China Girl (song)

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"China Girl"
Bowie ChinaGirl.jpg
Single by David Bowie
from the album Let's Dance
B-side "Shake It"
Released 31 May 1983
Recorded Power Station, Manhattan, New York City, December 1982
Genre Pop[1]
Length 5:32 (album version)
4:14 (single edit)
Label EMI America – EA157
Producer(s) Nile Rodgers
David Bowie singles chronology
"Let's Dance"
"China Girl"
"Modern Love"
Let's Dance track listing
"Modern Love"
"China Girl"
"Let's Dance"
Music video
"China Girl" on YouTube

"China Girl" is a song written by David Bowie and Iggy Pop during their years in Berlin, first appearing on Pop's debut solo album, The Idiot (1977). The song became more widely known when it was re-recorded by Bowie, who released it as the second single from his most commercially successful album, Let's Dance (1983). The UK single release of Bowie's version reached No. 2 for one week on 14 June 1983, behind "Every Breath You Take" by the Police, while the US release reached No. 10.


Paul Trynka, the author of David Bowie's biography, Starman, claims the song was inspired by Iggy Pop's infatuation with Kuelan Nguyen, a beautiful Vietnamese woman.[2]

Nile Rodgers, the producer of David Bowie's 1983 version of the song explained his view of its meaning:

"I figured China Girl was about doing drugs ... because China is China White which is heroin, girl is cocaine. I thought it was a song about speedballing. I thought, in the drug community in New York, coke is girl, and heroin is boy. So then I proceeded to do this arrangement which was ultra pop. Because I thought that, being David Bowie, he would appreciate the irony of doing something so pop about something so taboo. And what was really cool was that he said 'I love that!'."[3]

Music video[edit]

The music video, featuring New Zealand model Geeling Ng, was directed by David Mallet and shot mainly in the Chinatown district of Sydney, Australia.[4] Along with his previous single's video for "Let's Dance" with the critique of racism in Australia, Bowie described the video as a "very simple, very direct" statement against racism.[5][6] The video consciously parodies Asian female stereotypes. It depicted as a hypermasculine protagonist in an interracial romance. The original video release includes the two lying naked in the surf (a visual reference to the film From Here to Eternity).[7][8] Unedited versions were banned from New Zealand and some other countries at the time.[9] The uncensored version was issued on the 1984 "Video EP" issued by Sony on Betamax, VHS and LaserDisc. Versions of the video included on subsequent video and DVD compilations (including EMI/Virgin's Best of Bowie) are censored to remove the nudity. The original video went on to win an MTV video award for Best Male Video.[10]


BBC Online reviewer David Quantick acknowledged the effect of Nile Rodgers' production on the song, arguing that "nobody but Rodgers could have taken a song like 'China Girl', with its paranoid references to 'visions of swastikas', and turned it into a sweet, romantic hit single".[11]

Live performances[edit]

The song was a regular for Bowie's live shows for the rest of the 1980s (appearing on concert videos in 1983 and 1988 -- Serious Moonlight and Glass Spider, respectively). It was rehearsed for his appearance at the 1985 London Live Aid concert but along with the songs "Fascination" and "Five Years" was eventually dropped due to time constraints. Additional live versions of the song appear on 2009's release of a 1999 performance for VH1 Storytellers and on a 2010 release, entitled A Reality Tour, recorded at Bowie's November 2003 concerts in Dublin, Ireland.

Track listing[edit]

7-inch single
  1. "China Girl" [Edit] (David Bowie, Iggy Pop) – 4:14
  2. "Shake It" (Bowie) – 3:49
12-inch single
  1. "China Girl" (Bowie, Pop) – 5:32
  2. "Shake It" [Re-Mix] (Bowie) – 5:21
  • On the US 12", "Shake It" is called the "Long Version," although it's identical to the UK's "Re-Mix"
  • The UK 12" single's cover was slightly different from the US cover (they're mirrors of each other), and the flip side of the UK 12" includes dates for the 1983 Serious Moonlight Tour in the UK (specifically the London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Milton Keynes shows).


Iggy Pop version[edit]

David Bowie version[edit]


Chart performance (David Bowie version)[edit]

Certifications (David Bowie version)[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Canada (Music Canada)[40] Gold 50,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[41] Silver 250,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone

Other releases[edit]

Cover versions[edit]


  1. ^ Erlewine,Stephen Thomas. "David Bowie - Let's Dance review". Allmusic. Retrieved February 2, 2016. 
  2. ^ "China Girl by David Bowie". Retrieved 3 June 2016. 
  3. ^ "BBC Radio 2, Lost In Music: The Nile Rodgers Story". Retrieved 29 December 2016. 
  4. ^ Eddie, Rachel; Friedlander, Monique (12 January 2016). "Model and waitress plucked from obscurity to become David Bowie's 'China Girl' remembers the star as 'warm and engaging' after he 'changed her life forever'". Daily Mail. Retrieved 3 June 2016. 
  5. ^ Loder, Kurt (12 May 1983), "Straight Time", Rolling Stone magazine, no. 395, pp. 22–28, 81 
  6. ^ Tam, Ruth (20 January 2016). "How David Bowie's 'China Girl' used racism to fight racism". Washington Post. Retrieved 3 June 2016. 
  7. ^ Jenkins, Mark (31 December 1993). "Bowie's Changes In Single Fashion". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 May 2009. 
  8. ^ Caroline Stanley (30 March 2010). "The Evolution of Nudity in Music Videos (NSFW) – Flavorwire". Retrieved 15 March 2014. a rather tame (and brief!) glimpse at Bowie's butt during a beach makeout session 
  9. ^ "David Bowie's 'China Girl' Co-Star Says Music Video Changed Her Life". Billboard. 13 January 2016. Retrieved 3 June 2016. 
  10. ^ "MTV Video Music Awards 1984". MTV. Retrieved 3 June 2016. 
  11. ^ Quantick, David. "David Bowie Let's Dance Review". BBC. Retrieved 17 March 2016. 
  12. ^ "Forum – ARIA Charts: Special Occasion Charts – CHART POSITIONS PRE 1989". Hung Medien. Archived from the original on 20 October 2013. Retrieved 4 June 2016. 
  13. ^ " – David Bowie – China Girl" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  14. ^ " – David Bowie – China Girl" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  15. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 6232." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  16. ^ "Le Détail par Artiste". InfoDisc (in French). Select "David Bowie" from the artist drop-down menu. Retrieved 4 June 2016. 
  17. ^ " – David Bowie – China Girl". GfK Entertainment Charts. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  18. ^ "The Irish Charts – Search Results – China Girl". Irish Singles Chart. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  19. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – week 27, 1983" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40 Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  20. ^ " – David Bowie – China Girl" (in Dutch). Single Top 100. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  21. ^ " – David Bowie – China Girl". Top 40 Singles. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  22. ^ "Topp 20 Single uke 25, 1983 – VG-lista. Offisielle hitlister fra og med 1958" (in Norwegian). VG-lista. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  23. ^ "South African Rock Lists Website SA Charts 1969 – 1989 Acts (B)". The South African Rock Encyclopedia. Retrieved 4 June 2016. 
  24. ^ " – David Bowie – China Girl". Singles Top 100. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  25. ^ a b " – David Bowie – China Girl". Swiss Singles Chart. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  26. ^ "Archive Chart: 1983-06-18" UK Singles Chart. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  27. ^ "David Bowie – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for David Bowie. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  28. ^ "David Bowie – Chart history" Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs for David Bowie. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  29. ^ " – David Bowie – China Girl" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  30. ^ "Archive Chart: 2016-01-21" UK Singles Chart. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  31. ^ "David Bowie – Chart history" Billboard Hot Rock Songs for David Bowie. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  32. ^ "Rock Digital Songs - The week of January 30, 2016". Billboard Rock Digital Songs. Retrieved 4 June 2016. 
  33. ^ "Ultratop Jaaroverzichten 1983". Ultratop 50 (in Dutch). Archived from the original on 26 January 2014. Retrieved 4 June 2016. 
  34. ^ "Top RPM Singles: Issue 6699." RPM. Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  35. ^ "Top 100 Single-Jahrescharts 1983". GfK Entertainment Charts (in German). Retrieved 4 June 2016. 
  36. ^ "Top 100-Jaaroverzicht van 1983". Dutch Top 40 (in Dutch). Retrieved 4 June 2016. 
  37. ^ "Dutch Jaaroverzichten Single 1984". Single Top 100 (in Dutch). Retrieved 4 June 2016. 
  38. ^ "Official New Zealand Music Chart - End of Year Charts 1983". Official New Zealand Music Chart. Retrieved 7 June 2016. 
  39. ^ "Top 100 Hits for 1983". Billboard Hot 100. Retrieved 4 June 2016. 
  40. ^ "Canadian single certifications – David Bowie – China Girl". Music Canada. 
  41. ^ "British single certifications – David Bowie – China Girl". British Phonographic Industry.  Enter China Girl in the field Keywords. Select Title in the field Search by. Select single in the field By Format. Select Silver in the field By Award. Click Search
  42. ^ "The Wedding Singer". IMDb. Retrieved 3 June 2016. 
  43. ^ Bill Cummings (18 March 2013). "Ashes To Ashes: A Compilation of David Bowie Covers by Various Artists | God Is In The TV". Retrieved 15 March 2014. 
  • Pegg, Nicholas, The Complete David Bowie, Reynolds & Hearn Ltd, 2000, ISBN 1-903111-14-5

External links[edit]

MTV Video Music Award
New title Best Male Video
Succeeded by
I'm On Fire
Bruce Springsteen