Ching Ling Foo (Chinese: 金陵福) was the stage name of the Chinese magician Zhu Liankui (Chinese: 朱連魁,1854–1922). He is credited with being the first modern East Asian magician to achieve world fame.
Born in Beijing, Ching Ling Foo studied traditional Chinese magic and was a well-respected performer in his homeland.
During a typical performance, he stunned the audience by breathing smoke and fire or producing ribbons and a 15-foot-long (4.6 m) pole from his mouth. One of his sensational tricks had Foo using a sword to cut the head of a serving boy off at the shoulders. Then, to the amazement of the audience, the “beheaded” boy turns and exits the stage.
Another trick involved producing a huge bowl, full to the brim with water, from out of an empty cloth. He would then pull a small child from the bowl. When he brought his show to the United States in 1898, he began offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who could reproduce his water trick. This was apparently done for publicity’s sake and there was never any real intention to give out the reward.
New York-born William Robinson, who worked occasionally as a magician, decided to try for the $1,000. Foo rebuffed him. Unable to claim the $1,000, Robinson developed a Chinese-style show of his own and recreated himself as Chung Ling Soo. Robinson, in the guise of Soo, traveled to Europe and a deep rivalry was begun between the two men.
A group of Chinese women with bound feet, including Foo's wife, accompanied the magician outside China and was shown as another attraction. Other members of Foo's family would also participate in his act. He would often conjure his daughter, Chee Toy, onto the stage while his son would perform acrobatics and juggling.
As of the end of 2014, the circumstances of Ching Ling Foo's death in 1922 were still not widely known.
"From Here to Shanghai"
Irving Berlin included him in his lyrics for “From Here to Shanghai” (1917)
The Christopher Nolan movie, The Prestige, depicts a Chinese magician working in London, who performs a similar trick with a water bowl.