• Li-Shin Yu
  • James Q. Chan

Plague at the Golden Gate: Pandemics Then and Now in Film and in Life

Join us as director Li-Shin Yu and producer James Q. Chan discuss their American Experience PBS documentary about an outbreak of bubonic plague in San Francisco’s Chinatown. More than 100 years before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world and set off a wave of fear and anti-Asian sentiment, an outbreak of bubonic plague in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1900 unleashed a similar furor. It was the first time in history that civilization’s most feared disease — the infamous Black Death — made it to North America. Fueling the resistance to addressing the threat would be a potent blend of political expediency, ignorance, greed, racism, and deep-rooted distrust of not only federal authority but science itself. Scapegoated as the source of the disease early on, the Chinese community fought back against unjust, discriminatory treatment. Plague at the Golden Gate can be streamed on PBS.

Li-Shin Yu is a New York-based filmmaker. In addition to Plague at the Golden Gate, Yu co-directed The Chinese Exclusion Act for PBS’ American Experience. Yu is a long-time collaborator of Ric Burns, and their recent film Oliver Sacks: His Own Life is a critic’s choice on the festival and theatrical circuit. Their epic series NEW YORK: a documentary film is an eight-part production chronicling the city’s rise from a remote Dutch outpost to the cultural and economic center of the world, for which Yu received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Editing.  Their other titles have garnered multiple awards including numerous Emmys, Peabodys, Writer’s Guild of America, Dupont-Columbia awards amongst others.

James Q. Chan is a San Francisco-based filmmaker and producer who has collaborated on Emmy and Grammy-winning projects. His film mentorship/training began alongside two-time Academy-Award winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. Producing credits with Epstein & Friedman include the History Channel’s 10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America, Howl, Puck and the Riddle of Codes, Istinma, Entry Denied, and Right Down the Line.