Sewing Woman

Genre: Documentary
Ethnicity: Chinese American
Themes: Immigrant/Refugee Experience/Diaspora, Individual Profiles & Personal Stories, Labor & Class Issues
Date: 1982
Running Time: 14 min.
Director/Producer: Arthur Dong
Center for Asian American Media (formerly NAATA)
College/Institution: DVD $99 Purchase/$40 Rental
K-12/Public Library/Community Group: DVD $40 Purchase/$25 Rental

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Inspired by the life story of the filmmaker’s own mother, Arthur Dong’s short documentary film Sewing Woman tells the story of one woman’s journey from a poor background in rural China to a middle class life in San Francisco.  The film masterfully combines footage of China and San Francisco, narration based on oral histories, and period photographs to paint a stunning portrait of the journey to America made by so many Chinese women in the mid-twentieth century.  Although the story has a happy ending — culminating in the protagonists’ financial security and success in moving her entire family to America — Dong’s film remains melancholy in tone.  Most strikingly, Dong makes use of footage from garment factories where the incessant drumming sounds of sewing machines punctuate the workers’ long hours, thus drawing attention to the sacrifices these women made in stitching together a better life for their families. 

Supplementary Material
A teacher’s guide is available from the Center for Asian American Media (formerly NAATA).  To request a copy, contact

Asian American Filmography ExEAS