Chinese & Asian Stereotype

Jun 6th, 2008, in Opinion, Society, by

An Indonesian-Australian looks at stereotypes of Chinese in Indonesia, Asians in Australia, and western men who like Asian women.

Stereotypes & Generalizations

When I first came to Australia, I went to the Blue Mountains. While sitting in a café near the Three Sisters, I accidentally spilled some ice cream on to my clothes. I went to the bathroom to clean it up at a sink. While I was doing that, an old lady went in, checked out the cubicle -- and then swore at me –

Bloody Asian! You just can't keep things clean, can you?!?

I was gob smacked. I was not even the one using the toilet!

Most of us have experienced narrow mindedness like this in our life, but a lot of the time, we make generalizations about people ourselves. Why?

Indonesian Chinese in Jakarta

I am of Chinese descent, grew up in Jakarta. I really did not realise the "Chinese problem" until I went to Universitas Indonesia to do my bachelor in Politics. I made a few friends in the first few days of University – everything was hunky dory, until one of my new friends asked if I was Chinese. Well, no point of lying, so I said, yes. Next thing I know, I lost my first new friend.

I found what happened really baffling as I was friends with mostly non-Chinese when I was in High School. I rang my friends from High School who then told me that they saw me as my own person first before they saw me as a Chinese, therefore I was OK. But in general, they said they would prefer to have "Indonesian friends".

  • Chinese are rich,
  • Chinese keep to themselves,
  • Chinese are arrogant,
  • Chinese think that money can buy anything.

They said I was not like that, though.

Alrighty – so those are the stereotypes.

Indonesian Women Who Date Foreign Men

After university, I worked for one of the foreign embassies in Jakarta. By chance, I met a very nice Dutch guy and we started going out. It was long before all the movie stars started going out with foreigners and set the trend. If I could choose whom I would fall for, I wish it was another Indonesian person. Going out with this guy was hard, not because of him. But because I was living in Jakarta and Jakartans had in their minds that if you go out with a foreigner, you are a gold digger, an ayam, someone who should not be respected, - it was really difficult.

What made it more difficult, my family was against the relationship, too. They said he was just going to 'use' me. He would leave me when he returns to his home country. No way would he marry me – I was just his holiday romance. I should break up with him at once, or I'd be disowned. I was a disgrace to the family according to them.

Fantastic. This silly thing is also in my own family!!

Australian Men Who Like Asian Girls

Things got more interesting once I realised that I unconsciously do exactly the same thing, judge people according to stereotypes.

It's not difficult being an Asian girl in Sydney these days. Sydney has a huge Asian population and you will see many mixed-racial couples. However, every time I was approached by a non-Asian guy – the first thing that came into mind was

hmm.. is he an AA?

(this is a joke amongst some of my friends, that some guys who are really into Asian girls, or the other way around, should join Asians Anonymous)

"Does he like me for who I am, or does he like me because I look Asian?"

I have a huge chip on my shoulder about this. If a guy dates only Asian girls, no way I'd date him.

Only now I have realised, I have generalised about these guys too. How would I know that they date Asian girls only because of the way they look and other stereotypes that are attached to Asian girls? Maybe they are just like me, I like tall and dark guys, I have my own preferences -- maybe they just find girls with dark hair and darker complexion more attractive?

Well, that was small in the scale of things, but the question I guess, how can I stop making generalisations and treat people as they are? Maybe we will live in a better world if we stop making silly generalisations about others?


134 Comments on “Chinese & Asian Stereotype”

  1. avatar Sylvester says:

    Nice article.
    Indeed, stereotyping and generalising are the common problem in all society, regardless any races, religions, or countries. However, it is true that most of Indonesians are the worse examples compare to others. It may be because many Indonesians never want to think deeply before making any conclusions. Partly because the education system which hardly ever support the creative thinking, just listen to the teachers.

    I also live in Australia. Like any other places, here the less educated people usually tend to be racist and discriminative. Even in the US, some stupids do not choose Obama simply because it sounds like Osama. Turkish usually think Arabs are not trustworthy. French are considered the worst drivers, Dutch are stingy, British are too proud, etc. You may find list of thousands of all generalisations have been made.

    You may be interested to always test other people before making any jugdement. At least, you will have some evidence to support it. You can also compare with other that have similar background, for example comparing one Chinese-American with also another Chinese-American does not always enough since you may need also to consider the family background, education, childhood experience, and so for and so on.

  2. avatar Janma says:

    I saw an info piece on a documentary channel (discovery or geographic) about generalizations… it was only as long as an advertisement. It started with a generalization for example…. Chinese are good at business, and then it would show some little clip to prove this isn’t always so…. i remember the Australian one…. Australians have no culture…. and then it showed a little clip of aboriginals dancing…. you see to me, that was just backing up the generalization…. the generalization isn’t about aboriginal Australians, it’s about white Australians. so in circular way they were just agreeing with that generalization. I discussed this with an American friend of mine who is married to a Balinese and thinks that the Balinese have the monopoly on culture, and she said ‘well it’s true you know… white Australians do sit around and drink and watch sports a lot…” I answered that I didn’t really see much difference between that and Balinese men sitting around drinking arak and watching a cock fight.

  3. avatar sputjam says:

    Lets face it. whether it is Thailand/Malaysia/Indonesia, local chinese girls are alluring. Malaysians are best due to their multilingual ability.
    An asian who migrates to australia, most will bond to the country, and ditched their ancestral customs.

  4. avatar Abdul Khalid al Jumhuri says:

    Constant Change,
    Life is difficult and humanbeing needs the simple truth. But actually nothing is new under the sun.

    The Arabs call those outside kaaffirs, infidels, musryik, or idolators.
    The Jews call them goyim, or gentiles.
    The Chinese call foreigners who speaks mandarin as farain – I stand corrected here (forgot the exact word) but it means the ghost who speaks.
    The Japanese call them gaijin.
    The Javanese call them orang sebrang.
    The Aussie call them AA or anything else.
    The Jakartans call the bule, cina, arab, jawa or yahudi.

    Stereotyping makes life easier for the feeble-minded and lazy brains.

  5. avatar diego says:

    @Janma
    “Balinese men sitting around drinking arak and watching a cock fight.”

    Whoa…, Janma, sounds like Bali is a gay paradise. Doing cock fight with some drunk guys watching us… hmm… that sounds fun.

  6. avatar Abdul Khalid al Jumhuri says:

    @Constant Change,
    Now I remember, the name for those non-Chinese who speaks Mandarin is “ferenghi,” literally, “the devil who speaks.” Peace.

  7. avatar rimafauzi says:

    There are too many people in the world who think like this, and it is inevitable, it is embedded deep in our minds.. but knowing it’s wrong, and trying to do our best to stop stereotyping and generalisation is the first step.
    I live in Belgium fortunately for me, asians do not have a bad rep here. Bad rep belongs to the morrocans and the turkish, but still the morrocans more. I couldn’t imagine having people do that to me, be all racist and stereotyping without even knowing the real me.
    It’s a very good article, kudos!

  8. avatar timdog says:

    Good article…

    @ Abdul Khalid al Jumhuri – I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chinese word for foreign Mandarin-speaker does translate directly as “devil who speaks”; I understand that the old word for non-Chinese simply translates as “foreign devil”, and that the old word for Muslim, in the complexities of Chinese word-formation, was based not on the root for “human” but on the root for “dog” (which all rather backs up your point)…

    However, the word “Ferenghi” is a well-known and very widespread one – the word for foreigner in Persian and other south and central Asian languages, and in corrupted form as “falang” in Thai… It simply comes from “Frank”, refering to the Frankish tribes of western mainland Europe (from whence “France”)… I don’t know quite how it was that all westerners came to be labelled “Franks”…
    The term Lingua Franca comes from the same source, and refers to the Latin-Arabic-Greek patois of old mediterranean sea ports – “the Language of the Franks”…

    That’s what “Ferenghi” is – some corruption of it may well exist in China; the inference of the word may indeed be highly negative there, but I doubt that it literally means anything at all… As I don’t speak Chinese I wait to stand corrected, but if “ferenghi” really does translate literally as “speaking devil” in Chinese it would be a huge coincidence…

  9. avatar HD says:

    I think you just paranoid about being Asian. If you received a treatment or word like that woman (your quote: Bloody Asian! You just can’t keep things clean, can you?!?I was gob smacked. I was not even the one using the toilet!), I will ask her why she said like that and if you haven’t get satisfactory answer you should complaint to the manager or whoever in charge. Honest, i hate Asian in Australia since most of them crook, dishonest, bitchy and snob. Btw, I’m 100% indonesian but now australian.

  10. avatar dewaratugedeanom says:

    Chinese are rich,
    Chinese keep to themselves,
    Chinese are arrogant,
    Chinese think that money can buy anything.

    Nothing is ever black or white. On the other hand there is no smoke without fire.
    I would say give each of the above statements a quotation on a scale of 1 to 10 and see what comes out.

  11. avatar Sri L. says:

    I am so delighted someone finally spoke up about stereotyping.

    I totally agree with the person who began the comment. Stereotyping is practised by everyone about other communities or segments of the same community. However, it does detract from the credibitlity of the message that the person is transmitting.

  12. I have written a similar topic in my blog that stereotyping and generalization are the basic human being’s reaction. It’s subconscious and is triggered and formed based on our background, education, culture, social upbringing etc. We can’t help it. And the judgment is personal, individual.

    For example, to some people, the first reaction when seeing “Jesus/Mohammad is the ONLY way” sign is a signature of the truth or their faith, but to someone (skeptical) like me, it’s like trying to say that we will go to hell if we don’t follow this certain religion. To some people, seeing Ka’bah picture is associated with conflict (because it’s associated with Islam, terrorism, war in Middle East, and suicide bomb), but to me, it’s a place I’m longing to go.

    But we could practice to hold back this prejudice, wait for a second, let our brain think, to form the second opinion after we interact with each individual. It’s not easy, it needs a lot of practice and open heart to do so.

    I guess this is the answer for the last paragraph, which the writer posted a question on how to stop this prejudice.

  13. avatar Aluang Anak Bayang says:

    Abdul Khalid al Jumhuri Says:

    June 6th, 2008 at 2:40 pm
    @Constant Change,
    Now I remember, the name for those non-Chinese who speaks Mandarin is “ferenghi,” literally, “the devil who speaks.” Peace.

    “ferenghi”? Never heard of it. Maybe you mean “Feng Shui”

  14. avatar Aluang Anak Bayang says:

    Chinese are rich,

    When they come into contact with the Javanese elites. Example are Bob Hassan and Pak Salim.

    Chinese keep to themselves,

    Not really. They only mix around with anak2 pejabat.

    Chinese are arrogant,

    Not when they know you have position and power.

    Chinese think that money can buy anything.

    I believe everything can be bought with money; and surprise, I am Javanese.

  15. avatar sputjam says:

    Finally woken up said –

    To some people, seeing Ka’bah picture is associated with conflict (because it’s associated with Islam, terrorism, war in Middle East, and suicide bomb), but to me, it’s a place I’m longing to go

    Wake up from your slumber brother. pagan worshipping a stone should not be on your priority list.

  16. avatar Farah says:

    Indonesian Women Who Date Foreign Men

    After university, I worked for one of the foreign embassies in Jakarta. By chance, I met a very nice Dutch guy and we started going out. It was long before all the movie stars started going out with foreigners and set the trend. If I could choose whom I would fall for, I wish it was another Indonesian person. Going out with this guy was hard, not because of him. But because I was living in Jakarta and Jakartans had in their minds that if you go out with a foreigner, you are a gold digger, an ayam, someone who should not be respected, – it was really difficult.

    What made it more difficult, my family was against the relationship, too. They said he was just going to ‘use’ me. He would leave me when he returns to his home country. No way would he marry me – I was just his holiday romance. I should break up with him at once, or I’d be disowned. I was a disgrace to the family according to them.

    Fantastic. This silly thing is also in my own family!!

    ahh… so its not only happened to me !!
    Anyway… had chinese friends, had western friends, know all the generalization. Its hard not to stereotyping people… i sometime did that accidentally, without my intention. Sometimes its not the real purpose of the person who do the generalization… but yeah.. some did.. and some of the generalization true, but some is wrong too…

  17. avatar GJ says:

    Let me have a go at this stereotyping thing.

    All Australians drink beer.
    All red haired girls are easy.
    All Americans have fat arses.
    All Indonesians are Racists/Tribalists.

    Why do I make these assumptions, and asumptions is the key word here, because they come from my experience either actual or passed on to me.
    In the last case, the statement comes from my experience, as the first question I’m nearly always asked in Indonesia, when introduced is, “Where to you come from”. It seems really important, but is it? Can my location at birth be a true indication of my personal qualities?
    Depending on where in Indonesia I’m asked I will say Jakarta or Cipete.
    You see in my culture, where you come from is your home, where you are living. Rarely in my own culture am I asked where was I born, or where my parents were born.
    Here, I see every single day, people assess others from a geographical/cultural standpoint. They make assumptions, based on sometimes very little data.

    Therfore I could easily come to the conclusion that “All Indonesians are racists” but it would be wrong.

    For another example “I had a bad experience here, so therefore I will always have that same bad experience” Bad assumption!! based on little or no data/fact.

    Stereotyping comes from either jumping to a common held populous belief or from ignorance, from not having enough data to make a correct informed assessment of the situation.

    We always need to question our own assumptions, which in acknowledge is a very difficuly thing to achieve.

    Good luck with it!!!

  18. @HD

    I think you’ve missed the point here.

    Honest, i hate Asian in Australia since most of them crook, dishonest, bitchy and snob. Btw, I’m 100% indonesian but now australian.

    I think you have just made another generalisation. Imagine — others who are not Asians might think like that about you, too. That you are a crook, dishonest, bitchy and snoby. Just because of your Asian background.

    No paranoia whatsoever from my side about being an Asian. My Australian friends (from all backgrounds) accept me for who I am. I feel totally comfortable in my own colour, and mot of the time I don’t even stop and think that I am a minority in this country. Usually you don’t meet people who are openly racist (not in my sector – education – anyway) — That was why I didn’t expect someone could show racism and made such generalisation openly. (read: I was gob smacked)

  19. GJ said:

    You see in my culture, where you come from is your home, where you are living. Rarely in my own culture am I asked where was I born, or where my parents were born.

    Everywhere I go people always identify themselves with their hometown. So if I’m introduced to Alan, for example, there will be additional information -whether I ask or not – that Alan belongs to Aberdeen/Edinburgh/Glasgow/Duff, you pick the city. Maybe it’s just a Scottish way. I’m rarely asked by other Indonesians where I’m from.

    In the last case, the statement comes from my experience, as the first question I’m nearly always asked in Indonesia, when introduced is, “Where to you come from”. It seems really important, but is it? Can my location at birth be a true indication of my personal qualities?

    It’s a way to make a conversation. Just like everybody here asks me where I come from (since I’m not Scottish). And no, it’s not important – it’s basically because the first time they are introduced to us, unless we know each other’s hobby or work, that would be one of the first opening lines, just like talking about weather.

  20. avatar Neil of Newcastle says:

    Timdog, nice stuff on ‘farang’ and ‘ferringhi’. From memory, in Shanghai they call the white folks ‘laowai’ or ‘yanggui’. In HK they call the bules ‘guiluo’, which has become almost a joke. Also, in HK they call the Indians ‘A cha’, or ‘old tea leaves’ which apparently is quite an insult. No ‘feringhi’ in any Chinese dialect I know. The root word for Muslim is usually ‘hui’, with no doggy or other references – I am however bereft of my Chinese dictionaries.

    One thing that puzzles me, in Medan there is a Kampung Kling, the Indian/Arab Quarter. There was a huge blog-war a couple of years ago in MY over the use of ‘Kling’ as a derogatory word for Indians used by Malays. Never heard it used in Indonesia. One I have heard is ‘Pa’ Takur’, with some reference to Indian/dangdut video sequences – eludes me, anyone help? Regards to the erudite

  21. avatar Casasa says:

    Stereotypes are inherent to human nature, and for good reason. We are all stereotypical of fire. We don’t touch it because we know it will burn us. We are told never to touch snakes because they are poisonous. So aren’t we being stereotypical when we don’t go near these things? Aren’t we being stereotypical when we take a bite out of a banana rather than a red hot chile pepper?

    Stereotypes are survival mechanisms. In the earliest times of our existence we placed stereotypes on things like lions, wolves, bears, and crocodiles because it was necessary for our survival for us to automatically leave the vicinity as soon as we spotted them. Today, in times of war we place stereotypes on men in uniforms; we know they should be avoided or at least treated with great caution if we value our lives.

    But we are smart creatures. We are intelligent and curious. We can understand the majesty of a crocodile; such an ancient animal that has survived for us to witness still. We can feel empathy for the great polar bears that are loosing their homeland to the sea like so many of us soon will. We admire the love and companionship wolves feel for one another. We understand peppers are best eaten in conjunction with other foods. We can tell the difference between cobras(rattlers, mambas, you name it) and pythons(garden snakes, etc.).

    The point is, the predjudices against people are exactly the same. I’ll be perfectly honest with you when I say if I see a group of young guys, black, white, or asian, standing on a street corner in a city just hanging out I will turn around and walk away as fast as I can. You could say I’m being racist. Or sexist. Or…age-ist. I say I’m saving my skin. But that doesn’t mean if I were to encounter any of those boys on different terms that I wouldn’t be polite to them, or give them something other than the respect every human deserves. My advice; just give people the benefit of the doubt. Most people are just that: people like you or me. Treat people the way you would like to be treated. I know it’s hard and we are all jerks sometimes. The point is, just do the best you can and everything will be all right.

  22. @ Neil of Newcastle

    There was a huge blog-war a couple of years ago in MY over the use of ‘Kling’ as a derogatory word for Indians used by Malays

    In Bahasa Indonesia we use the words “Hitam Keling” to refer to someone with really dark skin and yes, they are used as derogatory words.

  23. avatar Janma says:

    One thing that puzzles me, in Medan there is a Kampung Kling, the Indian/Arab Quarter. There was a huge blog-war a couple of years ago in MY over the use of ‘Kling’ as a derogatory word for Indians used by Malays.

    I don’t know if it’s bahasa Indonesia, I thought it was batak…. kling meaning hitam.

  24. avatar timdog says:

    Neil of Newcastle – I’m a magpie for historical fragments… I just looked up the reference to the Chinese word for Muslim (in an excellent book about China’s relationship with it’s western periphery called “Wild West China”)… Apparantly the written charcter for “Hui” contains the root symbol for dog, the “dog radical”, rather than the “human radical”…

    I agree with Finally Woken; GJ, an interest in where you come from is hardly an Indonesian monopoly… I come from Cornwall in the far west of the UK… there is certainly a big deal made about where you’re from there… the principal distinction is between Cornish and non-Cornish (particularly “English”). Despite being born and brought up there I was always very aware as I grew up of a faint sense of inadequacy – both internal and external – because I wasn’t “proper Cornish”, but Anglo-Irish…
    More than that, even today there is a great deal of consciousness and sometimes enmity between people from towns and villages, literally a couple of miles apart – aquestion about “where you are from” there could have real importance…

    Very often in these discussions here I come across non-Indonesians, bules, making comments about “our” culture, or “western culture” as if such a thing exists (usually in the form of a great enlightened liberal monolith) – surely as gargantuan a generalisation as any…

  25. avatar Marisa says:

    @ topic

    found what happened really baffling as I was friends with mostly non-Chinese when I was in High School. I rang my friends from High School who then told me that they saw me as my own person first before they saw me as a Chinese, therefore I was OK. But in general, they said they would prefer to have “Indonesian friends”.

    Chinese are rich,
    Chinese keep to themselves,
    Chinese are arrogant,
    Chinese think that money can buy anything.
    They said I was not like that, though.

    Alrighty – so those are the stereotypes.

    Generalising and stereotyping could be funny at times, it’s some sort of a black comedy; plain humour, and irony at the same time. Nevertheless, there’s a limit to that and people should be able to recognise how such stereotyping significantly indicates discriminative and prejudicial tendencies, especially when ethnical inclusivism has played a significant role in the bureaucracy.

    Problem is, the certain Indonesian society that has been stereotyping the Chinese as arrogant, rich, materiallistic, etc might be the very same society that has been stereotyped — by the Chinese, or anything associated with the Chinese — as, let’s say, dumb, violent, and poor. It’s a chain of reaction. It’s quite hard to break the chain, unless the system prioritise itself in educating the spiritual, social, and political maturity amongst its people.

    Above all, we are citizens of the world. Homo sapiens. Humans. Dumbass earthlings.

    PS: But that was when you were in high school, right, Change? Mind me for saying but hasn’t everyone, regardless their race, lived through hell during high school? Could be wrong though, since I’m from Class ’97, (generalised as) one of the most brutal generations ever. :rolleyes:

    @ Abdul al-whatevs I couldn’t spell it

    The Jakartans call the bule, cina, arab, jawa or yahudi.

    I don’t get it, those words are insults? Check the dictionary please.
    Using the word ‘manusia’ for human being, is that an insult too?

    Are you sure you’re not the one being lazy and feeble-minded, Abdul?

    @ Janma and Constant Change

    I agree that Keling is deragatory word, eventhough not necessarily used in an insulting expression. For instance, the Indians living and doing business at Kampung Keling has no complaint about the area’s given name. There are two tribes of Indians in Medan: the Tamils and Bengalis, and ‘keling’ refers to — if I’m not mistaken — the Tamil Indians.

    I can assure you both though, that it’s not part of the Bataknese culture itself. It’s more of, uhm, a Malay thingie. But please don’t tempt me into further generalisation.

    Keling is not a Bataknese word. Perhaps Janma’s referring to the a certain area in Medan — Kampung Keling, and obviously, she assumed that ‘Keling’ is a Bataknese word, without considering the numbers of Malays, Padangs, and the Chinese, etc living in Medan and has also developed an assimilation of Medan’s own urban culture.

    Chinese in Medan, by the way, refuse to be called as ‘Cina’, they prefer to be called as Tionghoas. Most of them living in Medan are Hokkian Chinese?, which is somewhat characteristically different from the tribe of Chinese descends living in Java Island and in Jakarta. But of course, that’s just me generalising again. Can’t help it.

    Etc.

    @ GJ

    You see in my culture, where you come from is your home, where you are living. Rarely in my own culture am I asked where was I born, or where my parents were born.

    Well, YOUR culture.
    By acknowledging and preserving one’s own (and others’) tribal ethnicity, has an Indonesian somewhat committed a crime against the universal human rights or something? Whether you like it or not, each and every Indonesian’s tribal ethnicity is part of Indonesia’s heritage, culture, also pluralistic recognition that has conceptualized Pancasila in the first place. Not only pluralistic ethnics, but also races and religions.

    But then you said:

    Stereotyping comes from either jumping to a common held populous belief or from ignorance, from not having enough data to make a correct informed assessment of the situation.

    So, there you go. The ignorance towards Indonesia’s pluralistic character could be quite destructive, don’t you think?

  26. avatar GJ says:

    @Marisa

    “…………has an Indonesian somewhat committed a crime against the universal human rights or something?”

    Well yes if they use the ethnicity to discriminate. That’s my point, the original author lost so called “friends” when she told them she was chinese, not because she was a pain in the a*** or evil.

  27. avatar Neil of Newcastle says:

    Chaps, an Indian friend has assured me that ‘takur’ is the main man in Bollywood fantasies, the bloke with the big moustach. Glad we’ve sorted that one and thanks to all re ‘Keling’. Checking the dog radical

  28. avatar sputjam says:

    Keling could be people from the state of “kalinga” in southern India. But until today, nobody knows where the word originates from although it is frequently used in malay, its usage in modern times in deemed inapropriate.

  29. avatar HeavenlySword says:

    @aluang anak bawang
    What a fool.

  30. avatar HeavenlySword says:

    Who cares about stereotyping, even my coworker still thinks I know kung fu. It’s true, what can you do about it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. So just let it go.

    You think too much. If you want to date a guy, just date him. But use your common sense. If you knew it would be troublesome then avoid it at any cost. Don’t even try to justify it. But if not then proceed smartly. Know what to do when your instinct says wrong. Don’t always count on your feeling, but use your head too. If you over think about something (than what you normally should) then you just create a drama in your life.

    I mean for the dutch guy, you probably knew your family would oppose, but still you run full steam ahead. It would be strange if you didn’t encounter difficulties in your life.

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