Asian Stereotypes and Misconceptions in American Popular Media

        Recently I have been doing some research on common Asian traits in popular media. There exist a number of distinguishable attributes that people believe belong to Asians in the U.S. Admittedly, some of them are commonly seen. However through my research, I found that there are plenty of traits that are not entirely accurate and therefore cause misunderstandings and conflicts.

        From the year 2011, the CBS show 2 broke girls has been drawing a lot of attention from both audience and media. This show became extremely popular within a short period of time. One of the major reasons that it turned out a huge success is the constant jokes the characters make and the diverse dynamic environment. A big selling point of this show is the storyline that developed around the different cultural identity of the characters. Among them, Han Lee is a typical Asian, Korean to be specific, diner owner upon whom a number of jokes are derived.


Han wearing a “talk to the Han” t-shirt in a part in order to socialize with people.

        Most of the jokes on Han focus on his Asian identity and stereotypes. As we all know, some of the general traits assigned to Asians are short, nerdy, competitive, submissive(in spite of the fact that he is the manager), compliant, etc. Han serves to be a good representation of these stereotypes and the show sure takes advantage of that by making jokes regarding to them. However, there are many contrasts I found between Han and Asians in real life. The depiction of Han in the show emphasizes his awkward personality which, based on my observation, is not possessed by most Asian people. Through my years in the U.S., my Asian friends appear to be just as social as my American friends, if not more so. They enjoy meeting new people and make new friends. As a matter of fact, Asians are very good at socializing which serves as a contributing factor of the fact that most people know each other within a Asian community. This being said, the portrait of Han being socially awkward is not very realistic.

        For people who grow up in a Asian culture, which is very different from the U.S. culture, it is inherently difficult for them to fit in the western culture since sometimes social protocols they are  not familiar with appear to be hard for them to follow. Being someone from China, I know I am not even close to being as familiar with American Culture as Han. A majority of jokes he makes are in reference of current cultural and political events, so much so that sometimes I need to look up on the Internet to understand the jokes. I can never imagine someone who spent most of his time outside the country being so familiar with U.S. culture that he can refer to and joke about it as well as Han does.     

        Another inaccurate depictions of characters from Asian culture in popular media is found in the Disney movie Mulan. In this film, our heroine is portrayed as a powerful and strong female role model to young girls. Although Mulan does represent many of the tradition Chinese moralities, she has some strong western attributes that one can find in a modern white girl. In the article “Mulan: the White Feminist”, the author also argues that “the movie Mulan falsely presents a dichotomy of Asian powerlessness and Western power, therefore, saying that the only way to be an empowered, strong female is by abandoning Asian traditions and living solely the Western way.” It is obvious that Disney intended to cater to American audiences’ taste which may be understandable since considering that Disney’s target audience is American children and teenagers and the nature of animated movies is never by the book. Even though some room of fabrication may be allowed, the Disney Mulan still delivers a modernized, and therefore false picture of a traditional Chinese figure.


Mulan portrayed as a strong, independent woman

        If one intends to see a precise representation of traditional Asian figure and values, a Japanese film named Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki will be a good source. This film tells a story of a little girl Sen’s adventurous journey in a magical world. Besides the elaborate production and beautiful picture, the reason people like Spirited Away is the traditional moralities reflected by Sen.

        Ever since entered the magic world she has encountered the most trying situations. Even then she has never forget the valued virtues. As introduced in the article “An Introduction to Basic Asian Values”, these morals involve family, education, benevolence, obligation, endurance, sacrifice, loss of honor, etc. These most basic yet important Asian moralities have significant influences on Asian traits and behaviors. As presented in Spirited Away, Sen endures heavy labor assigned by the owner of the bath house, forgives the giant baby who has bullied her, uses her valuable medicine to save her friend’s and even a stranger’s lives. Moral features like these make the movie exotic and intriguing. These behaviors are rooted in the traditional Japanese values, such as benevolence, obligation and endurance. Thanks to works like this, Americans can have a closer look to Asian cultures and have a better understanding of Asian people’s thoughts and behaviors.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will expand its three-month celebration of anime with a screening of the 2002 Oscar¨-winning animated feature ÒSpirited AwayÓ on Friday, July 17, at 7:30 p.m., and ÒA Tribute to Animation Master Hayao MiyazakiÓ on Tuesday, July 28, at 7:30 p.m. Both events will take place at the AcademyÕs Samuel Goldwyn Theater and will include extended gallery hours for the AcademyÕs ongoing exhibition ÒANIME! High Art Ð Pop Culture.Ó Pictured here: SPIRITED AWAY, 2002.

Sen sitting with no-face and a pig transformed from the big baby.


        One of the biggest learning moment I have experienced in this class was the group discussion session. Because I signed up for an unpopular time there were only one other colleague and the mentor with me in the conversation. In spite of the lack of a big crowd, I obtained a lot of useful information and insight throughout the session and enjoyed contributing to other people’s project. Before the discussion I had a relatively idea what I wanted to write about that, unfortunately, I did not have primary sources for it. The discussion group helped me straighten out my thesis and brainstormed possible primary sources to support it. 

        For the draft of the big picture post, I received two very useful peer reviews. Some of their suggestions about the thesis and wording of my draft overlapped which I do not think is a coincidence. I read through the reviews multiple times and realized these problems have always existed when I write a paper assignment. Thanks to these reviews, I put an emphasis on my issues on thesis. 

This entry was posted in Summer 2015 by haoyuanxu. Bookmark the permalink.

About haoyuanxu

I come from China, and I have been staying in Portland for 4 years. I usually spend my leisure time playing basketball and computer games with my friends. I have a pet, and his name is Mug, 8 months old.

4 thoughts on “Asian Stereotypes and Misconceptions in American Popular Media

  1. This is a great post. I’m happy you pointed out Asian- American and Asian background clashes where it is hard to adapt to a US standards of society. This is known and unknown issue to many people and reflect on this issue. There are many movies out there that have distortion of Asian values and backgrounds mostly from US movies, shows, news, and social media. The movies you pointed out are great example of fixing that distortion because it shows more of a valuable story not a stereotype. I’ve seen Spirited Away a very long time ago and I still enjoy this movie. The Asian values are well displayed in this movie. Thank you for this very good post.

  2. Thank you for this post!

    I think films like “Mulan” like to depict different cultures as the “other” and often redirect values back to western tastes. Like you said, Asians are forced to leave their values and take the western values such as independence and empowerment in the media, and this often fuels the idea that they are inherently weak individuals who strayed from the norm. Your post was very insightful; I think these things are often overlooked by people and I hope they read your post. Thank you! 🙂

  3. Wow, the writer of one of your sources complimented you on your post, that’a awesome. I still laugh at that picture of Han; I got to start watching that show. Anyways, I think that you addressed your issues from your first draft and improved your thesis. You wrote about Asian stereotypes and tied them with some anecdotal evidence which works with this style of writing and assignment. Good job.

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