The Chinese Theater

The stage with its actors and music were the most important features of the Exposition from the standpoint of Chicago Chinese.   Its backers, the Wah Mee Corporation, called the whole building a theater.  The rival Moy group also considered its own building to be basically a theater.  Both groups expended much money and effort on importing actors from China.  The actors staged numerous plays, including one titled Plot to Assassinate the Emperor It featured a sword fight between two princesses that ended in a draw:  “\Each acknowledging the other the victor, they recognized each other’s generosity and turned from hatred and war into love and declared themselves sisters.”  Women’s roles were played by men; very few Chinese theater companies in those days had coed casts.

Lee Ping and Maik Quong were the stage managers.  Among other dramas performed were “The Six Kings,” “God in Heaven,” and “The Double Thumb.”  According to one newspaper reporter, the star performers were the actor Sam Queng and the magician Lee Lum.  The reporter concluded, “Altogether one cannot get more acting for his money anywhere else in Chicago than at the Chinese Theater, nor can he, perhaps, find more of interest in any one place on the Plaisance than in the Temple of China.” The photo of Ki Hing and Foke Sing was chosen by the noted anthropologist F. W. Putnam.  A Chinese opera fan has suggested to us that Putnam’s actors may not have been real ones — they stand awkwardly and their costumes do not fit.

Chicago Daily Tribune May 19 1893, p 2; Sept 24 1893, pp 34-35., Frederick W Putnam, Portrait Types of the Midway Plaisance, St Louis, 1894.