Exhibit Focuses on the Sultry Nightclubs of Chinatown


'Forbidden City' began as a movie and became both a book and an exhibition. Courtesy of Arthur Dong

You’ve heard about Baghdad by the Bay, surely. But are you hip to Shanghai by the Bay? You will be after enjoying an exhibit and film about the great Chinese-American nightclub entertainers from the pre- and post-war years.

‘Forbidden City, USA: Chinese American Nightclubs, 1936-1970,’ curated by Arthur Dong, who has also produced a film and a book titled ‘Forbidden City,’ is on display through July 6 at the Jewett Gallery at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library.

Learn about the 'Chinese Frank Sinatra,' see photos of scantily clad Chinese dancers – quite shocking to their traditional families at the time! Enjoy the dance of Dorothy Toy and Paul Wing! Revel in a time that seems so innocent now – yet so seductive, glamorous, and unabashedly exotic.

Back in the day, San Francisco’s Chinatown was crowded with such nightclus as Forbiodden City, Club Shanghai, and the Kubla Khan.

A costume worn by Paul Wing, one of the great Chinatown dancers, who would also perform in a tux

Dong, who grew up in the city and studied film at San Francisco State, has been making documentaries for decades, and now has his own firm DeepFocus Productions.

Dong’s project, by the way, was not the first to produce a book on the subject. Trina Robbins, better known as a comic book artist, wrote her own book on the dancers of the era, also titled ‘Forbidden City.'

Keep in touch with the Eichler Network. SUBSCRIBE to our free e-newsletter