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US shows malign Chinese elements

中国日报网 2014-05-13 16:53






The rise of China has prompted US film and TV series directors to include Chinese elements in their works. The way China is portrayed in American TV series - one of the most representative cultural products of American society, values and ideologies - largely reflects mainstream American views about China's political system, social issues, economic development model and its rising global status.

Chinese elements are evident in American movies and TV programs in three forms. First is the increasing presence of actors and actresses of Chinese origin in US films and TV series. Stereotypes of Chinese, like the murderous Dr Fu Manchu and the benevolent and heroic detective Charlie Chen, have been replaced by a new generation of Chinese-Americans, such as the characters played by Lucy Liu, making Chinese people more modern and diversified in their looks and values. Though largely confined to supporting roles, the Chinese characters have graduated from domestic servants, laundry workers and waiters to scientists in forensic laboratories and research institutions, government officials and highly skilled professionals.

Second is the rapid growth in the product placement by Chinese brands, which appear in popular shows like The Big Bang Theory and Homeland. This has happened because proactive Chinese enterprises are approaching American producers and screenwriters to get greater exposure for their brands.

And third is the blending of more China-related plots into US movies and TV programs. This blending, however, has revealed American mainstream prejudice against and misunderstanding of China and its culture.

"If sent back to China, she will work as a slave in Shanghai." This was what Gabrielle says in Season III of Desperate Housewives of her maid, an illegal immigrant. To even suggest that a person could be forced to work as a "slave" anywhere in today's China, let alone Shanghai which is one of its most dynamic and open cities, is ridiculous. Talking about Chinese society and politics, Gabrielle portrays Shanghai as a poor and remote place, laments the lack of freedom and democracy in China, and says that repatriation from the US to China would be like falling from paradise into hell. Does this mean many Americans still see China as an impoverished and secluded country without democracy and freedom?

In Season XII of South Park, Eric Cartmen, a plump boy, has a nightmare the night he watches the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics: he sees many Chinese beating drums at the same tempo as in the opening ceremony, their eyes blazing with something close to evil. A scared Eric cries out "the Chinese are gonna occupy the whole world ... America is gonna be defeated by them."

South Park uses a naive boy's character to portray Americans' most politically incorrect views and fears. The rise of China has fueled the "China threat" theory. Eric's nightmare reflects something in the American subconscious: what Americans fear most is not an economically strong China, but a highly uniform and collective China. This is because the development model and values underpinning the rapidly growing Chinese economy is in conflict with the American value system.

In 1979, the year Beijing and Washington established diplomatic relations, Deng Xiaoping wound up his visit to the US with a number of agreements on bilateral cultural exchange. The next year, China Central Television telecast The Man from Atlantis, the first ever American TV series shown in China. Three decades later, Chinese people no longer have to wait for CCTV to telecast an American program, because they can freely choose what and when to watch thanks to the Internet.

American TV shows are produced for the mainstream American audience, not for avid Chinese viewers closely following American shows. But because of the Internet, many of those shows have generated a large audience in China, mainly among university students and white-collar workers, who are usually well educated and have independent views.

Their understanding of American society and values comes largely from what they see in American TV shows and films. But since these viewers are sensitive, they can identify the clash between Eastern and Western cultures and are critical of the prejudice against Chinese people in American shows. Their criticisms are not blind patriotism or narrow nationalism, instead they are the result of the absurd feeling they have after watching Chinese culture being misinterpreted and distorted.

Fictional representation of China is one way of increasing understanding between the Chinese and American people. Yet we should not forget that a TV show is a form of performing arts that relies on fabrication and exaggeration, whereas exchanges, understanding, and trust between the two countries should be based on sincerity, goodwill and inclusiveness.



在美国影视作品中,有三种体现中国元素的形式是显而易见的。一是影视作品中华裔演员的增加。曾经僵化刻板的中国人形象,如邪恶凶残的傅满楚博士(Fu Manchu)和热心英勇陈查理侦探(Charlie Chan),已被新一代美籍华裔演员所取代,如刘玉玲(Lucy Liu),她饰演的角色让中国人的形象在衣着打扮和价值观上更现代化和多元化。尽管主要限于配角,但已经告别了此前美剧中法医实验室和科研机构的科学家、政府官员以及高科技人士的家庭佣人、洗熨工和服务员等华人角色。










(作者:上海国际问题研究院台港澳研究中心季伊昕 译者 闻竹)


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