Forbidden City, USA: Chinese American Nightclubs, 1936–1970

Winner, American Book Award

Forbidden City, USA captures the magic and glamour of the Chinese American nightclub scene, which peaked in San Francisco during World War II. In the 1930s and ’40s, audiences flocked to nightclubs to escape the problems of the day with a cocktail and a show. Filmmaker Arthur Dong spent twenty-five years interviewing the entertainers from this era, many of whom time had forgotten, and collecting hundreds of rare images and objects. The result is a sexy and insightful exploration of a time when Asian Americans pushed against exploitation and racism—as well as expectations from within the community—to pursue their dreams of working in show business.

Here are the sassy, bold, and sometimes heartbreaking memories of dancers, singers, producers, and nightclub owners, as told in their own words. Accompanying these previously unpublished stories are over four hundred stunning photos, postcards, menus, and programs. Together they recreate a forgotten era, taking readers on a dazzling tour of the old “Chop Suey Circuit.”

Advance Praise

“Put on some music from the 1930s and 1940s, start turning the pages of this remarkable volume, and step into the intoxicating and magical world of the Chinese American nightclub scene.”—From the foreword by Lisa See, author of China Doll and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

About the Author

Arthur DongArthur Dong has produced, directed, written, edited, and filmed independent films on social issues such as gay rights and the Chinese American experience. A two-time Rockefeller Media Arts Fellow as well as a Guggenheim Fellow in Film, Dong has served on the boards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Film Independent, OutFest, and the National Film Preservation Board at the Library of Congress. His honors include three Sundance Film Festival awards, an Oscar nomination, a Peabody Award, the Berlin Film Festival’s Teddy Award, Taipei’s Golden Horse Award, a GLAAD Media Award, and five Emmy nominations.