The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, and Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient

“[A] persuasive, timely book…. Prasso makes clear the destructive nature of stereotypes about Asia and the social, cultural, and political ramifications of allowing them to fester unchallenged.” (Boston Globe)

Few Westerners escape the images, expectations and misperceptions that lead us to see Asia as exotic, sensual, decadent, dangerous, and mysterious-from the tea-pouring, sexually available geisha girl to the Dragon Lady dominatrix and the effeminate or asexual Asian male. The Asian Mystique lays out a provocative challenge to see Asia and Asians as they really are, with unclouded, de-eroticized eyes. It traces the origins of Western stereotypes in history and in Hollywood, examines the phenomenon of ‘yellow fever,’ then goes on a reality tour of Asia’s go-go bars, middle-class homes, college campuses, and corridors of power. It is required reading for anyone with interest in Asia or Asian-origin people, as well as any serious student or practitioner of East-West relations.

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About Dragon Mystic

I fell in love with dragons when I read Tea With the Black Dragon, and never looked back. Not the clunky winged Medieval dragons that ate cows, the graceful Asian dragons that could fly without wings. Later I discovered the elegant Welsh dragons, red and white, as described by R.J. Stewart in his books on the historical Merlin.
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2 Responses to The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, and Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient

  1. Ed Uyeshima says:

    Timely, Fascinating Though Somewhat Myopic Book on Asian Stereotypes 0

  2. Pristine says:

    You know you’ve touched a nerve when people get THIS defensive. No one likes to be called out on his or her game. And this book calls all parties out on their prospective games.Much as countless women (from a particular economic group) found a term to identify their discontent after reading Betty Friedan’s 1963 book Feminine Mystique, Asian Americans will undoubtedly find in Prasso’s book The Asian Mystique, a cohesive explanation of the strange behavior and perception towards Asians from the West.Prasso does an excellent job documenting the visual etymology of the Asian Mystique in the popular imagination of the West, starting from Aphrodite, through centuries when China and Japan closed its doors to foreigners- forcing outsiders to “roll their own” and create a persona out of hearsay and thrice-removed tales – till present times, where Hollywood entertainment, mainstream media, and the Internet (including Amazon reviews) controls visual perception as fact.Prasso points out that in the last hundred years , Asian actresses had only two roles available to them (dragon lady, or vixen prostitute (see Live Free or Die Hard for proof), but that’s still one more option than what is available to the Asian actor. A chapter on the systematic emasculation of Asian men in the mainstream West deserves praise as this is something that has been discussed for many years in the Asian-American online community; actors like Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and Chow Yun Fat are allowed entry onto American screens and near Caucasian actresses, but are never allowed to kiss or touch any of them.One of the most valuable items Prasso points to is the discrepancy between general Asian etiquette (that of “giving way to get your way”) versus Western values (aggressive affirmation of the self as a declaration of individual need). This method of the East is often mistakenly perceived as a sign of weakness, giving rise to the sense of superiority among Westerners. (It doesn’t help the Asian mystique that our culture often communicates through making a statement obliquely.) Prasso believes that the resulting false sense of complacency among Westerners will lead to dire consequences.Throughout the book, white males with Yellow Fever (every single Asian American I have met in the US in the past thirty years have come across these men) and men who exotify and visit the lesser (economically) developed Asian countries for sex, are accurately portrayed as sad, overweight, balding, unattractive men who are well past their prime. These men, who are fed up with the strong, opinionated, materialistic women of the West find acceptance and adoration in young, attractive Asian girls who “see” them as being in a league with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt purely because of their skin color. Personally, I feel this is an important aspect of the book; there are as many exotifications of the West (in the Asian perception) as there are in the inverted scheme. What is less obvious is the subtext of what constitutes “The Western Woman” today, and why they are making “The Western Man” (who wants to return to the “good ol days” – which in itself is an exotification- when he had more power) run in the direction of the economically depressed East. If these males, stricken with Yellow Fever, were to visit cosmopolitan Asian countries, Asian women who are financially well-off, and are tenfold more materialistic than Western women, would not even grace them with a glance. Prasso does state in the opening of the book that “it is as much about us as it is about Asia.”Along the way, the book explores historical milestones that mark Asian identity in the Western consciousness; the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act; the Japanese Internment camps in the US during WWII; and the evolution of Madame Butterfly from the original Madam Chrysantheme. An interview with Mineko Iwasaki reveals as much as the real Sayuri’s bio, whom Memoirs of a Geisha was partially based on. A look into war bride Nguyen Thi Hoa’s bio, the notorious concept of the “Cathay Ten,” Thai working girls, Okinawa Koku-jo (Okinawa girls who exotify and fetishize black men), Bangkok, and Indonesia visits follow. A strong chapter on female politicians from Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, and the Philippines puts a reader in awe at life stories of individuals who have overcome odds and male oppression to attain success and visibility.The book concludes with a somewhat misleading chapter. While I fully agree with the author in the observation that many Asians are guilty of reinforcing, utilizing, and cashing in on their mystique to get ahead, I felt mystified at the closing sentences. First, there is the sentence “some of the most successful, upstanding businesswomen of Asia know the game (utilizing mystique to their advantage) too….;You’ve got to use what you’ve got, right?’ she said. Her sentiments are far from unusual.” This implication indirectly diminishes the conscientious work and success stories…

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