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Breaking out of Chinatown by shooting and dribbling

Outside the Paint

When Basketball Ruled at the Chinese Playground

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Kathleen S. Yep

"Prodigiously researched and vividly realized, Outside the Paint tells a story previously all but unknown. Kathleen Yep has made an important contribution to the scholarship of the city game."—Jeremy Schaap, New York Times best-selling author of Cinderella Man: James J. Braddock, Max Baer and the Greatest Upset in Boxing History and Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics

Outside the Paint takes readers back to the Chinese Playground of San Francisco in the 1930s and 1940s, the only public outdoor space in Chinatown. It was a place where young Chinese American men and women developed a new approach to the game of basketball—with fast breaks, intricate passing and aggressive defense—that was ahead of its time.

Drawing on interviews with players and coaches, Kathleen Yep recounts some surprising stories. From the success of the Hong Wah Kues, a professional barnstorming men's basketball team and the Mei Wahs, a championship women’s amateur team, to Woo Wong, the first Chinese athlete to play in Madison Square Garden, and his extraordinarily talented sister Helen Wong, who is compared to Babe Didrikson.

Outside the Paint chronicles the efforts of these highly accomplished athletes who developed a unique playing style that capitalized on their physical attributes, challenged the prevailing racial hierarchy, and enabled them, for a time, to leave the confines of their segregated world. As they learned to dribble, shoot, and steal, they made basketball a source of individual achievement and Chinese American community pride.

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Excerpt

Read the Introduction (pdf).

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Reviews

"Yep's sports research helps fill a scholarly void in Asian American studies and serves as an inspiration to scholars."
Nichi Bei Times

"This readable volume provides compelling information about the experiences of Chinese American basketball players in San Francisco in the 1930s-40s.... Providing historical information that may be difficult to find in the broader literature on the history of US sports, this book will interest not only students of sports but also those pursuing work in Asian American studies, ethnic studies, and US immigration history. Though accessible to beginners, it also offers information of interest to scholars."
Choice

"Yep brings a unique perspective to her scholarly analysis of the experiences of these Asian American youth. Her research, based primarily on personal interviews and contemporary press reports, is meticulous and thorough, as evidenced by her extensive endnotes and bibliography. Although its highest and best use may be as a text for sociology or anthropology classes, this book will also have special appeal to readers with an interest in Chinese American culture."
Pacific Historical Review

"This book accomplishes much more than simply documenting the explosion of basketball’s popularity in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Yep explores several sociological themes throughout the book’s chapters, such as how sports help marginalized segments of society develop a sense of belonging, and how sports gain political importance among segregated groups….For this reason, Outside the Paint is not simply a book about basketball, but a vivid description of how sports affect the identity of groups and their interactions with larger society."
Contemporary Sociology

"An interesting view of basketball as a vehicle in a marginalized community, and the role it played in moving some ethnic members into more ‘mainstream’ acceptance…. Yep’s book is extremely well researched and both the footnotes and the bibliography are worth careful reading…The players and teams are not well known outside the small Chinatown community, but the stories of how they created a greater sense of community in Chinatown and instilled pride through athletic prowess is well worth reading… Though less sport history than sociology of sport, the book is a powerful statement on the status and acceptability of non-European immigrants in and by American society."
The Journal of Sport History

"[E]xcellent for basketball fans and also for anyone who wants to understand some previous United States history regarding racial issues…. The book shows that the Chinese in San Francisco were segregated and confined to Chinatown. But playing basketball gave them opportunities typically not available to the Chinese of that time.... [There] are excellent stories of sports and the success that sports allowed."
Multicultural Review

"[E]minently readable…Outside the Paint is a generous addition to the literature on the history and sociology of sport. Her oral histories are an invaluable contribution to the historical record of Chinese American life in the early twentieth century. Additionally, Yep's book is a welcome work in the burgeoning literature on Chinese American life in the interwar years that is not subordinated to the dominant historical narrative of Chinese exclusion.... [Yep's] book vividly brings to life the everyday social experiences of Chinese American youth in San Francisco's Chinatown in the wake of the New Deal and in the shadow of a looming world war. For this alone Outside the Paint is a valuable resource for a broad readership of students, scholars, as well as a general public interested in sports history, Chinese American history, urban history, and the history of gender and race in the U.S."
The Journal of Asian American Studies

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Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. The Chinese Playground
2. The Hong Wah Kues Discover America
3. The Mei Wahs Knew How to Use Their Elbows and Push
4. “Mr. Chinese Cager” Plays Madison Square Garden
5. Helen Wong and the “Muscle Molls”
Conclusion: The Chinese Playground and Yao Ming in the Era of Globalized Sports
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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About the Author(s)

Kathleen S. Yep is Assistant Professor of Asian American Studies and Sociology at Pitzer College of the Claremont Colleges.

Subject Categories

Asian American Studies
Sports
History


In the series

Asian American History and Culture, edited by David Palumbo-Liu, K. Scott Wong, Linda Trinh Võ, and Cathy Schlund-Vials..

Founded by Sucheng Chan in 1991, the Asian American History and Culture, series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique. Like the field from which it emerged, the series remains rooted in the social sciences and humanities, encompassing multiple regions, formations, communities, and identities. Extending the vision of founding editor Sucheng Chan and emeritus editor Michael Omi, series editors David Palumbo-Liu, K. Scott Wong, Linda Trinh Võ, and Cathy Schlund-Vials continue to develop a foundational collection that embodies a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to Asian American studies.

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