Prostitutes and Dragon Ladies


Asian women have been stereotyped and misrepresented in movies and television for decades. Alana and Jacklyn discuss the most prevalent tropes facing Asian women in the media today.


One Comment

  1. Kelly L. Krause Reply

    Hi, ladies!

    I just discovered your podcast, and I’m loving the insightful perspectives you both bring to the American entertainment industry and beyond.

    I’m late to the game for your episode ‘Prostitutes and Dragon Ladies’, but wanted to share a few more facts RE Asian-American history and representation in American media that you may find of interest… I’m an archaeologist and historian turned screenwriter, so I love exploring and sharing this sort of research. : )

    The Asian American community actually stretches back to the mid-1700s, where established Chinese settlements were already being documented in what is now California. At this time, these communities were largely from the merchant class (rather than the later prospectors, laborers and entrepreneurs who immigrated from the Gold Rush onward) and engaged in trade with the Spanish, who had been prospecting the area as a domain of the Spanish monarchy since the 16th century. Evidence indicates that Chinese merchants may have been making the journey to California for trade purposes in tandem with this early Spanish exploration and colonization.

    Re the representation of Asian women as prostitutes or sex workers, this stereotype actually has its roots within the Chinese American community, stretching back to the mid-1800s. The advent of the Gold Rush and “Gold Fever” saw the rapid growth of California’s population, which was largely male and included Chinese immigrants. This in turn created a demand for sex workers (and even mail-order brides) and launched several large (and profitable) human trafficking networks b/t China and California, eventually extending to other parts of the USA.

    San Francisco in particular was notorious for trafficking (a problem that persists in the city to this day), which largely included the participation of and organization by Chinese tongs and brothels, men and women alike. Asian women were consequently seen as amoral and depraved and were scapegoated for local vice and corruption, risking assault and even rape when venturing out in public.

    This was exacerbated further by the political and economic turmoil that characterized mid- to late 19th century China, especially its more rural areas… Families sold their daughters into prostitution in the hopes that they could weather the storm with the profits (and one less mouth to feed). Many times, this involved a mainland trafficker who would then take the woman to the States where they would sell her yet again at a profit.

    All in all, an absolutely dirty business that left an indelible impression on how Americans and other Westerners view Asian women… Thankfully, that’s starting to change.

    Finally, I would like to argue if I may that the oldest representation of Asians in American media/entertainment isn’t the Kung Fu master, but the demure, submissive, and usually fragile Asian woman that you discussed… This stereotype is rooted in “Madame Butterfly,” which was originally a short story published in 1898 by American attorney John Luther Long. It was adapted into the play by American playwright David Belasco in 1900, and eventually adapted by Puccini in 1904 for his now famous opera. : )

    If you were already aware of the above, then I’m genuinely sorry for wasting your time… But I hope it can support the great research you two carry out for what is a stellar podcast… I’m only three episodes in, but I have already learned so much from you ladies… Consider me a lifelong student.

    Thank you for sharing your stories and helping white girls like me be (hopefully!) a little more woke… Here’s to you both!

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