Date of Award

12-2008

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

History

Advisor

Bartley, Abel A

Committee Member

Burns , James M

Committee Member

MoÌøse , Edwin E

Abstract

As has been true for most groups of immigrants arriving in the United States, the Chinese have undergone a wide-ranging, and at times rapid, transformation in the eyes of mainstream America. No other ethnic or racial group in American history has been so singled out for immigration regulation as have the Chinese--the Exclusion Act, passed in 1882, still represents the only time that a particular ethnic group was selected for immigration restriction. While an analysis of the legal history of the era reveals the various restrictions faced by Chinese immigrants in terms of the state, a look at American popular culture paints an even more vivid picture of the Chinese American experience. The treatment of Chinese in pop culture--particularly in visual media such as political cartoons, film, and television series--illustrates their ever-changing role in American society and culture.
In the 1960s, Chinese kung fu, virtually exploded onto the American pop culture scene; kung fu television series and movies enjoyed huge commercial and popular success from 1966 to roughly 1974, and Bruce Lee was arguably the most important figure in the genre. Lee, an American-born Hong Kong Chinese, provided one of the first images of a strong, capable Chinese man that Americans saw, both in terms of his onscreen roles and in his off-screen life. However, there has been no truly academic study of Bruce Lee, nothing substantive to place his life and his short career in a broader historical context. The purpose of this thesis, then, is to address Lee's role as the first true Chinese American pop culture hero, and to analyze the interaction between that role and the changing identity of Chinese Americans.

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