarianism. Dismantling this argument with a wealth of historical evidence, Fitzgerald shows that Chinese settlers in Australia often specifically valued democratic and egalitarian philosophies, argued against their discrimination on the basis of their right to equality, and participated in Australian economic, cultural and even religious life. Fitzgerald argues: ‘Chinese were among the first Australians to embrace modern technologies and take up modishly modern lifestyles. In the 1890s they rode the latest bicycles, in the 1900s they wore sober business suits and flounced dresses, in the 1910s they picnicked by the seaside … Modern and mobile as they were, however, Chinese Australians could never qualify as white Australians’.10 Rose Quong’s story exemplifies the Chinese-Australian embrace of the new (in her case, for example, feminism and repertory theatre) and of the possibilities available in rapidly changing Australia and its metropole. At the same time, she reflects the ambivalence of Anglo-Australians towards their Chinese compatriots.

Portrait of Rose Quong, presumably in Australia

Source: Papers of Rose Quong, NLA MS 9796, with permission of the National Library of Australia.

While the White Australia policy was in full swing, the Australian community in London adopted Quong as one of their own – taking pride in her accomplishments, including her in their communal social life, nurturing her career, but, like numerous English people, encouraging the trajectory of that career towards a professional enactment of being Chinese. The story of Rose Quong in London, like the later part of her life in New York from 1939 until her death in 1972, provides us with insight into the contingent historical evolution of Orientalisms and their twentieth-century possibilities for those marked as ‘Chinese’ or ‘Asian’. From the 1920s to the 1970s British and American Orientalist fascination with ‘the East’ provided Quong with audiences and a market, even as racist assumptions and barriers steered her career away from the iconic English idiom of Shakespeare and towards Chineseness.

Quong was not the only Chinese-Australian woman in early twentieth century London: her sister Florence lived with her for an extended period in the 1930s, and we also have some record of Justine Kong Sing, a miniature painter from Sydney who was in London at least from 1912 to 1922 and whose successes included showing at the Royal Academy in 1915.11 The early twentieth-century decline in the Chinese population in Australia occurred partly because of the departure of younger people; it is possible that more than just these three headed for London. Rather than claiming significance based on numbers, however, we ought to consider Quong’s story as a micronarrative. Advocates of the micronarrative as historical method have argued that a close reading of the exceptional can alert us to new meanings in larger structures.12 If Quong was unusual as a Chinese-identified Australian who left for London, and unusual in London in her juggling of British, Australian and Chinese identities, her deployment especially of her Chinese persona illuminates the plasticity, availability and circulation of ethnic identities in this period.

Although Quong’s papers are, very fortunately, preserved at the National Library of Australia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, they mostly begin in 1924 with her voyage to London. What we know about her early life in Australia is rather more sketchy. Rose Maude Quong or Rose Lanu Quong (as she variously gave her full name) was born in East Melbourne on 15 August 1879, the first of four children born to Chun Quong and Annie Moy Quong. The family name is shown in some records as Ah Quong. Chun Quong was a merchant born in Canton, China. While a few Chinese men began arriving in Australia in the first decades of the nineteenth century, and worked in various capacities, their numbers rose in the 1840s with various schemes that brought indentured labourers to be shepherds, farm workers and servants; in the 1850s the numbers arriving leapt dramatically because of the gold rush. From the 1850s a proportion of these arriving Chinese men became entrepreneurs and merchants, with varying degrees of success.13 Annie, born at Beechworth in northern Victoria, was much younger than Chun, only seventeen when she married him in Melbourne on 10 July 1878 and just eighteen at the time of Rose’s birth. Coincidentally, Annie’s father’s name was John Quong (also a merchant) and her mother Mary’s maiden name was Hayphee.14 Beechworth was one of the gold-rush boom towns, and for Chinese men forced from the mid-1850s to disembark in Sydney due to Victorian restrictions on their arrival, Beechworth was a shorter walk than Ballarat and Bendigo. By 1855 there were 17,000 Chinese men working on the Victorian goldfields.15

Because most Chinese immigrants were male, there was a big sex ratio imbalance: for example, in Victoria between 1901 and 1921, women ranged from 8 to 18 percent of the Chinese population.16 The 1901 national census showed that women constituted only 1.5% of the 30,542 Chinese people in Australia; New South Wales had the largest Chinese population, followed by Queensland and then Victoria.17 Rose was born around the time of the nineteenth-century height of the Chinese population in Australia, when it was near 38,000, a level it would not reach again until the last decades of the twentieth century. In Melbourne, however, the Chinese population would keep increasing for a few decades after Rose’s birth.18 The Chinese community in Melbourne revolved around Chinatown, centred on Little Bourke Street – where Rose’s younger brother Norman was born in January 1887. By the time of Rose’s birth, Chinatown had become a residential, commercial and communal centre, but as Sophie Couchman has observed, it did not advertise itself with the overt markers of Chinese culture that it assumed by the latter twentieth century.19

When Rose first achieved success in London, The Australian Woman’s Mirror claimed that she was ‘the daughter of a leading Melbourne Chinese merchant’.20 Despite this claim, it is unclear whether the Quongs were respectable working-class, or more middle-class. At least at the time that Rose finished school, the family was living in a house named ‘Cleveland’ on Nicholson Street in Fitzroy. It is clear, though, that the Quongs encouraged their children’s education. Rose attended University High School, which was founded in 1893 and located at the corner of Swanston and Grattan Streets in Carlton. Norman went on to a long career as a court reporter for the Supreme Court of New South Wales. He recalled in later life that all four children, including Florence and Eric, lived at home into adulthood and were educated together.21 In extreme old age, Rose herself told a journalist: ‘My perfect gentle little mother determined that as I grew up I should learn the best I could of the ways and culture of the west … I also went to the library and dragged out all the books on Chinese thought I could, reading translations. My parents were proud of me because I was a scholar, someone who loves books. That’s the Chinese ideal’.22 At least in this account, Rose Quong’s self-construction as Chinese began very early in life.

In a brief autobiographical statement written a few months before she died in 1972, Quong claimed to have had several years of higher education from 1897 to 1900, that she planned to study medicine, and that ‘my college teachers thought I was a genius’. (No doubt occasional immodesty was a helpful trait in a career that depended largely on self-advertisement.) But, she continues, ‘I decided it was my brothers who needed education, and the theatre got hold of me’. Records show that in late 1896 she passed the matriculation examination at the University of Melbourne in nine subjects, including Latin, French, German, algebra, geometry and physics.23 A 1930s magazine report described her as having been a university student, but there does not seem to be any record of her as a student at the University of Melbourne.24 It is possible that what Quong glossed over here was that, as the eldest, she may have been supporting the family, earning an income so that her brothers might study. Chun Quong seems to have died relatively young; Rose took out a life insurance policy in August 1897, and the record of it lists Chun as deceased.25 We do know that Rose Quong was a public servant, first appointed in June 1897 when she was 17 years old, and that from March 1901 she worked as a telephone switch operator for the Commonwealth Public Service. The public service was a respectable, secure and relatively well-paid area of work. By 1919 she had become a clerk in the Auditor General’s Office, naval and military branch, and she seems to have held her public-service position until her departure for London in 1924; when she left, she took leave rather than resigning immediately.26 When questioned by a journalist late in life as to why she never married, she responded: ‘I never met anyone I’ve been interested in. Perhaps I’ve been too much of an actress. Perhaps I’ve always acted life’.27 Certainly, when she left Australia at 44, by contemporary standards she would have been considered beyond normal marriageable age.

Quong traced the origins of her theatrical career to the training she received from an Englishman called Mr Chisley who, in Melbourne in the 1890s, taught her to read Shakespeare and poetry. While her love of poetry predated Chisley’s teaching, ‘he enabled me to acquire a quality of expression and appreciation, which has marked my acting and lectures ever since’ and because of which she considered he ‘was probably the greatest influence and benefactor in my life’.28 In Melbourne her theatrical work never went beyond the amateur, yet she made a name for herself on the local stage, firstly in elocution competitions. In August 1907, The Bulletin noted that: ‘Miss Rose Quong, a competition star, gave an elocutionary recital at Glen’s on Tuesday. She did Poe’s “Raven” to a pianoforte accompaniment; also Longfellow’s “Excelsior”. Anything more banal than “Excelsior” under any circumstances couldn’t very well be imagined; but Miss Quong described the visitation of Poe’s fateful fowl with some force and imaginative power.’29

Repertory theatre was an international movement from around the turn of the twentieth century, a movement that sought to produce serious and experimental as opposed to commercial plays. In writer and critic Nettie Palmer’s view, the repertory theatre movement in England had succeeded in producing short runs of changing plays, of such literary quality that homegrown playwrights of the calibre of John Galsworthy, J.M. Barrie and George Bernard Shaw achieved fame and success. In Australia, on the other hand, Palmer considered that the repertory theatre of the 1910s and early 1920s borrowed too heavily from England and failed to allow Australian drama to fully flourish.30 Palmer’s negative judgment about the success of repertory theatre in Australia in this period was influenced by the short life span of the group with which she and her husband, writer (of plays and other genres) Vance Palmer, were associated. The Pioneer Players had been launched in Melbourne in 1921 as a movement to promote Australian drama, one aspect of the postwar enthusiasm to build an Australian national culture. Key protagonists, beside the Palmers, included the playwright Louis Esson, and his wife Hilda who both acted and performed secretarial work for the group. But they only lasted until 1924, a demise that Nettie Palmer later blamed on Melbourne audiences (in comparison to the Brisbane repertory group who were interested in Vance’s work in the later 1920s), and on young people’s attraction to the cinema.31 Other commentators thought that the group’s emphasis on realism and its lack of good administrative support were factors in their dissolution.32

Rose Quong in medieval costume

Source: Papers of Rose Quong, NLA MS 9796, with permission of the National Library of Australia.

The Pioneer Players were just one relatively brief incarnation of the early twentieth-century repertory theatre movement in Australia, which emerged in different parts of the country in the years preceding World War I. In Melbourne, William Moore organised several ‘Australian drama nights’ starting in March 1909, and the Melbourne Repertory Theatre began under the direction of Gregan McMahon in 1911.33 It is unclear when and how Rose Quong first set foot on the stage (possibly at school), but she seems to have been a member of McMahon’s group. She worked as well with Henry Tate, an influential musicologist and poet in 1910s and 1920s Melbourne, who was connected with Louis Esson and William Moore.34 A 1923 article about her commented: ‘Miss Quong has been connected with pretty well every dramatic movement in Melbourne from Repertory onwards’.35 The Melbourne Repertory Theatre company, which survived in this incarnation until 1918 and was successful enough to refurbish what became known as the Playhouse Theatre in the city centre, produced European plays by Shaw, Galsworthy, Ibsen, Arnold Bennett and Anton Chekhov, and rather fewer Australian plays.36 In the wake of the demise of the McMahon group, in September 1919 a new group announced itself, called the Mermaid Play Society. Seemingly, those interested in serious theatre in Melbourne were a fluid and interconnected movement. In 1921 the Mermaid Play Society was joined by the Melbourne University Dramatic Club, and in 1923 it changed its name to the Mermaid Repertory Play Society. In 1924, apparently wishing to claim the mantle of the earlier McMahon group, it renamed itself again as the Melbourne Repertory Theatre Society which it stayed until it collapsed in 1929. Moreover, there was overlap in membership between the Mermaid Play Society and the Pioneer Players.37

Rose Quong was one of the organisers of the Mermaid Play Society in 1919; indeed, one commentator called her ‘the most active organiser’.38 Quong herself apparently agreed, at the end of her life recalling that ‘I started the repertory theatre there on my own. I sold the University officials on the idea, developed it successfully, and acted in it for a period of years’.39 Another major force was the producer Arthur Goodsall, who had worked in contemporary Elizabethan theatre in England. The Mermaid Play Society named itself after the famous tavern of Shakespeare’s day and at first sought to specialise in mediaeval and early modern English theatre. Quong was acclaimed as one of the best actors of the society. In its first production, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, she played the citizen’s wife; one reviewer commented that she ‘played throughout with a true appreciation of the character’.40 It was in the next production, the traditional English morality play Everyman, that she galvanised attention. Based on a production in which he had been involved in England, Goodsall made the arguably modernist move of casting a woman, Quong, as ‘Everyman’. The Bulletin, which was not known for glowing reviews of non-Australian plays, ran a strong review of it that noted: ‘Miss Quong talked and posed without lapsing into [theatricalism] … and from the time when Everyman’s least alarmed friends helped him (i.e., her) to dress for interment, the play hadn’t an unimpressive minute’.41 A Professor Berry, the first treasurer of the Mermaid Play Society, later recalled that Everyman ‘was the most impressive and profoundly moving play ever produced in Melbourne … That one play alone made possible the Repertory movement, in its post-war form, in Melbourne’.42

Marjorie Clark, in a 1923 article in the magazine The Era, commented that Quong’s ‘remarkable acting’ in Everyman ‘caused Melbourne to sit up and take electric notice’. But, according to Clark, she was equally impressive in other roles in subsequent productions: ‘as Mary Boake in the “Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife”, as Masefield’s “Nan”, as Peer Gynt, Asa Solveig, and a dozen others, she flashes up in the memory a clear flame of artistic joy’.43 Clark’s tribute to Quong was impassioned:

For years she has given to this city exactly what she saw fit; she has never for a second pandered to popular taste … And Melbourne holds out its plate and asks for more.

One might wander on for a long time over her technique and intellect, or the pure beauty of her voice, but it is that last peculiar quality, the final, intricate, indefinable thing, temperament, which brings us to our feet in instant recognition before she has said four words.44

No wonder Quong began to believe that she might be able to forge a career in London.

After Everyman, the society staged two Shakespeare plays, then in 1920 when Elizabeth Apperly, a young Irishwoman newly arrived in Melbourne, took over as director, the group turned to more modern productions including plays by J.M. Synge and Arnold Bennett. Quong developed a reputation for tragic roles, helped partly by her success in 1921 in the title role in John Masefield’s The Tragedy of Nan. One reviewer commented: ‘Miss Rose Quong gave a well-thought-out, highly dramatic characterisation of the heroine … Altogether it was splendidly acted, and more than one of the audience admitted to being haunted by Nan’s tragic figure for some time after’.45

For a full understanding of both Quong and this slice of Australian culture, it is pertinent to note that the Mermaid Play Society had feminist leanings. According to Dennis Douglas and Margery M. Morgan, Gregan McMahon’s Melbourne Repertory Theatre too had been influenced by the feminism of the turn of the century theatrical world.46 The Mermaid Play Society’s main historian, Kerry Kilner, argues that it was significant that the society had women at the helm, and featured the work of women playwrights, some of which dealt with women’s issues. Under Elizabeth Apperly’s direction from 1920 to 1924, six plays by Australian women playwrights were produced.47 As an amateur theatre group that believed in supporting the community, the society raised funds that it donated to various causes, some of them women’s causes, including the free kindergarten movement, and the fund to build a women’s college at Melbourne University.48 When in 1922 the society gained its own orchestra to play at its performances, the Mermaid Society Orchestra too was ‘dominated by women’.49 One of the more feminist plays was The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife by Mary Wilkinson, in which Quong played the title role. According to a review in The Argus: ‘The finished performance of Miss Rose Quong, as Mary Boake, the lighthouse keeper’s wife was one of the best pieces of amateur acting seen at the Playhouse. Her command of voice and gesture and her sustained simulation of incipient insanity induced by long years of loneliness on a seagirt island, received generous recognition’.50

Quong did not openly espouse feminism in her diary or interviews, yet her own foundational role in what was seen as a feminist-leaning group, her leading roles in plays such as The Lighthouse Keeper’s Wife, and her association with other feminist organisations such as the Lyceum Club (both in Melbourne and later in London), all speak to feminist sympathies. In this regard, it is telling that the day after landing in London, she went to a newsagent in search of the newly published feminist newspaper Time and Tide to which a friend in Melbourne had alerted her. The search provides a minor comic moment in her diary, where she records that she mistakenly asked the newsagent’s assistant for a paper called Ebb and Flow: the shop assistant, Quong and her friends were all very amused by her error.51

One of the most striking aspects of the reviews and accounts of Quong’s work in Melbourne repertory theatre is the near absence of commentary on her being Chinese, or of this being a possible obstacle to her success in European and Australian roles. Clearly there was some discussion of her racial identity, however, reflected by a little uncertainty as to whether or not she was fully Chinese. One report commented that she ‘shows her half Chinese very slightly, but it was sufficiently marked to lead to her being offered a part in a play … in which the tragedy of a half-caste girl is depicted. She indignantly declined the role’.52 Quong’s reported indignation suggests that she felt the idea of such typecasting as a sting, and not the canonical kind of role she sought.

Most of the reviews and critical commentary from her Melbourne years are glowing, showing that she was a successful amateur actor in a mostly European theatrical repertoire, and suggesting that racial stereotyping did not significantly impede her at this stage. But racial thinking was pervasive in Australian culture, and must have impacted on Quong to some extent. Edith Young was one of the Mermaid Play Society; like Elizabeth Apperly, Young was a young Irishwoman recently arrived in Australia, and whom Apperly cast in some of the Irish plays she staged, such as Synge’s Riders to the Sea. Young had become connected with Nettie and Vance Palmer, and through them mixed with Melbourne’s literary circles. In her autobiography, Young comments on the racism she was surprised to find amongst this group. Herself the radical daughter of theosophists who had spent some of her childhood in New York, she believed in racial equality. She comments:

One thing that surprised me was that the group of Melbourne writers and intellectuals I was later to meet through the Palmers, though marvellously free of both money snobbery and the class distinctions I had become accustomed to at home [in London], seemed to take for granted that the aborigines [sic] – the real natives of Australia – should be treated as almost a subhuman, inferior race, impossible to educate other than in the elementary laws of hygiene. The general view was that the Blacks were only fit to be herded into government reserves or relegated to forced labour in the back blocks, preferably in the Northern Territory where the climate was tough. Once when I protested I was told that I didn’t know what I was talking about. It was useless to point to the success of the Chinese as market gardeners in and around Melbourne, or say that with more of them and more water the desert interior could blossom like a rose. The ‘Chinks’, I was told, breed like rabbits. Within a generation there would be a racial problem in Australia, equal to America’s. The White Australia policy was a must.53

Curiously, despite this specific mention of Chinese people, Young does not mention Quong by name in her autobiography, though it is clear from Quong’s diary that they were friends – Young even came to the dock to bid Quong farewell when she left for London. In London, Quong socialised with Edith Young’s husband, musician and critic Gibson Young, as soon as she arrived – Gibson had preceded Edith on their return.

On balance, the evidence suggests that Quong’s theatrical colleagues and Melbourne audiences accepted her as an Australian with considerable acting ability, who just happened to be of Chinese descent. Moreover, seemingly, her reception in Melbourne led her towards consolidating her culturally inherited Britishness, both her aspiration to perform Shakespeare and her decision to go to London. Her performances were such that, according to The British Australian and New Zealander, the newspaper for London’s Antipodean community, ‘her many friends in Melbourne … urged her to bring her talent over to Europe’.54

Her own explanation of her decision to leave for London might have been given by any number of ambitious Australians, and reveals an archetypal British colonial sensibility, and conception of London, its attractions and possibilities. ‘I was crazy on Shakespeare and Dickens. I wanted to go to London. I wanted to meet Ellen Terry and Melba. I needed a new experience, change’.55 There is no hint in this capsule explanation for her major life decision to leave the country of her birth, to which she would never return, of any frustration with anti-Chinese discrimination in Australia, nor of her desire to develop her own Chineseness. Rather, this articulation suggests a desire to claim and develop her Britishness. Yet I think we need to note, as part of the context for her leaving Australia, that she did so in the period (1901–1933) that historian Andrew Markus has characterised as having the harshest policies against Chinese immigration and Chinese communities in Australia. In these decades the Chinese population of Australia declined through death and emigration from around 30,000 to 8,600, a decline surely indicative of a hostile environment; although the decline in Melbourne’s Chinatown population did not occur until the 1930s.56 Interestingly, Quong’s life reflects some larger patterns of Chinese-Australian history. Not only was she born around the time of the peak of the Chinese population in nineteenth-century Australia, her permanent departure from Australia occurred only three years later than the largest annual number of Chinese departures in the first half of the twentieth century: 4633 Chinese men and 220 Chinese women left in 1921.57 If it was difficult for any ambitious woman to build a career in early twentieth-century Australia, there must have been particular obstacles for a Chinese-Australian woman.

Rose Quong embarked for London on 17 January 1924 on the SS Ballarat, travelling with Louise Matters, a friend from the theatrical world. In true Australian style, a sizeable group of friends and family came to see them off. While there are other sources for Quong’s years in London and New York, such as newspaper articles, most of what we know comes from the diary that she began when she embarked in Melbourne. Her first entry dramatically announces ‘My great adventure begins’. ‘A day of glorious Australian sunshine’, she continues, followed by a precise list of all those who came to the dock to bid her farewell.58 Seemingly, she intended her diary as a travelogue, and as an aide memoire. She wrote regular and apparently long letters home (which seem not to have survived), perhaps using the diary as a source for those. She also seems to have used it to help her remember the names and contact information of people whom she met. In the early years, she usually recorded at least a paragraph per day, sometimes much more. From early on, the diary performed multiple functions, including her budget accounting, notes on lectures she heard, her own critiques of the plays she so avidly saw. The multiple small notebooks that constitute her diary continue on into the 1940s, in their latter years losing their earlier travelogue aspects, and becoming more a repository for her reading notes, as well as a brief record of outings. Interestingly, Quong is not introspective in her diary; it is a record of her doings, but not of her feelings, and only to a small extent of her thoughts – mostly limited to theatre reviews. In that sense, it is not a particularly useful source for her emotional life (let alone any sexual life), and only of limited help for analyzing her subjectivity.59 It is, however, a wonderfully informative record of her professional and social life, and her travels.

The Ballarat took the South African route, and Quong enthusiastically enjoyed her sightseeing at Durban, Cape Town and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, recording long descriptions of each in her diary. On board, she took French lessons, enjoyed the community dancing, and was elected to both the committee to write the ship’s newspaper, and the sports committee. One evening at a shipboard dance she lost a small purse containing five pounds in cash. Her attempts to reclaim the purse were to no avail; a group of her fellow passengers chipped in to make good the lost cash, claiming that it was in thanks for her shipboard work. Their generosity suggests that she was well liked by her travelling companions.60

On their arrival at Tilbury on 7 March 1924, Quong and Matters were met by Rose’s friend Winifred Lockyer. Lockyer was a ballet dancer who had spent a good deal of time touring North America in the 1910s; originally from Melbourne, she and Rose must have known each other there. She made Quong and Matters’s arrival in London easy and comfortable; she had already rented a very pleasant flat for the three of them in St John’s Wood. Quong quickly established herself, checking in at Australia House, arranging her financial affairs at the Commonwealth Bank, and rapidly beginning a social life by attending functions, for example, at the feminist-leaning Lyceum Club.61 The Lyceum Club was a natural venue for her, as the Melbourne branch was associated with the repertory theatre movement. By August her address was St. James’ Terrace, and in September she moved to 7 Nevern Place, Earl’s Court.

Not only were Quong’s articulated reasons for going to London typical of the thousands of Australian women making the pilgrimage ‘home’ in this period, her life in London was similar in many ways to those of her compatriots there.62 In fact, compared to some other Australian women in London around the same time whose papers I have read, she was better integrated into the Australian community. In her first years there she lived in boarding houses in Earl’s Court, mixed often with Australian friends (some of whom she had known in Australia but some not), attended Australian social and community functions, and engaged in all the usual activities of the colonial tourist. In August and September 1924, in typical fashion she spent several weeks in Paris, absorbing all of the art and historic architecture, practising her French, browsing the book stalls along the Seine, and shopping in the department stores. In London she visited the National Gallery, the British Museum and Westminster Abbey, attended lectures on subjects ranging from art history to speech patterns to Shakespeare, explored Soho, went to concerts and the ballet, took French lessons, milled in the throng of people at Piccadilly Circus waiting for results on an election night, repeatedly visited the 1924–25 British Empire exhibition at Wembley, and went to the theatre as often as she could and recorded her critical comments in her diary afterwards. Like other Australians in London, she wrote frequent long letters ‘home’, eagerly awaited the Australian mail, visited Australia House, and in the first two years dithered anxiously about whether and when to return, although in the end she never did.63

Her busy social life revolved around her Australian friends, particularly close women friends with whom she spent much time, some of whom lived either in the same boarding house or another close by. Beside her close friends Louise and Winifred, whose son Jack was at boarding school in England, she regularly saw several Australian musicians achieving success in London, such as Gertrude Johnson, Anne Williams and Wilma Berkeley. Evenings with her Australian friends included, for example, one when she and Winifred called first on their friend Edith Young (who had been in the Mermaid Play Society in Melbourne), and then on their friend Ada Maclaren, where they met Percy (P.R. or Inky) Stephensen, a Rhodes Scholar from Queensland – whom Winifred would later marry and who would become a noted writer, publisher and editor. Quong noted in her diary that they all ‘had a good yarn’.64 She spent a great deal of time with Winifred in the early stages of her sojourn in London, though they seem to have drifted apart later, perhaps as Winifred began to spend more time with Stephensen. Winifred returned to Australia with Stephensen in 1932, and presumably she and Rose never saw each other again. But they must have stayed in touch; it was Winifred’s son Jack who donated Rose’s first diary, and some other papers, to the National Library.65 Winifred had first met Miles Franklin in America, then she and P.R. spent time with Franklin in London,66 but there is no evidence that Quong met her.

Some diary entries suggest the explicit sharing of an Australian identity. One entry refers to an evening with ‘our own crowd’, while another relates a dinner conversation among Australians who all appreciated a story about the Limbless Soldiers’ Association, the point of which was that Melba’s generosity meant that the Australian branch had considerably more money than the English branch, which was reportedly run by snobbish aristocrats.67 Quong met Melba on more than one occasion, and her diaries show Melba’s dominant and supportive presence in the Australian community in London. In fact, in 1922 Melba had agreed to become a patron of the Mermaid Play Society,68 so Quong had that indirect connection before she arrived. There is some evidence that she got to know Melba quite well during her London years. She was invited repeatedly to gatherings of Australian artists at the home of the very successful concert singer Ada Crossley. On at least one such occasion the men in the group sang, then Rose performed scenes from ‘Macbeth’. And she attended significant Australian community events such as an Australia Day church service, followed by a concert by Australian musicians and singers.69

Quong’s social life in London thus testifies especially to her sense of herself as an Australian and her acceptance in the Australian community. But there are also some clues in the accounts of her social activities to her self-construction as Chinese: her frequenting, often with Australian friends, of Chinese restaurants, and her marked proclivity to give Chinese objects, usually decorative household items, as Christmas and birthday presents. Beyond these clues, her articulation of a Chinese identity occurred mostly in her career.

Rose Quong (front left) with legendary actress Ellen Terry (front centre), and Laurence Olivier (standing behind Quong)

Source: Papers of Rose Quong, NLAMS 9796, with permission of the National Library of Australia.

Quong considered enrolling at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but instead won a scholarship to study drama at the academy of Rosina Filippi, a Shakespearean actress. The judge of scholarship competitors who picked Quong was Edith Craig, the feminist and lesbian theatre director and daughter of the legendary nineteenth-century actress Ellen Terry. This professional association with Craig would continue to benefit Quong, such as when she acted in a provincial production of Craig’s in February 1925.70 Her classes began at the end of April 1924, and consisted of lessons in drama, movement, diction, and theatre history.71 Quong’s voice – apparently deep and powerful – won her praise at this point as it would later, and she was considered so accomplished at diction that she gave private elocution lessons to other aspirant performers. The fact that critics often commented on her ‘flawless English diction’ probably just indicates their surprise at such speech from a Chinese person, but Quong also admitted to friends that she sought to acquire a perfect English accent as opposed to an Australian accent.72

The gravity of the issue of accent, for a colonial actress arrived in England, and the edifice of racial prejudice she confronted among some in the theatre world, are both revealed in an exchange of correspondence between the Australian scholar Gilbert Murray and a playwright or producer Mr W.G. Archer in 1924. Murray, who was a great booster of Australian careers in the metropole, had apparently met Quong at an afternoon tea party, hosted by either Lady Stanley or Lady Bell. Seemingly impressed by Quong’s deportment and the glowing references given by Stanley and Bell, he wrote to Archer recommending that he consider her for a Spanish-sounding role in the play he hoped to produce. Archer had already heard of Quong, and replied:

Miss Quong is certified to be a startling genius by a greater authority than either Lady Stanley or Lady Bell – namely Rosina Fillippi [sic]. On the other hand some say that she is a detestable actress and all seem to agree that she is anything but beautiful. Now an ugly Beatrice Joanna is a contradiction in terms, for if she were ugly she couldn’t get away with her villainies. You don’t mention that Miss Quong is a Eurasian and speaks the vilest Australian cockney, which, however, she is said to throw off when she plays Lady Macbeth.

Curiously, Archer followed this extended dismissal with the statement: ‘I keep an open mind regarding her. Can you tell me where she can be seen acting? I should be very much interested to see her.’73

Filippi acted as something of an agent, introducing Quong to theatre critics and producers with a view towards professional opportunities. In late 1924 Quong began a taxing round of auditions, preparing scenes and hiring costumes and props for arranged or advertised viewings of her work. During this period, Quong’s signature acting for informal recitals or performances for her friends and acquaintances was Shakespeare, usually scenes from Macbeth. Occasionally she chose to do a scene from Antony & Cleopatra, which is indicative of her own and others’ sense that she was suited to the category of exotic roles. For two of her first professional auditions she performed excerpts from the character of ‘Ulah’ in a play Filippi wrote called The Contract. ‘Ulah’ was an Oriental role, about which Quong had misgivings, especially after an evening spent with a couple who had lived in China, with whom she discussed her qualms. Nevertheless, she went ahead with the role, going to considerable trouble to arrange a ‘Chinese’ costume and props. For one audition, for example, she wore a hired purple robe and trousers, a Chinese crown, and had her hair cut with a fringe.74

Rose Quong in one of her early Chinese costumes

Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, with permission of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

If initially she felt ambivalent about presenting herself professionally as Chinese, the evolution of her career in that direction was the product of several interconnected factors. Despite determined perseverance at contacting theatre directors, critics and agents, and some initial successes, eventually it became clear that she was not going to make it as a Shakespearean or general actress. Her friends and advisers began to urge her towards a specialised niche career, that of exotic or Oriental reciter, actress and performer. There is evidence that she had begun giving recitals before she left Australia, so it was not new to her as a genre. And at the same time, her own genuine interest in Chinese culture and philosophy, and her desire to develop that dimension of her identity, led her towards professional Chineseness. In her first year in London she frequented the Kensington Public Library; and in October 1924, for example, she recorded that she borrowed a book of ‘Chinese Folk Tales’, although she did not elaborate on her reasons.

In December 1924 and January 1925 she received a sudden flurry of press interest, with interviews by The Daily Express, The Daily Graphic, The Glasgow Morning Post, The Sketch, and The British Australian and New Zealander. In the midst of all this and her auditions, she had publicity photos taken by a professional photographer, for some of which she chose to wear a ‘Chinese gown’. Her quest for the right Chinese outfit to perform in was protracted, partly because some she found did not seem appropriate, and having one made was expensive. In her first years in London she often borrowed items of clothing and props that she thought would produce the right background; her descriptions of these clothes and props sometimes read like a pastiche of ‘Oriental’ objects. For her performance at the Writers’ Club on 27 October 1925, for example, she wore ‘blue & greenish sort of wide trousers Edith Craig had lent me’, a coat borrowed from someone else, pearl and flower ear ornaments she had made for her role in The Contract, and she carried a fan and fan-holder also lent by Craig.75

In fact in her first years in London she won roles in a fair number of plays, both early modern and contemporary. But the notices were often brief, and the reviews could reveal racism. In March 1925, when she appeared as the wife of a Dartmoor farmer in Lady Bell’s rather gruesome The Fog on the Moor, the review in The Times ran:

It was, in short, the husband’s blood that stained the fingers which Miss Rose Quong, an Anglo-Chinese actress, held out in horror towards the final curtain. Miss Quong’s acting has, on occasion, an effective violence of an unfamiliar sort: it is as if a hungry animal were seeking something to tear; but whether or not she is capable of emotional or intellectual attacks rather more subtle and less zoological, it is, perhaps, too early to judge.76

Comparing Quong to an animal hardly conceals the writer’s prejudice about Quong being ‘Anglo-Chinese’ – an epithet that did not occur in her reviews in Melbourne. In 1925, Quong also appeared in two Renaissance plays at the New Scala Theatre, The Maid’s Tragedy in May and The White Devil in October, the latter produced by Edith Craig.77

Her own predilection to present herself as Chinese was reinforced negatively by her lack of success at other roles, and positively by the encouragement and success she found in this new persona. By September 1925 she had met Arthur Waley, the renowned translator of Chinese poetry, who advised and encouraged her. Her performance at the Writers’ Club the following month consisted of her reading Waley’s translations along with Waley himself. By then she was also in demand at private receptions. In late November 1925 when she recited and commented on Chinese poetry and stories on BBC radio, her success was celebrated by The British Australian and New Zealander which reported that ‘there were many Australians interested’ in the broadcast, and ‘several who had not wireless apparatus in their homes sallied forth to those of their friends or to public places’. The paper applauded her ‘faultless enunciation’, the clarity of her voice and the charm and intelligence of her explanations of the poems, noting that Quong ‘though Australian, is of Chinese parentage, [which] accounts for her perfect understanding of these poems that portray Chinese tradition and legends of the fifteenth century’.78

Such essentialism pervaded the comments of those who supported her. For example, when in September 1925 she read some of his translated poems to Waley, he told her that ‘he had nothing whatsoever to suggest – he didn’t hope to hear them read better. Said the rhythm was perfect – Could only be instinct’.79 Some commented on her mysteriousness and exoticism. Her friend Gertrude Johnson told her that her ‘voice sounded sexless – too deep for a woman’s and too soft for a man’s’, and another supporter effusively commented, according to Rose, that ‘Chinese poetry was so unique, & my personality, voice & everything about me were different’.80 The theatre critic for The Illustrated London News wrote to her that a performance of hers ‘had the real Oriental flavour’; and another acquaintance told her that ‘what gave [her] such power over people was a kind of Eastern hypnotising power!’81 A woman associated with the Writers’ Club was frank in her professional advice to Quong: ‘the Orient always had a fascination for Western people, & [she] could represent Eastern characters as no one else here possibly could – Shakespeare lots of actresses could play more or less adequately –… but for success one must specialize’.82

Rose Quong on stage in Chinese drama

Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, with permission of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The fact that Quong appreciated these essentialist compliments and herself subscribed to Orientalist attitudes is reflected in one of her habitual brief theatre criticisms in her diary. After seeing a performance of Antony & Cleopatra at the Old Vic she commented that the actress Edith Evans had good technique ‘but didn’t seem to have the real eastern feeling’.83 This perhaps jealous criticism is underscored by the fact that Quong had appeared with Edith Evans in The Maid’s Tragedy. While she worked at casting herself as specifically Chinese, her denigration of Evans’s performance suggests she felt she had a claim to a range of Oriental roles, a broad definition encouraged by others, such as a woman she met who thought she might be suitable for either a Japanese or a Tibetan role. Yet by 1926 she had become systematic about studying Chinese literature and art, steeping herself in the culture she increasingly sought to represent. Even so, she still took other work if she could, such as appearing in the play Martinique at the Shaftesbury Theatre in June 1926.84

Arguably Quong’s greatest success came in March and April 1929 when she starred with Laurence Olivier and the well-known Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong in The Circle of Chalk, a play by the German dramatist Klabund, based on a fourteenth-century Chinese play, first translated into English in 1929, and which would later be adapted by Bertolt Brecht. The 1929 production at the New Theatre, which consisted of 48 performances and was directed by Basil Dean, was probably the pinnacle of Quong’s career. The plot concerns a young woman sold first into a tea-house and later to a wealthy man; Quong played the part of the jealous elder wife who accuses the young woman of murdering her husband. Anna May Wong, whose career had been in films, made her stage debut as the young heroine, and Laurence Olivier played her lover, the prince.85 One notice of the play called Anna May Wong ‘the Chinese film actress’ (omitting any reference to her being American), and called Quong ‘another Chinese actress’.86

The full review in The Times noted that ‘there is a flash of genuinely evil passion in Miss Rose Quong’; another review noted that ‘[p]articularly good was Miss Rose Quong, who insinuated imagination into every word and movement as the jealous and revengeful Yu-Pi’.87 Her performance certainly helped establish her name in London, and it was registered in Australia. The Sydney-based magazine The Home reported that her ‘striking success’ was ‘acclaimed alike by critics and public’. Moreover, the magazine asserted, Quong had outshone Anna May Wong; she had ‘scoop[ed] most of the praise from the critics’ and indeed ‘is credited with having popularized the Chinese literary cult in London’. The ‘Melbourne Repertory Society’, the review concluded, ‘may well be proud of the [most?] famous member it has so far produced’.88 The Circle of Chalk was revived in London in January 1931, following a production in Birmingham, and Quong again played the same character, Yu-Pi. This time the production was at the Arts Theatre, and included neither Anna May Wong nor Laurence Olivier; The Times, which preferred this second version of the play, commented approvingly that ‘Miss Rose Quong’s study in Oriental cruelty goes as deep as the play demands’.89

In October and November 1929 Quong appeared at the Embassy Theatre, Swiss Cottage, in A Gambler in Brides, described as a ‘new comedy of Jewish life’.90 Her recognition at this point was such that in March 1930 she gave two recitals of poetry, drama and dance at the Rudolf Steiner Hall, including a one-act play that had been written specially for her by Paul Swan, as well as excerpts from The Circle of Chalk. The British Australian and New Zealander announced the production, calling Quong ‘the well-known Australian actress’, whereas the notice in The Times called her ‘the Chinese actress’.91

Some of Quong’s early success in London occurred in private homes, in events called ‘At Homes’ to which hosts would invite guests to mingle and be entertained by varied programs; artists were sometimes paid for such performances. Perhaps inspired by that model, by 1932 Quong had launched what she called her ‘Circle’, a regular event on alternate Sunday evenings at which she would lecture on Chinese themes and recite poetry, or to which she would invite a guest speaker, and would usually include a musician or singer on the program. One report noted that Quong could ‘rely on a crowded and appreciative audience’; one Sunday evening her subject was ‘Symbolism in Chinese Art’, and her ‘beautiful voice, with its many inflections, turned what might have been a theme only appealing to the few, into a most fascinating talk’.92 She charged 2s 6d admission for these events, no doubt in part because her overall income was never robust, though she later recalled that it was during her years in England that she made more money than before or after. By this time she had her own flat on Chatsworth Road at Willesden Green, NW2, which served as the venue for her ‘Circle’.93

Advertisement for Rose Quong’s ‘Circle’

Source: Papers of Rose Quong, NLA MS 9796, with permission of the National Library of Australia.

Quong continued her occasional performances on BBC radio, such as those she gave in March 1933.94 According to The British Australian and New Zealander, her career at this point was so ‘triumphant’ that she was ‘gaining fresh laurels each week in different parts of the British Isles’ including Cardiff and Bolton.95 She was always willing to travel for an engagement (again at least in part to maximise her income), such as the lectures she gave to the Leeds Women’s Luncheon Club and the Belfast Alpha Club in late 1932. A newspaper report of the latter address described her as ‘attired in a Chinese costume consisting of bright green trousers embroidered in gold and a kimono-like top in soft yellow patterned with snakes’. Her lecture covered the contemporary position of women in China, the ‘Bandit problem’, Chinese language, poems and stories.96 If her audiences were often female, in April 1933 she was on the program of the After-Dinner Club’s reception at the New Burlington Galleries for a distinguished group including foreign ministers, and in October that year at Lymington she lectured to ‘highly placed retired army men and their relations’.97 At the end of her life, Quong recalled one of her triumphs as the time when two thousand people listened to her lecture at the City Temple in London.98

In February 1934 Quong embarked on an eleven-month visit to the United States and Canada, lecturing, being honoured at receptions and interviewed by the press. She must have employed an agent to arrange bookings for her prior to the trip, because she began making appearances as soon as she arrived. She used at least one agent during the trip; a flyer advertising her performances was printed in October 1934 by William B. Feakins, Inc., of Fifth Ave., New York, with the following testimonial: ‘Miss Quong gave her program to an audience of over five hundred women at our Club House last Thursday, and I can truly say I have never seen an audience as completely charmed as they were. Her simplicity, her ability to bring us the heart of China in so few words are rare qualities and when combined with her deeply radiant personality – well, it makes a perfect program. I thank you sincerely for recommending her to us. We all hope to have her again. Very truly yours, Lillian S. White’.99 Interestingly, her appearances in New York included functions with more of a political or moral cast than her work in England, which was limited to the cultural and intellectual. On 24 February she spoke on ‘The Philosophy and Religions of China’ at a meeting of the Society for Ethical Culture.100 On 27 February she was billed as ‘Rose Quong, well-known Chinese diseuse, in costume’ for a luncheon held by the League for Political Education at the Astor to raise funds for unemployed single women.101 In July 1934 she appeared at the Ritz in New York, again with Anna May Wong, in an event that one newspaper described as ‘“Occidentals feast[ing] on [the] Beauty of Two Stage Stars”’.102

While she was based in New York, she travelled extensively for speaking engagements: in March, April and November she was in Chicago, where she performed more than once at the Cordon club.103 Her itinerary in the United States was partly facilitated by the extensive network of women’s clubs spread across the country and which all had programs of regular events. It was therefore quite appropriate that she performed at a dinner at the annual convention of the New York State Federation of Women’s Clubs at Buffalo in November; perhaps ironically, one of the convention agenda items concerned tightening the law to ensure registration of aliens.104 So important was it to Quong to announce her Chineseness that she managed to get herself ejected from a train across the US that passed through Canada. At the Canadian border in Detroit, she was refused entry because she was considered Chinese and, like Australia, Canada had racially based immigration laws. She told her story to a policeman at the Detroit train station, where she was stranded overnight. The policeman, she later recounted, was ‘bewildered as I had been. Canada was part of the British Empire; I was born in Australia and was therefore a British subject. “But,” I added, “I happen to be Chinese.” Puzzled, [the policeman] asked: “And how did they discover that?” “Why I told them so.” “Holy Mike, born in Australia, speaking English as you do, why the devil did you drag in China?”’105 The policeman’s puzzlement reflects the ambiguity of her identity in everyday street dress, rather than her ‘Oriental’ outfits.

When she returned to London in January 1935, The British Australian and New Zealander boasted that ‘Miss Rose Quong has just returned to London after a stay in the States lasting nearly twelve months, which has been one constant succession of triumphs’.106 In London in July 1935 Quong appeared in an early television broadcast, a low definition form known as the ‘Baird Process’.107 At the end of 1935 she embarked for the US for another extensive lecture tour, announced in early January 1936 by The New York Times as ‘Rose Quong, Chinese actress born in Australia’ who had arrived ‘to make a tour of the United States in a one-woman show depicting the culture, wit and philosophy of China’108; it would be her last visit before moving permanently to New York in January 1939. On this second trip in 1935–36, again she was based in New York, and again she travelled widely giving talks, but this time she went further – as far as her imagined homeland itself. In March she toured California, visiting Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara and San Francisco. The Los Angeles Times described her as a ‘Cantonese charmer, born and educated in Australia’ who was ‘a very attractive person’ with a ‘seductive voice’.109

Then on 30 May 1936, on what must have been for her a momentous voyage, she sailed from San Francisco to China, arriving in Shanghai. In China, she took lessons in Mandarin (she had taken Chinese language lessons in London from a Mrs Wang, starting in January 1935110), was interviewed by the press, travelled to ‘Peiping’ and went sightseeing, and enrolled for a few weeks at a college of Chinese studies. In ‘Peiping’ she apparently socialised with elite European and American expatriates, being entertained at a dinner by the professor of English literature at the university, and the guest of honour at a luncheon where American women mixed with Chinese noblewomen.111 In late September she departed China and sailed back to America; it would be her only visit. She lectured to sizeable audiences across the United States both on the way to China and on the way back, mostly at women’s clubs. In Detroit she had an audience of 1500 for her lecture at the town hall. The return trip talks consisted largely of her travel observations in China. One handwritten draft of these talks exudes her excitement at actually being there. By this time, her identification as Chinese was so complete that, in a talk in San Francisco on the way back, for example, she referred to ‘[o]ne of our great poets, Po Chu’ [my emphasis].112 At another time, she spoke of ‘[w]e in China’, ‘my Westernized head’ and ‘my Chinese heart’, and ‘[o]ur ancient sages and philosophers’.113

Back in London, she studied Chinese culture and literature avidly, and by 1938, if not earlier, had become a welcome guest at the Chinese embassy.114 In the view of The British Australian and New Zealander, by this time Quong had fully reached her potential, ‘to her own advantage and the benefit of scores of thousands of people who have heard her talk or lecture or preach in this country, America, Canada and the East’. The paper was especially impressed that she had ‘studied the language and literature so assiduously and successfully that she can read the Chinese sages in the original, and on a recent visit to China she was able to give an address to a critical audience in Mandarin, the official and literary language of Pekin [sic]’. In its judgment: ‘In interpreting East to West and West to East, and helping mutual understanding and good will, Miss Quong is doing valuable work for both, which was greatly appreciated in high quarters in China’.115

Advertising flier used by Quong’s New York agent

Source: Papers of Rose Quong, NLA MS 9796, with permission of the National Library of Australia.

Perhaps the growing tensions in Europe were a factor in Quong’s decision to move to the United States, or perhaps the success of her two trips had convinced her that she could do even better there than in London. Living in America was sufficiently important to her that she persevered with considerable difficulties in acquiring legal permission to stay, which seem at least in part to have been caused by the absence of a formal registration of her birth in Melbourne. Her struggle for legal residency in the United States was so protracted that as late as 1960, her brother Norman supplied a legal deposition about her birth and their family, which was accompanied by a letter from Dr. H.V. Evatt, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and Norman’s employer, testifying to his character.116 In New York, she continued to travel and lecture, beginning as soon as she arrived. In January 1939 she lectured on ‘The Soul of China’ to the Columbia University Institute of Arts and Sciences.117 In February she performed at a meeting of the Theatre Club at the Hotel Astor, and in May, billed as ‘Miss Rose Quong from China’ she spoke at the 25th biennial conference of the American National Council of Women, as part of a session on ‘Women in the World Crisis’ that was also broadcast on the radio.118 Women’s clubs continued to be a staple part of her work and income, and she also ran a ‘Circle’ just as she had done in London.119 She seems to have established a recognised public profile: in 1944, a miniature painting of her featured in an art exhibition in Chicago of portraits of ‘stage stars’.120

By the late 1930s Quong had adopted a role she would emphasise for the rest of her life, that of cultural interpreter between East and West. She went so far as to tell an American audience that Westerners would have to hurry up and learn Chinese language and culture, otherwise China would gain the advantage and relations between East and West would tilt in the favour of the former.121 This stance underlay the books she published, Chinese Wit, Wisdom and Written Characters (Pantheon Books, 1945) and a work of translation titled Chinese Ghost and Love Stories (Pantheon Books, 1946). Chinese Wit, Wisdom and Written Characters sought to explain the derivation, philosophy and meanings of Chinese characters to a Western audience. A brief review in The Los Angeles Times called it ‘A beautiful book of Chinese characters in which one may learn much concerning the relationship which holds between Chinese thought and art’.122 The Chicago Daily Tribune commented:

Rose Quong has told the story of the development of some of the more basic Chinese picture-characters, and her telling is a gem of wit and wisdom in itself. Her aim is to ‘show how thought and form have combined to make of the Chinese written character – further than a symbol of meaning – an expression of philosophy, as well as of art’. With the help of Dr. Kinn Wei Siiaw’s beautiful calligraphy, she succeeds admirably.123

The book was republished in New York in 1968, four years before Quong’s death, by Cobble Hill as Chinese Written Characters: Their Wit and Wisdom.

In Chinese Ghost and Love Stories Quong translated traditional Chinese folk tales that had been collected by Pu Sung-Ling in the late seventeenth century. Quong selected and translated forty from the around four hundred that Sung-Ling had collected, and which were published in 1740. Her book was extensively illustrated and bore an introduction by Martin Buber. In his review in The New York Times, Carl Glick praised Quong’s work:

Miss Quong in a fresh, sparkling and delightful style has brought new meaning and new life to these fascinating folk tales. They are as enduring as the collections of folklore retold by Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm; the only difference being that these are Chinese, and consequently have a rare charm all their own. In her most excellent translation Miss Quong has made these stories lively and reasonable … Miss Quong has now and then added a comment of her own … Miss Quong has done a service to the Western world in bringing to us these immortal folk tales of old China.124

The positive reception of her books suggests that the years she had spent studying Chinese language and culture had paid off; her language skills particularly must have reached a high order for her to become a successful translator.

Yet she continued to cast her Oriental authority as exceeding Chinese culture. Her interest in representing Asian culture beyond Chinese was apparent as early as in Melbourne in 1923, when she announced that she would soon ‘give recitals from Tagore, and the old Japanese plays’.125 Her notebooks from the late 1930s show that she read widely on meditation, yoga, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita, clearly intent on absorbing South Asian culture too. In May and June 1940 for five weeks in a row she was billed as presenting at the Sunday evening meetings of the Yogashrama, at Carnegie Hall.126 She would continue this pan-Oriental stance into the 1940s and 1950s.

Portrait of Rose Quong, presumably during her New York years

Source: Rose Quong Papers, MSS132, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, with permission of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Quong’s papers contain typescripts of two plays, plays that show her engagement with early Cold War politics in relation to Asia. By the 1940s she seems to have been considered a political authority: she spoke at at least one patriotic event during World War II, and was part of a broadcast session of the October 1943 conference held at the New York University Faculty Club by the Women’s Council for Post-War Europe.127 One of the two typescripts preserved in her papers is that of John Patrick’s 1952 play based on the 1951 Vern Sneider novel The Teahouse of the August Moon.128 Like the novel, the 1954 Pulitzer-prize winning play is set in postwar American-occupied Okinawa, and centres on the American Captain Fisby’s attempts to institute democracy and stimulate industry in the village under his charge. The theme of the play is East meets West, but rather than the villagers simply absorbing the lessons of the American Occupation Force, Fisby learns to appreciate Okinawan culture and abandons his attempts to enforce the Occupation plan. For instance, he lets the villagers build a teahouse with the building materials intended for a school, and solves the village’s economic crisis by selling their sweet-potato brandy to officers’ messes all over the island. In a complicated piece of gender politics, Fisby’s going native includes his learning to accept the Geisha woman whom the villagers give him. The denouement comes when his commanding officer arrives unannounced, only to find Fisby and his sidekick the army doctor both in kimonos and Japanese sandals, singing ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’ to the enthralled villagers in the teahouse. The play can be read as a light-hearted critique of America’s global politics and attempts to enforce Westernisation.

The other play is set in British Malaya in the 1940s or 1950s. While it is essentially a murder mystery about the disappearance of the wife of a British settler, the background context includes British colonial attempts to suppress the Malayan Chinese guerrillas.129 Curiously, despite the fact that Quong preserved both typed playscripts among her papers, neither has a title page, playwright attribution, or any evidence as to why she had copies of the unpublished scripts. Because she mixed in theatrical circles in New York in the 1950s, it is conceivable that she was consulted by someone associated with the production of the first play. The Teahouse of the August Moon ran at the Martin Beck Theatre from October 1953 to March 1956. While the cast includes a few minor roles for older women, Quong is not listed in the cast for the opening night at least – though it is possible she may have been considered for a role.130 Quong’s interest in these two plays seems to be an assertion of a pan-Oriental expertise. By the evolving Cold War of the late 1940s and the 1950s, China had become a more complicated commodity to sell to American audiences, and she may have been strategically broadening her claimed cultural authority. By the 1950s, she may also have needed to cloak her own political sympathies. Her views are evident from a speech she gave at a 1942 symposium organised by the democratic socialist League for Industrial Democracy; at that point at least, she supported Mao’s Communist forces. Speaking on a program with other participants such as Pearl S. Buck and the socialist Norman Thomas, she endorsed ‘the spirit of China today’ that she saw in ‘guerrilla troops, ill-equipped, battling now for five years against a powerful modernly equipped enemy;… University professors, teachers and students, treking with their books thousands of miles into the hinterland, carrying on their work as they go;. men, women and children hewing roads through mountain ranges with axes, hammers, spades and even food-choppers’.131

In New York as in London, Quong continued to win roles in various theatrical productions, despite her advancing age. In March 1941 ‘The Circle of Chalk’ was performed by the Studio Theatre at the New School for Social Research, off Broadway. Quong played her old role of Mrs Ma, the rich tax collector’s wife, and was described in the press as heading the cast, with ‘an excellent performance of coarse and cruel duplicity’.132 In December 1941 to January 1942, she appeared in ‘Portrait of a Lady’ at the Majestic in Boston.133 At the age of 79, she appeared in the Broadway production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical ‘Flower Drum Song’ in 1958–59, based on the successful novel of the same name, set in San Francisco. A story of generational conflict in a Chinese immigrant family, the production was at the St. James Theatre, and was directed by Gene Kelly. The production apparently did well; the review in the Chicago Daily Tribune singled out Rose Quong as one of the ‘outstanding players’ for her role as Liu Ma.134

In her last decades, Quong evinced a growing interest in astrology and the metaphysical, which was reflected in the venues for some of her later public talks. In October 1942, for example, she addressed the New York Forum at the Hotel McAlpin, on the ‘Spirit of China’; other contemporary speakers to the same group covered topics such as hypnosis, astrology and magic.135 Around this time, she justified her interest in spiritualism by stressing the ideas of balance and harmony in ancient Chinese philosophy. Quong claimed that equality, unity and peace would only exist in the world ‘when the intellectual scientists of the West and the spiritual philosophers of the East can meet in mutual understanding and respect’.136 By 1967, her interests seem to have become more mystical. In January that year, when she was 87 years of age, she was the guest of honour and featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Society for the Investigation of Recurring Events, held at the New York Academy of Sciences. Billed as ‘Rose Quong, Actress-Artist-Author’ who in her earlier career had ‘interpreted China’s culture to the world’, advertising for the event claimed that:

Rose Quong at an opening night at the White Barn Theatre in Westport, Connecticut

The accompanying newspaper caption identified ‘Rose Quong, Chinese authoress’ as part of the New York theatre world’s ‘Celeb Mecca’.

Source: Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, with permission of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Miss Quong’s present career is the result of years of study and writing in the field of Chinese philosophy. She has concentrated on studying cycles in cosmic events – and on the possible impingements of these cycles on earthly events. The Chinese “I CHING”, written some 4000 years ago, provides a take-off-point for her soaring philosophy. Men working in harmony with cosmic change, she will tell us, are better able to effect change here on earth. The Yin-Yang theory of the “I CHING” might even permit us to reconcile ancient sage and modern scientist.137

At times during her decades in New York she mixed in glamorous social circles. But she continued to work and perform for most of her long life, presumably partly because of her energy and desire, but also because she had to earn her living. She was still speaking at women’s clubs and presenting her recitals into the 1950s. Her modest standard of living is reflected in the facts that she spent the last thirty years of her life living in one room in a residence hotel (first at the Murray-Hill Hotel close to Grand Central Station, then from 1956 the Commander Hotel on West 73rd Street), worked for a while as secretary to a Chinese businessman in her eighties, and could not pay her doctor’s bills during her last illness.138 It must have been gratifying to be cast as herself (Rose Quong, ‘Chinese astrologer’) at the age of 91 in the Canadian and Warner Bros. film ‘Eliza’s Horoscope’ starring Tommy Lee Jones, but the money would have been equally important.139 The film was made between 1970 and 1974; by the time it was released Quong was dead. She died in New York on 14 December 1972, aged 93. Being Australian was still part of her identity in old age, despite the fact that she spent the second half of her life elsewhere. The year she died she told a journalist that she recalled wandering in the Australian bush as a child ‘crushing in my hands eucalyptus leaves … sniffing their tangy aroma while watching a koala bear on a low branch of a tree nibble the juicy leaves’.140 She must especially have felt her distance from Australia when family members died, such as her mother in 1931 and her sister Florence in 1959.

Quong’s story amply illustrates the constructedness, plasticity and transportability of ethnic identities, through her own adoption and adaptation of her Chineseness, and her strategic deployment of broader categories of the ‘Oriental’. One remarkable feature of Quong’s career is her reshaping of identity as she moved from Australia to London and then to New York. While we do not know a great deal about her early life in Australia, her theatrical work in Melbourne was within the Western canon of the day – despite her childhood reading of Chinese literature. It appears that she did not much advertise or publicly celebrate her Chineseness in early twentieth century Melbourne, even though Melbourne’s Chinatown stood out for its size and resilience in the first decades of ‘White Australia’. Her colleagues and audiences in Melbourne’s amateur theatre world seemingly accepted and praised her, leading her to believe that a professional theatrical career in London was worth pursuing on the basis of her Australian and British identities. In interwar London, Quong juggled Australianness, Britishness and Chineseness, managing an identity that included recognisable aspects of all three, while working to foreground the Chinese element. The transportability of constructed ethnicity is highlighted by the fact that she could move this identity to New York, and sell herself there as Chinese in a context of the emerging category of Asian American, which scholars have suggested was a mid- to late-twentieth century artefact.141 Quong exemplifies the transnational formation of Oriental and other race-based stereotypes, and their modern global circulation.

For the history of interwar Britain, Quong helps to complicate what we know of Orientalist representations of Chineseness. As we know from the work of Marek Kohn, in post-World War I Britain a panic about drugs was tied to Chinese men, gambling, opium, and especially Chinese men’s perceived sexual attraction for young white women. Chinese communities had sprung up around the turn of the century, in port cities such as Liverpool and Cardiff, and in the docklands area of London. These ‘Chinatowns’ were initially populated by merchant seamen, so not surprisingly most of the Chinese population was male. The fact that some Chinese men married white women sparked eugenicist anxieties about interracial unions, fears that fed stories about young white women being drugged and raped by Chinese and black men. Racist fears underlay the 1919 riots in which returned soldiers played leading roles, such as the Cardiff riots in which Australian soldiers were involved.142 Rose Quong’s celebrity in interwar London shows that domestic British Orientalism was multi-faceted, incorporating fascination as well as fear, and involving fantasies related to high-cultural productions as well as supposed dens of vice. No doubt the gendered dimensions were crucial here. If lower-class Chinese men were thought to represent a violent moral threat, an educated and well-spoken Chinese woman may have been seen as an intellectually respectable embodiment of Oriental sensuality. Yet Quong presents a complicated instance of the gendered politics of Orientalism. Orientalist representations have typically feminised Asians; Asian women especially have been seen as exotic, sensual and submissive. Quong cast herself as exotic but not erotic, and in asserting her status as an intellectual cultural authority, claimed a masculinised position.

Rose Quong’s long career casts light too on the historical evolution of Orientalisms in the United States. Mari Yoshihara’s book on white women and American Orientalism documents the ways in which American women appropriated and shaped Orientalism from the 1870s to the 1940s, as consumers, artists, performers, and writers. Yoshihara argues that white American women ‘embraced the East’ for complex reasons, not least because intervening in the developing ideology of Orientalism empowered them within domestic American culture.143 American Orientalism, particularly in material culture and the arts, created a nationwide market for Quong’s lectures and performances. In contrast to Anna May Wong, whose career in the 1920s–30s was primarily in film and mostly contemporary roles, Quong presented herself as an interpreter of centuries-old Chinese literature. Therefore, while Wong was often cast as a sexual figure in romantic or tragic roles, Quong – who was much older – represented intellectual and cultural Chineseness. As Karen Leong argues in her study of Wong, the specific nuances of Orientalism in these decades shifted with political events and diplomatic relationships. In the 1930s and early 1940s China was an ally of Britain, the United States and Australia and therefore a subject of interest.144 By the late 1940s, China was seen as more menacing. Both Wong and Quong’s careers faded as the Cold War intensified. Quong’s ability to maintain her career at all may have depended in part on her British and Australian identities.

The fact that she created a successful transnational career out of her Chineseness – in sites ranging from Britain, to the United States, and China – demonstrates the transnational marketability of Orientalisms in the early- to mid-twentieth century, and their construction through a process in which Westerners and those who identified as Asian were complicit. At the same time, it is imperative that we identify the power imbalance between the parties in this process. Quong’s story shows that marketing herself professionally as Chinese was a compromise at which she arrived, not just from her own predilections, but because a career as a Shakespearean actress seemed foreclosed, and her British and Australian advisers urged her towards specialising in the exotic and Oriental. As Ien Ang has argued, the capacity of racism and Orientalism ‘as forces that perpetuate and reinforce essentialist notions of the Chinese other should not be underestimated’. With Anglo-Celtic Australian and British people resisting Chinese-Australians’ claims to Englishness or Britishness, and insisting that they should instead enact Chineseness, it is hardly surprising when Chinese-identified people embrace a sense of belonging to the Chinese diaspora.145 Rose Quong’s story shows such dynamics concretely at work. As Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds have recently charted, the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the epoch in which being ‘a white man’ became a transnational racial identity with legal and regulatory powers that varied from site to site but reinforced each other in a global formation.146 Quong’s story exemplifies the diasporic Chinese identity of the same period, indubitably shaped in part in response to subordination and hegemonic whiteness, and also a transnational formation, one shaped by migration and the imagined cultures of modernity.

1 Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), p. 3.

2 For a critique of Said see, for example, Lisa Lowe, Critical Terrains: French and British Orientalisms (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991); David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

3 Ann Curthoys, ‘“Chineseness” and Australian Identity’, in The Overseas Chinese in Australasia: History, Settlement and Interactions, eds Henry Chan, Ann Curthoys and Nora Chiang (Taipei: Interdisciplinary Group for Australian Studies, National Taiwan University, & Canberra: Centre for the Study of the Chinese Southern Diaspora, Australian National University, 2001), p. 25.

4 Andrew Markus, ‘Government Control of Chinese Immigration to Australia, 1855–1975’, in Chan, Curthoys, and Chiang (eds), pp. 70–72.

5 Henry Chan, ‘The Identity of the Chinese in Australian History’, in Queensland Review 6, no. 2 (Nov. 1999), pp. 1–9; H.D. Min-his Chan, ‘Becoming Australasian but Remaining Chinese: The Future of the Down Under Chinese Past’, in Chan, Curthoys and Chiang (eds), pp. 1–15.

6 Curthoys, ‘“Chineseness” and Australian Identity’, pp. 21–22.

7 Rose Quong and Quong Tart were unrelated; indeed, the ‘Quong’ in Quong Tart is a given name, not a family name. Robert Travers, Australian Mandarin: The Life and Times of Quong Tart (Kenthurst, NSW: Rosenberg Publishing, 2004).

8 Rose Quong, ‘Spiritual Forces and Race Equality’, in Harry W. Laidler (ed.), The Role of the Races in Our Future Civilization (New York: League for Industrial Democracy, 1942), p. 35.

9 ‘Mrs. J.G.R.’, The Australian Woman’s Mirror 14 February 1939, p. 20.

10 John Fitzgerald, Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2007), p. 29.

11 The British Australasian 4 April 1912, p. 19; 17 April 1913, p. 21; 29 April 1915, p. 19; 30 September 1915, p. 18; 30 September 1920, p. 16; 13 July 1922, p. 20; 20 July 1922, pp. 20–21; The British Australian and New Zealander 23 January 1936, p. 8.

12 A useful article on this is Matti Peltonen, ‘Clues, Margins, and Monads: The Micro-Macro Link in Historical Research’, History and Theory 40 (October 2001), pp. 347–59.

13 Eric Rolls, Sojourners: The Epic Story of China’s Centuries-Old Relationship with Australia (St. Lucia, Qld.: University of Queensland Press, 1992), esp. Chs. 1 and 2.

14 Death registration for Annie Quong, who died 12 October 1931, in St. Kilda, Victoria, Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Melbourne. It is possible that, but unclear whether, Annie Moy Quong’s ancestry included some Irish.

15 Ann Curthoys, ‘“Men of All Nations, except Chinamen”: Europeans and Chinese on the Goldfields of New South Wales’, in Iain McCalman, Alexander Cook and Andrew Reeves (eds.), Gold: Forgotten Histories and Lost Objects of Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 105.

16 Sophie Couchman, ‘From Mrs Lup Mun, Chinese Herbalist, to Yee Joon, Respectable Scholar: A Social History of Melbourne’s Chinatown, 1900–1920’, in Chan, Curthoys and Chiang (eds), p. 132.

17 A. T. Yarwood, Asian Migration to Australia: The Background to Exclusion 1896–1923 (Parkville, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1964), p. 163.

18 Markus, pp. 69 & 71.

19 Couchman, p. 125.

20 ‘Women in the World’, The Australian Woman’s Mirror 9 June 1925, p. 18.

21 Deposition of Norman Quong, August 1960, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Series I Correspondence, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

22 Kim Rosston, ‘From Australia to the West Side: The 93-Year Journey of Actress Rose Quong’, Manhattan Tribune 13 May 1972, pp. 7–9.

23 Matriculation examination registration form for Rose Quong 23 October 1896, and matriculation examination results lists November 1896 showing Quong’s results as Candidate No. 507. Archives, University of Melbourne.

24 ‘Women in the World’, The Australian Woman’s Mirror 10 January 1933, p. 20.

25 J. R. Thompson, Australian Mutual Provident Society, Melbourne, to Mr N.L. Quong, 5 September 1960, Correspondence, Series I, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

26 Commonwealth Public Service Lists, Mitchell Library, Sydney, and her brother Norman’s deposition of August 1960, Correspondence, Series I, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

27 Rosston, ‘From Australia to the West Side’, p. 9.

28 Letter to Axel Harvey, 2 July 1972, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Series I, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

29 The Bulletin, 29 August 1907, p. 21.

30 Vivian Smith (ed.), Nettie Palmer: Her Private Journal ‘Fourteen Years’, Poems, Reviews and Literary Essays (St. Lucia, Qld.: University of Queensland Press, 1988), pp. 336–39.

31 Nettie Palmer, Fourteen Years: Extracts from a Private Journal 1925–1939 (Melbourne: Meanjin Press, 1948), pp. 16–17; Vivian Smith (ed.), Letters of Vance and Nettie Palmer 1915–1963 (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1977), pp. 37–38.

32 Deborah Jordan, Nettie Palmer: Search for an Aesthetic (Melbourne: History Department, The University of Melbourne, 1999), pp. 188–190.

33 Leslie Rees, The Making of Australian Drama (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1973), pp. 114, 115, 120.

34 John Carmody, ‘Tate, Henry (1873–1926)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1990), pp. 172–173.

35 Marjorie Clark, ‘Miss Rose Quong in Repertory Delights and Stimulates: Intellectual Melbourne pays tribute at her shrine’, The Era 28 June 1923, quoted in Kerry Kilner, ‘Performing Women’s History: Re-assessing the Role of Women in Melbourne’s Little Theatre Movement 1901–1930’, MA Thesis, Centre for Women’s Studies, Monash University, 1996, p. 28.

36 ‘Melbourne Repertory Theatre Company’ in Philip Parsons (ed.), Companion to Theatre in Australia (Sydney: Currency Press, 1995), pp. 356–357.

37 Kilner, ‘Performing Women’s History’, pp. 24–28.

38 Clark, ‘Miss Rose Quong in Repertory Delights and Stimulates’.

39 Letter from Quong to Axel Harvey, 2 July 1972, Correspondence, Series I, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

40 The Herald 26 September 1919, quoted in Kilner, ‘Performing Women’s History’, p. 29.

41 ‘Sundry Shows’, The Bulletin 6 November 1919, p. 34.

42 Professor Berry, ‘The Early Days of The Melbourne Repertory Theatre Society’, R.T. Make This Your Theatre (Melbourne: Melbourne Repertory Theatre Society and Ramsay Publishing, 1928), pp. 5–6.

43 Clark, ‘Miss Rose Quong in Repertory Delights and Stimulates’.

44 Clark, ‘Miss Rose Quong in Repertory Delights and Stimulates’.

45 The Book Lover 21 May 1921, quoted in Kilner, ‘Performing Women’s History’, p. 33.

46 Dennis Douglas and Margery M. Morgan, ‘Gregan McMahon and the Australian Theatre’, Komos Vol. ii, No. 2 (1969), pp. 53–54.

47 Kilner, ‘Performing Women’s History’, p. 62.

48 Kilner, ‘Performing Women’s History’, pp. 30, 34.

49 Kilner, ‘Performing Women’s History’, p. 39.

50 The Argus 21 April 1922, quoted in Kilner, ‘Performing Women’s History’, p. 38.

51 Entry for 8 March, Diary 1924, Papers of Rose Quong, MS 9796, National Library of Australia.

52 ‘Women in the World’, The Australian Woman’s Mirror, 9 June 1925, p. 18.

53 Edith Young, Inside Out (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971), p. 111.

54 W.G., ‘Miss Rose Quong: A Charming Chinese Australian’, The British Australian and New Zealander 15 January 1925, p. 5.

55 Rosston, ‘From Australia to the West Side’, p. 9.

56 Markus, pp. 70, 74; Couchman, p. 127.

57 Shen Yuanfang, Dragon Seed in the Antipodes: Chinese-Australian Autobiographies (Carlton South, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 2001), p. 47.

58 Diary 1924, Papers of Rose Quong, MS 9796, National Library of Australia.

59 On historical sources and the construction of subjectivities, see Angela Woollacott, ‘The Fragmentary Subject: Feminist History, Official Records, and Self-Representation’, Women’s Studies International Forum 21, no. 4 (1998) pp. 329–339.

60 January and February entries, Diary 1924, Papers of Rose Quong, MS 9796, National Library of Australia.

61 Diary 1924, Papers of Rose Quong, MS 9796, National Library of Australia.

62 On this topic, and for details of Australian women’s lives in London in this period, see Angela Woollacott, To Try Her Fortune in London: Australian Women, Colonialism, and Modernity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).

63 She didn’t resign from her Australian public service job until she’d been in London about six months, and for the first couple of years continued to think of going back.

64 Diary entry for 8 January 1925, Journal 1924–1925, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Series II, Box I, Folder 7, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

65 Note from J.W. Lockyer, July 1974, with Diary 1924, Papers of Rose Quong, MS 9796, National Library of Australia.

66 Jill Roe, Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography (London: Fourth Estate, 2008), p. 326.

67 Diary entry for 15 October 1924.

68 Kilner, ‘Performing Women’s History’, p. 38.

69 Diary entry for 26 January 1925.

70 W.G., ‘Miss Rose Quong’.

71 Diary 1924, Papers of Rose Quong, MS 9796, National Library of Australia.

72 Diary entry for 8 February 1926, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Series II, Box 1, Folder 8, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

73 Mss. Gilbert Murray 48, ‘General Correspondence, 1924’, New Bodleian Library, Oxford. I am grateful to my colleague Marnie Hughes-Warrington for sharing this note with me, from her own research on Murray.

74 Diary entries for 17 and 18 November 1924, Journal 1924-1925, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Series II, Box I, Folder 7, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

75 Diary entry for 27 October 1925, Journal 1924-1925.

76 ‘Garden Theatre: Three Plays’, The Times 17 March 1925, p. 12.

77 ‘The Theatres’, The Times 11 May 1925, p. 12; ‘The Theatres’, The Times 24 September 1925, p. 10; ‘The Theatres’, The Times 5 October 1925, p. 12.

78 Phyllis, ‘In the Looking Glass’, The British Australian and New Zealander, 3 December 1925, p. 14.

79 Diary entry for 1 September 1925, Diary 1925-26, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Series II, Box 1, Folder 8, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

80 Diary entries for 30 November and 6 December 1925.

81 Diary entries for 19 October 1925, and 15 March 1926.

82 Diary entry 31 March 1926.

83 Diary entry 18 December 1925.

84 ‘The Theatres’, The Times 3 June 1926, p. 14.

85 ‘The Theatres’, The Times 7 March 1929, p. 12; ‘The Theatres’, The Times 11 March 1929, p. 14.

86 ‘The Theatres’, The Times 11 March 1929, p. 14.

87 ‘New Theatre: “The Circle of Chalk”’, The Times 15 March 1929, p. 14; The Era 20 March 1929, p. 1.

88 ‘Melbourne Musings’, The Home, June 1929, p. 13.

89 ‘The Theatres’, The Times 15 January 1931, p. 10; ‘Arts Theatre: “The Circle of Chalk”’, The Times 23 January 1931, p. 12.

90 ‘The Theatres’, The Times 10 October 1929, p. 12.

91 The British Australian and New Zealander 27 February 1930, p. 12; ‘The Theatres’, The Times 27 February 1930, p. 12.

92 The British Australian and New Zealander 22 December 1932, p. 10.

93 Printed invitation card for ‘The Rose Quong Circle’, Rose Quong Papers, MS 9796, National Library of Australia.

94 ‘Broadcasting’, The Times 18 March 1933, p. 4; ‘Broadcasting’, The Times 22 March 1933, p. 8.

95 Phyllis, ‘In the Looking Glass’, The British Australian and New Zealander 19 October 1933, p. 10.

96 The British Australian and New Zealander, 8 December 1932, p. 12; Clipping marked ‘Belfast, Oct. 21, 1932’, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Box 4, Series III, Loose Materials from Scrapbook, Printed Materials and Ephemera, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

97 ‘Court Circular’, The Times 4 April 1933, p. 19; The British Australian and New Zealander, 19 October 1933, p.10.

98 Rosston, ‘From Australia to the West Side’, p. 9.

99 Handout from William B. Feakins, Inc., New York and San Francisco. MSS 132, Rose Quong Papers, Box 4, Series III, Printed Materials and Ephemera, Loose Materials from Scrapbook, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

100 ‘Religious Services’, The New York Times 24 February 1934, p. 16.

101 ‘“Forgotten Women” Luncheon’, The New York Times 21 February 1934, p. 24. A ‘diseuse’ is an artist who entertains by spoken monologue.

102 Entry for 19 July 1934, Diary 1934–1938, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Series II, Writings, Box 1, Folder 10, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

103 ‘Footnotes’, Chicago Daily Tribune 11 March 1934, p. F6; ‘Footnotes’, Chicago Daily Tribune 8 April 1934, p. E4; ‘Footnotes’, Chicago Daily Tribune 11 November 1934, p. F6.

104 ‘Alien Drive Urged on Women’s Clubs’, The New York Times 28 October 1934, p. N1; ‘Clubwomen Urged to Aid Crime Drive’, The New York Times 13 November 1934, p. 19.

105 Rose Quong, ‘Spiritual Forces and Race Equality’, in The Role of the Races in Our Future Civilization ed. Harry W. Laidler (New York: League for Industrial Democracy, 1942), pp. 35–6.

106 The British Australian and New Zealander 10 January 1935, p. 8.

107 The Times 22 July 1935, p. 7.

108 ‘Rose Quong Here for Tour’, The New York Times 7 January 1936, p. 24.

109 Alma Whitaker, ‘Today’s Sugar and Spice’, The Los Angeles Times 29 March 1936, p. D11.

110 Diary 1934–38, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Series II, Writings, Box 1, Folder 10, Historical Society of Pennsylvania; The British Australian and New Zealander, 4 March 1937, p. 14.

111 Cousin Eve, ‘Cousin Eve Tells of Stirring Trip to Wall of China’, Chicago Daily Tribune 4 October 1936, p. F2.

112 ‘China’, handwritten in notebook, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Box 3, Folder 1, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

113 Quong, ‘Spiritual Forces and Race Equality’, pp. 33, 34.

114 Diary entries for 7 and 19 March 1938, Diary 1934–38, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Series II, Box 1, Folder 10, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

115 Rollingstone, ‘Here and There’, The British Australian and New Zealander 4 March 1937, p. 14.

116 Correspondence, Series I, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

117 ‘Events Today’, The New York Times 27 January 1939, p. 15.

118 ‘This Week’s Calendar of Club Activities Here and in Near-by Communities’, The New York Times 25 February 1940, p. 48; ‘Institute Program Lists 40 Speakers’, The New York Times 21 May 1939, p. D5; ‘Today on the Radio’, The New York Times 25 May 1939, p. 50.

119 For example, in March 1940 she spoke at the College Club of White Plains, ‘Activities Among Women’s Clubs Scheduled for This Week in the Metropolitan Area’, The New York Times 31 March 1940, p. 54.

120 Eleanor Jewett, ‘Joliet Artists’ League Shows a Fine Exhibit’, Chicago Daily Tribune 6 August 1944, p. F2.

121 Quong, ‘Spiritual Forces and Race Equality’, p. 35.

122 ‘Literature and Arts of China Exemplified’, The Los Angeles Times 3 December 1944, p. C6.

123 Will Davidson, ‘Chinese Writing Shows Character of Its Culture’, Chicago Daily Tribune 11 February 1945, p. E9.

124 Carl Glick, ‘Oriental Otherworld’, The New York Times 15 December 1946, p. BR11.

125 Clark, ‘Miss Rose Quong in Repertory Delights and Stimulates’.

126 The New York Times 12 May 1940, p. 48; 19 May 1940, p. 45; 26 May 1940, p. 37; 2 June 1940, p. 45; 9 June 1940, p. 47.

127 The patriotic event was a tea organised by the National Women’s Division of the Committee to Defend America, The New York Times 7 March 1941, p. 18; ‘Women to Discuss Post-War Europe’, The New York Times 17 October 1943, p. 31.

128 Vern Sneider, The Teahouse of the August Moon (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1951); John Patrick, The Teahouse of the August Moon (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1952).

129 Scripts, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Series III, Box 4, Printed Materials and Ephemera, Folder 6, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

130 Information on The Teahouse of the August Moon from the Internet Broadway Database I should acknowledge that in my published article, ‘Rose Quong Becomes Chinese: An Australian in London and New York’, Australian Historical Studies No. 129 (April 2007), pp. 16–31, I incorrectly asserted that Quong wrote these plays. My mistake was because the copies of the scripts in her papers bear no title page or playwright’s name, because she was actively writing and publishing East-meets-West material in those years, and because I was then unfamiliar with the Sneider novel and Patrick play The Teahouse of the August Moon.

131 Quong, ‘Spiritual Forces and Race Equality’, p. 34.

132 ‘News of the Stage’, The New York Times 25 March 1941, p. 27; Brooks Atkinson, ‘The Play’, The New York Times 27 March 1941, p. 28.

133 ‘News of the Stage’, The New York Times, 5 January 1942, p. 21; ‘News of the Stage’, Christian Science Monitor 5 January 1942, p. 11.

134 ‘“Flower Drum Song” is Lovely Show’, Chicago Daily Tribune 4 December 1958, p. C19; ‘Theatre: Oriental Music’, The New York Times 2 December 1958, p. 44.

135 Advertisements, The New York Times 24 October 1942, p. 18.

136 Quong, ‘Spiritual Forces and Race Equality’, p. 36.

137 Printed Materials and Ephemera, Loose Materials from Scrapbook, Box 4, Series III, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

138 Correspondence, Rose Quong Papers, MSS 132, Series I, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

139 ‘Movie Call Sheet’, The Los Angeles Times 4 November 1970, p. I12; ‘Movie Review: Eliza’s Rocky Horoscope Show’, The Los Angeles Times 15 June 1977, p. G22.

140 Rosston, ‘From Australia to the West Side’, p. 7.

141 Karen Shimakawa, National Abjection: The Asian American Body Onstage (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), p. 2.

142 Marek Kohn, Dope Girls: The Birth of The British Drug Underground (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1992), esp. Introduction, Ch. 4, and 148.

143 Mari Yoshihara, Embracing the East: White Women and American Orientalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

144 Karen J. Leong, The China Mystique: Pearl S. Buck, Anna May Wong, Mayling Soong, and the Transformation of American Orientalism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

145 Ien Ang, ‘Can One Say No to Chineseness? Pushing the Limits of the Diasporic Paradigm’, Boundary 2, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Fall 1998), pp. 236, 235, 238–9.

146 Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds, Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the Question of Racial Equality (Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 2008).

Race and the Modern Exotic: Three ‘Australian’ Women on Global Display

   by Angela Woollacott