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Building a cultural 'railroad' between East and West

By Oasis Hu | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-07-10 14:41

Bern Tan, the musical's male lead, is a famous Broadway performer. LAVA ALAPAI/FOR CHINA DAILY

"In light of the current political climate, promoting exchange has become more important than ever," Zhang said. "What a better way to do it than with a story told through song and dance?"

The Canadian Chinese Exclusion Act, which came into force a century ago to restrict Chinese immigration to Canada, was abolished in 1947. A hundred years later, in 2023, the Li Delun Music Foundation officially threw its weight behind the Railroad! musical.

With funding secured, the team began preparations and engaged 16 actors for the long-overdue industry reading. Many of them were drawn to the musical's theme, Zhang said.

One of the actors, Bern Tan, who would play Li Shao, has a family history of emigration, with his grandparents seeking refuge in the South Seas from Hainan before the Second World War, and his mother emigrating from Singapore to Shanghai. Tan was born in Singapore before emigrating to the US. Like many immigrants, Tan's family struggled to find its feet in its new country before going on to embrace their cultural roots.

Playing the character of Li Shao allowed Tan to reflect on his identity as an immigrant with Chinese ancestry.

"Li Shao was far more tenacious than me, and my struggles today, by comparison, are mild," he says.

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