Yellow Doll:

A Play About Chinese Women Prostitutes in Nineteenth-Century America


The play opens with the routine experiences of a Chinese woman forced to serve as a prostitute:  she calls to customers and eventually receives one.  The customer is visibly afflicted with venereal disease, and the woman's resistance is met by a drunken, violent reaction.  The constant struggles which actual Chinese women faced in America during the nineteenth century to avoid disease, violence, and humiliation are explored in more depth throughout the play. 

The second, and younger, Chinese woman is a new arrival from China; she stubbornly refuses to be obedient as she is brought through Customs, and is sold by auction to a cheap brothel.  She is forced to sign a contract which binds her into servitude.  The two women meet when placed in "cribs", or small rooms, beside each other, and they offer solace to one another.  Yet their different strategies for resistance limit how close they can become.  The older Chinese woman attempts to share the tolerance and wisdom she has gained during her two years of prostitution, while the younger woman often rejects this advice because of her strong belief that she can and will return to China.  The older woman succumbs to venereal disease, despite the precautions she takes.  The younger woman, refusing every command, experiences rape by her "owner", and a fatal beating by a potential customer. 

The experiences of the two women are episodically juxtaposed to show the differences in the lives of Chinese women who were forced into prostitution both before  and after the white population in San Francisco reacted to the Chinese population with violence and racially-motivated restrictive legislation.  Much of this reaction stemmed from anger at the lack of employment for white men, and at the willingness of Chinese men to accept low wages in order to support their families in China.  The Chinese tongs, or gangs, also were gaining wealth and power at this time.  The context of Chinatown, within the Caucasian-dominated city of San Francisco, are integral to the play.




Cast size:




3 Asian females

4 Asian males (2-3 actors, with doubling)

6 Caucasian males     (3 actors, with doubling)





San Francisco Chinatown


One set, simple box/shelves/dividers, few props


Denotative area lighting and use of gobos are integral to the play






Production History


Yellow Doll received its premiere production by The Open Eye: New Stagings in New York City during May 3 - 10, 1992, in its Seventh Annual Eye on Directors Festival, under the direction of Amie Brockway, Artistic Director.  The play was directed by Kim Thomas Sharp, with the following cast:



Pwan Jin

Lisa Ann Li

Wong Sep

Tommy Cheng

Chin Yan

Jean Muro

Tsoi Lan

Esther Hyun

Chou Ye

Ryohei Hoshi

Emmett Sojack

Customs Officer


Ted Rooney