Monday, November 24, 2008

Flower Drum Song

Couple of weeks ago Bill and I went to see the updated musical Flower Drum Song. The original was produced in the late 50s, by the infamous music team Rogers and Hammerstein. The story in the musical and the following movie was so racially offensive that it was buried for 40 years, until in 2002 David Henry Hwang rewrote the script and put it back on stage.

Usually I stay away from this let-me-tell-you-what-Chinese-is-about type of propaganda, because they are usually told from one person's perspective but the audience is made to believe they are the representation of every Chinese in America. It's hard to explain even to the ones closest to me, that I'm not one of the 80% Chinese population from the rural villages, that I don't know much about Chinese opera other than it's loud and boring, that my parents, my grand parents, none of my aunts and uncles had arranged marriage, that although my family went through some very tough days, I hardly consider us victims.

To think every Chinese fits in the stereotypical Chinese mold, is to believe that every American lives on McDonald's, at least 30% over weight, watch TV five hours a day and listen to rap music.

But this is a Rogers and Hammerstein musical after all, or mostly so. I went, I wept for the characters, and I still don't like the story. Rather than making you listen to me whine about others' wrong doings, I'll tell you what my kind of Chinese is really about.

There are many of us in this country, mainly the generation came to study and work in science and technology fields, starting in the late 80s. This is the class of elite and privileges. We are from good families in major cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Xi'an, Si Chuan province etc, which are far more westernized than the vast rural areas. Our parents or grand parents held positions as party officials, local government officials, university professors, scientists, physicians and surgeons. We received the best education available in a country only 3% of the population goes to college. We are here because our families believed there was a better future outside of China, and because we could socially and financially afford the risk. Many of the families took advantage of the system (bribery was the most basic), so we could be here to enjoy the American dream and not have to worry about being sent to the country for hard labor in the next cultural revolution.

So next time when you bump into a Chinese engineer, keep in mind that he might be more interested in Bach than Chinese opera.


Jasmin said...

Yeah. We saw it, and I thought it was just dreadful. Not my favorite R&H.

Sarah said...

Sadly, there are parts of that musical I love, as well as parts I kind of pretend aren't really there. The Japanese women who played the lead in the movie is really a lovely actress. If I'm not mistaken, the romantic male lead was also Japanese. So huge problem right there, really.

That said, thank you for reminding everybody that ethnicity should not be reduced to a formula. Because, you know what? Same thing goes for Arabs.

Diane said...

Well said. I think it's the sterotypes that we all have to work against when we meet people who are not just like us.

Lesley said...

.... same thing goes for Mexicans.

zelda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
zelda said...

Same thing goes for...nah, who am I kidding. Stereotypes about biracials are TOTALLY true. We really are all good looking.

I kid.

I guess most of you aren't in favor of racial profiling. Odd one out again. Sigh.

As for this muscial, I could never watch anything where people were wearing those pants. Yikes.

Anonymous said...

Darcy has run into some hilarioiusly ridiculous stereotyping at her school this past year and a half (since moving to the Ozarks!)...but, she takes every opportunity to turn the ignorance of others to her advantage/entertainment! I'm glad she can find humor it in!

Karin said...

Awesome post.