Flying in the air, gazing at the desert and martial arts were on display in Coldplay and Rihanna’s newly released music video “Princess of China.” But the song’s lyrics contain no reference to China. In fact, if anything, critics said, the song and video are racist.
In the video, Rihanna’s exaggerated costumes depict her as what is supposed to be a Chinese princess. But, in reality, her character is a confused mix of Asian cultural stereotypes. She has multiple hands, resembling a Hindu goddess, and the chopsticks in her multi-bun hairdo make her look like a Japanese geisha. Even she admits her look is an amalgam. She described the heavy, smoky makeup she wears in the video as “gangsta goth geisha,” reports Dominion of New York, an online news site. The closest she comes to representing Chinese culture are her stunt moves, which recall those from Chinese movies like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “House of Flying Daggers.”
Chinese viewers laughed at this mishmash of a video and its mistaken representations of China. “From my perception, the Westerners really have some awkward understanding of our Oriental cultural,” wrote Hua Laoban on Weibo, a Chinese competitor of Twitter. Another netizen, Ling You Ming Ning wrote that “This music takes advantage of China, nothing really reflects a Chinese palace or Kung Fu. It’s more Japanese. It’s hilarious.”
Tea Leaf Nation, an online magazine that publishes in English and Chinese, regard the video as challenging the “equality” that Asian-Americans supposedly enjoy. The site said Asian-Americans think the video was racist because the West regards Asian culture and people as an unvaried population dwelling in “The Orient,” a mysterious, exotic place far from the U.S. and Europe.
The Chinese netizens poked fun at the videos, translating them with funny subtitles. Rihanna’s hit “We Found Love” was translated into “Weifang Love.” Weifang is a city in Shandong province of China; its pronunciation is similar to the phrase, “we found.” Her tune “Where Have You Been” was translated into “Weihai Yobing.” Weihai is another city in the Shandong with the same pronunciation as “where have.” Yobing is a kind of fried pancake that sounds like “you been.”