When I first saw “Chinese Food,” (it’s the video above) I thought it was borderline racist, but not completely offensive enough to pull out the pitchforks and demand an apology. The kid seems innocent enough, the content is pretty G-rated, even though the panda man is questionable.
But after a couple of hours of really processing the information, I began to realize some troubling thematic elements in the piece.
First, there are blatant inaccuracies. In the beginning you see a man speaking Chinese and stir-frying noodles. But in Mandarin, he’s actually giving directions on how to make pancakes (song bing). At the 2:48 mark, you see the kids wearing geisha costumes, with white face paint. Wrong culture. That’s Japanese, not Chinese. The depiction of Chinese food was also grossly simplified and Americanized. While chicken wings, western broccoli, and chow mein can be found at your local Panda Express and restaurants of the same caliber, they are far from what actually exists in China.
Second, it’s outright racist. Racism, according to Oxford Dictionary, is defined as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” While the generalizations aren’t as gross as say, Day Above Ground’s Asian Girlz video, they are still there — albeit subtly.
Take that gong noise at the end. It’s the not the first time it’s been used even recently (See: Racist Hoekstra Super Bowl Ad) as a general sound effect for the “Orient.” Speaking of the “Orient,” that bit on Monolopy’s “Oriental Avenue” is sickening. And that overly friendly panda? Of course there needs to be a panda in a Chinese food video.
I’ll admit. These elements are tame compared to what’s out there.
This isn’t the first time yellow-face has been used in music videos. Scottish singer Mary Sandeman (who adopted the name Aneka) released “Japanese Boy” in 1981 featuring her dancing in a kimono with similarly dressed back-up dancers. Rihanna’s 2012 “Princess of China” was also a strange and culturally inaccurate depiction of the East.
Most recently, Brenda Song’s Sailor Moon outfit and stereotypical character on “Dads” has been met with outrage from the Asian-American population.
And while “Chinese Food” doesn’t poke fun of Chinese people directly, and some may argue it’s just a troll piece on a 12-year-old’s affinity for Asian grub, it’s troubling because it does nothing but perpetuate stereotypes about Chinese culture.
Even though I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I can’t count the number of times I had to deal with outright racial ignorance. They ranged from, “I’m sorry your food looks like throw up,” to “How can you not have tried cream cheese wontons? You’re Chinese!” (Again, they’re another American invention).
What bothers me is not that it’s a video on Chinese food, but that it was done with absolutely no consideration for the culture its discusses. What bothers me is that the producers are making money and capitalizing off of an inaccurate and haphazardly produced piece that jokes about my — and many others’! — heritage. (In contrast, here’s a video on Chinese food, by the Fung Brothers that isn’t racist.)
Chinese cuisine is the most intricate and ancient in the entire world. The oldest bowl of noodles is 4,000 years old — the earliest example ever found of any popular food. There are 23 provinces in China and each has its own specific cuisine. There are dishes unique to Sichuan, Hunan, Shanghai, Anhui, Beijing, Tianjin, Lanzhou (the list goes on) and each region has very specific tastes. Shanghai food and fare from provinces along the Yangtze River has a sweet undertone to it. Freshwater fish and shrimp is abundant. Sichuan is known for their mala peppercorn, which literally numbs the tongue, and Hunan, also spicy, is known for their abundance of peppers, ginger, and garlic. Northern Chinese cuisine, in contrast, has an abundance of noodles, meat pies, and dough.
Chow mein, noodles, egg rolls, fried rice, and chop suey?
Originally posted on KCET. For more, click here.