Just being oriental… not

This is a quite common issue for Asians such as myself, that will definitely go through at least once and might hate it when it happens. “So are you Chinese or Japanese?” Does Asian only means the Chinese or the Japanese? I believe this is a minor form of orientalism that begins within a multicultural society. “Orientalism” is being defined as “the acceptance in the West of the basic distinction between East and West” by Edward W. Said. It is also being portrayed as the differences of culture compared to that of mainly Europe and the U.S. In short, it is a stereotyped way of representing Asia.

I will be discussing orientalism in different media platform such as portrayed in music videos and movies.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore Rihanna and I think she’s the one of the best vocalist in the pop industry but in the music video she was featured in called Princess of China by Coldplay was, quote Zhang, “unoriginal Orientalist imagery and includes everything you could have hoped for in a crash course about sorry Asian stereotypes.” (Zhang, K 2012) Rihanna in the video seems to have several types of identity that are awfully mixed up, obviously. She was a princess warrior that indicates Chinese background, she was a ‘multi-armed- goddess signifies Hindu goddess, and she was also portrayed as a heartbroken geisha at one point of the video? What?!



 (Picture source)

For example in this snapshot above represents Rihanna as a multi-armed goddess where the director might illustrated from a Hindu deity called Puja, the multi limbed deity. It made no sense as the name of the song, “Princess of China” but portraying a wrong character in the setting.

Next, we have a Disney movie and also my favourite childhood movie called Mulan. Mulan is based on a real legend, Hua Mulan from medieval China during the Northern Wei dynasty that disguised as a male as a replacement for her father to be a soldier for the upcoming war with the Huns. (more of the story here)

How does it evoke orientalism? Firstly, the settings in the movie itself betrayed itself as you can see below, the gif clearly shows Mulan hugging the emperor in a Chinese palace with lanterns and fireworks, the infrastructure says it all. But the last picture shows  Mulan’s home where it is full of Sakura flowers blooming and she is dressed in a Japanese kimono. Again, what?!


disney-mulan-lovely-image(Picture source)

 More reads: The real story of Mulan


Said, E 2001, ‘From Orientalism’, in V Leitch (ed.), The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, W. W. Norton, New York, pp. 1991-2012.

Zhang, K 2012, Rihanna’s Orientalist Turn, Asian American Writers’ Workshop, viewed 6 April 2015, <http://aaww.org/rihannas-orientalist-turn-as-a-princess-of-china/&gt;


About Vivyan Foo

19 years young. Internet, EDM & Food 🙌
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One Response to Just being oriental… not

  1. lisa says:

    Your example of pop culture appropriation is so accurate. When artists use cultural artifacts/symbols and reduce them to aesthetic props, removing their original significance, their audiences can easily adopt the false idea that such practices aren’t at all culturally insensitive.

    Being of Asian heritage too, I can definitely relate to that situation of others assuming our ‘Eastern’ identity. I agree that those kinds of ignorant questions like, “Are you Chinese?” (in that tone of fascination) are subtle forms of Orientalism, especially in contexts where it’s the FIRST question someone asks in an attempt to ‘get to know’ you (implying that you’re somehow ‘different’). Do you just sort of ‘laugh it off’ (my most common reaction) or try to explain to them the implications of such assumptions, without accusing them of rudeness/racism (because most of the time it seems like genuine curiosity)?

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