The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, and Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient

Overview


Few Westerners escape the images, expectations and misperceptions that lead us to see Asia as exotic, sensual, decadent, dangerous, and mysterious. Despite — and because of — centuries of East-West interaction, the stereotypes of Western literature, stage, and screen remain pervasive icons: the tea-pouring, submissive, sexually available geisha girl; the steely cold dragon lady dominatrix; as well as the portrayal of the Asian male as effeminate and asexual. These "Oriental" illusions color our relations and ...
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Overview


Few Westerners escape the images, expectations and misperceptions that lead us to see Asia as exotic, sensual, decadent, dangerous, and mysterious. Despite — and because of — centuries of East-West interaction, the stereotypes of Western literature, stage, and screen remain pervasive icons: the tea-pouring, submissive, sexually available geisha girl; the steely cold dragon lady dominatrix; as well as the portrayal of the Asian male as effeminate and asexual. These "Oriental" illusions color our relations and relationships in ways even well-respected professional "Asia hands" and scholars don't necessarily see.

The Asian Mystique lays out a provocative challenge to see Asia and Asians as they really are, with unclouded, deeroticized eyes. It traces the origins of Western stereotypes in history and in Hollywood, examines the phenomenon of ‘yellow fever,' then goes on a reality tour of Asia's go-go bars, middle-class homes, college campuses, business districts, and corridors of power, providing intimate profiles of women's lives and vivid portraits of the human side of an Asia we usually mythologize too well to really understand. It strips away our misconceptions and stereotypes, revealing instead the fully dimensional human beings beyond our usual perceptions. The Asian Mystique is required reading for anyone with interest in or interaction with Asia or Asian-origin people, as well as any serious student or practicioner of East-West relations.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Prasso, a prize-winning journalist and member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, here addresses a non-Asian audience. She asserts that "we" view Asians living in both the West and Asia as exotic, relying on mostly unflattering stereotypes. We perceive Asian women as "Dragon Ladies," docile wives, vixens, or prostitutes and Asian men as either devious or undersexed and weak. These stereotypes, she explains, arise from longtime imperial adventures in Asia and are maintained and fostered by the representation of Asians in the media. In an attempt to correct these misconceptions, Prasso surveys a variety of topics that seem somewhat idiosyncratically organized: social and marital relationships between Westerners and Asians and among Asians, the truth of the geisha, the experience of a Vietnamese woman who had a child with a U.S. soldier, flight attendants on Cathy Pacific Airlines, Asian sex workers, and Asian women in politics. Prasso bases this engaging if wordy volume on interviews, media, secondary sources, and reportage. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.-Cynthia Harrison, George Washington Univ., Washington, DC Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 educatedoffice 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586483944
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 5/28/2006
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 693,504
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author


Sheridan Prasso has been writing about Asia for more than fifteen years, most recently as Asia Editor and a Senior News Editor for BusinessWeek. Her articles have appeared in Time, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times,and other publications. An advisor to the Asia Society's Social Issues Programs and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, Prasso currently lives in New York City.
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Table of Contents

Pt. 1 The Asian mystique 3
Mystery, sex, fear, and desire : a brief history 29
Hollywood, Burbank, and the resulting imaginings 62
Matters of men and country : the unbearable lightness of being portrayed 103
"Race-ism," fetish, and fever 132
Pt. 2 Ten people, ten colors 167
The real memoirs of Geisha 200
The other side of Miss Saigon 223
Glamour of the skies, sorority of service 241
Screwing, getting screwed, and getting ahead 262
Who's playing whom 296
China Doll, Dragon Lady 334
Power women 362
Epilogue : demand creates supply 389
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2007

    Awesome Book

    This was an excellent read. Prasso included so much rich information on Asian culture from her own research. she also sets the record straight on the many stereotypes Westerners have on what we think it means to be Asian. Anyone interested in cultural studies should pick this up.

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