Soo Yong – Another Chinese Woman We Should Know More About – Part 2

A blog in support of FINDING KUKAN’s 10K in 10weeks “Keep This Film Alive Campaign”.

A fam­i­ly sto­ry often told about Soo Yong (born Ahee Young) is that when she was four or five years old her father became grave­ly ill and sum­moned the fam­i­ly to hear his last words.  But Ahee was miss­ing.  The fam­i­ly searched all over for her. They final­ly found her in Wailuku town.  She was com­plete­ly mes­mer­ized by the per­for­mance of a Chi­nese opera troupe who had come to town.  This is Soo Yong’s ear­li­est dra­mat­ic mem­o­ry.

Chinese Opera Performers in Hawaii

Chi­nese Opera Per­form­ers in Hawaii

 

Si it must have been a dream come true for Soo Yong when in 1930, at 28 years of age, she was cho­sen to accom­pa­ny the most famous Chi­nese opera star of all time on a six-month tour of Amer­i­ca.

SooYong & Mei Lanfang

Soo Yong acts as Mis­tress of Cer­e­monies for Mei Lanfang’s 1930 tour of Amer­i­ca

 

Mei Lan­fang was also idol­ized by Li Ling-Ai whose dra­mat­ic inter­ests were stirred up by Chi­nese opera per­for­mances her father took her to when she was a young girl. Dur­ing his 1930 tour Mei stopped in Hon­olu­lu and Li Ling-Ai had a chance to meet him.

Members of Hawaii's ACUW greet Mei Lanfang

Pho­to from the ACUW pub­li­ca­tion TRADITIONS FOR LIVING

 

A year or so lat­er Li Ling-Ai left on her sec­ond trip to Chi­na and told news­pa­per reporters she intend­ed to study with the great man – a lofty goal for a recent grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii.  I won­dered if Soo Yong’s insid­er posi­tion embold­ened Li Ling-Ai to approach the great Mei for lessons.

 

Honolulu Star Bulletin article about Li Ling-Ai

Hon­olu­lu Star Bul­letin Arti­cle from August 6, 1932

 

I found no sub­se­quent men­tion of Li Ling-Ai study­ing with Mei Lan­fang.  But sev­er­al biogra­phies of Li state that she stud­ied pri­vate­ly with the famous dancer Chu Kuei Fang.  It was hard to find any men­tion of Chu Kuei Fang on the inter­net and I began to doubt Li Ling-Ai’s claims.  But in Soo Yong’s per­son­al scrap­book that was donat­ed to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii, I dis­cov­ered Chu list­ed as a per­former in a 1930 pro­gram for Mei Lanfang’s tour.

 

1930 Mei Lanfang Tour Program

Chu Kue-Fang per­forms on the same pro­gram as Mei Lan­fang

 

Chu must have been very accom­plished to share stage time with the great Mei Lan­fang.  I won­der if this old pho­to, found amongst Li Ling-Ai’s pos­ses­sions, is of Chu Kuei Fang.  If any­one can pos­i­tive­ly iden­ti­fy the man in the pho­to, please let me know.

Li Ling-Ai with Chinese dancers

Could the man behind Li Ling-Ai be Chu Kuei-Fang?

 

Soo Yong and Li Ling-Ai also shared a pas­sion for help­ing their Chi­nese home­land dur­ing the Japan­ese inva­sion of the coun­try.  As ear­ly as 1937 Soo Yong was per­form­ing in ben­e­fits to aid Chi­nese refugees.

December 1937 Soo Yong hosts tea for China Relief

Decem­ber 1937 Soo Yong hosts tea for Chi­na Relief

 

1937 was also the year that Li Ling-Ai sent Rey Scott to Chi­na so that the sto­ry of the peo­ple of Chi­na could be told in pho­tographs and film – the film would even­tu­al­ly become KUKAN.  Whether Soo Yong was a role mod­el for Li Ling-Ai or sim­ply anoth­er extra­or­di­nary Chi­nese woman who became a polit­i­cal activist when war came we might nev­er know.  But one thing’s for cer­tain — we should def­i­nite­ly know more about her than we do.

 

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4 Responses to Soo Yong – Another Chinese Woman We Should Know More About – Part 2

  1. duriandave says:

    Hi Robin,

    I’ve been enjoy­ing your posts about Soo Yong! The first time I encoun­tered her was in her small role in Love Is a Many-Splen­dored Thing. There was some­thing spe­cial about her that made me ask, “Who is that lady?”

    I was able to find a pic­ture of Chu Kuei-Fang (Zhu Guifang 朱桂芳)…

    http://www.dongdongqiang.com/jingdian/223-zhgf.htm

    I’m not pos­i­tive, but there seems to be a resem­blance in the long nose and high cheek­bones. What do you think?

    Take care,
    Dave

    • WriterRobin says:

      Thanks, Dave. The resem­blance is very good indeed. Does the arti­cle say any­thing inter­est­ing about him? I think Soo Yong had the abil­i­ty to be a great lead­ing lady giv­en the chance. Unfor­tu­nate­ly by the time I got inter­est­ed in her, her niece Aileen Wong Ho (her near­est descen­dant who wrote the lit­tle biog­ra­phy about her in the ACUW book), had passed away.

  2. duriandave says:

    The arti­cle seems to be a basic biog­ra­phy. Zhu spe­cial­ized in wudan (female war­rior) roles, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of his father. He was one of the prin­ci­pal play­ers of Mei Lanfang’s troupe, trav­el­ing with him to Japan in 1919, the US in 1929, and the Sovi­et Union in 1935. His style is described as bold and pow­er­ful. Then it lists his opera reper­toire.

    Yeah, I total­ly agree with you about Soo Yong. There’s an inter­est­ing Hopa­long Cas­sidy West­ern that she stars in called Secrets of the Waste­land, that gives her a lot of screen time (and a cool cow­girl out­fit). I haven’t dug too deeply into her fil­mog­ra­phy, but she def­i­nite­ly had the tal­ent. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, her matu­ri­ty and being Chi­nese pret­ty much left her with no place in Hol­ly­wood.

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