Finding Identity in the Media

Consumption of mass media is an almost ritualistic part of our days. We consume movies, television shows, radio shows, news articles, music videos, youtube videos, and the list goes on. The media portrays all different types of people from all different backgrounds. I strongly identify with being a woman and my Chinese-American identity. I decided to look at how the media portrays this image. Looking at different movies and my own experiences, I concluded that the American media uses stereotypes and generalizations to build the image of the Chinese women. The lives of Chinese people are often portrayed from a biased view. By looking at media produced by Chinese and Chinese-Americans, a more honest picture of the Chinese-American identity began to appear.

Chinese women are exotic. They are petite, oriental creatures. Chinese women are submissive. They are obedient and unassertive and unassuming. Chinese people only eat rice and noodles.They are smart, disciplined, and must maintain the family’s honor. These are all ideas and messages that I have seen in the media. Lucy Liu, a Chinese-American actress, is one of the few actresses in Hollywood that shares my identity. She is also arguably the most famous too. She is well known for her roles in Charlie’s Angels, Kill Bill, and Elementary (Lucy Liu). The characters she plays are usually smart and strong. But also sexualized. For example, in Charlie’s Angels, Liu plays a detective who uses “martial arts, tech skills and sex-appeal” to solve a crime (Charlie’s Angels). Liu also usually plays supporting roles. Liu plays Dr. Joan Watson, a modern version of Dr. John Watson, in the hit tv show Elementary. And while her role is prominent, she is still second to the lead character Sherlock, played by Johnny Lee Miller (Elementary). Playing supporting roles is all too common for Chinese people. In her post at, “katmelon” gives numerous examples of Chinese people playing only small roles in film. One example she gives is the character of Miriam Wu in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. In the books, Miriam plays a “strong lesbian, fearless with regards to her sexuality. Yet, she is relegated to an (almost) non-speaking role in the movie.” This pattern of putting Chinese Women in only supporting roles furthers the stereotype that they are submissive and unassertive. By putting them in the background, the media is essentially silencing them.

Mulan is one of the few movies that has a Chinese women as the lead character. The animated film was released by Disney in 1998 and received mostly positive reviews. The film, intended for children, makes an attempt to diversify the Disney Princess pool by adding a Chinese character. However, Disney Studios generalized and stereotyped the Chinese culture in its attempt. Originally based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, Disney studios changed many aspects of the story in order to make the film more culturally relatable to the American audience (Xu). In the article “Cultural Deformations and Reformulations: A Case Study of Disney’s Mulan in English and Chinese,”  a “comparison between the film and the ballad clearly indicates that additions, omissions, specifications, explications and alterations are employed in the design of characters and plot structure in Mulan.” The film is essentially a mash of different parts of Chinese culture. Cantonese and mandarin terms are used interchangeable and historic time frames are also mixed. Disney Studios disregard for accurately depicting the culture supports the argument that the media generalizes and stereotypes my identity.

The most honest and real depiction of my identity came from media made by Chinese-Americans. A wonderful example of my identity being depicted sincerely came from An Rong Xu. Xu is a Chinese-American photographer, filmmaker, and artist who lives and was raised in New York City. In a New York Times article, she shares a photo essay on the experiences of other Chinese-Americans. Candid photos paint a powerful narrative: that Chinese-Americans are just as American as everyone else. 

lucy-liu-covers-emmy-magazine-04  VS 7Photo Credit: Brian Bowen Smith                      Photo Credit: An Rong Xu

A side by side comparison of how the media presents a Chinese women and how An Rong Xu expresses her identity drives the point home. In the media, the images are very glamorous and posed. Brian Bowen Smith is a pulitzer prize winning photographer. A lot of the work he does are portrait shots of celebrities and business people. His job is to make his subject look attractive, fashionable, and appealing.  Xu’s subjects are usually candid and in an everyday situations. Her photos are intended to show her identity with others. Both people are photographers and both are shooting a Chinese person. However, the images are radically different.

The media likes to separate Chinese-Americans from other Americans. I have always felt categorized as different from my classmates. It was confusing because, in my heart, I felt like I was equal yet somehow I wasn’t. I think the media’s exclusion of Chinese women from mainstream media as well as its inaccurate portrayal of us is to blame. It’s important to realize that the media does not depict an accurate picture of one’s’ identity. The media relies on stereotypes and cliches to get their point across easily. Seeking out sources outside of the mainstream media is where you will find a better understanding of identities.

Portland State has a very diverse student body. But I usually do not have the opportunity to learn and interact with my classmates. This class has been a great opportunity to read and share experiences with my classmates. The blog posts and group discussions allow me to talk with you guys in a way that I don’t normally in a real classroom. This term we’ve discussed a lot of drawbacks media can have. We’ve talked about wikipedia and discussed whether or not it is a reliable source of information. We’ve looked at the news and how they can be biased based on their word choice. However, I’ve learned and practiced a kind of media that can be a wonderful tool to connect and share your ideas. The big learning moment of this term is  really building on how to be literate in media. As I said, media can be tricky and it’s important to be able to decipher the good types of media from bad media.


“Charlie’s Angels.” IMDb., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

“Elementary.” IMDb., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

“Lucy Liu.” IMDb., n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

Xu, An R. “Embracing My Chinese-American Identity.” The New York Times 29 Mar. 2015, New York ed., Op-Ed sec.: SR5. Print.

Xu, Mingwu, and Chuanmao Tian. “Cultural Deformations and Reformulations: A Case Study of Disney’s Mulan in English and Chinese.” Critical Arts 27.2 (2013): 182-210. Web..




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About juliali006

I'm an Art Major at PSU. I was born in China but I've lived in Portland my entire life. I'm studying art because I'm interested in exploring ideas of expression and creativity. I don't have a medium or a focus because I find that to be limiting and I'm currently in a period of exploration and discovery. I like to snowboard in the winter time. It's all about that Mountain Hood here in the Northwest! Other Northwest hobbies include backpacking, fishing, and taking it easy.