The Chinese Lady
The Chinese Lady

The Chinese Lady

New York, NY
The story of the first Chinese woman to step foot in America.
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About The Chinese Lady

Inspired by the true story of the first Chinese woman to step foot in America, Lloyd Suh’s critically-acclaimed play, THE CHINESE LADY, is a tale of dark poetic whimsy and a unique portrait of the United States as seen through the eyes of a young Chinese girl. In 1834, 16-year-old Afong Moy sailed into New York Harbor and was immediately put on display for a paying public who were mesmerized by her exotic ways and horrified by her tiny bound feet. As audiences follow Moy’s travels through America as a living exhibit for decades, THE CHINESE LADY shares her impressions of a young country struggling with how to define itself.

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Lloyd Suh’s play The Chinese Lady, about the exploitation of global cultures in America as told by one woman who lived it, returns Off-Broadway in February. The Chinese Lady tickets are on sale now. Get The Chinese Lady tickets on TodayTix.

The Chinese Lady is a play about Afong Moy, who was just 16 when she was involuntarily brought over to America from China. She was traded in a deal between American importers and her family. It’s not certain whether she was the first Chinese immigrant to come to America, but in 1834, there certainly weren’t many.

As a way of selling Chinese goods, the importers made her into a living museum exhibit upon arrival in the States — she had to perform an American fantasy of “Chinese exoticism” for a paying public. The play follows Afong through decades of performance and sees her assimilating into a country where she never meant to stay, while also exploring the damaging effects of colonialism on her ability to truly get in touch with her culture.

Ralph B. Peña first helmed The Chinese Lady for its 2018 world premiere at Barrington Stage Company, and again for the Off-Broadway premiere with Ma-Yi Theater Company. Peña was then set to direct the show at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, but the production was shut down due to COVID-19.

Now, after having finally premiered the show in New Haven in fall 2021, Peña brings The Chinese Lady Off-Broadway again at The Public Theater, with Ma-Yi and Barrington Stage Company as co-producers. The show has also been performed in Portland, Philadelphia, Ithaca, and more in the past year.

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What to Watch For

  • The real Afong Moy communicated through a translator, Atung, who is also a character in the play. In The Chinese Lady, however, the actress playing Afong gets to tell the story for herself.
  • Moy joined P.T. Barnum’s troupe of circus performers for a short time. In 1850, Barnum replaced her with another Chinese woman, and the public largely forgot about Moy. Suh’s play gives a new voice to Moy after she was overlooked for years in history.
  • Junghyun Georgia Lee, the set designer for The Public Theater’s production, also designed the sets for the last Off-Broadway production of The Chinese Lady on Theatre Row. That set consisted of a huge shipping container, which opened up to reveal the room of Chinese trinkets that Moy performs in. As The New York Times’s review put it, the set is a literal representation of “the walls that box in Afong and Atung’s cultural identity, as seen through white American eyes.”
  • The Chinese Lady is one of the most-produced plays of the 2021-2022 theatre season. Amid the #StopAsianHate campaign, many theatres nationwide looked to include the show in order to elevate Asian voices.
Run time

75m (No intermission)

Start date

February 23rd, 2022

End date

April 10th, 2022




Public Theater


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