Discussion of Asian Stereotypes in Popular Culture

In United States, we have different ethnic groups and people who come from different background and cultures. Among them, Asian is one of the largest growing minority groups. According to a research by Census Bureau, “from 2000 to 2010, the Asian and Asian American population grew faster than any other ethnic groups, increasing by 46%.” However, despite having a very large population, this is much contradicted to how often we see Asians on big screen TV. Whenever Asian characters appear on screen, they would be featured with plenty of traits that are not entirely accurate and therefore would cause misunderstandings and conflicts for viewers. Not only that, these misrepresentations could affect Asians negatively on how they look at themselves. I will analyze different trends of portrayals in media, and go in depth about the issues of Asian portrayals in media, arguing against the false portrayals and bringing the realistic images of Asians that are rarely shown.

A very popular stereotype is “Asians are smart, nerdy, and good at math.” It is true that there are Asians that are good at math, but not all of them. Not only that, just because they are smart doesn’t mean that they are nerdy or having a boring life. A good example of this would be Rajesh from the show Big Bang theory. He is a very smart guy but lack communication skills. This example leads us to another stereotype which is “Asians are bad at communicating”. While this can be true but the assumption behind this stereotype are often not quite true. Smart Asians are bad at communicating because they focus only into study and abandon their social relationships. A good example to argue against this stereotype would be the character London Tipton, played by Brenda Song in the show The Suit Life of Zach and Cody. London is a daughter of a wealthy hotel owner where the show takes place at most of the time. She has a very outgoing personality and from many people views, she is a spoil child. Unlike the typical main stream image of Asians, she often does things the way she likes without strict discipline. London often skips classes and gets bad grades, totally opposite to Asian’s portrayal in media. This character is a rare image of Asian on TV as it wasn’t portrayed like the typical stereotype about nerdy Asians we often see.

Another stereotype associate with Asians is that they are bad at sport. This stereotype is very contradict with another stereotype that we often see in media which is Asians are good at martial art. In the article “The 7 Worst Asian-American Stereotypes”, I found this “Asians are not good at sport” to be very interesting because I didn’t know about it until I do the mirror essay project. However, I do understand why people often associate Asians with martial arts. So why exactly do people think that Asians are bad at sport? One reason I could think of is because of the images of nerdy Asians that people often see in popular culture. Nerds are usually physically weak, knowing nothing else besides study, hence most Asians are assumed to be bad at sport as well. However, people are completely different in reality than what are being portrayed in media. Each person has their own qualities, traits, and personalities. Taking myself as an example, I played variety of sports during high school and middle school. I consider myself as a decent player, although not excellent. Beside me, there were a lot of other Asian players in my schools’ teams as well. Basketball, volley, tennis, and soccer, every team had Asian players and they don’t do badly at all in games. Some were even chosen to be team’s captain.


Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) trains Daniel (Ralph Macchio) in The Karate Kid

On the other hand, the images of Asians being good at martial arts have to be credited to many famous actors such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet li. When the very first Bruce Lee’s movie came out, it gave people a deep impression of Asian fighter. This was a start of what would be later known as the Hong Kong New Wave, leading to many other actors such as Jackie Chan and Jet Li to enter the industry. Hence we could see why there is a booming in popularity of Asians kung fu in mainstream media. Even nowadays when there are a lot of martial art movies where the main characters could be white, black, or any other races, the mentor or master would usually be portrayed by an Asian actor. A perfect example of this would be “Karate Kid”. There are two versions, one was in 1989 and another was in 2010. In both versions, the protagonists were black and white while the mentors in both versions were played by Asian actors. Furthermore, when we see Asian characters on TV, they usually play as the minor roles. Unless the movies are about fighting, Asians may have chance to be starred as one of the main roles. “Rush Hour” series is another example where one of the main roles is played by the Asian actor Jackie Chan. He played the role which deal with criminals mostly by hand, fist, and martial art instead of gun, although the role of the character is a cop. The martial art stereotype that associates with Asians was created by the impression of Hollywood stars that have origins in Asia. There are other Western martial arts out there as well but we don’t often see them being show on mainstream media. Despite all that, not all Asians know martial arts. Everyone could be martial artists if they put time and has patience to practice.


The Yellow Peril Drawing

Often time Asians would be portrayed as foreigners, forgetting that there are Asian Americans who were born and grew up here in the U.S as well. These kinds of portrayals would influence how Asians would think of their own racial group as well as larger society. According to Mok in this article “Getting the Message: Media Images and Stereotypes and Their Effect on Asian Americans”, Chinese immigrants as well as many East Asian immigrants were considered as economic threats and jobs competitors in America. Hence, the term “Yellow Peril” was given to Asian immigrants as a racial slur. To be honest, I have never heard of this term before until I do this mirror essay. After some research, I found that this term was started by German Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1895. According to The Phrase Finder, the term was coined after the defeat of China against Japan and was intended to apply for only Japanese at first. However, after numerous of reports in US newspapers about the event along with a painting where they showed “a distant Buddha-like figure sitting in an approaching firestorm”, attempting to invade Europe, this stereotype and fear started to spread. I find this very funny and ironic at the same time. If you take a closer look in history, Europeans were the ones who took the action and invaded Asia most of the time in the 19th century. This “Yellow Peril” stereotype promoted racism and created discrimination against Asians, especially Asian men. For Asian women, it is a different story. In this YouTube video titled “The Weird History of Asian Sex Stereotypes” by Franchesca Ramsey, MTV Decoded host, she mentioned that “Asian women are the most sought out group on online dating.” They are often fetishized and eroticized. Comparing the acceptance of White society, Asian women would often time have an easier time than men. As Asian Americans consume these ideas from the portrayals of Asians in media, they are affected by how they look at themselves and other Asians. According to Mok, some have accepted the fact that they cannot look all-American while some even wished they were born different from how they actually looked. Eventually, they would accept all these stereotypes even though they know that all these ideas don’t accurately portray them as a person.

Asians can be smart, dumb, outgoing, introvert, shy, and loud. Just like any other races, Asians have a very diverse personalities and cultures within itself. Media has created false images of what Asians and who they really are. It’s sad to see that lots of people bases on these images to judge individuals and fail to see that each person is unique and special. Because of that, it is difficult for Asians to express themselves without being labeled by stereotypes. One way to portrayed Asians accurately would be showing a diverse personalities and cultures of Asians on TV as well as giving more opportunities for more Asians actors in the film industries.

Learning moments:

One of the biggest learning moments that I have experienced in this class is probably commenting on the blog every week. It gave me opportunity to express myself as I don’t often speak up that much in real class. Second, this class discussed on different subjects and topics relating to media that I don’t often consider or aware of. Reading my peers’ comments really broadened my perspectives and I obtained a whole lot of useful information. Last but not least, I can see improvements in my writing. I learned a lot of different technique through the online resources. This mirror essay by far is the biggest writing project that I have ever done.

Come out of this class, I think analyzing advertisement and look at the news critically are the two skills that I appreciate the most. News and advertisements are two things that I see every day and everywhere. They often are the main tools that I use to get information and to know what happen around the world. Therefore, I think it is important to be able to analyze and be critical about them.


Asia Matters for America by the East-West Center. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2016, from http://www.asiamattersforamerica.org/asia/data/population/states

Noronha, M. (2012, November 24). The 7 Worst Asian-American Stereotypes. Retrieved May 23, 2016, from http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2012/11/24/the-7-worst-asian-american-stereotypes/

Top Martial Arts Action Stars of the Century. (2011, March 2). Retrieved May 23, 2016, from http://www.imdb.com/list/ls000048950/

The meaning and origin of the expression: The Yellow Peril. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2016, from http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/yellow-peril.html

A. Mok, T. (1998). Getting the message: Media images and stereotypes and their effect on Asian Americans. Cultural Diversity and Mental Health, 4(3), 185-202. Retrieved May 24, 2016.

H. (2016). The Weird History of Asian Sex Stereotypes | Decoded | MTV News. Retrieved May 26, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HS2jGfW5aOE

This entry was posted in Spring 2016 by ThongN. Bookmark the permalink.

About ThongN

I moved to America from Vietnam for about 8 years. I am currently in my Sophomore year and majoring in computer science. My hobby is playing guitar and reading manga.

3 thoughts on “Discussion of Asian Stereotypes in Popular Culture

  1. Hello Thong,

    I really appreciate your inclusion of London Tipton from Suite Life of Zach and Cody. That show brings me back to my elementary school days. Not only does this show break the asian character stereotype of a nerdy/smart asian, but also one of the main characters of that show, Maddie Fitzpatrick, was portrayed to be a smart and ambitious blonde. This is very contradicting to the typical dumb, cute, blonde, stereotype that popular culture displays often.

    Great post

  2. Hi Thong,

    I really enjoy reading your post; as a Asian, I’ve experienced many of these stereotypes. I think the stereotype about Asian are good at math could be somewhat accurate since many Asian student had their early education in a foreign country, where they usually focused more on math than American school. In fact, I’ve read that when compare to other countries, American students are not very good on math in general. I totally agree with you that Asian can be just as dumb, outgoing, loud as other people.

    Great post!

  3. Hi,

    Overall, I really enjoy your post. As an Asian, I can experienced how difficult it might caught by living in America. Well but we are all have to get used to it early or late because it’s life, right? Even though people might think that Asian students are good at math, but the true fact that someone are really don’t. It takes time and practices to become that level. So I think that everyone are all good equally. Anyhow, great post so far!!


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