Stereotypes of East Asians in the United States
Stereotypes of East Asians are ethnic stereotypes found in American society about first-generation immigrants, and American-born citizens whose family members immigrated to the United States, from East Asian countries, such as China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Stereotypes of East Asians, like other ethnic stereotypes, are often portrayed in the mainstream media, literature, internet, film, television, music, and other forms of creative expression in American society. These stereotypes have been largely and collectively internalized by society and have mainly negative repercussions for Americans of East Asian descent and East Asian immigrants in daily interactions, current events, and government legislation. Media portrayals of East Asians often reflect an Americentric perception rather than realistic and authentic depictions of true cultures, customs and behaviors. In the past, East Asian Americans have experienced discrimination and have been victims of hate crimes related to their ethnic stereotypes, as it has been used to reinforce xenophobic sentiments.
- 1 Exclusion or hostility
- 2 Model Minority myth
- 3 Stereotypes in American fiction
- 4 Men
- 5 Women
- 6 Physical attributes and traits
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Exclusion or hostility
The term "Yellow Peril" refers to white apprehension, peaking in the late 19th-century, that the European inhabitants of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, and the United States would be displaced by a massive influx of East Asians; who would fill the nation with a foreign culture and speech incomprehensible to those already there and steal jobs away from the European inhabitants and that they would eventually take over and destroy their civilization, ways of life, culture and values. The term has also referred to the belief and fear that East Asian societies would invade and attack Western societies, wage war with them and lead to their eventual destruction, demise and eradication. During this time, numerous anti-Asian sentiments were expressed by politicians and writers, especially on the West Coast, with headlines like "The 'Yellow Peril'" (Los Angeles Times, 1886) and "Conference Endorses Chinese Exclusion" (The New York Times, 1905) and the later Japanese Exclusion Act. The American Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of Asians because they were considered an "undesirable" race.
Australia had similar fears and introduced a White Australia policy, restricting immigration between 1901 and 1973, with some elements of the policies persisting up until the 1980s. On February 12, 2002, Helen Clark, then prime minister of New Zealand apologized "to those Chinese people who had paid the poll tax and suffered other discrimination, and to their descendants". She also stated that Cabinet had authorized her and the Minister for Ethnic Affairs to pursue with representatives of the families of the early settlers a form of reconciliation which would be appropriate to and of benefit to the Chinese community. Similarly, Canada had in place a head tax on Chinese immigrants to Canada in the early 20th century; a formal government apology was given in 2007 (with compensation to the surviving head tax payers and their descendants).
There is a widespread perception that East Asians are not considered genuine Americans but are instead "perpetual foreigners". Asian Americans often report being asked the question, "Where are you really from?" by other Americans, regardless of how long they or their ancestors have lived in United States and been a part of its society.
East Asian Americans have been perceived, treated, and portrayed by many in American society as "perpetual" foreigners who are unable to be assimilated and inherently foreign regardless of citizenship or duration of residence in the United States. A similar view has been advanced by Ling-chi Wang, professor emeritus of Asian American studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Wang asserts that mainstream media coverage of Asian communities in the United States has always been "miserable". He states, "In [the] mainstream media's and policymakers' eyes, Asian Americans don't exist. They are not on their radar... and it's the same for politics."
I. Y. Yunioshi from Blake Edwards' 1961 American romantic-comedy Breakfast at Tiffany's is one such example which had been broadly criticized by mainstream publications. In 1961, The New York Times review said that "Mickey Rooney's bucktoothed, myopic Japanese is broadly exotic." In 1990, The Boston Globe criticized Rooney's portrayal as "an irascible bucktoothed nerd and an offensive ethnic caricature". Critics note that the character of Mr. Yunioshi reinforced anti-Japanese wartime propaganda to further exclude Japanese Americans from being treated as normal citizens, rather than hated caricatures.
A study by UCLA researchers for the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), Asian Pacific Americans in Prime Time, found that Asian-American actors were under represented on network TV. While Asian-Americans make up 5 percent of the US population, the report found only 2.6 percent were primetime TV regulars. Shows set in cities with large Asian populations, like New York and Los Angeles, had few Asian roles.
Model Minority myth
East Asians in the United States have been stereotyped as a "model minority"; that is, possessing positive traits such as being seen as industrious, politically inactive, studious, intelligent, productive, and inoffensive people who have elevated their socioeconomic standing through merit, self-discipline and diligence. However, some East Asian Americans believe the model minority stereotype to be damaging and inaccurate, and are acting to dispel this stereotype. Some may acknowledged that model minority is seen as a "denial of racial reality" which is one of the eight themes in racial microaggression. Many scholars, activists, and most major American news sources have started to oppose this stereotype, calling it a misconception that exaggerates the socioeconomic success of East Asian Americans. According to those trying to debunk this belief, the model minority stereotype also alienates other Asian American subgroups such as South and Southeast Asians and covers up actual Asian American issues and needs that are still not properly addressed in American society at large. This creates how East Asians as a model minority are still experiencing essential socioeconomic disadvantages. For example, the widespread notion that East Asian Americans have higher educational attainment rates, constitute a large presence in professional and managerial occupations and earn above average per capita incomes obscures workplace issues such as the "bamboo ceiling" phenomenon, where the advancement in corporate America where attaining the highest-level managerial or executive positions top U.S. corporations reaches a limit, and the fact that East Asians must acquire more education, work experience and work more hours than their white counterparts to earn the same amount of money.
The "model minority" image is also seen as being damaging to East Asian Americans students because their assumed success makes it easy for educators to overlook some East Asian American students who are underachieving, struggle academically, and assimilate more slowly in the American school system. The myth also undermines the achievements of East Asian American students as part of their inherent racial attributes, rather than other factoring characteristics such as work ethic, tenacity and discipline.
East Asian Americans also commit crimes at a disproportionately lower rate than other racial and ethnic groups in the United States. However, examples of criminal and unethical behavior are in contrast to the model minority construct. One notable case was the Virginia Tech massacre by committed by Seung-Hui Cho, which led to the deaths of 33 individuals, including Cho himself. The shooting spree, along with Cho's Korean ancestry, stunned American society. Other notable cases include the stunning downfall of politician Leland Yee from serving in the California State Senate to serving time in federal prison, and NYPD Officer Peter Liang, who was convicted of shooting an unarmed black man. This led to a rift between the East Asian and African American communities in New York City, with many African Americans believing that Liang being spared prison time was due to his model minority status. Former United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, the first Asian American to serve in that post, also resigned in light of the scandal involving the entire Veterans Health Administration and the substantial delayed wait times for veterans to receive adequare care.
Another effect of the stereotype is that American society at large may tend to ignore the underlying racism and discrimination that East Asian Americans may still face despite positive socioeconomic indicators. Complaints are dismissed by American politicians and other government legislators with the claim that the racism that may East Asian Americans still face is less important than or not as bad as the racism faced by other minority races, thus establishing an systematically deceptive racial hierarchy. Believing that due to their socioeconomic success and that they possess so-called "positive" stereotypical traits, many ordinary Americans assume that East Asian Americans face no forms of racial discrimination or social issues in American society at large, and that their community is thriving, having "gained" socioeconomic success through their own merit.
Stereotypes in American fiction
Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan are two important and well-known fictional East Asian characters in America's cultural history. Created by Sax Rohmer and Earl Derr Biggers in the early part of the 20th century, Fu Manchu is the embodiment of America's imagination of a threatening mysterious East Asian people while Charlie Chan is an apologetic submissive Chinese-Hawaiian detective who represents America's archetypal "good" East Asian. Both characters found widespread popularity in numerous novels and films.
Thirteen novels, three short stories, and one novelette have been written about Fu Manchu and Sir Denis Nayland Smith, the British agent determined to stop him. Millions of copies have been sold in the United States with publication in British and American periodicals and adaptations to film, comics, radio, and television. Due to his enormous popularity, the "image of Fu Manchu has been absorbed into American consciousness as the archetypal East Asian villain." In The Insidious Doctor Fu-Manchu, Sax Rohmer introduces Fu Manchu as a cruel and cunning man, with a face like Satan, who is essentially the "Yellow Peril incarnate".
Sax Rohmer inextricably tied the evil character of Fu Manchu to all East Asians as a physical representation of the Yellow Peril, attributing the villain's evil behavior to his race. Rohmer also adds an element of mysticism and exoticism to his portrayal of Fu Manchu. Despite Fu Manchu's specifically Manchu ethnicity, his evil and cunning are pan-Asian attributes again reinforcing Fu Manchu as representational of all East Asian people.
Blatantly racist statements (not considered so at the time the novels were published) made by white protagonists such as: "the swamping of the white world by yellow hordes might well be the price of our failure" again add to East Asian stereotypes of exclusion. Fu Manchu's inventively sardonic methods of murder and white protagonist Denis Nayland Smith's grudging respect for his intellect reinforce stereotypes of East Asian intelligence, exoticism/mysticism, and extreme cruelty.
Charlie Chan, a fictional character created by author Earl Derr Biggers loosely based on Chang Apana (1871–1933), a real-life Chinese-Hawaiian police officer, has been the subject of 10 novels (spanning from 1925 to as late as 1981), over 40 American films, a comic strip, a board game, a card game, and a 1970s animated television series. In the films, the role of Charlie Chan has usually been played by white actors (namely Warner Oland, Sidney Toler, and Roland Winters).
In stark contrast to the Chinese villain Fu Manchu, East Asian American protagonist Charlie Chan represents the American archetype of the "good" East Asian. In The House Without a Key, Earl Derr Biggers describes Charlie Chan in the following manner: "He was very fat indeed, yet he walked with the light dainty step of a woman. His cheeks were chubby as a baby's, his skin ivory tinted, his black hair close-cropped, his amber eyes slanting." Charlie Chan speaks English with a heavy accent and flawed grammar, and is exaggeratedly polite and apologetic. After one particular racist affront by a Bostonian woman, Chan responds with exaggerated submission, "Humbly asking pardon to mention it, I detect in your eyes slight flame of hostility. Quench it, if you will be so kind. Friendly co-operation are essential between us." Bowing deeply, he added, "Wishing you good morning."
Because of Charlie Chan's emasculated, unassertive, and apologetic physical appearance and demeanor he is considered a non-threatening East Asian man to mainstream audiences despite his considerable intellect and ability. Many modern critics, particularly Asian-American critics, claim that Charlie Chan has none of the daring, assertive, or romantic traits generally attributed to white fictional detectives of the time, allowing "white America ... [to be] securely indifferent about us as men." Charlie Chan's good qualities are the product of what Frank Chin and Jeffery Chan call "racist love", arguing that Chan is a model minority and "kissass". Instead, Charlie Chan's successes as a detective are in the context of proving himself to his white superiors or white racists who underestimate him early on in the various plots.
The Chan character also perpetuates stereotypes as well, oft quoting supposed ancient Chinese wisdom at the end of each novel, saying things like: "The Emperor Shi Hwang-ti, who built the Great Wall of China, once said: 'He who squanders to-day talking of yesterday's triumph, will have nothing to boast of tomorrow.'" Fletcher Chan, however, argues that the Chan of Biggers's novels is not subservient to whites, citing The Chinese Parrot as an example; in this novel, Chan's eyes blaze with anger at racist remarks and in the end, after exposing the murderer, Chan remarks "Perhaps listening to a 'Chinaman' is no disgrace."
Emasculation and asexuality
In the mid-1800s, early Chinese immigrant workers were derided as emasculated men due to cultural practices of Qing Dynasty. The Chinese workers sported long braids (the "queue hairstyle" which was compulsory in China) and sometimes wore long silk gowns. Because Chinese men were seen as an economic threat to the white workforce, laws were passed that barred the Chinese from many "male" labor-intensive industries, the only jobs available to the Chinese of the time were jobs that whites deemed "women's work" (i.e., laundry, cooking, and childcare).
In the documentary The Slanted Screen, the Filipino American director Gene Cajayon talks about the revised ending for the action movie Romeo Must Die, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet where Aaliyah plays Juliet to Jet Li's Romeo. The original ending had Aaliyah kissing Chinese actor Li, which would have explained the title of Romeo, a scenario that did not test well with an urban audience. The studio changed the ending to Trish (Aaliyah) giving Han (Jet Li) a tight hug. According to Cajayon, "Mainstream America, for the most part, gets uncomfortable with seeing an East Asian man portrayed in a sexual light."
One study has shown East Asians as being perceived as being less masculine than their white and black American counterparts.
East Asian men are also stereotyped and portrayed as having small penises. Such an idea fueled the phenomenon that being a bottom in a homosexual relationship for East Asian men is more of a reflection of what is expected of them, than a desire.
These stereotypes create an overall perception that East Asian men are less sexually desirable compared to men of other races.
In the early stage of Hollywood's film production, East Asian males such as Sessue Hayakawa exhibited their male attractiveness both on and off screen, but they became the victim of their own success when their popularity caused dissension. Later, when Bruce Lee joined Hollywood, he was one of the few asians who could achieve Alpha male status on screen and transformed the image of the Asian male in U.S cinema, since then the popularity of East Asian male stars has grown steadily.
More recent media depictions of East Asian males are at a seeming variance with traditional stereotypes. Study findings from an analysis of the TV show Lost suggest that increased globalization is responsible for providing a more sexualized and virilized portrayal of East Asian males in televised media.
Predators of white women
East Asian men have been portrayed as threats to white women in many aspects of American media. Depictions of East Asian men as "lascivious and predatory" were common at the turn of the 20th century. Fears of "white slavery" were promulgated in both dimestore novels and melodramatic films.
Between 1850 and 1940, both US popular media and propaganda before and during World War II humanized Chinese men, while portraying Japanese men as a military and security threat to the country, and therefore a sexual danger to white women due to the perception of a woman's body traditionally symbolizing her "tribe's" house or country. In the 1916 film Patria, a group of fanatical Japanese individuals invade the United States in an attempt to rape a white woman. Patria was an independent film serial funded by William Randolph Hearst (whose newspapers were known to promulgate threats of the yellow peril), in the lead up to the United States' entry into World War I.
The Bitter Tea of General Yen portrays the way in which an "Oriental" beguiles white women. The film portrays Megan Davis (Barbara Stanwyck) coming to China to marry a missionary (Gavin Gordon) and help in his work. They become separated at a railway station, and Davis is rescued/kidnapped by warlord General Yen (Nils Asther). Yen becomes infatuated with Davis, and knowing that she is believed to be dead, keeps her at his summer palace.
Another stereotype of East Asian men is that they are misogynistic, insensitive, and disrespectful towards women. However, studies have shown that East Asian men express more gender egalitarian attitudes than the American average. East Asian men are commonly portrayed in Western media as male chauvinists. This can be seen in best-selling novels such as Rising Sun by Michael Crichton, in which Japanese businessmen mistreat and denigrate their white mistresses. Popular films such as The Wolverine portrays Japanese patriarchs as domineering, controlling and abusive towards their daughters.
Even literatures written by Asian American authors aren't free of the pervasive popular cliche on Asian men. Amy Tan's book The Joy Luck Club has been criticized by Asian American figures such as Frank Chin for perpetuating racist stereotypes of Asian men.
East Asian women have been portrayed as aggressive or opportunistic sexual beings or predatory gold diggers using their feminine wiles. Western film and literature has continually portrayed such stereotypes of East Asian women: depicting East Asian women as cunning "Dragon Ladies". This is contrasted with the other stereotypes of servile "Lotus Blossom Babies", "China dolls", "Geisha girls", war brides, or prostitutes.
In contemporary times, the Dragon Lady stereotype is personified by Ling Woo, a fictional character in the US comedy-drama Ally McBeal, (1997–2002) portrayed by American actress Lucy Liu. Ling was a cold and ferocious Chinese American lawyer who spoke Mandarin and was knowledgeable in the art of sexual pleasure unknown to the American world. At the time, she was the only significant representative of East Asian women on television (besides news anchors and reporters), leaving no one else to counteract this prominent stereotype. Thus, the portrayal of Ling Woo attracted much scholarly attention. This attention has led to the idea that racial microaggression is another form of stereotypes as it states how Asian American women are portrayed as exotic beauty, also known as "exoticization of Asian American women"; yet White men still see Asian women being very submissive and some form of sexual object or material. University of Wyoming Darrell Hamamoto, Professor of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis, describes Ling as "a neo-Orientalist masturbatory fantasy figure concocted by a white man whose job it is to satisfy the blocked needs of other white men who seek temporary escape from their banal and deadening lives by indulging themselves in a bit of visual cunnilingus while relaxing on the sofa." Hamamoto does maintain, however, that Ling "sends a powerful message to white America that East Asian American women are not to be trifled with. She runs circles around that tower of Jell-O who serves as her white boyfriend. She's competitive in a profession that thrives on verbal aggression and analytical skill." Contemporary actress Lucy Liu has been accused of popularizing this stereotype by characters she have played in mainstream media.
Hypersexuality and submissiveness
An iconic source of images of East Asian women in the 20th century in the West is the 1957 British novel and 1960 American film, The World of Suzie Wong, about a Hong Kong woman. The titular character is represented through a frame of white masculine heterosexual desire: Suzie is portrayed as an submissive prostitute that is sexually turned on at the idea of being beaten by a white man. UC Berkeley Professor of Asian American Studies Elaine Kim argued in the 1980s that the stereotype of East Asian women as submissive has impeded their economic mobility.
According to author Sheridan Prasso, the "China [porcelain] doll" stereotype and its variations of feminine submissiveness recurs in American movies. These variations can be presented as an associational sequence such as: "Geisha Girl/Lotus Flower/Servant/China Doll: Submissive, docile, obedient, reverential; the Vixen/Sex Nymph: Sexy, coquettish, manipulative; tendency toward disloyalty or opportunism; the Prostitute/Victim of Sex Trade/War/Oppression: Helpless, in need of assistance or rescue; good-natured at heart."
Another is Madama Butterfly (Madame Butterfly), an opera in three acts (originally two acts) by Giacomo Puccini, with an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. It is the story of a Japanese maiden (Cio-Cio San), who falls in love with and marries a white American navy lieutenant. After the officer leaves her to continue his naval service away from Japan, Cio-Cio San gives birth to their child. Cio-Cio San blissfully awaits the lieutenant's return, unaware that he had not considered himself bound by his Japanese marriage to a Japanese woman. When he arrives back in Japan with an American wife in tow and discovered that he has a child by Cio-Cio San, he proposes to take the child to be raised in America by himself and his American wife. The heartbroken Japanese girl bids farewell to her callous lover, then kills herself.
There has been much controversy about the opera, especially its treatment of sex and race. It is the most-performed opera in the United States, where its rank as Number 1 in Opera America's list of the 20 most-performed operas in North America. This popularity only helps to perpetuate the notion of the dominant white male over the subjugated East Asian female who can be cast aside and treated as easily dispensable according to Sheridan Prasso in her book, The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, & Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient published in 2005.
A contemporary example would be Miss Saigon, a 1989 musical by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, a modern adaptation of Giacomo Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly. This musical has been criticized for what some have perceived as racist or sexist overtones. Criticism has led to protests against the musical's portrayal of Asian men, Asian women, and women in general. It banked a record $25 million in advance ticket sales when it was opening on Broadway.
According to artist and writer Jessica Hagedorn in "Asian Women in Film: No Joy, No Luck", Asian women in golden era Hollywood film were represented as sexually passive and compliant. According to Hagedorn, "good" Asian women are portrayed as being "childlike, submissive, silent, and eager for sex".
In instances of rape in pornography, study found that young East Asian women are overrepresented. It had been suggested that the hypersexualized yet compliant representations of East Asian women being a frequent theme in American media is the cause of this. In addition, East Asian women being often stereotyped as having tighter vaginas than other races is another suggested factor.
In early 2011, the writer Amy Chua generated controversy with her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, published in January 2011, was a memoir about her parenting journey using strict Confucianist child rearing techniques, which she describes as being typical for Chinese immigrant parents. Her book received a huge backlash and media attention and ignited global debate about different parenting techniques and cultural attitudes that foster such techniques. Furthermore, the book provoked uproar after the release where Chua received death threats, racial slurs, and calls for her arrest on child-abuse charges. The archetypal tiger mom is (similar to the Jewish mother stereotype and the Japanese Kyoiku mama) refers to a strict or demanding mother who pushes her children to high levels of scholastic and academic achievement, using methods regarded as typical of childrearing in East Asia to the detriment of the child's social, physical, psychological and emotional well-being.
Physical attributes and traits
Darrell Y. Hamamoto argues that a pervasive racialized discourse exists throughout American society, especially as it is reproduced by network television and cinema. Critics argue that portrayals of East Asians in American media fixating on the epicanthic fold of the eyelid have the negative effect of caricature, whether describing the Asiatic eye positively as "almond-shaped" or negatively as "slanted" or "slanty". Even worse, these critics contend, is the common portrayal of the East Asian population as having yellow skin tones (which the critics reference as colorism). This colorist portrayal negatively contrasts "colored" Asian Americans with the European population of North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. East Asians are also stereotyped (or orientalized) as having straight dark (or shiny "blue") hair usually styled in a "bowl cut" (boys) or with straight overgrown bangs (girls). They are often homogenized as one indiscriminate monolithic conglomeration of cultures, languages, histories, and physiological and behavioral characteristics. Almost invariably it is assumed that a person of Asian descent has genetic origins in East Asian countries such as China, Japan, Korea or Taiwan. Although it is a common assumption that people of Asian descent are all of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Taiwanese descent, in reality the term "Asian American" broadly refers to all people who descend from the Asian continental sub-regions of East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia as a whole. People of Chinese, Japanese and Korean descent make up roughly 7 million of the roughly 18 million Asians in America, but Filipinos, Vietnamese and Indians make up a larger portion of the total than Japanese and Koreans.
East Asians are stereotyped as academic overachievers who are intelligent but socially inept, either lacking social skills or being asocial. A 2010 study found that East Asians in the United States are most likely to be perceived as nerds. This stereotype is socially damaging and contributes to a long history of Asian exclusion in USA.
East Asians have been stereotyped as immature, childlike, small, infantile looking, needing guidance and not to be taken seriously. The infantilized stereotype is on both physical and mental aspects of the race. East Asians are believed to mature slower in appearance and body, while also thought of as less autonomous and therefore requiring guidance from the "mature" white race. Like children, the perception is that they have little power, access, and control over themselves. The stereotype goes hand in hand with fetish against Asian women, who are perceived as more demure, submissive, more eager to please and easily yielding to powerful men.
East Asians are stereotyped as being athletically inferior to other races. This stereotype has led to discrimination in the recruitment process for professional American sports teams where Asian American athletes are highly underrepresented. Such was the case with Taiwanese-American professional basketball player Jeremy Lin who believed that race was one of the reasons why no NBA teams drafted him in 2010. This belief has been reiterated by sports writer Sean Gregory of Time magazine and NBA commissioner David Stern. Although Asian Americans comprised 6% of the nation's population in 2012, Asian American athletes represented only 2% of the NFL, 1.9% of the MLB and less than 1% of the NBA.
A psychological experiment conducted by two researchers found that East Asians who do not conform to common stereotypes and who possess qualities such as dominance in the workplace are "unwelcome and unwanted by their co-workers" and can even elicit negative reactions and harassment from people of other races.
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