Ni hao, chinese stereotypes!

August 12th, 2008

It feels a bit weird to be writing this post because I am not a very politically correct kind of girl. Not through a conscious choice, so much as I have a bad memory for what is acceptable and what is not, and a bad habit of opening my mouth and saying things that end up sounding completely inappropriate and vaguely offensive.

Being tactful and mindful is not my strong suit, basically, so I feel like I should tread pretty carefully around anything to do with race lest I say something even more offensive or look like a hypocrite.

But in another binge Olympic session last night, my tv asked me ‘have you tasted Yum Cha?’ And now that I know they’re not talking about actual Yum Cha, but a Channel 7 morning Olympics chat show, um, doesn’t that seem a wee bit racist?

I think the name Yum Cha is adorable, in theory. I love actual Yum Cha. I could eat a good six baskets of har gao on my own. I also like that it’s a food-related activity, with the word YUM already in the title. See? CUTE!

But considering that this is a panel show on the biggest event in world sports, held in the most populous country in the world, a country responsible for more export than any other, widely considered the next great global superpower, it seems to me it’s kind of … demeaning. Especially in that Crazy Azian Font they’ve decided to use for it.

I can’t imagine a major television network would ever put on an Olympic show for the Barcelona Olympics and call it Tapas Telly, or one for Athens and name it Souvlaki at 9.

So why is it different for China?

What were the other options? The Panda Show? Fortune Cookies? Was there talk in the office of using a whorey but submissive Chinese masseuse in a Cheongsam as a host, or a pointy little Chinese hat as a logo? Will Mickey Rooney paint on eyeliner, put in his fake teeth and come on as a special hilarious Asian guest reporter?

(Wait, is he even alive?)

I know it doesn’t seem like much to go on – the name of one light-hearted tv show – but my addiction means I’ve watched a lot of the three days of coverage so far.

I’ve seen the new Panasonic ads that screen at least ninety-five times a day, where a horde of hilarious screaming Chinese Stereotypes rock up at a whitey’s door waving Chinese teapots and Woks and crowing NI HAO! before pushing their way inside to monopolise his fab new Panasonic flat-screen.

Get it? It’s totally funny, because Chinese people aren’t like white people. They live in gigantic extended families and wear Cheongsams as everyday wear and have piercing screeching Chinese voices. They cook in woks on the couch in the living room while they watch television and let off fireworks and their houses smell like Chinese food. Also, they’re poor! They would never have their own amazing wide-screen television to watch the games on.

I literally saw it and laughed. Because it’s not even something you can take pause at like the contrived and sneaking sexism of the type you see on Foxtel’s ads on Bundy Monday night football. It’s too blatant. What else can you do but laugh?

By the time I’d seen the Yum Cha ad almost as many times as I’d seen the Panasonic ad, I was starting to feel weird. It doesn’t help that I was also bombarded with the requisite filler shots of Beijing and its inhabitants in between events. Let’s learn about Beijing! Isn’t it cultural! Every single shot seemed to be of an elderly Chinese man with a drooping mo on a bicycle. Or a rickshaw. Or young girls making peace signs or hugging the cartoon Olympic mascots. I’m surprised there were none of people eating chicken feet or cooking dogs.

The overwhelming message of the whole experience is Chinese! They’re crazy! And Asian! Watch them do Crazy Asian things!

In fact, the only respite I’ve had from that view of China is the incessant commentary on the Chinese levels of smog.

I don’t think I’ve even really heard mention of how many medals they’ve won. (I just looked it up and it’s 14).

I don’t think there’s any conscious racism at play, but are we – as a nation, if not also representatives of Western attitudes in general – subconsciously determined to find ways to discount or delegitimise China? Do we think that portraying it as backwards and polluted, or comical and non-threatening, will somehow neutralise our increasing fear that a non-white (and god forbid, communist) nation will become the most powerful nation in the world?

Considering there are already so many Australians with Chinese backgrounds, what more will it take to push China out of the ethnic stereotype playchest into the real world?

I’ll say it again – I feel weird.

edit: Thanks to the Guardian I just found out there are other (completely insane) things we could be contending with instead of plain old Yum Cha and per capita medal counts. Spain, you have absolutely killed me.