Asia Ignorance

After seeing yet another example of the oversimplification and stereotyping of Asian culture, one girl expresses her exasperation with the West’s lack of understanding of this continent.

Last month Coldplay and Rihanna’s ’Princess of China’ music video was released. Since then, the Chinese online community, both in China and abroad, has been in uproar over the misrepresentation of China and Asia as a whole. The video depicts Rihanna dressed as a Japanese geisha, wearing elongated nails symbolic of Thailand. At one point, she is dressed as the Indian Bodhisattvas with a thousand hands, whilst Chris Martin flys around doing martial arts moves reminiscent of House of Flying Daggers. All together, it’s a careless mish-mash of cultures meant to represent ”Asia”. Whilst some were angered by the stereotyping of Asian cultures, others simply laughed at the ignorance of us silly Westerners.

I must admit, it is hardly surprising people can’t tell their Samurais from their Shaolin warriors. Look at Hollywood for example: how many Asian actors do you know? What was the last Asian film or film about Asia you saw? I bet it was set during an ancient dynasty in an unspecified country and had plenty of martial arts fighting scenes. Not exactly a modern day representation. Indeed, the average cinema patron would be hard pressed to name any film set in present day Asia or name anyone famous from Asia who wasn’t Jackie Chan or Lucy Liu.

The biggest movie about China in recent years was Kung Fu Panda, which of course is another film about martial arts set in ancient times. In fact, modern China doesn’t exist anyway, as everyone in China wears robes and have Kung Fu battles on a daily basis. Not. But the film surely must at least have a Chinese actor in the lead-role, right? Nope. As far as I know Jack Black is still American and white. Don’t worry though, the producers got some Asians in on the film too to make it more credible. And guess who they were? Yup, you guessed it: Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu.

It’s hardly surprising really that Asians get irritated with this, and it’s not just Asians either. It’s as if people have decided that all Asians look the same, so they must all act the same. Neither of which are true. In fact, China, just as one country, is probably more culturally diverse than the entirety of Western Europe and has a history twice as long! Yet if you image-search Chinese culture, all you get is pictures of red lanterns and dragons.

People are now well aware of China’s economic power and influence in the world, and India is not that far behind. So isn’t it time we make an effort to learn about their cultures? If not to create more inter-cultural awareness and respect, then at least to lessen your chances of looking like an idiot for thinking that Rihanna is actually the Princess of China.

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