Here's something that's always frustrating, for members of the Asian and Asian-American communities as well as people like me who work hard to study East Asia from an academic standpoint and help others understand it better. I am of course talking about Asian cultural misappropriation, with the latest and currently most prominent example being the music video for Coldplay's recent single, "Princess of China." If you haven't already seen it, here's the link. I invite you to try to watch the whole thing -- it's hard, trust me.
All right, so I am now assuming you've watched it. First of all, I'm not really sure why this song is called Princess of China in the first place, because the word "China" does not show up in any of the lyrics. I guess 'cause the song is sort of about breaking up and china is delicate and breaks and . . . whatever -- this isn't even the main issue. The problem here is the video itself. So it's possible some of you readers may not initially see the problem here. A flashy video, with traditional "Asian"-inspired imagery, well, hey, I've seen this before! It's all good! Why not, right? Well, if this were simply a video with traditional Chinese-inspired imagery (as the song's title indicates a potentially Chinese theme) maybe, depending on how said imagery was used, that might be all right. For example, I could imagine Chris Martin trudging through some Zhang Yimou-inspired countryside running on water and learning wuxia from some old bearded dude in a pagoda, à la Hero, and you'd have Rihanna decked out like Gong Li from Curse of the Golden Flower or some such Yimou film and Chris has to save her, or fight her, or whatever . . . I think I'm getting carried away here. The point is, I doubt I could find too much fault in such a project. It would be a sort-of homage to Chinese cinema. After all, getting mad at a white man for wearing a tangzhuang (traditional Chinese jacket) is like getting mad at a white man for blogging about East Asia . . . (ahem). There is nothing inherently wrong with it. However, the question must always be why and how is the white man wearing the tangzhuang and what does it mean?
|Here we have the many-armed goddess motif prominent in a number of South, Southeast and East Asian traditions -- most commonly associated with Indian Hinduism in popular culture.|
|Here we have Chris wielding a katana, a sword that is famous for coming from Japan, against a ninja adversary, also a Japanese element. Yeah! Ya know, China, right!? The scene takes place in hall chock-full of Chinese motifs.|
Well, this was quite a bit longer than I thought it would be. Hope it gave ya'll something to think about.