PuSh Blog

William Yang’s China

January 29, 2010

By PuSh Festival publicist Ellie O’Day

I had the pleasure of working with William at the first “pre-PuSh” in 2003 when it existed as a series of a few national and international presentations in the spring. William brought the show Shadows then, about other ‘outsiders’ in Australia – the aborigines and German migrants during the world wars.

His stories, paired with his wonderful photographs, are gentle and understated, but come from an outsider’s point of view. A gay Chinese-Australian photographer, William brought his images into a new dimension with his stories. This is not someone showing their holiday slides; this is someone taking you on a journey.

From back in my university days studying Anthropology, with a focus on folklore, I’ve always admired the art of storytelling. The best tellers engage and captivate the listener. William begins with subtlety but with purpose. He gently sets you up for moments of insight. One of my favourites is William’s anecdotal story of how, as a young schoolboy, he was first taunted with a silly Chinaman rhyme that he knew was meant as a pejorative:

“When I was about six years old, one of the kids at school called out to me, ‘Ching Chong Chinaman, Born in a jar, Christened in a teapot, Ha Ha Ha.’ I had no idea what he was talking about, but I knew from his expression he was being horrible. So I went home to my mother and I said, ‘Mum, I’m not Chinese, am I?’ And my mother looked at me very sternly and said, ‘Yes, you are.’ Her tone was hard and it shocked me. I knew in that instant that being Chinese was a terrible curse and I could not rely on my mother for help, or my brother, who was four years older, very much more experienced in the world. He chimed in, ‘And you’d better get used to it!’

I’m looking forward to China, his collection of photos from four pilgrimages to China – where he is an outsider – and his story about finding his relationship to his homeland. Sight unseen, I would recommend this to anyone, but particular to 2nd or more generation Chinese-Canadians.

China is part of the 2010 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and is presented with 2010 Cultural Olympiad and Theatre at UBC. Feb 2-6, 2010 at 7:30pm, Frederic Wood Theatre, UBC. Click here for full details.