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Topic: Discuss Western representations of Chinese women in the context of stereotypical, Orientalist views of Asian women (e.g., the Puccini opera, Madame Butterfly, mail-order bride agencies, representations of Asian women in Hollywood/Western films, e.g., as submissive housewives, Suzie Wongs, Dragon Ladies).
Western have viewed Asia differently in different period. Asian women have also been viewed differently. I will discuss the stereotype of Asian women first, but most in the paper I will discuss Chinese women. Secondly, I will list some examples from movies and books.
Stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.. Westerners usually viewed Asian women as submissive housewives, dragon ladies and Geisha girls.
Dragon Lady is a stereotype describing Chinese women. A dragon lady is strong, imperious and full of secrets. The term was first used to describe a fiction character in Milton Caniff’s comic strip Terry and the Pirates who was played by an Chinese actress – Anna May Wong, and later on, a film called Daughter of the Dragon was made and it talked more about Dragon Ladies , and the character was also played by Anna May Wong. Westerner always see Anna May Wong as a Dragon Lady , we can see that from one of her movies, Piccadilly, which she played a Chinese dance girl called Shosho who was in love with a white man who called Valentine. In the movie, there was another dance girl called Mabel but all the sexy scene is played by Anna May Wong, even the poster is she posing naked on top. Shosho is a strong lady. She falls in love with Valentine even though at that time, relationship between different races is prohibited. She knows the risk that she may be looked down, but she still starts the relationship with Valentine, that proves that she is a really strong lady. Also, Shosho is imperious. When Mable who is also in love with Valentine come to find her as to convince her that Valentine is too old for her and ask her to leave Valentine, Shosho replies that it is Mable too old for him. From this script, we can see that Shosho is really imperious as she mocks Mable immediately. Besides, Shosho is full of secrets. Valentine is in love with her because of her mysterious. He does not know anything about her and when he comes to Shosho’s house and see her wearing exotic Chinese costumes, he loves her more. The movie also just indicates Shosho ‘s name and her boyfriend – Jim, besides that, we know nothing about Shosho such as why does she living in London, how many family members does she have or what is her real name. This shows that Shosho is full of secrets.
Shosho is described as a Dragon Lady as she is strong, imperious and full of secrets , and the character is a Chinese and also played by a Chinese actress. Hence, we can conclude that Westerners always see Chinese women as Dragon Ladies and even in today, Westerners still see Chinese women as Dragon Ladies since there is a TV series called Ally McBeal and in the series, there is a character called Ling Woo who is a classic stereotype of Dragon Lady and is played by an Asian actress Lucy Liu.
Secondly, Westerners think Chinese women are submissive. Submissive means always willing to obey someone and never disagreeing with them, even if they are unkind to you .A Submissive housewife is cling to her family and will always obey to her family. Suzie Wong from the movie “The World Of Suzie Wong” is one of the example of submissive housewife. Suzie Wong is a prostitute in Nam Kok Hotel and she meets Robert , an American painter, on a ferry. When Suzie first met Robert, she introduced herself as a rich virgin loved by her father . Her introduction shows that deep down in her heart, she still want to be pure and be loved, she does not want to sell her body but there is no other way out. She has to take good care of her baby so that she needs loads of money. She becomes a prostitute totally because of her baby. The father of the baby abandons them but Suzie does not abandon the baby and take the whole responsibility to raise the child. This shows that Suzie is a submissive woman. Also, when she is in love with Robert, one time she got hit by a Britain sailor but she tells her friend that she got hit by Robert. In her opinion, got hit by her man means that he loves her, and she has asked Robert ,more than once, to hit her. This means if Robert do hit her, she still will not leave Robert because she is willing to obey Robert even he is unkind to her, and this is the exactly meaning of submissive. Moreover, Suzie once became somebody’s girlfriend but she still did not leave that guy even she did not love him. The man she loves is Robert but in order to get Robert jealous, she became someone’s girlfriend. She did not love that guy but she was not the one who ended this relationship. She was going to marry that guy but that man broke up with her since he wanted to get back with his wife. In this relationship, Suzie pays lots of work since she does not love that man and she is trying her best to love him only because she is his girlfriend. At the end of the movie, Robert asks Suzie to marry him, and Suzie replies “I will stay with you until you say Suzie, go away.” This shows that if Suzie is someone’s girlfriend, she will not leave him even she does not love him, and Suzie is submissive to her boyfriend and her love, she will not leave until someone tells her to go away. She is totally obey her boyfriend. This movie is a Hollywood movie , so the character Suzie Wong is made from the view of Westerners. Therefore, we can say that Suzie Wong is an example of submissive housewives.
Another example of submissive housewives is Madame Butterfly. Madame Butterfly is an opera by an Italian writer, so Madame Butterfly is a view of Asian women from the Western. Madame Butterfly is about the sad story of a woman called Cio-Cio San. She is a Geisha and she is in love with an American officer called Pinkerton. Cio-Cio San is married to Pinkerton but later on Pinkerton goes back to America and marry an American woman, but still, Cio-Cio San believes that Pinkerton will get back with her again. However, knowing that he will not come back makes Cio-Cio San very sad. Pinkerton does not know Cio-Cio San has given birth to his son and when he knows that, he wants to get his son back. Finally, Cio-Cio San commits suicide as she feels desperate about Pinkerton. This is a very sad story but it can show that Madame Butterfly is submissive. While she was waiting for Pinkerton, there are other people who purpose to her but she refuses all since she is married to Pinkerton and she thinks that a married woman shall not accept other man’s proposal. Also, when she knows that Pinkerton had married an American woman, she just gets surprised but not angry, and eventually she forgives him as she always wanted him back. All these show that Cio-Cio San is a submissive housewife that she obeys to Pinkerton even he has married another woman or abandoned her. He coming back is just to take his son back, there is no love from him to Madame Butterfly. Eventually, Madame Butterfly chooses to end her life because of sadness. However, I believe Madame Butterfly is a beautiful woman and even Pinkerton does not love her anymore, there will still be many guys attracted by her and even propose to her. So, actually Madame Butterfly can choose a different life if she choose to not love Pinkerton anymore, but she is an Asian woman, she is supposed to be submissive from western ‘s point of view, so the writer writes her committed suicide because she is supposed to love that man her whole life and does not love any other man easily.
From Madame Butterfly, we can also see that Westerners thinks Asian women are Geisha girls. Madame Butterfly is a Geisha and there is also a recent Hollywood movie called “Memories of a Geisha”. Geisha are traditional, female Japanese entertainers who perform different Japanese arts like classical music and dance. Most of the Geisha from the movie “Memories of a Geisha” is played by Asian women and this movie is made by westerners so this film is actually a view of Asian women from the West. Westerners think Asian women as Geisha who are good at dancing and singing. Chinese women are good at traditional dancing and singing and so are Japanese women. It includes the traditional beauty of a woman so Geisha is one of the stereotype of Asian women since Westerners usually think that Asian women are extremely beautiful when they dress traditionally.
Nowadays, Westerners view Asian women differently. They think most of the Asian women know Martial Art. We can see that in different media such as movies and TV series, and also we have a famous kung-fu movie star – Michelle Yeoh . She has played many different characters but most of them are kung-fu related, for example, her character in the movie “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”. Besides Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Q is also an example. She plays the leading role in the TV series called “Nikita” . She plays Nikita who is a spy and assassin in the series. A spy and assassin means there are lots of kung-fu scene and they choose an Asian actress because they think an Asian woman should know kung-fu and an Asian woman fighting is more suitable than a white woman fighting since Asian women are born to play kung-fu well, and one more example is Lucy Liu in “Charlie’s Angels”. She is a detective who retrieves stolen voice-ID software using martial arts.She is the only one Angel who is Asian, the other two Angels are Drew Barrymore and Cameron Diaz who are world known white actresses. Why doesn’t the three Angels all be white people? Why does there need an Asian woman? The answer is obvious. It is because Westerners think Asian people are more suitable for fighting and their kung-fu are more realistic than white people. Therefore, we can see that knowing martial arts is also one of the stereotype of Asian women nowadays.
To sum up, Asian women have different kinds of stereotype – as submissive housewives, as Dragon Ladies, as Geisha and as women knowing martial arts. Submissive housewives means a woman will obey to her boyfriend or husband no matter how her boyfriend or husband treat her, even her boyfriend or husband hit her or do something to hurt her, they will still be with them, and they will leave only if their boyfriends or husbands told them to go away, if not , they will be with them forever and wait for them forever. The examples of submissive housewives are Suzie Wong and Madame Butterfly. Dragon Ladies means strong, imperious women and women that full of secret. They are sexy, mysterious and brave enough to fight back if someone is taking their things away. The example of Dragon Ladies is Anna May Wong. Geisha does not only mean female Japanese performing classic music and dance, but also mean traditional female singing and dancing, so here it means the potential of being a Geisha but not the Geisha herself. The example of Geisha girls is also Madame Butterfly. Lastly, women know kung-fu is a nowadays stereotype as we can see many Asian actress are playing a role that knows kung-fu in many movies.
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