Observations of Chinese Culture Portrayed in Media

In the modern society, people can easily receive massive information and messages because of the development of technologies. I’ve also watched many TV shows and movies, but I’d never thought about how those cultural traits are interpreted by people who grow up in different cultures. I want to see how Chinese culture is played in shows in a different society. I originally wanted to do Asian culture to be my topic, and I realized it was too broad since it includes many different cultures, so I decided to focus on Chinese culture.

In my opinion, Chinese culture is more conservative and strict according to what I was taught. Many classic works of literature generally tell people to be humble, polite, frugalness and satisfying what they currently have instead of having strong desires. The other way to describe can be that Chinese people believe that a good person should be able to restrain its desires and control its behaviors.

Although cultural aspects and elements are good and positive, it’s not always be interpreted in positive ways. Frugalness can be a good example of having negative impacts by over fulfilling it. I’ve seen many cases of being greedy for small advantages. Those people try to save money as much as they can, and it leads them to be greedy. One thing which is confusing me is that it’s often to see Chinese people being selfish and self-center in media, and it contradicts my idea toward Chinese culture. When I see news about Chinese people acting ridiculously in media, I really wonder why they are acting like that. I’m also thinking what impacts may be caused by the phenomenon in different society.

I started looking for TV shows and movies which are played in Western society, and I wanted to see what stereotypes and traits are portrayed in media. As I watched more TV shows and movies, I noticed comedy often includes jokes which may be a bit offensive from other perspectives since it’s made for amusing audiences, so I think comedy includes more information to talk about.

I will be discussing some stereotypes and traits which I’ve watched in media and connecting to reviews which enhance and inspire me of the understanding about them.

 

Silicon Valley

The first source which I chose was Silicon Valley which is made by John Altschuler, Mike Judge, and Dave Krinsky, and it’s broadcasted on HBO. There is a Chinese character, Jian-Yang, is played by Jimmy O. Yang. Jian-Yang doesn’t appear in many scenes, but he always causes issues and problems when he shows up. In my opinion, the personality of Jian-Yang is very bad in the show. He is selfish, greedy, and crafty. There is a scene showing that how Jian-Yang tries to fake a testament and fool a judge in the court, so he can inherit properties of his landlord. His landlord is out for traveling, and the landlord is tall and big, so Jian-Yang even prepares a body of a pig to pretend to be the body of his landlord. I thought it was weird and crazy when I watched it, and Jian-Yang’s roommates also think Jian-Yang is ridiculous and unreasonable.

The other scene which I remember clearly is when Jian-Yang’s roommates come back to their home, they see many technology company names which are written on a board. They ask Jian-Yang, and he replies that he will copy them to China to start new companies. I thought the producers are trying to satirize copyrights issues between Chinese companies and the US companies.

These two scenes may not have significant relations in Chinese culture, but these reflect Chinese traits which people see in modern society. There are other scenes in Silicon Valley representing selfish actions which Jian-Yang does. I guess the reason for producers to create these scenes may relate to what I mentioned earlier. They may have seen cases of Chinese people being selfish and self-center in their life, and the behaviors may offend other people.

However, I’m also thinking that for people who are not so familiar with Chinese culture, they may really be affected by media. According to an article, The Chinese in Silicon Valley: Globalization, Social Networks, and Ethnic Identity by Bernard P. Wong., reviewed by Joseph Bosco, it mentions that Chinese population is very concentrated in Silicon Valley workforce because of globalization. I think the TV show is trying to show some conflicts existing between Chinese and local employees as Chinese population keeps increasing in the area.

Fresh Off the Boat

The TV show, Fresh Off the Boat, is made by Nahnatchka Khan according to a biography which is written by Eddie Huang, and the show is originally played by ABC. Eddie Huang is an immigrant, and he writes the book to tell the story of growing up in the U.S. as Taiwanese family. There are many stereotypes being portrayed on the show since it is trying to represent the differences and conflicts between two cultures.

Eddie’s mother, Jessica Huang, is a very stereotyped Taiwanese mom in my opinion. She always forces or leads her kids to focus more on studying, so they can be accepted into schools with the nice reputation. Instead of thinking about being actors or rappers, Jessica thinks it’s better to have a practical and stable job such as doctor or engineer, so studying is the only thing that Jessica want her kids to do. Although Eddie receives straight A’s at the school, his mom thinks the school should be more difficult and strict. There is an interesting thing in here. Since Jessica thinks Eddie should study more, she wants to send him to “Chinese Learning Center”. I was wondering what was CLC, and then the show explains CLC is a place where students are given massive examination questions for them to complete, and they have to stay there studying for couple hours and complete questions again and again. This is very common in Taiwan and in some countries such as China, Japan, and Korea. Many students are getting the high-stress education by taking uncountable exams and infinite examination questions in order to be accepted in popular universities. Taiwanese parents generally believe studying is the only way to gain a chance to qualify stable jobs since companies tend to hire people graduated from popular schools. I’ve personally heard of people intuitively think I must be good at studying and math. In my opinion, if they received the same style of education, they might be even better.

One thing I also noticed in the show is superstition. When Jessica receives a check with many numbers 4 on it, she thinks it’s better to get rid of it because the pronounce of 4 is close to the word “die” in Mandarin. And Jessica believes it attracts bad luck if she keeps the money. I think this scene perfectly represents the different cultural concept. In Chinese culture, there are many taboos, and people may view it as superstition. For example, hospitals in Taiwan usually don’t have number 4 in elevators because no one wants to stay on the fourth floor especially in hospitals. I think this scene provides a great idea of how people with the different cultural background view things differently.

In one episode, Eddie’s school is asking students to pick a culture and represent the cultural traits. Eddie doesn’t want to do China. I guess the reason is Chinese culture is not so popular and liked in Western society. Also, in the show, Eddie is the only Chinese student at his grade, so he joins his friends’ group for representing Jamaica. When they are chatting, one of his friends makes fun of China saying China having nothing to show. In the scene, Eddie is getting serious about what his friend says about China and questioning him to be more specific about his words. In the show, Eddie is brave enough to speak up for protecting his identity and culture, but what about in reality? An article “Yes, you can laugh at your culture: Fresh Off the Boat cocreator Nahnatchka Khan explains why seeing the humor in your roots is the key to happiness” by Katie L. Connor talks about the impact of cultural differences. People often experience embarrassing moments because of cultural differences, and they can choose to just laugh about it. I think an important point in here is people can laugh about their “own” cultures since they have enough understanding. If people laugh or make fun of other cultures, it can just simply be considered despising other cultures.

Conclusion

Silicon Valley shows many contradictions to my understanding of Chinese culture. In my opinion, Silicon Valley is showing the phenomenon of Chinese people in recent years. The TV show reflects what people actually see in life about Chinese people. It may be exaggerated in comedy, but there are many cases of weird behaviors done by Chinese people in reality. And Fresh Off the Boat represents many Chinese cultural stereotypes such as frugalness and CLC. When I compare these two TV shows that I watched, I think it’s apropos to say that’s what I see in the past and now. I think Chinese culture is not valued as much as in the past as I see more and more negative cases about Chinese people. Instead of control itself or caring others, more and more Chinese people just do what they want without considering for others. It’s sad to see this happen as a Chinese person, and I think it really hurts the image of Chinese culture.

 

Work Cited

“The Chinese in Silicon Valley: Globalization, Social Networks, and Ethnic Identity by Bernard P. Wong.”  Reviewed by Joseph Bosco. 2006. https://muse-jhu-edu.proxy.lib.pdx.edu/article/215327

“Yes, you can laugh at your culture: Fresh Off the Boat cocreator Nahnatchka Khan explains why seeing the humor in your roots is the key to happiness” by Katie L. Connor. Cosmopolitan, 2015, Vol.258(3), p.50(1)

 

3 thoughts on “Observations of Chinese Culture Portrayed in Media

  1. Po-Hsiang, (my apologies in advance, if this is a misspelling of your name)

    I was drawn to read your post because of the fact that you used one of the same primary artifacts that I did, Silicon Valley. To explore my identity I had to take a far different approach, though, and made no mention of Jian Yang, since I was more focused on the main programmers of the show. I can see why you think he is a poor representation of Chinese culture, but I am no sure if the creators of the show had any malicious intent when creating his character. Fresh Off the Boat sounds like an interesting story. I am not too familiar with immigrating to other countries, though I did live in Korea for a year. That was much different, though. I had no idea that the number 4 had so many superstitions tied to it. Do some buildings not have a 4th floor at all? Do they just go from 3 to 5? That would be rather strange to see since US culture doesn’t have anything like that as far as I know. Good job on your blog post, it was a good read!

    Jacob

    • Hi Jacob,
      I’m glad you found interests reading my post, and the spelling is perfect. About Silicon Valley, those were my assumptions since Jian-Yang often breaks the bottom limit as a human being in the show, but it was also fun for me sometimes when I watched it. In Chinese culture, there are many superstitions that it’s difficult to explain in words because people may only remember how to proceed them but forgetting the reasons behind of them. I believe Korean also have own traditions that come from the culture. The superstition about number 4 is correct, there are buildings which aren’t labeled 4th floor when they are built, and you can’t find the 4 button in the elevators. Usually, it’s in hospitals because the superstition is about death. Hope it helps you. Thanks.

      Po-Hsiang

  2. Hi Po-Hsiang! I was very intrigued by your post. I wanted to learn more about the other asian cultures like Chinese. I heard that the Chinese culture is more conservative and strict which is why they are well mannered people and always focus on school work. I have never watched Silicon Valley before, but that is interesting that they put a young Chinese boy as someone who is selfish in the show relating to the Chinese culture. From reading about your description of Fresh Off the Boat explains why asian families are very strict with their kids and why they focus a lot on school. I didn’t know that 4 is close to the word die in Mandarin. That is very interesting to me because what happens when a Taiwanese student comes to America hears the number 4. I wonder how they would react. I understand too that many asian cultures have superstitions such as Filipinos, we have many superstitions and do behaviors that regular people wouldn’t do. Great job on your blog post! Good luck on finals!

    Jasmine

Comments are closed.