On East Asian 'Uncommon' Features & Chinese Ethnicities
One of my characters is biracial (half Irish, half Chinese). I have two questions I hope you might be able to help me with. First, I know I need to figure out something more specific than “Chinese,” because China is a huge place and has a lot of different ethnicities. I feel like this is a dumb question, but do you have any advice on how I can best research this? I’ve been to my library and haven’t found any books talking about how people from one part of China are different from another.
Secondly, you recently reblogged some (beautiful!) photographs of PoC with features many people think only white people can have. I’m very wary of writing the “green-eyed Asian” trope, though, where an Asian character is given “white” features to make them more “traditionally” beautiful. Given the stereotype that only white people can have red hair, do you have advice on how to write an Asian redhead without readers thinking I’m being unrealistic or racist?
The issue with East Asian characters with ‘white’ features, to me personally, is that it feels like they’re added on there to make them stand out to readers so that they’re marked as ‘special’ and not like the ‘other East Asians’ who are usually designated as ordinary and/or boring.
I mean, East Asians (monoracial and mixed) with atypical coloring do exist, and I don’t advocate erasing them, but it seems to me that there are a lot of these East Asian protagonists with those features to designate them as super special and not like the other East Asians.
And it’s not like variation doesn’t occur with half-East Asian, half-white biracial people either. I’ve seen one with light hair, and I’ve seen a few with blue or green eyes. But most of them usually have dark hair and dark eyes, and that’s great.
Can you write an East Asian redhead? Sure. But you need to take the above into account, and you probably shouldn’t try to make it out as them being special or whatnot (overemphasizing the hair, etc.).
YES, everything Jess has said! Racism tells us that Asians are interchangeable, that we look the same. So many writers/artists/creators actually reinforce this stereotype by feeling the need to make their Asian characters “stand out” or be unique. Please avoid this at all costs!!
So let’s talk specifically about your character and their hair! Red hair traits are actually fairly rare among monoethnic East Asians, particularly Han Chinese, Korean and Japanese. You’d be more likely to find that trait among Central Asian groups, in countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. So when we talk about Asians with naturally occurring red hair, we’re probably talking about Central Asians.
But here are some questions you might want to ask yourself: Do you want them to have red hair so they look/feel different, to highlight their biracial background? Because many biracial Asians still struggle with their identity, even if they can “pass” as a monoracial individual. Most biracial Asians I know (including my own kids~) have brown hair, ranging from very dark brown to nearly-blonde.
Your motivation in creating a red-headed biracial East Asian/white character is going to go a long way in determining whether or not its a racist depiction. So ask yourself why it’s necessary for your character to be this way, what relevance it bears to the story and start fleshing that out.
As for ethnic minorities in China, that’s also a tricky one. Han Chinese people make up over 90% of the people in China, and the majority of the Chinese diaspora (particularly in Western countries) are also Han Chinese. (And Taiwan is also like a whole different kettle of fish, and I understand very little of that kettle or the fish therein. I believe Han Chinese are also the majority in Taiwan now, but I could be wrong about that.)
Many ethnic minority groups in China are fairly assimilated as well. Some groups moreso than others. If your story isn’t taking place in China, then your character’s Chinese parent/grandparent/great grandparent immigrated at some point. I don’t really have any resources on immigration history/patterns for ethnic minorities in China, but that’s something you’re going to have to look into. The internet may be your friend here! Start with something like Wikipedia and use it to find more reliable sources.
Stereotypes with East Asian Characters (Green-eyed Asian and Dragon Lady)
Hi. I’m writing a superhero/sci-fi book that has a very diverse cast, including two east Asian characters and I had a couple questions.
The first character, Dr. McCarthy, is a medical doctor of Japanese descent. I was reading through your blog and noticed the “green-eyed Asian” stereotype. Dr. McCarthy does have green eyes - jewel green, a color that doesn’t occur naturally - because she has a healing factor, and those cause weird eyes. A handful of others in the book share this trait. Is this too stereotypical?
The second, Juku (main LI), is Chinese, might be a dragon lady. She’s very aggressive, physically, due to being brought up during a war and subject to illegal mind control techniques, and comes off as sexually forward because she has no concept of how to interact with potential partners because of her socialization. It’s meant to come off as awkward. She is very trustworthy, and she uses the same weapons as everyone else, but I’m still concerned.
Thanks so much for your time!
With the first one, it should be fine, considering she wouldn’t be the only character with those eyes and sharing that in-universe trait–I would, however, include other East Asian characters that do have dark eyes to minimize this effect.