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Elizabeth Chan, a British Chinese actress, says acting has offered an insight into how society sees Chinese women, calling parts on offer to her “massively stereotypical”.
"It’s rare to see a Chinese character written that is ‘normal’ or ‘well rounded’," says Chan, naming a set of typical roles that include: hard-working businesswoman; exotic, gentle flower; illegal immigrant selling DVDs or turning to prostitution (someone once actually yelled “selling DVDs? In the book The Asian Mystique (2005) the author Sheridan Prasso traced the “exoticism” of East Asian women as far back as Marco Polo’s travels along the Silk Road in the 1200s, in the literature and art it inspired.
But while some gendered biases exist in all interracial dating, few have gained as much notoriety as so-called yellow fever.
In parts of the US, such a notion has become so pervasive that last year, Debbie Lum, an American filmmaker of Chinese descent, sought to capture the madness in her documentary “Seeking Asian Female”.
In Britain, while significant rates of intermarriage between the Chinese and white Caucasian population have demonstrated social integration, the trend is nevertheless heavily skewed towards Chinese women and white men, rather than the other way around.
Part of the bias is down to aesthetics, it would appear, as a study by Cardiff University in 2012 on facial attractiveness showed that East Asian women scored highest, while East Asian men came bottom of the pile (interestingly, results for black and white individuals did not show discernible differences based on gender).
“We are largely invisible when it comes to politics and popular culture, yet there's a very palpable urban myth that Asian women make better lovers than other women”, she says.
The stereotyping plays itself out in the roles you see Chinese women playing in theatre, on TV or in films.
She points to how British Chinese do well academically and professionally.Aowen Jin, a 36-year-old British Chinese artist, thinks that cultural differences, such as the inability “to say no”, are often misconstrued by westerners as agreeableness, or even misinterpreted by western men as a sign of romantic interest.In the professional world, Ting Jacqueline Chen, a 28-year-old Oxford graduate, is also battling stereotypes.Take the 25th anniversary revival of Miss Saigon in the West End.The tale of the tragic love story between a young Vietnamese woman and an American soldier paints a heartbroken and helpless image of Miss Saigon that remains one of the most poignant and visible depictions of Far Eastern women in popular culture.