China’s Image Change In American Pop Media

Today, by accident, I stepped in to a GE (general electives) class at USC, and the topic was “The Change of China’s Image in American Pop Media” in the past couple of decades, led by Professor Stanley Rosen. When I told him my Chinese name is “Chao” (usually this means nothing but a syllable to most people I meet here) he immediately recognized it as a character from the phrase “Chao Ji Da Guo” (super big country) and “Chao Ren” (super man) as “Chao” means “Super” in Chinese. At the beginning of the class, Professor Rosen briefly introduced the current controversy in China regarding a new Chinese movie about the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, which bumped “Avatar” out of movie theaters nearly a month before it was scheduled to officially exit Chinese cinemas. I read this news yesterday on many local Chinese media and Social Network Sites. Professor Rosen’s informed understanding of the current situation in China really made me anticipate what the class was going to be about.

In class, a list of clips about Chinese culture and China were chosen from popular American TV shows like The Daily Show, South Park and movies like Sixteen Candles by the professor. These clips have revealed how China’s image in American pop media has changed from innocent, and a bit of exotic, in the 1980s to a much more threatening and relentless image today as China rises be to a strong economic power in the world.

Just as China’s young generation is exposed to multiple channels of American culture, it was also very nice to see young Americans getting more and more channels to learn Chinese culture such as in academic settings like a university classroom, where they can critically examine these Chinese stereotypes depicted in mainstream media and learn more about this country through a fresh perspective.

The goofy “Chinaman” Long Duk Dong in Universal Pictures movie Sixteen Candles in (1984)

Episode Olympic Nightmare from South Park:

The funniest one is from Russell Peters, the classic “be a man!”.


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