Throughout the 20th century, Chinese characters in Western TV and film went from a handful of stereotypical archetypes like the conniving Fu Manchus and submissive Charlie Chans, to more complex portrayals. Since foreigners first started appearing regularly on Chinese screens in the 1980s, they’ve similarly undergone a gradual evolution in their depictions. In some cases, they’re now given equal treatment to Chinese and shown as unique individuals. But many programs still cling to old clichés, treat people as living embodiments of their home countries or even censor out unpalatable situations involving foreigners.
Few foreign entertainers have found as much success in China as Canadian Mark Rowswell (better known by his Chinese name Dashan 大山). Since his arrival in 1988, his advanced Mandarin and cross-talk skills have made him a regular fixture on Chinese television. In today’s podcast, he helps us trace the progress (or lack thereof) in how foreigners are portrayed in Chinese entertainment. We also examine how cultural attitudes and politics shape foreign characters, and vice-versa.
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Benjamin Haas (Foreign Policy) – I Was Almost a Chinese Dating-Show Star
Dan Ednie – Guide to Foreigners going on Fei Cheng Wu Rao 非诚勿扰
LA Times – Cultural Exchange: Jonathan Kos-Read is ‘the token white guy’ in Chinese Cinema
Christopher Beam (The New Republic) – The Chinese Government Is Threatened by My Dance Moves