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Elizabeth Chan, a British Chinese actress, says acting has offered an insight into how society sees Chinese women, calling parts on offer to her “massively stereotypical”.
"It’s rare to see a Chinese character written that is ‘normal’ or ‘well rounded’," says Chan, naming a set of typical roles that include: hard-working businesswoman; exotic, gentle flower; illegal immigrant selling DVDs or turning to prostitution (someone once actually yelled “selling DVDs? In the book The Asian Mystique (2005) the author Sheridan Prasso traced the “exoticism” of East Asian women as far back as Marco Polo’s travels along the Silk Road in the 1200s, in the literature and art it inspired.
“We are largely invisible when it comes to politics and popular culture, yet there's a very palpable urban myth that Asian women make better lovers than other women”, she says.
The stereotyping plays itself out in the roles you see Chinese women playing in theatre, on TV or in films.
Professor Miri Song, who specialises in ethnic identity at the University of Kent, suggests that the parodying of Chinese people is seen as more “socially acceptable” in part because East Asians are not seen as truly disadvantaged, or merit the same protection status as other ethnic minorities.
She points to how British Chinese do well academically and professionally.
Furthermore, stereotypes around timidness, not being outspoken or politically active also mean people can make such comments with no backlash, she says.