The Dance and the Railroad Summary
by David Henry Hwang

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The Dance and the Railroad Summary

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The Dance and the Railroad is a history play based on the Chinese railroad workers’ strike of 1867. It reveals a significant event in the Chinese American past, rejecting the stereotype of submissive coolies and depicting assertive men who demanded their rights in spite of great personal risk. Originally intended as a contribution toward the reclaiming of the Chinese American past, it accomplished much broader artistic goals.

Ma, a young Chinese emigrant who has been in America only four weeks, comes to warn Lone, a performer, that the other Chinese do not like his superior attitude. Hired to build the railroad across the Sierras, they are now in the fourth day of a strike against the labor practices of the “white devils.” The Chinese have demanded an eight-hour workday and a fourteen-dollar-a-week increase in pay. Lone is estranged from the other Chinese because he refuses to waste time drinking and gambling and instead practices the traditional Chinese opera. Captivated by Lone’s beautiful dance, Ma decides to become a performer when he returns to China a wealthy man. Lone scoffs at Ma’s naïve beliefs that America is a place with a mythical Gold Mountain, that his cheating Chinese coworkers are his friends, and that he will ever be able to portray the great Gwan Gung, god of fighters. Lone tells Ma that if he is to succeed he must face reality and willingly accept being shunned by the “already dead” Chinese men. Undaunted by this challenge, Ma begins to practice Chinese opera. Ma is subsequently shocked, however, to learn that if he works hard, he might successfully portray the Second Clown. Lone reveals how he spent eight years in opera school training to play Gwan Gung, only to be “kidnapped” by his parents and sent to the Sierras to work. Ma is determined and practices by spending the night in the “locust”...

(The entire section is 463 words.)