The Year of the Dragon

by Frank Chin

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Year of the Dragon is a 1974 play written by Asian American author, playwright, and dramatist Frank Chin. The play was published alongside his earlier drama titled The Chickencoop Chinaman; the two plays are among the first plays written by an author of Asian descent that have been produced by American theatre companies. As it is written as a critical commentary on racism and the discrimination faced by the Asian American population in America, The Year of the Dragon is considered to be a realistic farce.

Aside from racism and discrimination, Chin incorporates several other socially relevant themes, such as family, culture, tradition, identity, dignity, unfairness, deception, objectification, inequality, tourism, stereotypes, and ambition. Set in the Eng family's apartment in Chinatown, San Francisco, during the Chinese New Year, the story follows Fred Eng, a forty-year-old tour guide who deliberately speaks in simplified English and fakes a Chinese accent in order to attract more tourists when he conducts tours of Chinatown. He is determined to stop his brother Johnny from following in his footsteps and becoming a tour guide, and he desperately wishes to leave his home and become a writer. Caught in an endless cycle of pointless arguments with his very traditional father and numerous cultural differences with the tourists, Fred tries to navigate his life and discover his own identity.

Despite its mixed critical reception, the play is commonly regarded as one of the most important contributions to Asian American drama ever produced. This is mainly due to Chin's skill with writing, as many readers and professional literary and theatre critics praised him for his multidimensional characters and engaging dialogue, as well as the play's powerful message.

The Year of the Dragon was first produced in 1974 by the American Place Theatre and starred Randall Duke Kim and Pat Suzuki. It was adapted for television the following year by PBS, starring the same cast with the addition of George Takei, who replaced Randall Duk Kim as Fred.

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