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When the Chinese first came to California, they were warmly welcomed. However, they were detested by the locals when the number of Chinese immigrants increases tremendously. The locals begin to view the Chinese as a threat (Bandon 1994:58). Laws that were biased against the Chinese immigrants were passed, to discourage Chinese immigration. However, the Chinese remain subservient and did not protest against the government (Bandon 1994:60).
The Chinese Americans found opportunity in the transcontinental railroad construction work due to insufficient local workers. The railroad construction is a highly dangerous job that only the Chinese Americans were willing to do (Bandon 1994:61). The hard labour was thought to be too tough for the Chinese Americans. However, the Chinese Americans proved to be more efficient than the local workers. They also performed hazardous jobs that involved blasting mountains with explosives. Unfortunately, many of them died in action when they could not be pulled out quickly enough from the explosive range (Bandon 1994:62).
Chinese Americans were employed to replace workers on strike. This minimised the effectiveness of the strikes, causing the workers who were on strike jobless. This results in an increase of hatred towards the Chinese Americans (Bandon 1994:64).
History of the stereotype of Chinese Americans
Exclusion act did not reduce American's prejudices against Chinese immigrants. In reality, prejudices and stereotypes of the Chinese immigrants developed even more rapidly because anti-Chinese factions became justified. Anti-Chinese factions were formed to discourage the growth of Chinese immigrants (Bandon 1994:70).
Americans who knew nothing about Chinese American had their understanding of Chinese culture through the print media and by a series of novels written between 1913 and 1950 about an evil Chinese villain. His name was Dr. Fu Manchu (Bandon 1994:71). Dr Fu Manchu soon became a stereotype of Chinese people. The American public, who had little or no knowledge about the Chinese, associated the Chinese with the characteristics of Dr Fu Manchu (Bandon 1994:71).
Another stereotypical representation of Chinese is fictional Chinese detective, Charlie Chan. Even though Chan was represented as a "good" person, he still represented a stereotype of Chinese people rather than a realistic image (Bandon 1994:72).
When Pearl Harbour was bombed by the Japanese during World War II, the United States and China allied against the Japanese. The American public changed their opinion about the Chinese (Bandon 1994:72). New stereotypes about Chinese appeared when the Americans tried to differentiate between Japanese and Chinese (Bandon 1994:72). One article during the war described, "The Chinese expression is likely to be more placid, kindly, open; the Japanese more positive, dogmatic, arrogant." Although stereotypical images of the Chinese have become positive, they still belong to stereotypes (Bandon 1994:72).
After World War II was over, a new wave of Chinese immigration began. They immigrate to America to flee from Communism. However, Americans believed that the Chinese immigrants are all Communists. This formed another stereotypical image of the Chinese (Bandon 1994:75).
Stereotype of Chinese Americans today
Chinese Americans worked hard and performed exceptionally well in many areas, and soon gained the reputation of "model minority" (Bandon 1994:76). However, the impression of "model minority" gave to people is that the minority do not require help from others since they can survive independently. There is a high expectation of them performing well in academic subjects such as math and science but not in subjects like history or English (Bandon 1994:77).
In the working society, there are other discriminations about the Chinese due to a lack of confidence in Asian Americans. Chinese Americans are labelled as hardworking employees but not capable enough to promote to executive positions. This phenomenon is termed "glass ceiling," the point where qualified Asian Americans are deprived of opportunities from advancing to leadership positions in the company (Bandon 1994:78).
Charlie Chan is a fictional character whose image contrasts with Sax Rohmer's Dr Fu Manchu. Charlie Chan represents "good" Chinese American male, it is still a stereotype in reality (Chan 2001:51). "He is one of the earliest representations of a model minority in American popular fiction" (Chan 2001:51).
Although Charlie Chan is a middle-class professional, he serves the upper-class white Americans. This insidiously shows that Chinese Americans are inferior to white Americans (Chan 2001:53). "It is true that Chan has a family of ten children but his non-sexualized image undermines the sexual agency usually associated with virility. In short, Charlie Chan is reduced to an emasculated breeder" (Chan 2001:53).
"Representations of Chinese American men as submissive, non-aggressive, and physically and sexually inferior have been reified in American culture through the widespread dissemination of controlling images, such as Charlie Chan, through popular fiction" (Chan 2001:53). These misrepresentations of Chinese American male marginalise the heterosexual identity of Chinese American male. As a result, Chinese American men are forced to prove their heterosexual masculine identity or risk the consequence of being labelled as "effeminate, sexless, or gay" (Chan 2001:53).
"Both the role and the image of a Chinese American are determined and controlled by white Americans" (Chan 2001:53). This reflects domination of white Americans over the minorities (Chan 2001:57). "Portraying a Chinese character with a white actor is a symbolic act of colonization" (Chan 2001:57).
History of how Charlie Chan was written
The news story of a heroic detective named Chang Apana inspired Biggers to create a Chinese American detective. Biggers borrowed biographical information from Apana's life but not his braveness and physical qualities. Instead, Biggers portrayed Charlie Chan as "very fat indeed, yet he walked with the light dainty step of a woman. His cheeks were as chubby as a baby's, his skin ivory tinted, his black hair close-cropped, his ember eyes slanting" (Chan 2001:55). The image of Charlie Chan portrayed is completely different from the real character. Chan is both physically and sexually inferior compared to the real Chang Apana (Chan 2001:55).
"Charlie Chan's lack of emotional complexity and physical aggression can be interpreted as a form of cultural domestication" (Chan 2001:54). Chan is often associated with Buddha for his forgiving attitude towards racism. This image of Chan also portrays that he is content with his current living condition (Chan 2001:56).
The American public prefers to use a text as a frame of reference towards understanding of a racial group especially when they have no background knowledge of that particular group. "When a writer who represents an ethnic-specific group is accepted as accurate, his or her texts become more authentic and legitimate than the people themselves" (Chan 2001:57).
In reality, Biggers has very little knowledge about the Chinese. He described Charlie Chan in a sketchy and marginal manner. He showed no effort in telling the readers more on the family history of Chan. This may be a proof of his ignorance about the Chinese history and culture (Chan 2001:57).
Forrest Gok explans that "when we see ourselves portrayed in ugly, offensive, degrading ways it doesn't make us feel good. There are so few roles for Asian actors, so when we see a major one which is mystical or untrue, it is even more bitter. To be a minority and have no role models is like being a non-existent culture" (Chan 2001:58).
Images of Charlie Chan in his novels
In Chan's first novel, The House Without A Key, Chan's social standing is secondary to Captain Hallet's. Chan is also not a central character in the narrative in most novels. "Readers do not have access to how Charlie Chan feels or thinks. He is the stereotypical mysterious Oriental who is inscrutable and sexually unappealing" (Chan 2001:62).
"Biggers separates clearly what is Chinese and what is American and constructs a space where Charlie Chan remains on the margins of America society because of his race and is only permitted to enter it because of his profession" (Chan 2001:64).
Chan seems to be more concerned with his standard of English than with racism in American society. Chan's unique style of English contributes to his popularity and also prevented him from being fully accepted into mainstream American society (Chan 2001:64).
Charlie Chan is deprived of virility by Biggers. On the contrary, the white American characters are portrayed as sexually appealing. The Chinese American males are physically and sexually inferior to the white Americans insidiously. This marginalised the hegemonic masculinity of Chinese American male (Chan 2001:55). Chan is portrayed as non-aggressive character when white American characters in his novels made racist remarks to Charlie Chan. Chan's experiences of racism do not affect him significantly (Chan 2001:64).. The white American dominates the minority when role and image of Chinese American are controlled by the white Americans (Chan 2001:57)..
Stereotyping of Asian Americans In U.S. magazine advertising
"Stereotyping reduces people to a few, simple, essential characteristics, which are represented as fixed by nature" (Paek and Shah 2003:228).
The term "model minority" gave the impression that all Asian Americans are highly educated, professional, IT savvy and law abiding (Paek and Shah 2003:228). Given that the Asian minority are doing well in the society, other minorities are being compared and criticised critically for not contributing to the society.
Asian women are portrayed as conservative, submissive and exotic. Chances of Asian women appearing as major roles are slim. Even when they do appear as major roles, only certain features of Asian women are highlighted (Paek and Shah:236).
The reputation given to the Asian Americans as "model minority" may lead to exploitation. Americans may assume that the Asian Americans are dispensable employees since they do not protest against unfair treatments (Paek and Shah:238).
Bandon, Alexandra. 1994. Footsteps to America: Chinese Americans. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co.
Chan, Jachinson. (2001). Chinese American Masculinities: From Fu Manchu to Bruce Lee. New York: Routledge.
Paek, Hye Jin and Hemant Shah. 2003. "Racial Ideology, Model Minorities, and the 'Not-So-Silent Partner': Stereotyping of Asian Americans in U.S. Magazine Advertising." The Howard Journal of Communications 14:225-243.