[Please enjoy this Tea Leaf Nation bilingual brew. The article is first shown in English, and then in the original Chinese. 亲爱的读者，欢迎享受我们的 “双语茗茶”。英文翻译在上，中文原文在下。]
Japanese Geishas; half-naked Ninjas covered in tattoos who look more like part-time rappers; Katana blades carved with Chinese characters, Indian Bodhisattvas with 1,000 hands; movements clearly cribbed from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “House of Flying Daggers.” The recently-released music video “Chinese Princess” (embedded below), which features Coldplay and a Rihanna clad in fake nails and bangs, has a lot of native Chinese laughing themselves silly, and has some Chinese-Americans fuming.
Not only did the video combine Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai and other cultures together into a simplified “China,” but it furthered the imagined stereotypes of Asian culture that seem to be a unique product of Western fantasy. To Asian-Americans, the attitudes this video represent form yet another challenge to the “equality” that Asian-Americans supposedly enjoy.
This mode of thinking, constructed by the West, conceives of Asian culture and people as “the Other,” represented by an “Orient” which is mysterious, strange, and otherworldly. The reason that Asian-Americans get so angry about videos like “Chinese Princess” is that the conceived “Orient” it depicts alienates Asian-Americans and places them outside of the perceived mainstream of American culture.
Compared to Asian-Americans, native Chinese audiences are rather unfazed about this video’s immature understanding of “Chinese culture.” Many netizens simply feel that the entire matter is something to either laugh or cry about. Writing on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, @夏优拉 wrote, “Hey! Don’t think that sticking a few chopsticks in your hair makes you a Chinese princess!” To these netizens, this video is a copycat farce from start to finish. The hilariousness of “Chinese Princess” is almost as obvious as it is with “Johnny English”–no one who has ever spent time in China could seriously think for a moment that this Hollywood star, made up as a “Chinese princess,” was the real thing.
While mercilessly mocking the video’s director for having the chutzpah to make a Kung-Fu video while lacking any clear concept of Chinese culture, China’s netizens actually regard “Chinese Princess” with tolerance, much the same way they regard “Kung-Fu Panda”: At least the foreigners are trying! @晴空小熊 commented, “‘Chinese Princess’ is really just ‘Chinese Princess in my eyes.’ How many foreign singers really understand Chinese culture?” For Chinese netizens, the concept of “Chinese culture” is rich and complex, something that “foreigners” cannot muster. Therefore, these “foreigners” can’t help taking kung-fu movies seriously, or thinking that Japanese geishas all come from China.
But perhaps to further prove the inimitability of the Chinese culture, this American-flavored “Chinese Princess” has been localized through the work of online “subtitle groups” (字幕组), well-regarded online volunteers who tack Chinese subtitles on to videos and TV shows, unfettered by lax copyright laws. “Subtitle group” volunteers have always shown the inexhaustible imagination to render funny videos even funnier. They translated “We Found Love” into “Love of Weifang”, and “Where Have You Been” as “Fried Pancakes of Weihai”. [Weifang, a city in Shandong province, has roughly the same pronunciation in Chinese as "We Found" in English. "Fried Pancakes of Weihai" is also a rough approximate of "Where Have You Been" in terms of pronunciation. Weihai is another city in Shandong province.]
This time, “subtitle group” volunteers simply renamed “Chinese Princess” as “Huanzhu Princess”, a famous TV show telling the story of a Huanzhu Princess in the Qing Dynasty. So now, on top of being the ambassador for Shandong cuisine, Rihanna is helping to promote the history of the Qing Dynasty with her new song.
A song that appears racist to many Asian-Americans has thus not caused much alarm among native Chinese. While Asian-Americans think the song’s Orientalism constitutes an unbearable insult, the native Chinese audience—the real “Other”—take no offense in such misreading. Instead, they have completely negated the truth and authority of the video by creating even funnier, and more misleading cultural misreadings.
While Hollywood and its ilk think of every possible way to push their Americanized “take-out” Chinese culture all over the world, the Chinese audience’s merciless meddling has turned it into fresh and authentic Chinese cuisine again. While different races in America fight for the “equal coexistence” of different cultures, the Chinese audience simply absorbs everything to make it their own. Or is this not the case in America, too? Perhaps they just won’t admit it.
[Translation by Fleur and David Wertime.]
我那位研究亚裔美国文学的研究生室友在facebook上大骂酷玩乐队说：”你们是来真的么？这玩意简直没办法更种族歧视了! ” [WOW Coldplay, seriously? ... Can we be more racist as hell???] 不光是把中国日本印度泰国的不同文化形式全简化成了一个”中国”，还有那许多西方人才会搞出的bug－－这个视频充满了各色对亚裔和亚洲的西方幻想和固定思维。对亚裔美国人来说，这个视频所代表的态度是对他们在美国所拥有的所谓”平等”的又一个挑战。亚洲人和亚洲文化被作为”他者”表现成一个神秘，诡异又超脱现实生活的”东方”，并被这个由西方人建构的思维模式所代表。拄如”中国公主”这样的视频让亚裔美国人感到愤怒的原因是，其所传播的”东方”概念只能把亚洲人作为美国人中的一个群体而集体异化，并被排除在美国的主流文化之外。
与美籍亚裔相比，中国观众对这个视频对于”中国文化”的幼稚理解并不太在意，许多网友只是觉得这整件事有点令人啼笑皆非。新浪微博网友”骑驴子找乐子”发表了一条评论说：”中式流苏耳坠、韩式璎珞发簪、日式堆积假发、泰式长甲套一窝蜂地上，楞把娇滴滴的riri小妞（Rihanna）拱成了插一头花的刘姥姥 – -!” “夏优拉“则说，”喂！别以为头上插了几根筷子就是中国的公主！！” 在他们看来，这个视频从头到尾就是一场东施效颦的闹剧。”中国公主”的好笑之处几乎和”Johnny English”一样明显——没有谁会把片中化着在本土亚洲女性中从未流行过的好莱坞亚洲女星妆容的”中国公主”当真的。
在无情嘲笑导演对真正的东方文化没有清楚的概念却硬要看着武侠片打肿脸充胖子的同时，中国网民对”中国公主”也多少带了一种看”真人版《功夫熊猫》”的宽容心态：人家已经很努力了嘛！微博网友”晴空小熊“说，（”Princess of China”）”最多算是是Princess Of China in my eyes。外国歌手又有哪个真正了解中国文化呢？” 在他们看来，”中国文化”这个概念的复杂和多元，是”外国人”所不能掌握的。因此，他们把武侠片当真，把日本艺伎当成中国特产也是无可奈何的事。
当然，也许是为了更进一步证明中华文化的无可复制性，这首可以和美式外卖中餐相媲美的洋味十足的”中国公主”在各大字幕组和热爱恶搞的网民的口口相传中，又一次被本土化了。这群义务为广大观众提供字幕福利的网友们总有无尽的想象力来把已经很好笑的东西弄的更好笑。继把”We Found Love”翻译成《潍坊的爱》，把《Where Have You Been》取谐音《威海油饼》，并在其他歌曲的翻译中多次出现山东地名后，这次的”Princess of China” 变成了济南大明湖的《还珠格格》。被网友戏称为“山东唯一指定天后”的蕾哈娜，不仅代言山东美食，也开始代言清宫秘史了。