The Asian Woman as Representation of Western Fantasies

Term Paper, 2013

13 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Asian Woman as Representation of Western Fantasies

3. The Image of the Traditional Geisha

4. The “China Dolls”
4.1 Cho-Cho San as an Example for the “China Doll”
4.2 Suzie Wong

5. Conclusion

6. Work Cited

1. Introduction

“Oriental Sex as White Men’s Fantasy?”

In recent decades Asia has become a center of attraction for many Western tourists. There is even a strong racial preference towards Asian women known as “Asiaphilia” (Tan 33) expressing the Westerner’s Asian fetish. This clear sexual preference of Asian females among some Westerners is also known as the so-called “Yellow Fever” (Eng 158). Accordingly, it is no longer a secret that there is a big business in Asia regarding sex tourism and many Western men even contact partner agencies to search for a partner in Asia. In an interview, an Asian woman reported “that men with the ‘Asian fetish’ expect women to be sex-craved housekeepers” and that “many Asian women are offended that they are wanted simply because they are Asian” (Tan 33).

Those observations can be easily related to the attraction between Asian women and Western men. Whereas white men are attracted to the “exoticness” of the Asian woman, the Asian woman reciprocates this attraction towards them. This observation already inherits that people often tend to be attracted to “something different”.

Therefore this paper will deal with the Asian-American stereotype of the so-called “China Doll”. To understand the establishment of that stereotype better, the image of the traditional Geisha will be explained in more detail. Furthermore it will try to answer the following question: Why is the Western depiction of the East in many cases limited to that stereotype of the Asian woman? As a detailed example for the China Doll this paper will refer to the Geisha Cho-Cho San of Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly and the Chinese prostitute Suzy Wong. Thus, it wants to state that the stereotypical view on the Asian woman represents the Oriental fantasies of the West and has to suffer from constrictions due to the West’s limited depiction of the East. Consequently, the China Doll is restricted to her stereotype due to racial prejudices and is captured in her socially constructed identity.

2. The Asian Woman as Representation of Western Fantasies

According to the literary critic and post-colonial theorist Edward Said, the term Orientalism was established in the 19th century and “can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate constitution for dealing with the Orient” (Trefflich 6).

There are three concepts of how to define Orientalism. First of all, Orientalism is considered as an academic discipline. Correspondingly, an Orientalist is anyone who teaches or writes about the Orient (e.g. historians, sociologists). Moreover, Orientalism can be used as a style of thought, namely positioning the Orient in juxtaposition to the Occident. Thirdly, Orientalism is a Western style of dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient, such as power structures (military, scientific, and political institutions). In this connection, Orientalism is a depiction of the orient which is constructed (cf. Said 88). According to that, the second and third definitions are relevant for this paper.

About “The World of Suzie Wong”, a movie which I will exemplify later, one author said, the “film title suggests that it is an Orientalist text in Edward Said’s sense of the term [and] this text constructs a vision of the Orient and implicitly justifies Western exploitation of that world” (Feng 41). Accordingly, it clarifies that the Western vision of the Orient is socially constructed. The Western depiction of the East is not naturally developed but still necessary as an “ideological supplement” (Yegenoglu 15) to the dominating power of the West.

Consequently, the imagination of the dominant West and the submissive East is easily created. Based on the historical past, people from the Far East are often associated with submissiveness and loyalty to their regime. According to Said, the West represents the Occident and the East the Orient (cf. Said 88). Despite the Eastern subordination, the Orient had an important meaning in “help[ing] to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality [and] experience (Said 87ff.).

Subsequently, Said “identifies how the essentializing and dichotomizing discourse of Orientalism ‘functions in a complex but systematic way as an element of colonial domination’” (Yegenoglu 15). This proves the necessity of the East to the West and that the East enables the West to define its power.

Comparing to that description, the relationship between East and West is similar to the Confucian symbolism of Yin and Yang.

The yin and yang symbol merits fuller discussion. On one side of the circle is the yin (dark, cold, moist, feminine, intuitive) and on the other side is the yang (bright, hot, dry, masculine, rational). […] The harmony or balance of the complementary qualities of yin and yang makes a thing what it is properly in its perfection. If things get out of balance, then an undesirable state of affairs results (Gualtieri 62).

Thus, East and West stand for two counterparts fitting to each other. The West as masculine part is drawn to the femininity of the East and both feel the desire to unify with each other. The center of attraction is the exoticness and fascination by the difference of the Eastern features which is the base to invent certain stereotypes and idealized images in our minds. Connected with Western clichés of the orient like the imagination of the “harem” for example, the Eastern image is contributed with sexuality and eroticism. Moreover, the “harem fantasy […] is presented in Orientalism only as a Western invention” (Varisco 160). As a consequence, Western minds establish the fantasy of fulfilling their desires in the Orient. Oriental women symbolize the “Western male fantasies of power and sexual access” because they “express unlimited sensuality, they are more or less stupid, and above all they are willing” (Teo 242). Therefore, the Asian woman is often connected with those expectations and represents an ideal of the Western desires.

3. The Image of the Traditional Geisha

Being an essential part of traditional Japanese culture, the Geishas were seen of high reputation and social rank in Asian society. The word “Gei- sha” etymologically derives from the word “gei” which means art in Japanese language and the word “sha” stands for “doer”. Combining those terms together, the word “Geisha” means “performing artist” (King 141). This translation already reveals that the profession of the Geisha is focused primarily on artistic fields and was known as a “good dancer, singer, musical instrument player, conversationalist and a wonderful hostess” (Kapunan 6). The Chinese equivalent of the Geisha is the so-called “China Doll” or “Lotus Blossom”. Mistakenly, the profession of the Geisha is often connected with prostitution but “a geisha was a professional entertainer not necessarily available for sexual relationships” (Poole 167). This prejudice may derive from the observation that the Geisha sells her artistic services such as music and dance and a prostitute sells herself for sexual actions. Moreover, Geishas were “beautiful, well-educated in many subjects, and able to provide the social and intimate companionship that many of the Yakuza and nobility demanded of themselves and others” (51 Ujiie) which enabled them to get easy access to influential men from higher classes and reputable working positions.

In contemporary Japanese culture, the existence of Geishas has become very rare. Nowadays, there are more other alternative job opportunities for women which makes the profession of being a Geisha less attractive. Still, the image of the Geisha embodies the traditional values of Japanese culture.

4. The “China Dolls”

The Asian-American stereotype of the “China Doll” is also called “Lotus Blossom” or “Geisha Girl” (as Japanese equivalent). Analyzing the names, we get obvious hints for the upcoming definition. Referring to this stereotypical image the Chinese American actress Mary Mammon said: “In this particular case being small was a good thing. They thought we were very cute and so dainty…In other words, we were little Chinadolls.” (Chun 68)

Already the word “doll” indicates features such as fragility, softness, beauty and also cuteness. Those abilities can be projected easily on the image of this female figure. “The constant assertion […] of the [Asian] woman as an infantilized, toy-like creature relegates her to the realm of childhood and fantasy” (Poole 171). On the other hand a doll also serves as a toy which implies the subservient qualities the “China Doll” stands for. Relating to that observation, “Asian women in Asia or the United States are seen as submissive, compliant and eager to please their men” (Danico 134). Additionally, therefore the China Doll is often compared in terms with prostitutes, as “dainty sex objects” (Espiritu 107).

Referring to Buddhist symbolism, the lotus blossom represents “immaculate purity, love and compassion” (Beer 170) which emphasizes the pure nature and innocent features of the “China Doll”.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


The Asian Woman as Representation of Western Fantasies
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz  (Amerikanistik)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Asian Woman, Western Fantasies, East, West, Madame Butterfly
Quote paper
Bachelor of Education Natalie Pehl (Author), 2013, The Asian Woman as Representation of Western Fantasies, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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