Arts & Culture

China Doll explores clash between generations

By Lorraine Graves

Published 3:00 PDT, Tue October 15, 2019

Last Updated: 2:30 PST, Tue November 12, 2019

What do you do when your future is as bound to tradition as your feet are? What happens when learning to read sets off a cultural bomb in your family?

That’s the basic premise of Gateway’s season opener, China Doll. Marjorie Chan’s play looks at the interplay between the generations, where a woman’s path is determined by her tiny, broken feet–the smaller the better. 

Then, lead character Su-Ling learns to read, and that opens up a world beyond the traditions she is bound to.  

The clash between generations is a universal experience. This production works to bridge cultures with a play about old Shanghai, in English, with both simplified and traditional Chinese written translations throughout all performances. 

Richmond’s Jennifer Tong plays the lead, Su-Ling. 

Who influenced you growing up?

“The strong women in my family (my mama, aunt, my very own poa poa), every instructor that has supported my artistic dreams (Annie Rough, Joel Garner, my musical theatre instructors at Gateway Theatre), and Summer Roberts from The O.C.” 

Like the character you play in China Doll, did you have any conflicts with your elders where your version of the local culture clashed with their culture?

“Definitely. I was always getting grounded because I couldn’t obey the rules that my mother laid out for me. I always believed they were too strict compared to my friends’ restrictions. It wasn’t until recently that I realized our conflicts came from growing up in different cultures.” 

Where did you grow up?

“I was born and raised in Richmond. I grew up in Steveston Village, attending Tomekichi Homma Elementary and McMath Secondary. I also spent a lot of time near Richmond Centre and Blundell Plaza. Shoutout to LA Grill and Boston Pizza Ackroyd! #PastaTuesdayForever. My family still lives here, so I come and visit once every week or so for delicious family dinners and dim sum. If you want the best Asian food, Richmond is the place.”

What's your understanding of foot binding?

“I didn’t actually know a lot about foot binding, except that it looked extremely painful, until I started research for the play. I knew it existed as an ancient fashion trend, but soon discovered there was a lot more history and reason behind it.”

Is there any parallel to wearing very high heels today?

“Yes and no. Yes, because I believe high heels, like foot binding, has a lot to do with aesthetic and women’s beauty standards. But no, because back then, they didn’t view foot binding as bad for you. Nowadays, we know that wearing very high heels is damaging. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop wearing my Steve Maddens.”

What do you hope people will take away from this production?

“I hope that when people see this show, they leave with a better understanding of the lives that women lived in 1800s Shanghai. I hope that they leave feeling grateful for their families, touched by the courage and strength of the characters, and hungry for sesame balls.”

China Doll opens Oct. 18 and runs through Oct. 26 with many special performances and features. (See the list below.) Traditional and simplified Chinese surtitles will be provided for all performances.

For tickets and information go to or call the box office at 604-270-1812.

Performances and special features

Preview: Thursday, Oct. 17 @ 8 p.m. / Opening: Friday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m.

Times: 8 p.m. nightly (except Sunday and Monday)

Matinees: 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct 19 , 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20, and 1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22 

Thursday, October 17, pre-show – Pizza Preview: Enjoy a free slice of pizza.

Sunday, Oct. 20: Dangerous Books: When Reading is Seen as a Subversive Act

At certain points in history, reading has been considered rebellious or even dangerous; why is that? 

Moderator: Barbara Tomasic, interim producer, Gateway Theatre.

Gateway Forum is free and open to the public, no tickets required.

Wednesday, Oct. 23, pre-show—Wine Wednesday

The pre-show offers a free wine tasting, presented by a local Richmond family winery.

Wednesday, Oct. 23 and Friday, Oct. 25, post-show—Afterplay

Share your thoughts and experience with fellow audience members during this facilitated, informal discussion.


Tuesday, Oct. 22, pre-show at 12 p.m.—Tea Matinee

Enjoy complimentary tea, coffee, and cake before the show.

Thursday, Oct. 24, post-show—Talkback Thursday

An intimate conversation with the cast and/or creative team after the show.

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