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Humanities 2018, 7(4), 126; https://doi.org/10.3390/h7040126

Nightclub as a Liminal Space: Space, Gender, and Identity in Lisa See’s China Dolls

College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204-3006, USA
Received: 14 November 2018 / Revised: 22 November 2018 / Accepted: 26 November 2018 / Published: 29 November 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Negotiating Spaces in Women’s Writing)
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Abstract

Nightclubs flourished in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the late 1930s when it became a nightlife destination. To Chinese Americans, however, San Francisco nightclubs became a new site at the time for them to re-explore their identities. For some, visiting these nightclubs became a way for them to escape from traditional Chinese values. For others, it became a way to satisfy Western stereotypes of Chinese culture. Lisa See’s China Dolls (2015) describes three young oriental women from various backgrounds that become dancers at the popular Forbidden City nightclub in San Francisco in the late 1930s. Through the three girls’ precarious careers and personal conflicts, Lisa See proposes the San Francisco nightclub as both a site for them to articulate their new identities beyond their restricted spheres and a site for them to perform the expected stereotypical Asian images from Western perspectives. It was, at that time, a struggle for the emergence of modern Chinese women but particularly a paradox for Chinese-American women. The space of the Chinese-American nightclub, which is exotic, erotic, but stereotypical, represents contradictions in the Chinese-American identity. Through studying Lisa See’s novel along with other autobiographies of the Chinese American dancing girls, I argue that San Francisco nightclubs, as represented in Lisa See’s novel, embody the paradox of Chinese American identities as shown in the outfits of Chinese American chorus girls—modest cheongsams outside and sexy, burlesque costumes underneath. View Full-Text
Keywords: nightclub; Chinatown; San Francisco; China Dolls; Lisa See; dancing girls nightclub; Chinatown; San Francisco; China Dolls; Lisa See; dancing girls
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Li, M.Y. Nightclub as a Liminal Space: Space, Gender, and Identity in Lisa See’s China Dolls. Humanities 2018, 7, 126.

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