Object Story and Significance:
This May 10, 1938 photograph captured the dramatic and eye-catching spectacle of a reported one hundred young women garbed in Chinese cheongsam dresses carrying a giant 100 x 50 foot flag of the Chinese Republic through the streets of New York Chinatown. The women were participating in a community-wide “Solidarity Day” parade, in which some 15,000 turned out in a united front to protest against Japan’s invasion of China. To ensure the mass turnout, every Chinese-owned business in the city was closed, including some 1,500 laundries throughout Manhattan, and buses brought in several hundred residents from nearby Jersey City and Newark’s Chinatown. No Chinese newspaper published that day. Instead the day’s war news was broadcasted via loudspeaker to an entire community who had taken to the streets. In addition to heavy rain, press reported that “confetti streamed down from Chinatown’s windows” onto dancing lions, colorful floats, bands and drum and bugle corps. And though no appeal was made, spectators showered coins—“pennies to half dollars, and even dollar bills”—onto the flag as donation towards war relief. The women carried the reportedly 200-pound flag the first leg of a three-and-a-half-mile parade route that wound its way from Mott and Pell Streets to Canal, Broadway, South Ferry, Broad, and Nassau, back to Centre Street. They handed it off midway to one hundred young men who carried the flag the last leg as spectators and paraders alike patriotically “roared themselves hoarse.”
This iconic photograph, taken by Times Wide World Photos and published the next day in the New York Times, was exhibited in MOCA’s core exhibition in the “Allies and Enemies (1940-1950s)” section. A visually impactful image measuring 23 1/2 x 17 inches, it helped MOCA illustrate our narrative history of Chinese Americans’ wartime experiences, particularly those of the local Chinatown community and women. After display in the core exhibition, some people in the photo were recognized and identified by Sophia Chu: Annabelle Wong (4th from left), Ruth Chin (5th from left), Sophia Chu (6th from left), Jeaw Yee Wong (7th from left), and Grace Chu (9th from left).