THE ASIAN MYSTIQUE by Sheridan Prasso


Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, and Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient
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A labored rebuke to anyone who imagines that Asian women—and men, for that matter—are merely players in some Western fantasyland out of Terry and the Pirates, or perhaps a Jackie Chan movie.

Does anyone think that way? Former BusinessWeek Asia correspondent Prasso suggests that just about the whole of the West is guilty of believing that Asian women are geishas, “servile, submissive, exotic, sexually available, mysterious, and guiding,” or else Dragon Ladies, “steely and cold as Cruella de Vil, lacking in the emotions or the neuroses of real women.” As for Asian men, who figure less in her pages, there are images just as unflattering: martial artists whose butts any self-respecting Western action hero can kick, fawning lackies capable of committing any evil for a little taste of power—or powdered rhinoceros horn, Asian men requiring such things for their manhood. Prasso makes good points, but she does not say with sufficient clarity that those images, some of which are very old, are really inventions of the media. It is from the media that her most powerful examples arise, and as a reader of pop culture Prasso is very sharp-eyed; she notes, for instance, that whereas the buff Anglo leads in Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle wear short-sleeved T-shirts, the Chinese-American actor Lucy Liu is “the only one in spaghetti straps revealing a bare upper back,” looking very much like the Thai and Filipina sex workers Prasso interviews. Liu, Prasso adds, has also played the Dragon Lady in such films as Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, though less effectively than former news anchor Connie Chung. Prasso’s arguments are rather scattershot throughout, as when she seems to think it’s news that an educated office worker in Beijing is more like an educated office worker in London or New York than a farmer in Shaanxi—something that students of globalism have been remarking upon for years now.

Still, valuable as a study of manufactured imagery and the racism that comes with and of it.

Pub Date: April 5th, 2005
ISBN: 1-58648-214-9
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2005


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