Orientalism and 'Yellow Fever'


International Relations

The relationship between sex and power is a major factor in 'Western' civilization. And increasingly, it has been played out on the post-Cold War battlefield of global politics. The era of colonialism, 'Yellow Peril' and anti-miscegenation laws is thankfully a thing of the past, but Asians and Asian Americans remain sidelined within American media and popular culture. Far more so than almost any other ethnic group, in fact.

One of the most obvious and shocking instances is in the way that interracial relationships are portrayed by the mainstream. In keeping with the earlier sexual stereotypes, Asian men are portrayed as impotent or even emasculated altogether, while Asian women are portrayed as either inherently sexual or submissive. Think about it. No doubt you can think of a great many stories or shows which have portrayed a strong Anglo-American man with his submissive war bride, but precious few with an independent Asian female role, and almost none with an Asian man and a white woman. This form of subtle but no less insidious racism is alive and well today.

It has been helped by various factors which led to wars across Asia in the latter half of the 20th century. World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War... in each case you wound up with American G.I.'s coming home with Japanese, Filipino and Vietnamese 'war brides.' A darker industry of mail-order brides from China and Souhteast Asia has sprung up as well, and continued into the modern era, alongside a sexual tourism industry which caters to 'Western' men in Thailand, the Philippines and elsewhere. Such activities have helped to dehumanize Asian women, but they also represent a very real power play, attempting to symbolically 'conquer' the 'East' in the metaphor of sexual conquest. It represents the ultimate dominance of the male over female.

Not all or even most interracial relationships are like this. Those in which two (or more, if that floats your boat) individuals have equal power are completely healthy. However, relationships in which a woman is expected to be submissive to and dependent upon a man are especially insidious. Women in such relationships sometimes do not speak English well, and do not know their legal rights, or if they would be deported for leaving their 'husband'. Moreover, they are cut off from their very families and cultures, often expected to take their husband's surname (as is normal in 'Western' society) and adopt their husband's religion (or the husband allows her to practice her own, but does not convert to her religion).

This is why popular media generally does not portray white women with Asian men. It is because 'Western' media exists, in part, to perpetuate 'Western' culture. Because of the sheer prejudice and amount of energy that has been devoted to emasculating Asian males, portraying a white woman with such a character would mean that she is not only rejecting 'Western' culture, but also the illusionary construct of the rugged 'Western' male. Moreover, it would represent the spread of Asian culture and intellectualism, something that 'Western' elites have tried to suppress for far too long.

The Asia-Pacific Century

Which brings us to our next point. The fact is that the world is changing, and not in a way which favors linear evolution. It was inevitable that China and India, representing the world's two largest (and for that matter, oldest) civilizations, would catch up with the 'West'. Japan had already become a major power following World War II, and Russia has remained one even through the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Four Asian Tigers - Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan – all experienced heavy industrialization and economic development in the 20th century. And if their current rate of development continues, we can expect them to be joined by Indonesia, Iran, Bangladesh, Vietnam, the Philippines, Pakistan, Turkey and Egypt within the next century.

Truly, we are living in an era in which the Asia-Pacific axis is again dominant, and this applies to things less esoteric than economics projections and growth/development indexes. As mentioned before, India and China both account for well over a billion people, not including their overseas Diasporas. But far more than this, these great civilizations have managed to spread their cultures well beyond their boundaries. Bollywood, Hong Kong martial arts flicks and Japanese anime have thoroughly soaked into 'Western' nations, alongside Indian and Chinese food, Arabic pop music, J-pop and bhangra, conversions to Islam and Buddhism, New Age ideas, and so forth. The world in which we are living is rapidly changing, and for the better, as it represents a plurality of ideas, and greater standard of living the world over.

Perhaps with these dramatic changes, we will see a return to the former equality between the so-called 'East' and 'West,' with increasingly positive role models for those of us who aren't of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant descent, and don't want to be. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a white man having sex with an Asian woman, or an Asian man having sex with a black woman, or a black man having sex with an American Indian woman. As long as there is mutual respect and sharing of culture, I'm all for it. Let the multi-ethnic, cross-cultural, international orgy commence baby! My only objection is to the imposition of 'Western' culture on... well everyone else, and the media's continuing tradition of dehumanizing Asians (and anyone else who doesn't toe in line with them).

The Asia-Pacific Century is at our doorstep. May we live in interesting times indeed. As for me, I think I'm going to go out and continue doing some hands on 'research' of my own with a nice, hot little Bangladeshi chick that I know. And then maybe a Filipino woman, and a Cantonese woman, and an Iranian woman... well, you get the idea.


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